Blade of the Immortal and Poison Elves
December 01, 2008

I read yesterday that Drew Hayes died sometime last year. Drew Hayes was the creator of the innovative comic series Poison Elves, which was instrumental in the "indy" comic movement. Concerning an asshole nigh-immortal elf Lusiphur, the series started out strong, relying mostly on a mixture of Lusiphur's crass "fuck it all" attitude in the face of MUCH adversity and lots of naked she-elfs.

I didn't read much beyond the foundation, and sadly I hear that, though the middle was strong, before he died Drew had hit a sort've writer's block, and hadn't released a decent issue in a few years.

Sadder still is the fact that he was only 37 when he died, of health complications following pneumonia. Specifically a massive heart attack.

I mention it because it reminds me of the progression of Blade of the Immortal, a MOST EXCELLENT manga from Hiroaki Samura, who uses a very distinct, almost Ukiyo-E, style of art, and tells a winding tale of intense tragedy.

Or at least, it used to.

The story takes place in Tokugawa Japan, at the start of the peace time (and thus the fall of the Samurai), and follows the tale of Rin, a young girl whose parents are killed by the Itto-Ryu, a sword school seeking to break away from the bullshit of Bushido and return to the base primal instinct of the warrior. Seeking revenge on the young leader, a charismatic, soft spoken, brilliant man, Rin hires a bodyguard to help her cut through the Itto-Ryu's ranks. This bodyguard turns out to be Manji, a man who cannot die.

I love the first half of the series. Every chapter was a new reflection on both the tragedy and dichotomy of Rin's situation (killing because her parents were killed) while furthering the strange relationship between her and Manji. And of course, there were brilliant sword fights with a great cast of interesting characters.

But with the second half, Hiroaki seems to have lost the thread of this character development, opting more for disturbing scenarios and a fight scene every two pages. The mangas were always very graphic, and I don't mind that continuation* but it's upsetting that the characters have stopped growing. Because they really are (were) interesting people.

Now they feel like actors who have been type cast, you sort've expect them to act a certain way, and when they don't, you're disappointed. Not that I support type-casting, but to break free of that, a character has to become something else. These guys are just free floating in a kind of undecided grey area.

I think things started going downhill after Secrets, which if I remember correctly was the volume in which one of the characters is tortured and raped for a hundred pages. Believe it or not, this was done well, but it was the last time I truly felt anything strong for the characters. Well, maybe not the LAST time, but it definitely marked a descent.

Anyways, he's done in Japan (or close to done) which means we should see the finale over the next year or so here in the States. It's published by Dark Horse, and I can definitely recommend it, even if I've become a little jaded.

Don't watch the anime, though. It doesn't live up.

It's probably the last manga series I'll ever own. I don't own a lot, and I stopped buying books in general (I just use a library now). I kept Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Sanctuary, Blade of the Immortal, Great Teacher Onizuka... and I think that's it, actually.

*When I say graphic, I mean like a guy who loses his hand, so he methodically shaves his wrist bone into a sharpened point. Or a character who rapes women while cutting off their breasts because "it tightens the muscles down there."

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