Welcome back to Manga Talk!
I do apologize for the delay, real life is complicated and time consuming, but we deal with it the best we can.
Today we are going to be looking at a story that was done by Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto, a manga by the name of Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru.
As usual, there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS for the first volume, and with every manga I suggest that you read the source material before reading further. Support the official release and all that jazz.
Let’s get started!
The story begins with a monologue on how the purpose of samurai is to protect the galaxy and that in order to do so as a great destruction, seven keys must be found to open Pandora’s Box.
Someone who is listening to the monologue says that in their current form that they may be unable to accomplish that task, but the master says that they believe that they can accomplish the task.
A smash cut to two samurai getting ready for a heated face off. After saying that they are looking for the first key, the duel begins.
After a clash, one of the samurai took a hit in order to conceal a strike to hit their opponent, thus winning the duel.
The winning samurai asks for his prize and we learn that it is in fact a video game that young man is playing.
The young man, Hachimaru, is told off by his father to stop playing the game and to get ready for his treatment.
Hachimaru is a sickly young man who has tubes attached to his back. We learn later in the story that he has been sick since a young age and that the tubes are attached to a life support system.
Hachimaru and his father argue, mostly Hachimaru saying how he wished to go outside and how his father has made promise after promise in doing so but hasn’t yet.
Hachimaru is annoyed at a lot of things, his inability to walk, his father’s overprotectiveness, his robot dog/cat Hayataro getting the wrong things when they play fetch, and needles.
After the argument, Hachimaru’s dad goes out to get a part he needs, something called a Locker Ball, and we cut to a samurai scolding one of his henchmen.
The samurai is willing to give the henchman another chance…if he commits seppuku with a particular blade that comes from a ball.
The henchman is apprehensive, so the boss slashes the henchman’s stomach, and he dies from it.
Hachimaru wonders if he was too angry at his dad, when Hayataro comes back with a massive daruma and his dad meets with the samurai at the same time.
That’s when we learn that the ball is the Locker Ball, and that Hachimaru’s dad is paying 200 million yen for it. Meanwhile, Hachimaru draws an eye on the daruma and makes a wish for him to become a samurai and for his dad to make it home safe.
The daruma awakens to reveal that it is in fact a cat like creature and we cut back to Hachimaru’s dad, who I’ll be calling Pop because he doesn’t get a name in the volume, or if he did I missed it.
Pop is getting the Locker Ball and reveals that he’s going to use it to make a chair and mistakenly calls the samurai a bushi, which he takes great offense with. In this world bushi are just regular people while samurai are cyborgs who were chosen by the warrior god.
Pop is eager to leave, but the samurai takes great interest in Pop and we cut back to Hachimaru and the cat like creature, who is also a samurai named Daruma, who was once human but is now a blind cat like cyborg.
Daruma shows his skill with the blade and asks if Hachimaru has what it takes to be a samurai. Hachimaru’s weak body is a major detriment and his bad attitude does not help, but Daruma does see potential in Hachimaru to become a samurai.
The samurai notices that Pop is carrying a samurai’s soul and takes it from pop and manages to read Pop’s mind to reveal some information.
It turns out that the samurai is heading to Hachimaru, and Daruma just manages to hold back the wayward samurai for a while, until the samurai’s goons bring Pop in as a hostage to distract Daruma long enough for the samurai to hit with a sneak attack.
The samurai destroys Hayataro and offers Hachimaru a deal; commit seppuku to activate the key and Pop will be set free.
Despite Pop’s pleas, Hachimaru does care about his father and goes through with the seppuku. As the samurai tests the blade that was made from Hachimaru’s death, the Locker Ball activates.
Hachimaru’s body is reformed, untethered by the life support system, which means that he has become a samurai. Daruma tells Hachimaru how to rebuild Hayataro, the dog/cat getting a major upgrade in the process.
The samurai and Hachimaru engage in combat and by using a technique from the video game he plays so much, Hachimaru manages to beat the samurai.
As Hachimaru and Pop are reunited, Daruma says to himself that after seven tries, he has managed to finally find one of the seven keys.
After eating solid food for the first time, and Daruma remarking how eight seems to be a lucky number for Hachimaru, he and Hayataro take a walk around.
By walk I mean that Hayataro flies him over to a neighboring city and Hachimaru is overjoyed that he can experience all of this.
Meanwhile a group of bandits on a tank fire a shot into the air in celebration of capturing a waterway, and that cannon blast manages to hit the flying duo, leaving Hachimaru to crash into a samurai dojo.
There he meets an individual who doesn’t necessarily have a name, but is called Nanashi by everyone. Nanashi interacts with Hachimaru, being a little odd since their manner of speak changes from talking normally and through their hands.
Hachimaru notices where he is and makes the assumption that Nanashi wants to be a samurai, which is true but Nanashi isn’t motivated to do so, instead opting to play video games and being a shut in to the world.
Hachimaru makes a bet with Nanashi, that if he can beat them in a round of the fighting game then Nanashi will have to accompany Hachimaru to go out and find Hayataro.
Hachimaru wins, and Nanashi realizes that he is the top ranked player of the game. Hachimaru tells Nanashi about his prior circumstances and how he is doind his best to finally enjoy the world and seems to have finally made his first actual friend in Nanashi.
The two go outside, being greeted by both Hayataro and the tank from earlier.
After some choas and destruction, Hachimaru tries to draw what he thinks is his sword, but is unable to do so because of a Bio-ID. The sword is actually Nanashi’s and Hachimaru does his best to defend himself.
Nanashi musters up the motivation to help Hachimaru and together the two manage to slice the tank in half.
Nanashi then says that he can’t be friends with Hachimaru until they become an actual samurai themselves, and the two promise to meet up at some point in the future.
