When did the story of Blade of the Immortal take place? The Bakumatsu Arc gets a new answer (Part 2)

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In part 1, I have elaborated all evidences that prove the 1792-theory, and put aside the timing of Yoshiro’s demise. We will examine the remaining three arguments that support the Blade of the Immortal’s main story takes place in 1782, and more importantly, why and how did they come to be?

Who told you the story takes place in 1782 (Tenmei 2)? Manji? Rin? Hiroaki Samura? From volume 1 to 31, none of them tells or implies it. Yes, it was the “about the translation” in the comics by Dark Horse Comics told you so.

Since it is the official English language version, the information must be provided by the author or the publisher. Dark Horse Comics and its editors and translators are professional and responsible. They have been working on Japanese manga for many years, so it must be accurate. They are the authority and we must listen. 1782-theory is not a theory. It’s the truth.

Well, it is not necessary true. The translator of the English language version scarified accuracy for fluency and limited space, or whatever reasons. For example:

  1. In the prologue, when Machi’s husband is on Manji’s tail, he tells her “I’ll be along in a few minutes” in the prologue. In Japanese, it writes “I’ll be along in five minutes.” (五分で追いつくよ)
  2. In Heart of Darkness Part 1 in volume 7, Hyakurin asks Rin about her relationship with Manji. Rin counters that “he’s ten years older than me!". In Japanese, it writes “he’s older than me more than ten years!” (一〇歳以上も離れてるんですけどっ年がっ!)
  3. In Mirror of the Soul in volume 13, Hisoka groans that “why should he (Anotsu) come, after twenty years?” In Japanese, it writes “why should he come now after (I was being) tied up here for over twenty years?”(二〇年以上もここに縛りつけられて何を今頃…)

The inaccuracy in translation seems to be trivial, but it shows that we should always refer to the source language to make speculations. There are web pages state Manji’s age is twenty six, since he is “ten years older than Rin” according to the English translation above. From the source text, we finally know that Manji is a good ten years older than Rin, but not exactly ten years older.

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Rin blushes and talks about the age difference between Manji and herself. Left: Heart of Darkness, Blade of the Immortal, ©2001 Dark Horse Comis; Right: Chapter 25, Blade of the Immortal, ©1996 Kodansha

The glossary in Dark Horse’s publication also provides information that refutes the 1782-theory. In Demon Lair II in volume 21, a nameless old woman yells out “SAMURAI SWINE! IENARI!”, the shogun’s name. The glossary explains that Ienari is “the reigning shogun during this story. The real Tokugawa Ienari was the eleventh Tokugawa shogun and held his position from 1787 to 1837”.

As I wrote in part one, Ienari was not ruling since 1782 or before. The main story can only take place after 1787 for Ienari being the shogun. This clearly contradicts the statement of “this story… takes place in the 18th century (ca. 1782–83)” in the “about the translation”. You inform me the story takes place in 1782–83 in the preface, then teach me some character’s ruling only comes to be effective after 1786 in the glossary. What’s wrong with you?

The translator or editor may be aware of the discrepancy, so he addresses the shogun with “real Tokugawa Ienari” in the glossary trickily. The implication is that Ienari in the story is not the real one. He is just a narrative device to add some exotic feelings. We should not think too deep about his reign in real life. It is fruitless to breach Dark Horse’s official setting, which is so authoritative.

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Tokugawa Ienari from the Glossary, Demon Lair II, Blade of the Immortal, ©2009 Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse had been working on the English version of Blade of the Immortal for eighteen years. Many talents were involved, and I do not know who should be held responsible. For editing, there are Dave Chipps, Rachel Penn, Rachel Miller, Philip R. Simon, etc. For translation, there are Dana Lewis, Toren Smith (deceased), Kumar Sivasubramanian, Tomoko Saito, Philip R. Simon, etc.

Philip R. Simon was the editor and translator of the latest book in 2013, and he is still working in Dark Horse. He should be a good contact point about an inquiry of this discrepancy. I have raised the question to him back in May 21, 2020, and he said he will look into that. I have never meant that he should take the burnt of the blame. It’s been seven weeks, yet I have not seen any follow-up.

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No follow-up from the editor, Philip R. Simon, for seven weeks. Yeah, he hasn’t checked the pm, but he did reply in open tweet that he will "look into it".

On the contrary, the Japanese editor has tried his best to help Samura Hiroaki to make things right. In the afterword of the final volume, Mr. Samura confesses that “the subject I hated the most was Japanese history, and second was world history.”

In another afterword of the omnibus, he said his knowledge on Edo Era was no better, or even worse than a high school student in the beginning of the serialization of the Blade of the Immortal. His executive editor sponsored a lot of reference books about the culture of Samurai society and Edo Era to him, though Samura ignored them.

Samura also expressed his gratitude to Professor Hongo Kazuto (本鄉和人) of the University of Tokyo’s Historiographical Institue, “for teaching me about the minimal bits of historical authenticity that actually appear in this half-baked manga.” We can see that Kodansha, the original Japanese publisher of the manga, has put quite a lot of effort to keep discrepancy away, which is not so obvious in the English version.

