Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
Title: Samurai Deeper Kyo
Author: Akimine Kamijyo
Genre: Supernatural, action/adventure, martial arts
What it’s about: The story follows the exploits of Mibu Kyoshiro and Demon Eyes Kyo, two souls trapped in Mibu Kyoshiro’s body. Both great samurais with a mission to destroy the things that threaten the people they love, Kyoshiro and Kyo embark on their own quests to achieve two separate goals that are inextricably linked because of their mysterious pasts.
Of course, this involves them switching control of the body from time to time. Kyoshiro initially comes across as a kind, slightly idiotic young man with very little courage, although he soon shows that he’s a powerful fighter. Kyo, also known by many as the “thousand-man slayer,” is quiet, dark, and delights in fighting others. The plot twist is that they hate each other, since Kyoshiro is the one who hid Kyo’s real body and absorbed his soul.
The story begins with Kyoshiro meeting Shiina Yuya, a bounty hunter searching for the man who killed her brother. They quickly join forces (primarily because of the bounty on Kyoshiro’s head and Yuya’s dream of money) and meet a number of people as they travel together, saving the weak and slaying the bad.
Kyo is brought out shortly after the manga begins at the mention of a woman’s name (Sakuya—a former love interest of both Kyo and Kyoshiro, as well as a renowned seer/shaman) and then remains in control for most of the series. Things become murkier once the story introduces a secret group called the Mibu clan—god-like beings that have always existed in the backdrop of Japan’s history, manipulating those who run the nation and maintaining control of mankind.
Alongside Yuya’s quest to find her brother’s murderer, Kyo’s quest is to find and kill the leader of the Mibu clan—the Former Crimson King—and he meets with other fighters along the way, including his former comrades the Four Emperors, who all sympathize with his cause and respect his status as one of the strongest men alive. Kyoshiro’s quest is unclear until the end, but it’s obvious that protecting Sakuya is his primary goal. Each of the main characters’ goals are heavily linked together by fate, a theme that runs consistently throughout a story obsessed with divine power, human limits, and (ultimately) love.
The good: Each character has an interesting, convoluted backstory that drives their quest to be stronger. The connections that develop between them (often changing from hatred to friendship) are satisfying to follow and there are plenty of heart-warming moments to counteract the brute violence.
That being said, the brute violence is depicted extraordinarily well. Fight scenes are well drawn and well played out, although some may take up half the pages in an entire volume. Samurai Deeper Kyo offers a balanced mixture of fantasy, historical elements (although many liberties are taken), and martial arts conflict to drive the story forward.
As the plot becomes more developed and secrets are revealed, Kyo is faced with increasingly difficult opponents. He and his friends must dig deeper into their own minds and abilities to defeat those who cross their paths and you reach the end of the manga being amazed by what they’re capable of in comparison to how strong they were in the beginning.
Shiina Yuya is an endearing character—the one person without any special fighting abilities, Yuya is the lynchpin that keeps the group together. Her optimism and unfailing trust in Kyo become more important to each character as their adversaries increase in power.
There’s also a silly side to several of the characters, particularly Hotaru, Benitora, Akira, and Bontenmaru, which offers plenty of laughs in between the serious fight scenes. Their play fighting is a thin veil covering the fact that they all care deeply about one another and would die to protect those they love.
The bad: The fight scenes, though brilliant, can become a bit repetitive. After the Twelve God Shoguns, they must take down the Mibu’s Five Stars. After the Five Stars, there are the Four Elders. There are also plenty of fight scenes with lesser characters, such as irritating humans or children of the forest. It can become a bit much, but Akimine Kamijyo does a good job of weaving in critical plot elements in between all of the fighting.
You also might get a little irritated with Kyo—a man of few words. As great as he is, he uses his catchphrase “I’ll cut down anyone who gets in my way” just a little too much. As in, at least once per volume. We get it, Kyo. You’ll cut them.
The anime, which ran for just one season, is embarrassingly bad (in my opinion). It ignores all of the deeper elements of the manga—discussions on ethics, divinity, and inner strength—and reduces enemies to basic monsters. If you do decide to watch it, at least there are only 26 episodes for you to sit through. If you want something more meaningful, give the manga a shot.
Read this manga if: You like cool fight scenes, you don’t mind manga with plenty of characters and interesting backstories, you’re looking for a bit of humour, and you don’t mind a bit of repetition.