Exploring How English Manga Gets Made with Blade of the Immortal’s Editor

Dark Horse Senior Editor Philip R. Simon talks about the localization

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This article was provided by Dark Horse and is written by Senior Editor Philip R. Simon.


With the announcement of Dark Horse Manga’s new Blade of the Immortal Deluxe hardcover series and also the recent conclusion of Amazon Prime’s Blade of the Immortal anime adaptation (deliciously adapting Hiroaki Samura’s entire manga series with care!), it’s certainly time to preach the “Gospel of Rin” again. 


If this is your first time being exposed to either the complete animated adaptation that Amazon Prime offers or even the original epic manga series by Hiroaki Samura that spawned it, here are some basics to consider as you start down Rin’s road of revenge ... 


The original manga series debuted as Mugen no Jünin in Japan in 1993 and ended with its final chapter on December 25, 2012. The original Japanese title roughly translates to “Wanderer into Infinity.” When original translator and English-language editor Toren Smith — of the now-defunct but pioneering Studio Proteus manga translating and packaging company — first negotiated the publishing deal for this series between Japanese publisher Kodansha and Dark Horse Comics, Toren suggested using the Blade of the Immortal title for English-reading markets. The title stuck! That title has even become just as common as — and more distinctive than — the original title. 


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Dark Horse Comics published a monthly “pamphlet-style” Blade of the Immortal translation which ran for 131 comic issues, from June 1996 to November 2007, then Dark Horse moved to a trade-only collection format which lasted for thirty-one volumes. Some of those 131 comic-book style issues included fan art by professional Blade fans Becky Cloonan, the Luna Brothers, Guy Davis, Dan Hipp, Vasilis Lolos, Nathan Fox, Rob Guillory, and Farel Dalrymple! All of the smaller collections have been collected into the mostly three-in-one “omnibus” trade paperback collections — and now those “three-in-one” trade paperback collections are getting hardcover collections at the larger, “Deluxe” 7-inch-by-10-inch size, with faux leather covers and a bookmark ribbon.


Something new readers tend to also ask about is the approach Dark Horse took in presenting the Blade of the Immortal manga in a left-to-right (English reading style) but also a cut-and-paste (original Japanese orientation) style. I found a statement from Toren Smith that he sent to me to run in one of the final Blade of the Immortal monthly comic letters columns about this process. Here’s what Toren wrote in 2007 about how Blade pages were laid out in the English-language adaptations:

Speaking to Samura, he was dubious about flopping his art. Since this was back in the Dark Ages, when retailers and distributors were wary of unflopped manga, we didn't have much choice. Still, initially he refused. Later, after the first tankoubon had come out, I sat down with it and partway through made a realization. As his layout and storytelling skills had matured, he had moved to an unusual style—almost all of his panels were rectangular. For an idea how odd this is, grab any manga off your shelf and compare. I made a few photocopies of his pages and pasted them up with the panels unreversed, but the order of the panels reversed. It worked. Studio Proteus put together a sequence of about ten pages and sent them off to Samura, and he was intrigued. While he had done some work early on that was not amenable to this technique, he suggested that he'd redraw a few panels here and there as needed. I knew we could trim bleeds, and if I kept sharp while doing the rewrite I could move the readers along correctly with strategic repositioning of the word balloons and tweaking the dialog. I think it worked pretty well. Hey, it's tough to read each panel knowing it will be unflopped ... and yet reordered on the page! For the first couple volumes I actually cut and pasted each page, but eventually I was able to do it in my head, on the fly. All of my mistakes were corrected in the TPBs, and after Tomoko came on board, there were essentially none, since she kept an eagle eye on this.


