Doing the I am a Hero article has really burnt me out. Not because it was long, I read roughly 14 volumes of it, but because I had the brilliant idea of reading all of it in one night. So, I wanted to take a bit of a break for this week's article and read something shorter. I asked some of the TAY authors for suggestions of short series and one of these suggestions was Blood and Steel, a manhua about martial artists in China. Unfortunately for me, though there were roughly fifty chapters and each chapter was roughly forty pages long. So I did what any sane man would do, read the entire series in one night… what I'm not crazy… just reckless.
Blood and Steel is a tale of marital arts and revenge. In the beginning, apprentice swordsman of the Qing-Cheng, Yan Heng, is finally promoted to novice rank where he can begin learning secret techniques of the Qing-Cheng. Unfortunately, this accomplishment is short lived for the Wudang School of martial arts, a martial arts school whose goal is to become the strongest school in the world, wipes out the Qing-Cheng school. Barely escaping with his life with the aid of the Wudang hunter, Jing Lie, Yan Heng sets off on a journey to bring the Wudang to its knees.
I can easily describe each battle sequence in this manga with one word, "epic." Every fight scene is simply drawn beautifully, but what makes the fights so epic is the text that describes each move in the fight. These text descriptions help the reader understand the weight of every move each fighter makes in the fight, which builds tension. So, each fight turns into a chess like battle where each move is a step to put their opponent in check and losing a battle leads to death. Blood and Steel's battle scenes are so good because they make the reader understand why each move in a fight is so important.
In the beginning, Blood and Steel seems like a simple revenge story, but as the manga continues, a good amount of depth is added to the conflict as a whole. Specifically, the workings of most major martial arts school is fleshed out or hinted at so the reader can get a good grasp the rules of each faction. For example, even though the Wudang is the antagonist faction, the manga spends a good amount of time showing how they accept almost any student who wants to train there, but they must work to improve themselves even if it costs them their lives and the history of the Wudang as well. Also, compared to the Wudang, the other major schools are much different in practice and history because these major schools have a much longer history and have a very strict recruitment process. These differences in practice and history make the conflict much larger and complex because the conflict is also about clashing traditions.
Each Character in this manga is simple, yet has a good amount of depth to make each of them unique. Though Yan Heng has a simple goal, what makes him so relatable is that he often questions if pursuing his goal is the right thing. Early on in the manga Yan has to consider leaving with Jing Lie to get revenge on the Wudang or stay at his hometown and become a farmer to stay with his childhood love, but ultimately he leaves with Jing because he was entrusted with carrying on the legacy of his school. Yan understands the weight on his shoulders and at times it can be too much for him, but he's able to stand back up despite the hard ships and retain his honor as a Qing-Cheng student.
Also, the side characters are incredibly interesting as well because they have their own personalities and they offer a picture of what Yan could become. Jing is a great example of this because he shares a similar back-story and goal with Yan, but has more years of experience under his belt. While Jing shows what Yan could become, he has his own history and character as well that makes him endearing. Overall, the characters in this manga are easy to relate to while also contributing back to the main theme of the story.
Blood and Steel has a quick pace that gets to each battle while fleshing out the world at the same time, but it has a habit of jumping between settings out of the blue, which can take the reader out of the story. Every arc and fight has a brisk pace that covers the most important points of each arc and gives us a good idea of how each character feels as well. The first volume of this series does a great job of this because it shows the reader who Yan Heng is, what the Qing-Cheng school means to him, and then covers the fall of the Qing-Cheng school in good detail. The only fault the pacing of this series has is that it doesn't transition well between arcs too well because it has a habit of jumping to new locations to show the happening in other parts of the world without much build up. This can be a bit jarring to the flow of the narrative because the reader has no idea what's going on in that new location, but this only happens a few times in the series.
Blood and Steel is like classic kung fu movie. It's fun enough to watch for the amazing action sequences, but it also has a surprising amount of depth to it as well. The world feels vast and alive and leaves no stone unturned when exploring the inner workings of a faction. The characters are enjoyable to be around and their actions within the environment lead to a large message as well. The fight scenes are top notch as they have a good understanding of how to build tension around a single fight. Though there are some pacing and story problems, the manga as a whole was a fantastic read.
All of these pictures were taken from mangahere.co except for covers for volume 1 and 2, which were taken from felixip.blogspot.com and manga reader.net respectively. I do not own any of these images
You can read Blood and Steel here.
If you like this review or my articles in general, you can find all my articles on my blog.
p.s. I wish Jing's goal was to be the best blitzball player in the world, then he would be even more similar to Jecht from Final Fantasy 10