I remember pretty vividly when the author of Naruto announced that he was going to be starting a manga about Samurai next. In theory this would be the next big thing that would rise to great heights. Unfortunately it didn’t last very long and I can see why. I enjoyed the manga well enough while reading but I can see how weekly there would be some chapters that were dreadfully boring. Even by the end I would say the character roster is fairly low tier and the art could be messy. Some interesting ideas though and I suppose that is the case with a lot of manga that end early. Good ideas that just didn’t work out.
The manga starts by introducing us to Hachimaru. He is a very sickly kid who has to always be hooked up to a generator or he will die. This is pretty rough for him because the guy has always wanted to be a legendary Samurai. Right now he can only achieve this vision by playing video games. The virtual reality is highly advanced as this seems to be in a far future kind of setting so at least he has learned some skills. He is the #1 Samurai in the world in that game but it doesn’t help his real life circumstances.
In this world, in order to be a samurai you have to commit Seppuku which is to stab yourself in the gut with your sword. Usually this is a means of suicide but in this world if you are “chosen” then you will survive and become a Samurai. If you aren’t…then you will have just murdered yourself. Hachi’s father warns him never to try this but one day a group of evil samurai show up so Hachi performs the ritual and manages to survive. They also get saved by a wolf named Daruma who claims to be a very powerful Samurai.
The stakes are bigger than either of them as Daruma explains that he needs to find the 7 legendary Samurai who will serve as keys to open a mystical box. Opening that box will end up saving the entire universe but the heroes have to hurry. Additionally, the various villains will want to have a hand in putting a stop to this as well. There is really no time to waste but will Hachimaru’s ability to become a Samurai be a hinderance or a help?
There are a lot of other concepts that the manga introduces. There are so many of them in fact that it takes whole volumes to explain them all. The series ended with 5 volumes and I want to say that even up to the final volume there were new elements being added. It’s a lot to take in and it’s clear that Kishimoto had a lot that he wanted to cover but I think it would have worked better if he had spaced things out a bit.
From the start I also didn’t like the whole Seppuku aspect. I never like it in movies, games, or shows when someone does that. The character always claims that it will reclaim their honor and all, but you can’t claim anything when you’re dead. The fact that the only way to wield this power in the universe is to trust your life to a 50/50 stab…it’s a very odd mechanic and it’s one that just doesn’t work well. No wonder there aren’t a ton of real samurai in this world.
Now, there are several divisions of Samurai. I forget the terms but to be a true samurai you need a princess. The princess is able to power you up through prayer which allows you to use a variety of skills like spirit swords and body hopping. Hachi gets a princess near the end but this setup does mean that the princess likely won’t be doing much since her whole function is to stay in the back and pray. It’s a mechanic that doesn’t seem to have any future potential for battle so that could be tough on the princesses.
As you can see, there are just some fundamental issues I have with the series setting and build up. It’s something the series can get around but it is tricky for making this one of the elites. As mentioned, there is also an absolute ton of info dumping going around here. I think the author could have managed to condense this quite a bit and that would have gone a great deal into improving the series.
Then for the art, it’s not as good as you would expect since Naruto was pretty solid. I think the artist has an issue with scale sort of like the Shaman King/Ultimo series. Since this series gets into breaking moons and such rather early on, the action scenes get really crazy. It can be really hard to tell what is happening in a fight without severely slowing down and just trying to see what is going on. You have to take a deeper look but the art just gets way too convoluted.
All right, so lets take a look at the characters here. First up you have Hachi who is a reasonable main character. He wants to see the world and become the best samurai around. He had to live with being away from his dream for a really long time so he makes the most of it when he’s finally free. He does get jealous about Ann really fast but ultimately recovers with a decent character arc. I didn’t have any real qualms with this guy.
It’d be nice if Hachi was a little more self confident and slow to make mistakes but I saw improvement during the series so he would only have continued to get better. His dog Hayataro is more machine than anything at this point but he still a good dog to have around. He is able to transform which lets Hayataro fight even further as well. Having a machine dog around also lessens the chances of animal violence which is a win in my books.
Furuta is the guy who raised Hachi for a while. Now, this is a character I’m not a big fan of. I know he was locking Hachi away for his own good and all that but by the end of the series they’re low key hinting that he knew a lot more than he let on. Keeping secrets rarely pays off and this is definitely not going to be one of those times. I’m not sure if I actually believe he’s no longer around but with the series over, I suppose the future plans might not even matter.
Daruma is a really big character and serves as Hachi’s mentor. The guy used to be super powerful but due to plot reasons he is currently stuck as a wolf now. It seems to be going for an All Might kind of deal where he can temporarily go into his true form but only for short bursts of energy. It’s too bad because his normal form is awesome while I’m not a big fan of the wolf form yet. It’s also hard to scale how strong the wolf is since he is supposed to be pretty tough still but spends a lot of time sleeping so it’s hard to say. I wasn’t really on board with him, but Daruma’s not bad.