Since the identity of the creator of the explanation for the English translation is still unknown, and the most recent editor of the Dark Horse Comics has not made clarification, we should not overestimate the credibility of this self-contradicting clue.

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Professor Hongo Kazuto of the University of Tokyo’s Historiographical Institue, who has provided information of the Edo Era to Samura ©Shinchosha

Before examining the other arguments, please spare me some time to share an anecdote of George R R Martin. GRRM is the author of the infamous series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Unlike Samura, he has already created a family tree for the House Targaryen of the Dragonstone, and listed all reign of every King and Queen, back in 1996.

Twenty years later, GRRM published The Hedge Knight. The story takes place ninety years before A Game of Thrones — just like the main story of Blade of the Immortal to its ending. Elio García Jr and Linda Antonsson, the owners of the fansite Westeros.org, sent an email to GRRM and pointed out that the age of a character does not make sense with the chronology in book one. Some hedge knight is thirty five in the new novella, but he should have not been older than seven according to the old list.

GRRM found that it was really a mistake, and he needed to alter his work due to Elio and Linda’s excessive knowledge on his work. In the acknowledgements of A Feast For Crows, book four of ASOIAF, he even writes “let me sound a fanfare too for Elio and Linda, who seem to know the Seven Kingdoms better than I do, and help me keep my continuity straight.”

So, there is continuity issue in a fantasy world, and the much celebrated author of our time was willing to admit and correct it. Author is not the dictator after all. Modern fans should not kneel before the author and take everything in the story for granted. Readers could also help building the fictional world.

Okay, let’s leave Westeros, and head back to the Edo period.

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Westeros.org, the premiere fansite for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, founded by Elio and Linda. ©Westeros.org

It is time to tackle the ultimate weapon of the 1782-theorists. Samura Hiroaki himself. He did sort of confirm this theory in omnibus in 2016, four years after the serialization ends, “The historical context of Blade of the Immortal is Tenmei Era of Japan in the 18th century”. Since Tenmei Era is from 1781 to 1789, it strongly implies that Manji and Rin fight against Ittoryu between 1782 and 1783 in Tenmei Era. If the main story takes place in 1792, it will be in Kansei Era, but not Tenmei.

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The main story of world line B lies within Tenmei Era entirely.

If you have read part one, you have known that the internal evidences says otherwise. There is a written record of a woman giving birth to a twins three years before the main story, which is AD 1789. Tenmei Era ends, and Kansei Era has begun. Only the backstory happens in Tenmei, like the suicide of Makie’s brother and the murder of Manji’s boss Shigenobu, but not the main story.

This is like the hedge knight of GRRM’s story. Damn, Samura has made a mistake in a later stage. He kind of forgets about the original historical context, just like how Daenerys Targaryen forgets about the Iron Fleet in the TV show.

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D&D explains that Daenerys Targaryen kind of forgets about the Iron Fleet. Game of Thrones | Season 8 Episode 4 | Inside the Episode, ©HBO 2019.

There are two ways to fix this mess.

  1. Address the mistake, and alter Tenmei to Kansei in the afterword.
  2. Address the mistake, and alter all time references in his work to fit Tenmei Era, including the written record and conversation of the Interrogation at the Kobotoke checkpoint (from Kansei to An’ei), the name of Shogun (from Ienari to Ieharu), the time gap between the main story and reunion of Manji and Yaobikuni (from 90 to 100 years later), the year of birth and biographies of Oichi and Omitsu, etc.

None of these happen. We do not know if Samura’s knowledge on Edo Era has improved after all these years. He may not aware of this. Or he is well aware of this, and is bearing the anguish in silence by making compromise all along. For whatever reasons, Tenmei Era strikes AFTER the story ends.

After that comes the Bakumatsu Arc.

Bakumatsu Arc embraces the world line B. The narrator announces that it happens more than 80 years after the Ittoryu arc immediately in the second page of the first chapter. Since Manji returns to Japan in 1864, it implies that the Ittoryu arc takes place before 1784, i.e. over 80 years ago, thus fitting the 1782-theory.

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It’s been more than more than 80 years after the battle with Ittoryu. Chapter 1, Blade of the Immortal Bakumatsu Arc, ©Kodansha 2019

Samura may have been trying to retcon the story since 2013. Retroactive continuity, or retcon in short, is a convenient way to extend to story without fixing any mistakes, at the cost of breaking the continuity with the former story.

Retcon should be the last resort if the author forgets the original settings, finds his story is out of control, is overwhelmed by angry readers. Or, when another author is invited to continue the old story, and he tries to shackle the chain left by the original author, he will resort to retcon.

Why did they do that in Bakumatsu Arc, if it is intended?

