The Elusive Samurai (逃げ上手の若君) by Yūsei Matsui is a shōnen, jidaigeki manga series that takes place between the Kamakura and Muromachi eras of Japanese history and follows a young boy named Hōjō Takatoki that is known for always being on a speedy run. When his entire family and status are viciously ripped from him by a terrible betrayal, Hōjō flees with an unexpected rival so that he may survive and exact his revenge one day in the near future.
This is a brand-new manga series by the acclaimed author of Assassination Classroom that began its serialisation a couple days ago over on Viz Media’s Shonen Jump website, which is where I first learned about it. Intrigued by the title and mangaka, I went ahead and read the first chapter on an impulse. After checking it out, I feel this series has a lot of potential to become something really fantastic.
The Elusive Samurai holds no punches in terms of getting the story started. As we begin, we’re immediately introduced to Hōjō, some of his family members and his responsibility to them, and the political situation of the era. Shortly afterwards, we read about the slaughter of everyone he knows and cares about thanks to a betrayal no one saw coming. With the playful character interactions and art style one wouldn’t expect the story to take such a drastically serious tone, so when it does happen, it can be a bit astonishing. Yet that unexpected shift in tone and demeanour is also what makes the story so damn captivating.
The imagery of piles of dead bodies and buildings being consumed by a fiery blaze brings the violent tensions of this historical period to life and works to drive home the fact that this kid’s fun-loving home-environment has just been utterly decimated. He feels it’s his responsibility to commit ritualistic suicide (seppuku) to uphold his family’s honour in the wake of everything that occurs, however, when an unexpected individual interferes, Hōjō realises that the best way to regain his family’s honour is to defeat the human that essentially fucked them all over.
I love historical fiction, especially historical fiction that is laced with vengeance and rivalry, which is what spills off the pages of The Elusive Samurai. My hope is that we’ll get to watch Hōjō train and become stronger, using his supreme speedy talents to his strategic advantage. Watching (or reading about) a character that goes from being in a weakened or average state and then working their arses off to build themselves into something stronger, both physically and emotionally, is an aspect of hero-centred storytelling that I absolutely adore.
If there’s any part of The Elusive Samurai that felt a bit awkward, it’s the interspersing of silly humour amid the bloodshed and mayhem. It’s included to break up some of the more serious overtures of the narrative, I’m sure, and it’s also a typical trait of most shōnen tales involving young boys. Even so, when we’re being told about the savagery with which a young girl is raped and killed and then the next page goes into some flippant comedic characteristics, it can feel rather unsettling. This is an element that I hope finds a much better balance as it moves onwards.
Aside from that, I like the allies that Hōjō meets in the wake of this chaos. One of them is a dude who exudes pure spirituality and claims to be able to see the future. He’s the moronic comic relief for sure and while I appreciate his contributions in making things more light-hearted, I can tell I’m going to have a like-hate relationship for this dude. His daughter, though, is far more aloof and level-headed and works to keep him in check, which I find to be delightfully enjoyable. Seeing her call him on his bullshitry just makes me laugh and appreciate her presence on the page quite a bit.
All in all, The Elusive Samurai had a good introduction to it. It’s mostly a story of classical retribution and honour, coupled with some kooky companions, excellent artwork, and titbits of playful humour, creating a brew that shall be as engaging as it is entertaining, I hope.
Genre: Historical, Samurai
Publication Year: 2021
Publisher: Viz Media (English)
Content Warnings: Violence. Mass dead bodies. Death. Bloodshed. Fire. Rape of a young girl (mentioned, off-page). Mass suicide (community seppuku).
AniList: The Elusive Samurai by Yūsei Matsui
Official Release: Manga Plus, Shonen Jump (Viz)