Review: Enma the Immortal by Fumi Nakamura (Spoiler-Free)

1866, Kyoto, and a young assassin named Amane Ichinose finds himself at the door of the legendary tattooist Baikou Houshou, clinging desperately to life – a life which, unbeknownst to him, Baikou can save, but not without consequences. Afterwards, burdened with immortality, the newly-named Enma Houshou remains unchanged, running from his mortal companions as they age and die, and caught in a seemingly endless struggle with the one person who shares his curse, the murderous Yasha.

Enma the Immortal is told in an episodic fashion, but although the chapters don’t naturally follow on from one another, they share a lot of themes; I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of them as standalone short stories, but each one does still add to the experience of reading the others. I tend to be somewhat put off by very episodic stories, and true to form, I was not always that invested in each chapter’s self-contained plot (though the overarching storyline did hold my interest), but I enjoyed the characters and relationships a lot, and their emotional arcs flowed very well between chapters.

Enma himself was an excellent lead character, and his immortality made his relationships with those around him wonderfully complex. I particularly liked his interactions with the book’s two most prominent supporting characters, Natsu – a woman who he raised as his younger sister – and Nobumasa, a client-turned-patron of his tattoo business, whose friendship Enma is reluctant to accept. Yasha, though incredibly important to the plot, feels less present for much of the book, but he appears more as the book goes on, and the occasional parts of the book that are told from his perspective provide an interesting contrast to Enma’s worldview.

Nakamura writes in a matter-of-fact style that is present (though perhaps coincidentally) in many books I’ve read that have been translated from Japanese, and can be a little tough to get used to, but which I usually find quite refreshing. The English translation is by Neil Nadelman, and naturally I can’t speak for its accuracy, but I never got lost, despite the book’s foreign concepts, which speaks to its clarity.

Even given how intrigued I was by the concept of this novel, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It’s a shame that the sequel that is mentioned on the back of the book (Vertical, 2012 edition) does not appear to have been translated, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the comic book adaptation that was published by Dark Horse under the title The Immortal: Demon in the Blood.

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