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More than vengance, more than immortality...

Writer and Artist: Hiroaki Samura
Translators: Dana Lewis, Toren Smith
Trade Paperback
Published by Dark Horse Comics/Studio Proteus 1997

Reviewed by Brandon Blatcher

An immortal samurai seeking redemption. A young girl wanting vengeance. These two personalities unite in Hiroaki Samura's beautifully drawn and compelling graphic novel 'Blood Of A Thousand'.

The novel is a collection of the first six issues of the manga book, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. Originally published in Japan, the series is being translated and reprinted in America by Dark Horse Comics -- first as individual comic book issues and then collected as graphic novels.

Manji is a disgraced samurai, granted immortality by the nun Yaobikuni for not-so-obvious reasons. His body can heal from just about any wound inflicted on it. It's a useful talent for a samurai -- but the problem is that Manji doesn't want to live.

Born into a family of warriors, Manji was trained from birth to be one. He followed their code and obeyed his Lord when ordered to kill. Eventually, he realized he was killing innocent people and rebelled, killing his own lord in the process. Branded as a criminal and pursued by the law, he made a tragic mistake which destroyed his sister's life. He would commit suicide but he can't die.

So, he proposes a deal to Yaobikuni: In exchange for having killed 100 good men, he'll kill a 1000 bad men to atone for his crimes. The nun points out Manji's inability to give up violence and then agrees to the offer. Then she gives him a reason to live in the form of a 16-year-old girl, Rin.

The heiress to an old warrior school, Rin is seeking vengeance for the death of her father two years before. He was slaughtered before her eyes by a member of a rogue sword school. Led by Asano Saburo, who bore an ancient grudge against Rinšs father, this group is going throughout Japan destroying any sword school not their own. After her father is murdered, her mother is raped and then taken away.

Alone and not knowing where her mother is, Rin has been training for two years and is ready to take her vengeance. Guided to Manji by Yaobikuni, she enlists his help and begins her quest in earnest.

All of this is fairly standard and it would be easy to dismiss 'Blood of a Thousand' as violent and action-driven. Yet when Manji and Rin lure their first target, Kurio Sabato, into a trap, the subtle complexity of the work begins to come out.

Sabato, an older warrior with two large, mysterious humps on either shoulder and clothed in the robes of feudal Japan, proves to be something more than what Manji and Rin expected. Caught up in strange obsession, Sabato is a killer concerned with beauty who recites poetry and isnšt very concerned with fighting the duo. What conflict that does occur is more psychological and lays bare the fact that Rin is not a hard-bitten warrior, but rather a young girl still dealing with the loss of her parents.

We also realize that Manji's and Rin's relationship has a several sides to it, such as mentor/student, father/daughter, brother/sister, heroic icon/girlish crush. Each bleeds into the other, bringing the characters to life.

After this encounter, the duo seeks help from a friend of Rin's father. What follows is an outrageous, over-the-top story that contrasts with the earlier, more serious mood. It's a welcomed change, yet the writing remains thoroughly intelligent, as Samura touches on themes of responsibility and who and why people accept or ignore it.

Hiroaki Samura has created a stunning work of fiction. His work is perfectly suited to comics, with its beautifully rendered art and intelligent writing. The art is vibrant and strong, confidently switching from carefully rendered pencil tones and fine lined pen and ink drawings, depending on the dramatic impact needed at a particular moment in the story.

Though the story is at times violent, Samurašs take on violence resembles that of film director John Woo. Your senses might be overloaded by the explicitness of the actions, but it's depicted with such beauty youšll find yourself endlessly fascinated by the scenes.

Since BLOOD OF A THOUSAND is a collection of issues from a longer comic book series, not every loose end is completely tied up. There are more stories, and more graphic novels. Dark Horse publishes the comic book Blade of the Immortal monthly and has so far collected the various stories in a total of five novels so far, with more on the way. BLOOD OF A THOUSAND is an excellent introduction to a great series of stories that have only become better with time.

Strongly Recommended

Brandon Blatcher is a regular contributor to PopImage.

Dark Horse Comics Homepage - The official site of the North American publishers of Blade of the Immortal.

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