Miles, Mikel (story); Aguilar, Ivan Earl (illustration); Fauzi, Fahmi (art)
Seinen – Action, drama, mature
2 Issues (ongoing)
Amir and Keith both believe they’re the stronger swordsman, and their intense rivalry turns fierce in a practice match. Keith announces he’s leaving the village, and Amir passes out from bloodloss. But waking up provides little peace to to Amir, as a sudden blaze envelops the village.
Everyone knows Cowboy Bebop. Well, I nickname this series Samurai Hip-hop.
Samurai Shin is a mixed-media project, so you can check out the various albums and sample videos for a richer experience outside of just reading.
First off, so far there is no person — samurai or otherwise — named Shin. So this is so early in the story that the meaning of the title (whether it means a person name Shin or referring to 新, aka new) isn’t even clear yet.
Samurai Shin opens with a Final Fantasy VIII-type battle between two rivals with swords who injure each other. But unlike Final Fantasy VIII which then goes back and eases the viewer into the world’s mythos, Samurai Shin charges straight ahead: Keith announces he’s leaving, and then the village faces total destruction.
Hey, come on now, even the confusing Final Fantasy VIII waited a little bit before revealing their oddly-dressed antagonist! (The guy in Samurai Shin decides to don a mascot-like bear head. Because, you know, nothing scares samurai like oversized cartoon animal helmets.)
The idea is certainly intriguing: Amir has lost his mother, his rival, and likely his entire town in one day. He’s also in no condition to take revenge right now, so the swordsman will probably have to train or recruit allies in order to defeat Bear Man. Avenging your village is hardly unique, but the fact Samurai Shin is hardly shielding away from violence will appeal to many readers. In fact, speaking of similarities, Keith not only looks like a Sasuke clone, but he operates much like Sasuke: a friend-rival who leaves behind a confused Amir. Naruto and Sasuke, Squall and Seifer… who doesn’t love a good tale between close rivals?
As I mention, there’s a whole rush of things that happen in the first issue, and any revelant information is thrust at readers as they go along. For instance, Amir falls asleep again from his injuries (just as the village is being set on fire), and then he dreams of Bear Man. We learn he is someone whom his mother defeated and seemingly let go years ago. Amir, his mother, and Bear Man have a reunion, but we never see how Amir’s mother faced off against Bear Man or why she let him go. She was a legendary warrior, so I would have loved some foreshadowing or at least a basic idea of why such a powerhouse would let Bear Man go. Before this dream, Amir narrates a story of how he decided to follow his mother’s footsteps in being a legendary samurai after seeing her defeat a wolf. This moment along with Amir’s mother entrance were my favorite moments in the story, but I think a flashback involving Bear Man was needed more.
While the first chapter is action-filled, the second, Issue 1.5., is much more character-driven. This one is centered around Keith and how he came to train under his and Amir’s teacher Kenzo.
I’m not sure if Keith’s prequel will continue separately from Amir’s story for now or whether they’ll reconnect sooner rather than later. Regardless, we get a better taste of the universe of Samurai Shin, like learning that about half of the seven guardians Amir’s mother was a part of are dead. That helps explain why the village didn’t seem to have great defenses for a samurai village. However, there are still a lot of vague parts. Sure, an illustration clears up Amir and Keith’s ages, but I’m still not exactly sure what the goal of this village is… or even where it is. This isn’t a historical manga considering we see pistols here, but the village is distinctly historical Japan with its oil lamps and kimono. Amir mentions his mother served in the “Great War of Kings”, so does Amir long to serve the current king? Can anybody find this village and start kendo training? Does Amir have any other interests besides going to the dojo? Basic world-building isn’t always interesting, but it’s required. The series is still in its foundation-laying stages, but that is my biggest hope going forward: that the manga spends more time providing background for Samurai Shin.
Along that same line, I hope is that the manga spends more showing instead of telling. Obviously, there’s no hard limit on how much a speech bubble should hold, but six full-length sentences is definitely way too long. First of all, the font between the two chapters is different, and then the font has to get smaller to fit all those words into a single bubble. At times, I wondered if this would have been better as a light novel, as it feels like the story is being constrained by the limited number of pages for the art. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and perhaps some of the text blocks could be alleviated by more supporting illustrations. Instead of Keith’s father narrating the past, let readers see him as a young man training.
The font isn’t the only thing that’s different visually between Issue 1 and 1.5. The debut chapter is full-color while its follow-up is in black-and-white. The two have completely different auras. The first has a manwha/webtoon feel, while the second reads more like a traditional Japanese manga. Of course, I am partial to Issue 1.5, but that’s more for story reasons. I’m still having trouble not seeing Keith as Sasuke reincarnated, but hopefully he’ll become more visually unique as the series goes on. Otherwise, Samurai Shin reminds me of Until Death Do Us Part, as both feature swordsmen in modern times and major characters that are black. From the final pages, I also imagine the underground world is likely to play a part in the story, so that would be another similarity between the two along with occasionally rough art. This is still very early though, so the artist(s) have plenty of room for growth. The first chapter in particular is inundated with close-ups, and I think there may have been more room for story explanation if not every page tried to be so dramatic. The cutesy flashback of Amir and the wolf is also a highlight visually, as it helps show that not every page will be full of men glaring angrily at each other.
Samurai Shin has a lot of potential, and at the very least I want to figure out the “Shin” in the title! I just hope future volumes provide a more in-depth world of the art without including whole paragraphs of exposition after the fact.