Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru 015-017 – Manga Review

Synopsis: A new series written by Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of Naruto! With art by Akira Okubo! A futuristic tale of samurai adventure! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

Warning: Spoilers to Follow:

Review:

Looking at the Jump polling placement it’s clear Samurai 8 is struggling to find an audience. Coupled with the way Chapters 15 through 17 play out I think it becomes apparent that Samurai 8 is also entering ‘panic mode.’ ‘Panic mode’ is what I call when a manga begins to speed ahead in plot in hopes it can generate new interest from a flagging audience that’s failed to latch on to what’s already been offered. Let’s Jump in!

One of the greatest signs of ‘panic mode’ are sudden and frequent exposition dumps. Exposition dumps are always necessary in fiction, but the best series use them sparingly. Exposition dumps can often be boring if not handled correctly. You need to be able to impart the information the audience needs for the story to move forward, but not so much at one time that it feels like you’re just reading walls of text. Often you break them up. Offer a little information followed by some fun comedy shenanigans, or heartfelt character moments, what have you. When a manga enters ‘panic mode’ then things start rushing. You want to get audiences onto a whole new setting, with new side characters, to spice things up and try to win back readers that you’ve lost. What that means is you need to dump a bunch of exposition, fast, and then catapult the series in that new direction. But doing so comes at a cost: You have to cut out those character beats, the comedy, whatever isn’t necessary to move the story from points A to B. If you enter panic mode at the wrong time you can suddenly find you’ve got a ton of exposition to impart and a wealth of potential characters and setting to jettison. And that’s where Samurai 8 finds itself.

Hachimaru just lost his surrogate father, yet we lunge into lengthy exposition that affords our hero no time to grieve or recover from the crazy battle of the last few chapters. This makes Hachimaru feel like less of a character, because it almost feels like his surrogate father was a nobody to him now that he’s shed but a handful of tears in the last chapter. Normally after meeting a major villain, series tend to take things slow. We have a recovery period before we start ramping up again, usually with smaller stories. Here we’re dumped lengthy exposition rehashing/resetting the major goals of the story and subsequently thrust right into a pseudo-world ending cataclysm as Hachimaru and Co. begin their adventure into space. We basically cut any and all content that would make Hachimaru, or anyone else, a deeper, more sympathetic and relatable character in favor of reaching our next big set piece, and climax to the opening arc: The falling moon.

Ata The Peerless damaged the planet’s moon when he came in and killed this world’s nobles. That moon finally cracks and begins hurtling to the surface. As part of Hachimaru’s journey into space it’s up to him and his master to shatter it in two, saving the people below before they continue onto the next step in their journey. This moment feels abrupt, perhaps a climax meant for more like thirty chapters into the series, rather than sixteen. It’s the first arcs end and none of our characters feel all that more likable or deep than they did at the start of the story. This is especially detrimental for Ann, since we’ve had far fewer chapters with her. Hachimaru and his master both have had some focus, but Ann barely joined the cast before all the chaos went down, leaving her feeling comparatively thin.

Chapter 17 sees the start of a new arc, but not without a second exposition dump to again set the stage for new content. This is where Samurai 8 is creating more trouble for itself than solving its audience problem: We’re trimming too much. Rushing ahead means ‘trimming the fat,’ or taking out anything that isn’t necessary for the story to progress. But the fat can often be important. Fat is where characterization and likability for the cast live. If we don’t have fun little character moments, or well crafted, pointed dialogue than we never get to know or love anyone. Indeed as our characters reach a space station, with a whole new world to interact with, we again skimp. Hachimaru and his bride to be get the most predictable of interactions mainly built around teenage physical attraction and bashful romance. The world itself feels shallow, since there’s apparently nothing for our characters to do or interact with, besides get a drink and buy new clothes/food.

Instead we snap to our next obstacle: Thieves. Before chapter’s end two new characters approach our heroes’ ship and hop on board, hoping to steal whatever isn’t nailed down. Outside of the rapid developments we also get to see another problem with ‘panic mode’: Increasingly absurd characters. When you’re rushing the story, and have no time for character beats, you start having to rely on extreme quirks to make your new characters stand out. Here we have two thieves both with absolutely outrageous personalities. One of the two can’t seem to remember whatever was last said, and the other can’t help but become distracted by cute cats and pretty girls. Both characters feel like far larger and more outrageous personalities that anyone we’ve met previously. For as silly as Hachimaru and his master can be, these two are in a league of their own. And that’s solely because of panic mode. Rushing so hard means these two have to be big and crazy to stand out, but at the same time turning these characters into walking absurdities is a dangerous choice. Kishimoto is gambling that the readers who’ll appreciate these absurd characters will outweigh what little readership he currently has, that might be turned away by how different these cast additions are.

Kishimoto is playing a tough game. Shonen Jump is a ruthless set up, rarely allowing slow build manga time to flourish. Even for a creator coming off of a crazy popular series, Jump will only let Kishimoto play in his sandbox for so long before they’d cancel his work just like any other new series, regardless of his pedigree. Something has to be done to shake Samurai 8 up, but I think Kishimoto’s strategy is more likely to have a detrimental effect, rather than produce renewed interest. I think it’s increasingly likely Samurai 8 is going to end up a cancelled dud, rather than a second success.

That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on Samurai 8 in the comments below!

Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru is published as part of Shonen Jump.

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