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I have caught up on Mirage of Blaze vol. 17, ch. 20-22, lovingly translated by [ profile] quaint_twilight, for which much thanks as always.

In 17.20, it's research time! And the task of hitting the proverbial Sunnydale High Library falls to Nagahide. He chats with some knowledgeable people and discovers many things, most of which we the fans don't really need to know...

This volume is exceptionally boring if, like me, you can't bring yourself to care about how the Miike are divided into two sects and have long-running negotiations with the Aso about the dispensation of the head of Kihachi, which will depend on the reincarnation of Asara... and there's Bird people and Fire people and alliances with the Ootomo and against the Oda, and all manner of things.

I admire Nagahide for his ability to have pages upon pages of conversation about all this with essentially no snarking. I'm not being entirely facetious. A lot of Mirage is like this. The tens of thousands of words info dump is piss poor literary practice for any writer who wants to "draw in" an audience, but Kuwabara-sensei has more important fish to fry and Mirage is not an ordinary story. Reading these sections does, indeed, remind me of reading parts of the Bible or (more so) the Mahabharata, the parts that go, "So-and-so begat So-and-so, who begat So-and-so, who journeyed here and there to combat Whosits and Thus-and-such, whereupon they fought and So-and-so launched 10,000 arrows at Whosits, who allied himself then with Whatits for the purpose of Something, and they fought, etc." And it's as dull as watching paint dry if watching paint required the memorization of 5000 names you can't connect to anything of any imaginable interest.

In and of itself, it's pointless unless you're a fictionalized history freak. But in the broader scope of Mirage, it's necessary; it's the texture of their world, and the vast wasteland of pages that separates Kagetora from Naoe, for example, is not just a vast wasteland for the readers; it is a vast wasteland for the Yasha-shuu. Do you think Nagahide wanted to pull Library duty? Granted this information means more to him than it does to me, but I'm fairly certain that amassing it is not his idea of a fun way to spend a large proportion of 400 years.

Being Yasha-shuu is hard. It's not only hard because it involves unremitting, life-threatening work, century after century, with uncleansed souls; it's also hard because it involves endless slogging through the unsexy parts: long conversations about the inner machinations of thousands of clans and families, massive review of historical records, tons of memorization of sutras, incantations, alliances, artifacts, geographic details, tactical movements, hotel reservations, creative excuses for absences from work/school/home, keeping track of telephone numbers, addresses, aliases, finances. It is not a coincidence that Naoe is so damn good at being a secretary. These are vital skills!

And the weight of all this awful, awful muck is the weight of the Uesugi in the Yami Sengoku. They are professionals. They know that winning the battle is 5% spiritual warfare and 95% administration.

Good luck with your research, Nagahide! I suspect it will go on for some time to come.

In 17.21, there is more research, and then Takaya!

Takaya is being held prisoner by some people who are oddly sympathetic to his plight. His plight, aside from being held prisoner, is that he's realizing that Kenshin has abandoned him to fight in the Yami Sengoku and, as far as he knows, Naoe has abandoned him too to be the new general.

This is a face of Kagetora I truly love, the strong man who has been so much in evidence for 400 years, who can face almost the worst blows he could imagine, the collapse of all he has lived for and probably his own imminent and purposeless death, and remain (superficially) the quietly charismatic leader, receiving it all with calm and diplomacy. Of course, he kills his soul this way, but you've got to admire it.

His scene here is short but very moving. The rough thing about reading Mirage in translation this way is that it whets the appetite just enough to make the months' long wait for new translations hard to take--I say with this incalculable gratitude to all our translators, to whom we owe so much joy.

In 17.22, Irobe is still hanging with the Catholics; Yuzuru almost meets a rock star.

Yes, Yuzuru has a brief, almost-run-in with Nobunaga, who--like the true rock star that he is--appears for two seconds, then whisks himself away.

Yuzuru proceeds with his quest to find/rescue Takaya and instead ends up being taken prisoner by the Catholics and infected with one of those wormy things out of Star Trek II. It is designed to control his mind, but it doesn't, because he is special.

Instead, he runs into Irobe, who is working with the coercive-wormy-thing-holding Catholics on Kenshin's orders for reasons that remain obscure to me. This is, I gather, the first time Yuzuru and Irobe have met, and it will probably be significant if and when their meeting continues in a few chapters' time.

There is also discussion between Irobe and one of the Catholics on the subject of tense lord-retainer relations, which makes Irobe think of some people he knows.

I love Yuzuru's dedication to Takaya, his insistence that "Takaya is Takaya," and that's all there is to it and all that he needs, no matter how much bizarre information he learns about kanshou-sha and Yami Sengoku and incantations and so on.

In a sweeping sense, the love between Takaya and Yuzuru (Kagetora and Kagekatsu) is one of the most surprising and moving things in the story. Their relationship almost began in bitter bloodshed. Kagetora's entire 400-year saga has been driven by his death at the hands of Kagekatsu. From a very plausible perspective, he has been the loser of the Otate no Ran for 400 years: not only remembered as the loser in history but condemned to return as a kanshou-sha (while his brother reincarnates and is cleansed), to protect the clan his brother won from the vengeful spirits of his own followers, and from there on burdened with labor after labor, up to the final command to once again protect his brother when, post-Minako, he has almost no life force left. Yet he obeys. And for his pains, he abandoned by the father whose commands he has followed so unflinchingly. He could very easily hate Kagekatsu for the most understandable of human reasons. But he doesn't. He loves him. And he is deeply and sincerely loved back. This is amazing. In its way, it's more amazing than Kagetora and Naoe.

Yuzuru--I'm vaguely and confusingly given to understand--is some sort of saint-like figure, so his capacity for love is, perhaps, not so surprising. But Kagetora's love: instinctive, unquestioning, free of resentment, speaks volumes about his strength of character and the innate goodness Naoe despairs of ever attaining to.
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