To follow up an iconic series with something new puts pressure on even the most well-respected of creators. Perhaps this is why Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto wished to try his hand a little something different for his next series. Where his last tale focused on ninjas and a quest to be Hokage, this tale brings more blades and honor to the battlefield. And its hero: a disabled boy given a chance to experience life unchained.
Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru places its focus on the titular character and his quest for the seven keys of Pandora’s Box. But first, Hachimaru must clear a massive hurdle: being able to live for more than three minute unattached to a life force machine. That’s where Daruma, a legendary samurai trapped in a feline body, arrives to give the boy an opportunity to live life like the samurai he worships. With a new body, key guardian, and a legit lease on life, Hachimaru sets out to see the world beyond his living room, and enter a quest to become the ultimate samurai.
The manga blends an Edo period-styled Japan with that of a cyberpunk realm, creating warriors that are both man and machine. Kishimoto and his illustrator Akira Okubo (brother of Soul Eater creator Atsushi Okubo) have designed a universe that twists what the former did with Naruto and the skin of a Tsutomu Nihei narrative. It feels clean amongst the world, but the tech has this 80s-era cybernetic personality to it. While there have been many stories that have combined these two eras in the past, it does feel somewhat friendly here when it’s being written by the same man who invented the “sexy jutsu.”
Story-wise, it does take a little while for things to get going in Samurai 8. The pacing is pretty good in the opening chapter, giving way to how Hachimaru goes from being a boy who’s always on the verge of death to a mighty samurai. As the character has never left his own home before, it’s understandable that the main story’s plot is first put to the side so Hachimaru can explore a bit. There’s enough explained for the time being as to what might our hero’s journey might entail, but also a good amount of mystery to keep its readers guessing as to where things may go from there.
I have to give credit to Kishimoto for the introduction of the character Nanashi, a gender-less samurai student who feels invisible in the world. Although I’m not exactly sure it was his intention, it does serve as a surprisingly good analogy for how certain people in the transgendered/gender neutral community feel how they’re treated and portrayed in both real-life and the media. With Hachimaru becoming their first friend, Nanashi is given his own chance at experiencing the life they rightfully deserve. How both team up to defeat the Dojo Destroyers can be seen as symbolic, both from the perspective of two people now having a new lease on life and how different communities can conquer anything together with enough heart and determination.
When the story starts getting into the meat of things, Samurai 8 tells enough to its readers to give them a good idea on what to expect. How strength works, the necessity of the samurai/key holder/princess combination, and the importance of the seven keys. Kishimoto had stated that the story won’t be a long one (the series’s fifth & final volume will be published very shortly in Japan), so it’s good that things won’t be stretched out and dragged for the sake of filling more unnecessary stories. The introduction of Ana at the end gives its readers the final piece of the puzzle, though how she’ll work together with Hachimaru is anyone’s guess.
The first volume of Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru sets the world up well, even if there’s still a little fogginess in the details. Still, there’s enough here that’ll easier pull in Naruto fans and newcomers of Kishimoto’s work. A great story, a unique protagonist, and a big universe help to make Samurai 8 something worth venturing out for, giving way to an exciting (albeit short) adventure for shonen manga fans to dive into!
Promotional consideration provided by Gabrielle Dyer of VIZ Media