The Immortal: Demon in the Blood

Author: Ian Edginton
Illustrator: Vicenç Villagrasa and José Luis Río
Original story: Fumi Nakamura

Publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781616550240
Released: October 2012
Original run: 2011-2012

I picked up the trade collection of The Immortal: Demon in the Blood for one reason—the comic series is an adaptation of Fumi Nakamura’s award-winning novel Ura-Enma, published by Vertical under the title Enma the Immortal. I have read, and absolutely loved, Enma the Immortal. I was interested in seeing how another team of creators would handle the story. Ian Edginton wrote the series script, working with the artists Vicenç Villagrasa, responsible for pencils, and José Luis Río, responsible for inks and colors. I know of Edginton’s work, but before reading The Immortal I was unfamiliar with either of the two artists. The Immortal was first published by Dark Horse Comics in four monthly issues beginning in December 2011. Later it was collected and released as a single, complete volume in 2012. I missed the series when it was first issued, and so looked forward to reading the trade collection.

Amane Ichinose is a traitor and a spy. After being confronted by his fellow Shinsengumi members, he barely escapes with his life. Bleeding and dying, he stumbles onto the doorstep of Baikou Houshou, a talented tattooist. The old man rescues Ichinose, saving his life, but at the same time curses him with immortality. Houshou has given Ichinose an oni-gome, a tattoo which binds a demon to him, keeping him alive. Ichinose isn’t the only one with an oni-gome granting immortality. Yasha, Houshou’s erstwhile apprentice, tattooed his own oni-gome, becoming a cannibalistic monster in the process as the demon bound to him devours his soul. Ichinose comes to realize that Yasha may have been responsible for the death of his sister and is determined to find him no matter how long it takes. After all, time is the one thing Ichinose now has more than enough of.

The Immortal doesn’t actually adapt the entirety of Enma the Immortal, which makes sense for such a short comic series. Instead, the comic focuses its attention on the first two thirds of the novel, taking the story up through the Yokohama Ripper arc. It was a good decision. However, steampunk elements were added to the story of The Immortal. Except for some interesting and attractive illustrations, they don’t seem to serve much of a purpose for either the plot or the setting. I actually found them to be somewhat distracting and even at odds with the supernatural elements of the story. Edginton is particularly known for some of his other steampunk series and steampunk is a popular genre right now, but its inclusion in The Immortal was largely unnecessary.

Ultimately, I can’t say that I was overly impressed with The Immortal. But it’s not because of my loyalty to or love of source material. The comic gets off to a weak start, rushing through the necessary introductory material. The ending, too, isn’t very satisfying; the rules governing how the oni-gome work seem to suddenly change during the story’s climax. But everything in between the beginning and end is pretty great. Ichinose is easily the most well developed character in the series. I enjoyed seeing how he changes as a person over the years even while physically he remains the same. I think The Immortal could have used one or two more issues to more fully develop and flesh out the other characters and address some of the problems with pacing in the series. As it is, the comic is somewhat frustrating overall, especially considering there were parts of it that I highly enjoyed.

Enma the Immortal

Author: Fumi Nakamura
Translator: Neil Nadelman
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781932234909
Released: April 2012
Original release: 2011
Awards: Golden Elephant Award

Enma the Immortal is Fumi Nakamura’s debut work as a novelist. A housewife who wrote in her spare time, she submitted Enma the Immortal to the inaugural Golden Elephant Award in 2010. It, along with Akira Arai’s novel A Caring Man (also available in translation from Vertical), shared the grand prize. Enma the Immortal was subsequently published in English with a translation by Neil Nadelman, first as an ebook in 2011 and then in print in 2012 by Vertical. The novel has already inspired an adaptation in Western comics—The Immortal: Demon in the Blood, available from Dark Horse. (I haven’t read the comics yet, but I do plan on it.) Nakamura has also written a sequel to Enma the Immortal but unfortunately it hasn’t been licensed in English yet. Enma the Immortal initially appealed to me for several reasons: the light novel is a historical fantasy primarily set in Japan’s Meiji era, I’m intrigued by humans’ fascination with immortality and its consequences, and I enjoy tattoos being incorporated into stories.

As the Tokugawa shogunate nears its final days, so does Amane Ichinose. A failure of an assassin and a spy, he finds himself being chased and hunted only to end up injured and dying on the doorstep of Baikou Houshou, a well-known tattooist. The chance encounter changes Amane forever. Baikou saves the younger man’s life, but in the process Amane is cursed with immortality; a demon has been bound to him through a tattoo known as an oni-gome. It will do everything it can to keep Amane from dying, whether he wants it to or not. Only one other man knows and completely understands the secrets behind the oni-gome, its curse, and how to destroy it—Yasha, Baikou’s disowned and estranged apprentice. Faced with living an eternity alone, Amane is determined to find the missing Yasha. Little does he know that Yasha will develop an intense interest in him as well. The two men possessed by demons, both struggling with and against their own desires for death, are destined to confront each other again and again as the century passes them by.

Each chapter of Enma the Immortal is almost its own self-contained story focusing on a pivotal time in Amane’s life, but they also build upon one another. What holds the whole novel together, though, is its characters: Amane himself, the men he betrayed before becoming immortal, the likeable yet cranky old bastard Baikou, Nobumasa Muta who, much to Amane’s frustration, repeatedly comes to the immortal’s aid, and most importantly Natsu, the daughter of a friend and one of the few people who knows about Amane’s peculiar condition. And then there’s Yasha, whose own immortality is slowly driving him insane as he tries and fails to maintain his humanity. He is a marvelous antagonist, not inherently evil, but deluded in his attempts to justify his actions. His relationship with Amane is a complex and volatile one, providing a major driving force behind the developments in Enma the Immortal, even before the two of them meet.

In addition to great characters, Nakamura also makes excellent use of historical events and people in Enma the Immortal, everything from the Shinsengumi to Jack the Ripper to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are all incorporated expertly into Amane’s story. Even Amane’s encounters with Yasha, which could have easily come across as coincidences, seem more like fate than convenient plot devices. In general, I found the novel to be well-plotted with great pacing. The writing style and dialogue in Enma the Immortal do occasionally come across as anachronistic for the time periods in which the narrative is set, but it is highly engaging nonetheless. I absolutely loved Enma the Immortal and am particularly impressed that it is Nakamura’s debut work. Even though I know there is a sequel, and I would certainly like to read it, I was completely satisfied with Enma the Immortal. It’s both an entertaining and engaging novel that stands perfectly well on its own while still allowing plenty of opportunities for further development. Enma the Immortal is a fantastic read.