While all this is goin on, Pop and Daruma have a conversation and Daruma can tell that Pop is hiding something and that there is more to him and Hachimaru than what Pop is saying.
Pop catches Daruma on a technicality, that being a samurai has to properly introduce themselves and we learn that Daruma is actually a pretty big deal, having titles like The Lone Wolf of Yasha and The Man Astride the Evil Biting Holder and The Legendary Samurai Who Cut Down a Thousand.
Daruma tells Pop blatantly that the planet is doomed unless they can open Pandora’s Box and they need the seven keys to do so, and Hachimaru is one of those keys.
Pop is adamant about not letting Hachimaru leave and is being very dodgy about Daruma’s questions and before they can talk anymore Hachimaru returns.
Pop gets mad at Hachimaru for being out too long and going so far, the two argue, and Pop storms off. As Hachimaru wonders if he went too far again, Daruma is about to leave and tells Hachimaru that if he wants to be a samurai, he has to make that decision for himself.
Hachimaru and Hayataro take no time in deciding to follow Daruma into the ways of being a samurai.
While they are travelling, we learn that Hayataro is a Key Holder for Hachimaru and a brief explanation on what that is and how there will be more explaining when they get to the hideout.
They get to the entrance of the hideout, which is being guarded by two statues that come alive and start attacking. Daruma is asleep, so Hachimaru tries to deal with the statues himself, but his katana is not making a scratch on the statues.
Daruma wakes up and shows that a normal blade isn’t what a samurai uses, but rather their soul. He literally takes a small sphere and uses a blade handle to form a sort of spectral sword.
Not only does Daruma use this spectral sword, but for his neutral special he uses two guns and forms some armor to deal a final blow on the statues.
When the actual training begins, Daruma tells Hachimaru that there are three important factors to being a samurai: the samurai, their Key Holder, and a princess.
Hachimaru is the samurai and Hayataro is the Key Holder, and all he needs is a princess to complete being a great samurai. Daruma says they can worry about that later and they can work on actual combat training.
Hachimaru attempts to use his samurai soul to form a blade, but the blade comes out flaccid. Daruma asks why Hachimaru wants to be a samurai and he says it’s so that Pop can admit that Hachimaru is strong enough to take care of himself and not be worried.
After that he says that he plans to travel around space and protect the galaxy. As Daruma is trying to make a point in how samurai protect everyone and why the princess is part of the three major tenants of being a samurai and Hachimaru constantly interrupting, we cut to a ship in space.
Someone named Princess Sa is reminiscing about how she and her samurai first met, and states that a new samurai has been born from a princess in training who had lost their “crystal”.
We cut to that princess in training, Ann, who is being scolded at for losing track of her Locker Ball. We learn that the samurai who is made from the Locker Ball and the princess in charge of it are bound together, and Ann’s friend is worried that the samurai that might be made from it will be a freak.
Ann doesn’t seem to mind so much, just so long as he will listen to her talk.
Daruma explains that a princess can sense Locker Balls, also called Planet Crystals, deep within the planet. This means that a princess finds a Locker Ball which creates a samurai and the two are then bounded by fate to create a hero.
The world of this manga is pretty interesting.
Taking aspects like samurai and implementing them in a sci fi scenario isn’t necessarily new or groundbreaking, but it can provide some interesting story elements.
It offers a larger world to explore for the future, and cool powers and techniques can be explained by using philosophical notions and technology.
The technology on display is cool looking, as is most of the art in the manga.
While there are times that the images can appear cluttered, I think that overall I like the art and most of the character designs enough to place it into the positive category.
I also like that Hachimaru was basically on life support. It provides an insight to why he is feeling the way he is, and while he can be hot tempered at his father, he does care for him.
He cares about his father so much that he was willing to kill himself if it meant that his father could live.
There is a lot of potential with the story, and a lot of that comes from the blend of a science fiction world mixed with a samurai story.
That potential is brought up with the brief moments we have with Pop, with how he seems to be incredibly intelligent as well as having a secret that will be revealed in the future.
What drags this story down for me is that there is so much exposition.
There is so much explaining of what something is or what something means and when there isn’t some exposition going on there are things not being said.
I understand that it’s for the sake of the mystery, but things being cut off and not explained happens so much in this volume.
While there are aspects of Hachimaru that I like, overall I find him as a character to be pretty generic.
There really isn’t much to him that I can’t distinguish from a lot of other shonen protagonists, other than the fact that he started out the story barely being able to walk.
He is hot tempered and annoying, but also manages to love his father and be friendly to people like him.
Nanashi was kind of there, not really having much to do with the story except maybe coming back in a future volume.
The ending with Ann did not show much promise, if her biggest character traits are that she is an airhead who doesn’t mind who she’s with so long as they can listen to her talk.
Knowing Kishimoto’s history with writing female characters, I can only hope that she’s decently written in the future.
There is also no clear direction with the story. Yeah they need to find Pandora’s Box, but there doesn’t seem to be a rush.
With a threat to the planet being a big deal in most stories, the fact that it took Daruma eight tries to find one of the seven keys shows that while the threat is imminent, there isn’t any hurry.
There are no other major plot beats that seem to be important enough to address, which is fine with a slice of life story, but can make or break an action/adventure story like this one.
I would recommend this story to people who like science fiction stories with a twist, some pretty cool art and character designs, and are willing to be patient with what the story has to offer.
I am personally not interested in following up with this story, which is a shame because while I do see the potential of the story, the constant exposition and lack of direction aren’t really doing anything for me.
Tomorrow we move from science fiction into fantasy as we talk about a manga that talks about how immortality isn’t all its cracked up to be. We will be talking about Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End.
So until then,
Heiwa to sayonara!