From the first chapter of the new arc, the creatives synchronize the new Manji with what he will tell Yaobikuni (supposedly) ten years later. According to the conversation between them, he went fishing and was shipwrecked off the coast of Tosa. He was rescued by American ships, only returned to Japan after staying in America for twelve years.

There is an attempt to retcon Manji to be John Mung, a historical figure. In the new arc, Manji makes up a surname, Nakahama, for himself. His full name is Nakahama Manji (中濱 萬次), while John Mung is also known as Nakahama Manjiro (中濱 萬次郎). John Mung was born in Tosa. When he was fourteen, he was shipwrecked and rescued by an American whaleship John Howland.

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Nakahama Manjiro ©WHITFIELD-MANJIRO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY, INC.

Manji says he is revenging the homicide of Whitfield’s family in 1850. William Whitfield is the captain of John Howland who saves John Mung. Just like Manji, John Mung sets sail to Japan from the US in 1850. Bakufu summons John to Edo after the Opening of Japan by Commodore Perry in 1853. John is allowed to adopt a second surname, Nakahama, as an honor to serve the shogunate. John is the very first Japanese man who have learnt English, and Manji is teaching English to Nijima Shimeta (another historical figure) in the new arc.

Is it necessary to change the original setting, so Manji can become Manjiro seamlessly? In the new arc, Manji says he has spent 50 years to kill 1000 bad guys after implanting bloodworms. Since he stays in America for 12 years, he was shipwrecked around 1841, just like Manjiro. According to 1792-theory, he became immortal in 1789, so he got it done in 1839. Manji can visit America two years later without a hassle. Moving it ten years backward does not do anything.

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A comparison between Manji and Manjiro.

Another possible reason to retcon is the timing of Ikedaya Incident. It was a raid launched by Shinsengumi against anti-Bakufu rebels gathered at the Ikedaya, an inn in Kyoto. It is well-known in Japan and the participants are popular in contemporary Japan. This incident is found in many dramas, animes, comics, and games, including Gin Tama, Rurouni Kenshin, Peacemaker Kurogane, Hakuoki, etc.

If the creatives wants Manji to be involved in this infamous historical event, and also to meet Yaobikuni in this arc for immortality stuffs, they must push the old arc back 8 years. They reunion in 1864 for the first time, and reunion again in 1874 for the second time. As a result, the parting of Rin and Manji’s is 90 years before 1874, which is around 1784. The 1782-theorists suggest the old arc ends at 1783, which is more or less in line with the setting in Bakumatsu Arc. If Yaobikuni shows up later in the new arc, this could be the reason to retcon.

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If Manji and Yaobikuni are to meet in 1874, there will be no horse tram yet, based on the new setting of the Bakumatsu Arc.

Yet I discover another discrepancy in this case. In the last panel of Ittoryu arc, Manji asks Fuyu if she wants to take a ride on a horse tram. The first horse tram starts running in Tokyo (previously Edo) in Meiji 15, i.e. AD 1882. In the original setting, Manji meets Yaobikuni 90 years after leaving Rin in 1793. Yes, it should be around 1882 to 1883, 90 years later, and the horse tram is introduced just in time to be a travelling option.

On the other hand, if we take the retcon or the 1782-theory seriously, there will not be any horse trams in the second reunion of Manji and Yaobikuni in 1874. The Tokyo Horse Tram Corporation (東京馬車鉄道) will be founded in 1880, six years after 1874. They need to wait for two more years for the first ride of the horse tram.

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Horse tram seen in the last panel should be in operation only since 1882. Final chapter, Blade of the Immortal, ©2013 Kodansha

In an interview with Shonen Jump, Samura Hiroaki said, “I am always a few years behind the world. In the golden age of Internet, I didn’t even get a feature phone.” (Miraculous meeting with Fujimoto Tatsuki and Samora Hiroaki, 2017) In addition to the language barrier, it seems that it is extremely difficult to contact Samura with modern machines.

I have also written an email to Professor Hongou Kazuto for clarification, who taught Samura the historical knowledge of the Edo Era. Sadly I have not got an reply yet.

Counting in the unresponsive editor of Dark Horse, I fail to find out what has been going on with the discrepancy. For now, I can only draw a conclusion as follows:

  1. During the serialization of Blade of the Immortal, the main story certainly takes place in 1792–93 (Kansei 4 to Kansei 5) with a few internal historical references.
  2. The official English language version of Blade of the Immortal published by Dark Horse states that the main story takes place in 1782–83, which is absent in the Japanese version, is the root cause of the difference in recognition between Eastern and Western Readers.
  3. The Bakumatsu Arc breaks the continuity with the old story. It may be an attempt to get Yaobikuni involved, but it is not yet confirmed.

I hope we can learn a lesson from Elio and Linda, the super fans who remind GRRM about his mistakes in his beloved work. We should not submit to the authority and put our brains away. I hope you have a better understanding on the Edo Era. By narrowing the gap of the historical context of this epic work between Eastern and Western readers, we can be on the same page finally.

Offended by bad writings and layouts very, very easily

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