That process changed drastically by 2004, with digital technology making production so much easier. Dark Horse used to receive large film sheets from Kodansha for our Blade of the Immortal production process. We used to print physical, high-quality sheets of both unflopped and flopped manga pages and send those to Toren Smith and Tomoko Saito so they could work with the large printed sheets and cut every panel out — flopped and unflopped — for flexibility in reassembling everything onto Dark Horse artboards, which would then get scanned. We’d get the book in chapter by chapter from Studio Proteus, to produce the comic books on a monthly basis, and those “raw” paste-up boards would get scanned and then digitally art corrected to remove any small glitches and correct any lettering issues. The process changed in 2004, though, when Tomoko Saito started using print-ready digital files from Japan, her own physically drawn and scanned sound effects, and a digital process to rearrange and flip the panels on a page and letter everything up. That’s why Blade of the Immortal runs the way it does and has a unique, one-of-a-kind “flopping” process.

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Readers who have only skimmed the start of the series will also find that the stubborn, cursing Manji appears to be the main character of this epic series at first, but this is mainly Rin Asano’s story of revenge and growth. The foundation that Samura lays down in the early Blade of the Immortal volumes is an insane plot tool, but fairly simple: In a nutshell, young survivor Rin seeks revenge against the renegade sword school led by Anotsu, because Anotsu and his group of thugs crudely and callously murdered Rin’s parents on her fourteenth birthday. Rin is paired with the powerful and sullen ronin called Manji — who is immortal due to the mystical, regenerative kessen-chu bloodworms in his system — and Manji vows to protect and aid her in her quest for vengeance as she is set on murdering each of Anotsu’s thugs before murdering Anotsu himself.

Manji steals the show right away, and his anachronistic speech and ungentlemanly behavior make him the perfect foil to the proper, driven, serious Rin. “Little Rin” tracks and identifies most of the members of Anotsu’s gang who are responsible for her pain, and Manji sloppily disposes of them. He’s a resilient, charming rogue. Along the way, though, brilliant writer/artist Samura has shown us that this monster of a manga series is just as much Rin’s show as it is tough-guy Manji’s.


After establishing story arcs in the first dozen or so volumes that show a pattern of Manji and Rin taking down villain after villain, some readers are taken aback by Samura’s “Demon Lair” storyline, which runs through Blade of the Immortal Volumes 16-21. Manji is chained, drugged, and subjected to horrific experiments throughout most of his scenes, and the point of this long divergence seems to be to focus readers on Rin and the strength of Samura’s female characters. Rin’s persistence, intelligence, and willpower wind up matching Manji’s, even if Rin continues to struggle with believing that about herself. Rin shows the most growth through a manga series that’s packed with multiple, satisfying character arcs and perfectly-dovetailing plots.

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I hope you find all of that out for yourself, without giving more details on Rin. My personal favorite character in this series is Giichi — the bald and spectacled warrior who seems defined by his distinctive, head-lopping weapons. Only when you get to the end of this tale do you realize exactly what his motivations are, and Hiroaki Samura seeds and nurtures Giichi’s own character transformation perfectly. But that’s for another article!


I also have immensely enjoyed the Amazon Prime adaptation, which I highly recommend after you finish reading the original manga series. The story unfolds almost arc-for-arc exactly as the original manga series runs, with some lines translated differently. An example of this is toward the very end when Itto-ryu warrior Ozuhan manages to find fellow students Doa and Isaku. In the manga, Doa asks Ozuhan about all the fishbones in his boat and why he stinks of fish. (That’s all he had to eat on his voyage to find his friends.) But in the newer anime series, Doa comments on how Ozuhan has figured out how to now speak English. (Instead of his usual grunting and whistling.) That’s a slight change that works to build a possible familial conclusion there at the end of the epic with some characters, with Ozuhan now seen as able to communicate with the other “redeemable” members of the Itto-ryu. A small but fun change — and also material for another article!


If you find yourself enjoying the core Blade of the Immortal series, Dark Horse also has more Samura projects available. The Art of Blade of the Immortal hardcover, with thirty-two extra pages exclusive to the Dark Horse edition, and the Blade of the ImmortalLegend of the Sword Demon “alternate reality” novel are excellent additions to his core series. Dark Horse Manga also collects Samura’s existing short story work in two collections: Ohikkoshi (Takeiteasy Comics Complete Works) and Emerald and Other Stories!


-Philip R. Simon 

Senior Editor, Dark Horse Manga

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