by Hiroaki Samura
Published in the U.S. by Dark Horse Manga
Slugline: Revenge is a dish best served cold. With lots of blood on top.
These volumes are collections of issues that Dark Horse has been publishing for several years now... thus, they aren't released often and thus, when I picked up volume 15, I couldn't remember what was going on. So I went back to refresh my memory.
Manga storylines have a reputation for running far longer than even the most ambitious Western comic books. It's practically a selling point. One effect of their length is manga's tendency to get side-tracked into character development stories which can lead to losing focus on the central plot. Another side effect is that all the usual signs of heading toward an ending does not mean that.
Volume 14 could have been the end of Blade: Manji and Rin finally cornered their villain, Anotsu, a few of the major supporting characters turned up, and there were plenty of extra guys with swords around to make for a couple hundred pages of Samura-sensei's exquisite action sequences.
Fans of manga are familiar with the stylistic habits of combat: there are flashy poses, gritted teeth, lots of speed lines, sometimes spectacular explosions or magic. Blade's combat sequences are more like still photos taken from a movie. And they aren't the still photos you'd expect from a hand-to-hand fight -- no flashy poses, no dramatically swirling capes. Just very gritty, very real, and very messy.
Seriously, Japanese men must not get enough calcium in their diets. It's like they don't have any bones at all.
In any case, volume 14 is not the end of the story. And while I highly recommend the entire series, a word of caution: it is intense and graphic. Not just fighting -- one volume was entirely devoted to one of the female characters being raped and tortured (and her gruesome revenge.) Although set in historical Japan, the author cops to not doing his homework and having fun rather than aiming for accuracy. Which is fine, because he has invented some genuinely strange weaponry to slice and dice with.
My only quibble with the story is that the main characters do not have much life outside their quest for revenge. Supporting characters get to have motivations, and their stories are more interesting asides than other manga's main stories.
Stay tuned for volume 15!