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In the course of a discussion of Blade of the Immortal, I (unsurprisingly) found myself plugging Mirage of Blaze to [livejournal.com profile] jainas. And I thought rather than write endless MoB gushing in our comments, I would just move my little manifesto out front. In short, MoB is a story about the 400-year long, epic love of Kagetora and his retainer, Naoe, samurai who go through the ages possessing humans' bodies in order to fulfill their mission of exorcising vengeful spirits. The following is a spoiler-free (or virtually) guide on what to expect if you're coming brand new to this best of all love stories I have ever read...



Mirage of Blaze is long. Forty volumes long. Forty long, text-heavy volumes, with additional side stories... and prequels. It was written (minus the prequels) over just about 13-14 years. Kuwabara-sensei began it when she was about 20, and the quality of the writing shows substantial development over time.

So if you launch cold into volume 1, lower your expectations. It starts out like a fairly typical pop fantasy/samurai/shounen novel with bad guys in need of being fought and teenage boy who doesn't realize he's really an ancient samurai hero! But it also starts out with, as I like to think of it, a man being rescued from his tomb by his husband and his wife, so you know something good is going to come of all this.

It is long, like the Mahabharata. And like the Hindu epic of which it continually reminds me, it contains a considerable amount of dross. Many pages are devoted to many clans flinging many types of energy bolts at each other. It's hard to keep track of them all and equally hard to care. Prepare to be bored sometimes.

It is not entirely translated into English, and at this rate probably won't be for many years. The parts that are translated come from different areas in the story (early to mid-volumes), so prepare to read back and forth and up and down and fill in gaps and ask questions online and have years of confusion and unanswered questions. Actually, this is kind of fun. It's a bit like studying fragments of a sacred text over time. (Yes, fun!)

Furthermore, it has been translated by different people (fans) with different levels of translation experience. Some translate directly from the Japanese, some from the Chinese translation. Expect unevenness.

So Why Read It?

Because for all these annoyances, it repays you a thousandfold. Like the Mahabharata, it is long. And such length carries a weight of development that a shorter story can't emulate. The characters are diverse, their relationships multifaceted (and multiple). They have the time to engage in deep and serious discussions of religion, morality, life and death. They also have the time to do goofy stuff that's right out of the MoB satires.

It captures a beautiful balance between high yaoi melodrama and serious literary and philosophical exploration of complex people and ideas. Thus, for example, it has hot gay sex, but it has hot gay sex enacted in the midst of deep philosophical thought process about the nature of the union of souls (in a Shinto frame of reference) and the relevance of this process to the development of human history. The result is... indescribable: a core relationship as passionate and extreme as any I have ever read yet underwritten by a vastness of personal, social, religious, interior context brings these characters to life as complex, amazing individuals. And that doesn't begin to do it justice.

I can perhaps best express it through some examples of what you'll find. No major plot spoilers but obviously spoilers for some details in the books:

* Kagetora, at death's door, (no spoiler; this happens a lot) thinks that he would be happy to die at the hands of the zombie-like vengeful spirits closing on him if his death would bring them some peace.

* Naoe loans his cigarette lighter to Kagetora so that they can set off some fireworks for a birthday party. Naoe watches Kagetora overseeing the party and scolding his little sister for not being careful enough. Then, he moves to light a cigarette, remembers, and smiles.

* After two years of going through hell together, Kagetora kisses a man who is not his true love to say thank you.

* Sit on down and have tea with one of your arch enemies who will then berate you over the epic failures of your personal life, which is common knowledge to all.

* Kagetora wants to save a man from being tortured to death by the woman he wronged. Naoe, in a moment of sympathy, notes that the man wants to be tortured to death.

A Warning

There's a lot of sexual violence in this story, some of it addressed in what--in real life--would be a morally problematic way. (In other words, it's fairly conventional darkish yaoi in that respect.) OTOH, in the main, I think it's handled very seriously and carefully.

Some Final Perks

* Five comrades going through 400 years together (one of them spends 200 years as a woman).
* Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Christianity--name your religion: there's some interesting commentary and/or resonance.
* Sengoku history: if you go in for that sort of thing, you'll get quite an education.
* Good supporting characters. Many of them.
* Sex. Do I need to say it? If you wait long enough, there's lots of fairly graphic BL if that's up your alley.
* Great fan community: fic, art, comics, jokes, commentary, conventions, spin-off CDs, a lot of neat slippage between the official and fan produced works. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

Communities:
Translations: http://community.livejournal.com/mirage_trans/profile
General discussion: http://community.livejournal.com/mirageofblaze/
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