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Hiroaki Samura – The Art of Blade of the Immortal

Hiroaki Samura

Hiroaki Samura is an artist that I’ve been following since the late 90′s when I stumbled upon a copy of Blood of a Thousand at a friend of a friend’s house. The book belonged to the brother of said person and when I asked if I could read it he promptly gave an angry “No”. I got the better of him, I read it while he was gone.

The first thing that struck me was just how different it looked. Everybody knows what manga and anime are supposed to look like. Just the mention brings a preloaded image into your brain. I didn’t get that with Blade of The Immortal. The style was a mix of japanese stylization with a solid grounding in the natural world. Hiroaki’s compositions tell of a clear understanding of the fundamentals of life drawing. The tone was also very modern for a story in historic Japan. Samurai punk would be a good way to describe it. This is a mature title in every way, violent samurai battles, swearing, sexual themes, and political discussion on the idea of the Bushido system that governed the land.

Hiroaki Samura

A brief summary of the series goes as such. Set in Edo-era Japan, Manji is a ronin that slew his retainer for using him as a pawn of evil deeds. During his pursuit, Manji kills 100 officers and soldiers that are hunting him. His last victim is the husband of his younger sister. Manji’s sister loses her mind from grief and becomes a vegetable. Manji is given blood worms by an old nun claiming to be 800 years old. The blood worms fuse with Manji’s body and make him an immortal. Meanwhile, a teenage girl named Rin witnesses the violent murder of her father and rape of her mother at the hands of a violent gang of swordsmen calling themselves the Itto-Ryu. She swears revenge and spends the next couple years training and searching for help.

Hiroaki Samura

Manji’s sister is finally murdered by a group of thugs looking to use her as bait to collect the bounty on his head. Soon, he meets up with Rin, who has sought him out as a bodyguard for her revenge quest. Manji initially refuses but is compelled by his grief over his dead sister to help her out. Thus begins Rin’s quest for revenge and Manji’s quest to kill 1,000 evil men to atone for the 100 good men he killed. Manji’s reward for killing 1,000 will be the granting of his mortality back and regaining the ability to die.

Hiroaki Samura

All of these images are taken from the hardcover art collection, The Art of Blade of the Immortal. It is a beautiful 160 page collection of 9 by 12 inch line drawings, pastel pieces, and watercolor paintings. The work is absolutely stunning when viewed directly from the book. It also contains some really nice pieces spread over 2 pages. The book does a good job of showcasing the intricacies of Samura’s work. They also do a great job of presenting the human side of these characters. Blade of the Immortal is a bravdo filled hack and slash spectacle, but it is also a good story about human relationships and what or who we are willing to fight and die for. Manji places himself in dangerous situations where he is very often brutally wounded just to satiate the revenge fantasy of a girl he previously had no attachment to. Rin, on the other hand, stakes her life and her future on a man who is known nation wide as “The 100 man Slayer.” It has been very interesting to watch their relationship develop as the volumes keep coming. In a way it is a variant on the old Japanese story of Lone wolf and Cub.

Hiroaki Samura

The book contains a forward by artist Geof Darrow and an afterword by the artist himself. Hiroaki tries to be humble in his section talking about how his work is not great compared to those in the fine arts community. I beg to differ. These pieces show a true craftsmanship that is rarity in modern comics. They also showcase the benefits of learning how to draw well and study and practice. Also, as much as I love the great masters of art, they have never managed to hold my attention for 12 straight years.  Samura-san. I salute you.


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