Masashi Kishimoto, author of one of the biggest names that springs to mind when hearing terms like “anime” and “manga” (that being Naruto), has gone from writing about ninja to writing about samurai. There’s no denying that Kishimoto’s new Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru shares surface-level commonalities with his magnum opus. Its art style and thematic elements immediately bring the tale of a plucky young ninja with big dreams to mind.
Beneath that facade is a series that actually pulls inspiration from a multitude of sources. Samurai get top billing in the title, yet the addition of science fiction alone is enough to distinguish this work from Kishimoto’s prior endeavours. Cybernetics and space prove potent ingredients in the recipe for Shounen Jump’s latest promising title.
The series stars the eponymous Hachimaru, a boy so plagued by allergies and illnesses he’s spent his life hooked to a machine at home. He’s made the best of it thanks to video games and his mechanical cat (or could it be a dog?), but his inability to leave the house ultimately leaves him wanting more. Hachimaru dreams of becoming a samurai because they represent the antithesis of himself; protectors of the weak. In the meantime, he’s just an ordinary boy living with his father and holding a little emotional resentment towards said father’s unpredictable coming and going. The war of tough love and existential loneliness leaves Hachimaru feeling like a casualty.
By the time Hachimaru’s dreams and motivations come to light, we’ve seen enough of this futuristic world to get an idea of what “samurai” means beyond his own ideals. It isn’t just about swinging a sword or the credo behind your swift strikes. It’s a rather physical, life-changing transformation that opens up otherworldly abilities such as mind reading, instant regeneration, and whirlwind attacks. Samurai can merge with their animal companions of varying types to unlock additional strength and durability.
The subsequent action scenes we see here make use of the story’s genres. Between samurai, cybernetics, and space, there’s more than enough toys for Kishimoto to tinker with where fanciful techniques are concerned. It will be interesting to see if these fights will resemble the straightforward brawls of Dragon Ball, the intellectual bouts of Hunter X Hunter, or some happy medium. The various different ranks and species of animal companions will no doubt contribute to power scaling.
It’s a bit shocking that, by the chapter’s closing pages, Hachimaru has already become a samurai himself. Rather than dangle the carrot of pirate king over readers’ heads for a thousand chapters, Kishimoto lets him become achieve that from the get-go. The difference is being a samurai was never the end-goal but a doorway to lifelong journey. He still has six key-shaped MacGuffins to collect and protecting the princess is his eternal drive, not becoming a hokage. The following chapters could easily provide satisfying explanations, give his power greater context, or introduce worthier roadblocks.
So while Hachimaru’s instantaneous development feels abrupt and sacrifices the storytelling allure of a unique shounen protagonist combating illnesses alongside villains, he still has to shed his naivety towards the world and learn to bear the burden of responsibility. He may have already unintentionally spent his life preparing for combat thanks to his online games, but the pearls of wisdom from his sensei prove he has a long road ahead. If Naruto is any barometer, that road spans several hundred chapters. We’ll see how the decision to make Hachimaru more than competent from the get-go pans out.
Overall, Kishimoto has crafted a world that could offer the adventures and exploration of early Dragon Ball and a new style of combat transcending Naruto. Enough comedy was showcased here to allow for more whimsical arcs centering on self-discovery. Likewise, Hachimaru’s brave sacrifice shown here is evidence of emotional highs to come. Because interstellar travel seems to be involved, there’s an infinite number of settings Kishimoto can tap into depending on what mood he wants to evoke in the plot.
The real reason I’m excited for Samurai 8, though, is the contrast of past and future. It seems like more than an aesthetic choice and could be applied to situations Hachimaru encounters across the universe. His new master’s ancient wisdom is still applicable in this revolutionary future and delves into concepts such as the nature of truth and its disguises.
The distinctly Japanese sensibilities sprinkled about such as the architecture inject a rich sense of heritage and history. Concepts like and daruma and seppuku are already playing pivotal roles in the plot. In a more modern light, the basic idea of Hachimaru leaving his room to discover a new world is simple and appealing for a generation that is statistically more likely to play games inside than out. I believe the idea of breaking out of your shell will be important.
As an aside, having artist Akira Ōkubo provide the illustrations rather than Kishimoto himself is definitely a wise move. Though the circumstances differ, we’ve been seeing similar approaches lately with the likes of Dragon Ball Super and Fairy Tail 100 Year Quest. Anything that reduces the mental and physical strain that authors of weekly manga experience is good in my book. The nature of the industry has taken its toll on brilliant minds like Yoshihiro Togashi and Sui Ishida.
Ōkubo’s character designs and general aesthetic greatly resemble Naruto, probably due to him assisting with that series for about a decade, but those who read the series for years will probably tell this wasn’t drawn by Masashi Kishimoto himself. The resemblance to the aforementioned series will draw ire from a few, but it’s worth remembering that Shounen Jump artists establish and tweak their style over the years (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure with its slowly shrinking muscle men being a definitive example).
The first glimpse of Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru proves it’s going to be an ambitious series indeed, pushing beyond time and space. This chapter might’ve been a little tooambitious, cramming in as many concepts as possible from the jump. Although it acknowledges shounen conventions, it doesn’t feel shallow or overly cliché. If you haven’t checked the chapter out yet, there’s no reason not to thanks to Viz. Here’s hoping its success stands shoulder to shoulder with modern hits like My Hero Academia.
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