Here’s a production that was doomed from the start: Koichi Mashimo, director of just about every .hack animated production as well as Noir and its spiritual successors, and Bee Train, the animation studio responsible for producing these fine television programs, hired to make an animated TV adaptation of Hiroaki Samura’s long-running samurai action comic Blade of the Immortal. I almost want to pity Mr. Mashimo – he peaked in 1993 with The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, a delightful farce about an idiot who may or may not be a brilliant tactician who bullshits his way into the military in the hopes of getting a boring, cushy desk job and ends up stumbling his way into bigger and more dangerous situations. But he’s still getting work, so obviously somebody out there likes his recent work.
Blade‘s story is pretty straightforward: the swordsman Manji is cursed with eternal life. In order to get this curse removed, he’s going to have to kill a thousand evil men. He crosses paths with a young woman who wants vengeance against the people who murdered her family. Battles ensue.
The best part of Samura’s comic was the striking, pencil-heavy artwork and beautiful ultraviolence. I never expected anyone to attempt an animated adaption because of how difficult it’d be to properly capture the style in motion. The animators at Bee Train simplified matters by not bothering to try and imitate the comic’s style. Instead, Blade features all the styling you would expect from a Koichi Mashimo production: animation is avoided when we can slowly pan over still shots, the color palette is filled with dark purples and blues, and the music (composed by Koh Ohtani, who should totally know better) has an amazing habit of being entirely inappropriate for the given scene and then continuing over into the next scene. If I hadn’t noticed this so often in the various .hack series and Noir, I’d assume it was a technical glitch.
If there’s one thing Japanese animation directors love when they’re on a budget, it’s a slow pan with simple (or no) action. There’s one shot near the end of the episode of a thug yelling with one of those dramatic speedline backgrounds that some directors are so fond of that lasts nine full seconds. Other low-budget trademarks feature prominently in this episode. Nobody blinks, which looks really awkward when the camera focuses on someone speaking for several seconds, and characters will be frequently shown speaking at angles where their mouth cannot be seen (and doesn’t need to be animated). Everybody does this, sure, but in a generally cruddy production like Blade one tends to notice it more. The new Golgo 13 TV series loves these tricks, too.
I already mentioned that I’m not a fan of the often obnoxious soundtrack, but that’s not the only audio aspect that bothers me. Maybe I’m just weird, but when I read comics or novels or videogames without voice acting, I tend imagine what the character would “sound like” in my head. Tomokazu Seki’s portrayal of Manji is not at all what I expected the character to sound like. I always imagined him as sounding much more gruff, and this version of the character just sounds kinda tired and bored. If you’re not going into the show having read the comic off-and-on for the better part of a decade, like me, this might not be an issue. None of the other major characters in the series get enough lines in the first episode for me to cast judgment on them.
I can enjoy truly crap shows, but Blade of the Immortal is truly boring crap. I don’t think anyone involved with the production really cares, and it shows. Fans of the comic obviously won’t like this and I doubt that even fans of quality television programs like .hack would enjoy this. Let’s all pretend this show never happened.