Title: Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru Vol. 1 Author: Masashi Kishimoto (Story), Akira Ookubo (Art) Publisher: Viz Media Language: English Format: Physical Pages: 192 Genre: Shonen, Battle, Sci-Fi Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Samurai 8: The Legend of Hachimaru is a brand-new manga from Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto. Ever since Naruto ended, Kishimoto was teasing that his new series would have something to do with science fiction and boy did it ever.
The first volume opens up with a samurai traveling the galaxy in order to save it. He needs seven keys to open up Pandora’s Box which will give him what he needs to accomplish this task. Turns out that this was just a video game a boy named Hachimaru was playing. Hachimaru cannot go outside due to the fact that he’s terminally ill and will die if he is disconnected from his life support machine. His father interrupts his gaming session and he’s very bitter towards him as a result. In fact, he kind of has a love/hate relationship with his father all together.
His father leaves to go fetch the final part he needs to build Hachimaru a wheelchair so he can go outside for the first time in his life. When he retrieves the part, he is confronted by a samurai who wants to know where he has hidden a certain key to unlock the blood-sucking katana. The samurai learns that the key is Hachimaru’s necklace and immediately tracks him down. Meanwhile, Hachimaru is playing with his robotic dog Hayataro. He throws a ball for him to fetch and he brings back a bigger ball that resembles a Daruma. After drawing in its eye, the Daruma awakens and is in the form of a blind cat who also claims to be a samurai.
When the samurai finds Hachimaru to take back his necklace, Hachimaru is powerless to stop him. He takes the necklace with ease and asks Hachimaru to commit suicide, stating that the key won’t unlock the katana by itself. It requires the code which is the halting of Hachimaru’s beating heart. Hachimaru agrees and kills himself thinking the samurai would spare his dad. However, this act grants him the blessing of Fudo Myo-o, the warrior god. Hachimaru transforms into a cyborg and is then deemed a samurai. He places his hand on Hayataro and wishes for him to take his true form. Hayataro then becomes his pet, or as they call it, his holder. Together, along with Daruma, they take out the samurai who came to steal the blood-sucking katana.
And so begins Hachimaru’s journey into a world without terminal illness but a world filled with possible death at every turn.. the world of a samurai.
Okay, that was really trippy. I can see that Kishimoto stuck to his roots by exchanging ninjas for samurais; however, having everything take place in a hi-tech future where samurai are cybernetic entities is a really intriguing twist. It’s a great clash of tradition and futuristic Japanese stylings and while the two seem so contrived when juxtaposed, they actually mesh extremely well and seem rather seamless.
One thing that bothers me about the manga; though, is its main character Hachimaru. Here we have your typical weak character who can’t do anything but this time it’s via illness and physical limitations. Suddenly, he receives a power and pretty much becomes a samurai, a very high title awarded to someone who normally goes under years upon years of training. This means we have another main protagonist who is overpowered in a Kishimoto series but unlike Naruto where he had to earn his God-level skills, it seems that Hachimaru got a bit of a headstart here. Not saying he’s God-level but being a samurai right off the bat is a little much. Even Naruto had to go to ninja academy and even then, he barely made genin rank.
It’s also an issue with this being a trope in most shonen series. Always a weak character who has his fears and then gains the power and strength to fight. Then again, Naruto was one of the most successful manga/anime franchises in history so who am I to question what works in the manga world? I was just hoping for something a bit different with our main character.
Hayataro is actually pretty interesting for what little he brings to the table. I don’t mean that in a bad way because it’s this small quirkiness that makes him interesting. He’s a robotic dog that meows like a cat and is too dumb to recognize what to go fetch. As an example, Hachimaru asks him to bring him his cane and he brings him a katana instead. He goes to fetch a ball but brings back Daruma instead.
So, the question is… Is Hayataro really that dumb or was this all some sort of grand, elaborate plan? It seems a little too convenient that Hayataro would fetch him a katana along with someone who would end up becoming Hachimaru’s master and trainer. There’s more to Hayataro’s cleverness than what meets the eye and when you reflect back, you realize just how important this insignificant character is. It’s not the craftiest disguise and people can probably easily pick up on the clues from the very beginning but it was still a nice way to use a character to set up the series’ major plot point.
Daruma is a bit of a reach, though. He’s the same character as the one inside the video game that Hachimaru was playing. Daruma claims he sent copies of the game through the galactic web in order to find promising young warriors who are to become samurai and Hachimaru was one of the ones he was keeping tabs on. I know this is sci-fi… I know this is manga… and stuff like this is run-of-the-mill in a lot of different series but that’s just an obvious plot device that made me facepalm when I read it. I guess it works for what the series is and for the target demographic of the manga but that just seemed like an explanation for the sake of explaining something that had no other way to explain it. At least not without some deep thought. I’ll need to see more of this character before I can pass judgment on him though.
With also meet another character named Nanashi (Nameless One). They don’t know their gender (supposedly) but it is pretty obvious that they are female. She has two prosthetic hands which can converse with her but she’s a severe introvert that spends time playing the same game has Hachimaru. They meet when Hachimaru ventures out on Hayataro and gets shot out of the sky, falling through her roof. Nanashi learns who Hachimaru is when they come under attack. Together, they dispose of the threat and that’s where Nanashi becomes overwhelmed with the fact that she has made a friend… or future husband (by the cake cutting reference she made). I really like Nanashi. I love seeing stories of shut-ins gaining confidence over time! Hmm… I wonder why that is? (I may have written a light novel series about that!)
Also, can we give the father of the year award to Hachimaru’s dad? Here’s a man who has a spiteful little shit for a son and still risks his life over a part for a wheelchair he’s been building for years just so Hachimaru can experience the outdoor world for the first time in his frail life. A man who unconditionally loves his son no matter how much shade gets thrown at him. That’s a real father right there!
This was a pretty interesting start to a new series. The artwork; however, seemed pretty busy and it was a bit hard to focus on what was going on. Be that as it may, Akira Ookubo did a great job on the character design and Kishimoto is penning quite an interesting story. I do think things happened a little too quickly but, then again, they typically do in a shonen series. The typical setup is that a boy or girl will get into trouble and awaken their powers and then their story begins. Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru followed that formula to the letter so it’s not exactly a plot device that’s new or anything.
The characters are fun and diverse. I’m actually shocked that our main character has a living parent… usually, they’re dead. Then again, we don’t know the fate of Hachimaru’s mother so… there’s always that! Daruma using cat and underwear puns looks to follow shonen rules as well as one character always seems to have a quirk about them… unless you are My Hero Academia, then everyone has one! Nanashi is still one of my favorites. I hope we get to see more of her in the future although I’m sure she will come into save Hachimaru during a moment of peril stating that “I’ve done training” or something like that. It’s almost painfully obvious.
Speaking of painfully obvious, that ending with Ann was a pretty huge set up for a fated meeting. It’ll be super interesting when this becomes a love triangle with Nanashi. You can just tell it’s going to happen. I guess predictability here is a bit of an issue. There could always be swerves but they are few and far between in shonen when it comes to stuff like this. Swerves are usually saved for plot lines and an occasional character alignment here or there. Still, it’ll be fun to watch and see what happens!
If you’re a fan of Kishimoto’s Naruto series and want something with a similar feel under an exciting new premise, give this one a shot!