Then there’s the main heroine Ann. So she has a bit of a tragic backstory because her brother Nanashi failed the rite and ended up dying. Again…this is why using Seppuku as a way to gather your powers is insanity but as a result she has a hard time getting close to anyone, particularly Samurai. As her job is to pray for one, that’s a little tricky. As the series goes on she learns how to work with Hachi more effectively though.
Ann doesn’t get a whole lot of time to shine yet, but I expect she would have made for a pretty good team along with Hachi at some point down the road. I just hope she could learn to do more beyond just praying like perhaps firing off energy blasts or something. Just as a way to give the princess more to do than just being protected. She’s also more of a timid character so I wouldn’t mind if she really upped her confidence levels by the end.
As the series goes on, we meet some more Samurai and miscellaneous characters. One group is Sanda and Ryu. Sanda is a very tricky fellow who works for a mobster so you want to be careful how much you take his words at face value. I was not a fan of his though. He just made way too many wrong decisions at a late point in the game. So by the time he has his character arc I just thought it was way too late for him.
I do like Ryu though. His gimmick is that he is always forgetting things. Even if an event happened mere seconds ago, he won’t remember it. The guy’s short term memory is shot but he’s still an excellent fighter. It’s a gimmick that may get old eventually but at the moment I’m definitely cool with it. He was a very memorable character which was important. Also I have to say, I feel like Kishimoto was choosing these names as homages. The series has characters named Ichigo, Goku, Ryu, etc. That can’t be a coincidence.
Nanashi is another character who joins up with the team. As one of the 7 keys, you can expect that he would have continued to stay relevant as the series went on. He’s not bad, the guy doesn’t have a lot of self confidence initially as well but gradually continues to improve. I’m not super impressed with him yet though so he would need more time in a sequel series to get better. It’s also interesting how the series already has two characters named Nanashi. It’s just rare when that happens especially when a series isn’t all that long.
Next up is a cat warrior named Hanaichi. He’s not really a big player yet but he’s another Samurai who gets a lot of hype so you will want to keep an eye on this guy. His ally, Goku is more interesting though. Goku’s an excellent warrior who is also good outside of combat and even gives Hachi a few pointers. I could see this guy getting a big role down the road. He’s certainly one of the most impressive samurai we see in the series.
Now lets look at some of the villains. First up is Ata who is the first serious fighter that Hachi has to go up against. His skills are pretty decent but of course as an opening boss you know that he isn’t going to be one of the more powerful opponents. His goals are rather basic as well. His design is fairly unique though so I’ll give him that. As far as opening bosses go, I would say he was decent. Plus he is still relevant since the heroes haven’t really fought him at his best yet.
See, in this series the soul is more important than the body so you can always create another body around it if you are strong enough. Strength of will is absolutely essential in this series and it’s really how the samurai get the will to fight. Without that then they would be in trouble, but naturally someone like Ata will be ready for the longhaul.
Then you have Benkei who had a whole tournament scheme going when he always intended to just rob the winner. It’s a solid plan and the guy can fight so that definitely went pretty well for him. Still not a standout villain or anything but he was a fun one to have around. Near the end of the series you get a whole group of Hachi clones/siblings who show up. None of them have a chance to do a whole lot though but it’s an interesting idea. More secrets from the past coming to light and all of that.
Samurai 8 really gets bold by the end. At this point the author likely knew the series was ending so why not go all the way right? The series goes in a much different direction than I expect it would have if this stayed as an ongoing. It ends on a very open note so perhaps this will get a sequel series someday. It seems like a longshot especially since Kishimoto is so involved with Boruto right now but I guess you never know.
The fights were good and while I wasn’t fully engaged in the story yet, there was a lot of potential. In a way this series was going for the kind of adventure feel you would have in Fairy Tail, minus the fanservice. The issue is that it tries to go too fast and doesn’t feel natural the way that Fairy Tail does. Mix in the messy art and now you’ve got a bit of a problem.
I liked the video game analogies though and how Hachi was leveling up like he was in an RPG. If the video game aspect had been pushed a bit sooner then that definitely could have helped. It flowed really well with the series and also would have probably amped up the fights a bit as well. If the series ever does get a sequel I’d certainly be down for it.
Now you may be thinking, with all of these negatives, how will this title still get a positive score? Well, at the end of the day the manga was still fun and interesting. I was engaged enough with what was going on and blasted through the volumes in no time. It could have been better but we still had quality action moments, no fanservice, and the series was well written. The issues I mentioned will keep the series from being great, but it’s still a pretty good read and a nice way to spend some time.
Overall, Samurai 8 is a good series but one with enough flaws where you can see why they pulled the plug. It was just a good time to have something else give it a shot. My main issue was really with the series introducing way too many concepts in a short time (Particularly since I didn’t like most of them) and allowing this to make the fight scenes way too convoluted. It’s cool that he mixed in sci-fi with traditional samurai battling so well but there were too many layers to everything. If you’re looking for a good action title to check out though, you can’t go wrong with this one especially since it’s so short.