In his first big manga series since Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto, welcomes readers to a world of samurai, bushi, and princesses, but also cyborg bodies and robot animals who can change shape and fly. This is the world of Hachimaru, a very ill young man who wants nothing more than to become a great samurai and live a life of adventure. Unfortunately, he can’t even leave his house. But that just might change soon. Hachimaru’s great adventure is about to begin, whether he’s really ready for it or not.
First and foremost, the setting of Samurai 8: the Tale of Hachimaru is phenomenal. I love the feel of the bio-organic samurai and their animalistic companions; this is not a world where robots and technology equals harsh, straight lines that feel cold. Instead, everything is very rounded, and flows together in ways that feel natural. Just in the first page or two, the reader gets a strong feeling for the setting of this story. The one caveat is that facial expressions and faces aren’t as highly detailed, so characters’ faces and expressions can feel kind of blank or flat in comparison to all the riotous detail around them.
Though the world of Samurai 8 is exciting and a fun take on the classic samurai adventure story, the storytelling sometimes holds everything back. The reader is thrown into this world, with names and concepts equally tossed with no context at first. Then, the names and concepts are brought up again to explain them. In some cases this works out well, but there were more than a few awkward moments in the story that could’ve been avoided if they’d just been explained at the start. The plot also jumps in escalation, though I don’t want to go into details as that would run into spoilers. Essentially, it’s the kind of thing typical in adventure stories: the young protagonist finally gets what they want, so they immediately jump in, disregarding any parental figures around them (who also mysteriously don’t put up much of a fuss), and almost immediately get into a fight that shows their remarkable abilities. Otherwise, there’s definitely heavy use of the tropes of samurai stories, such as the character with a mysterious past and the unusual looking character that turns out to be a famous samurai. I enjoyed that, but I could see it being frustrating for some readers.
I’ll admit, I was concerned that Kishimoto might not be able to shake his lengthy past of writing Naruto, and create something new. There are certainly parallels that can be drawn, but many of those are, like I just discussed, part of the typical adventure story, so aren’t necessarily strong comparisons to Naruto itself. Instead of a focus on ninja and ninja culture, we’re looking at samurai and samurai culture, which are fundamentally very different. There’s also the simple fact that Samurai 8 is most definitely sci-fi, with talk of other worlds and space travel. And honestly, there’s a greater sense of destiny and focus on the story’s direction than Naruto generally had. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to picking up the next volume. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for a new high action adventure manga that’s less dark than titles like Demon Slayer and less set in the real world like Fire Force.
Samurai 8: the Tale of Hachimaru Vol. 1
By Masahi Kishimoto
Art by Akira Okubo
VIZ Media, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)