The cover to Steel of the Celestial Shadows Volume 1. It depicts a painted image of Tsukidono as Ryudo, in purple, seemingly falls to his doom.
Daruma Matsuura/Viz Media

Writer/Artist: Daruma Matsuura
Translator: Caleb Cook
Letterer: Steve Dutro
Editor: Mike Montesa
Publisher: VIZ

“What makes a samurai?” is a question explored by many Japanese storytellers. The code of the samurai continues to prove fertile ground for Japanese stories in the way age of chivalry does for Europeans and the Old West with Americans. The code of Bushido and its practitioners remain ripe for explorations of the legend of the era versus the reality of it. At the core of samurai’s existence is their sword, considered to represent their soul. 

Ryudo Konosuke is asked how he can be a samurai if he cannot hold a blade.
Daruma Matsuura/Viz

Steel of the Celestial Shadows, the latest manga from Daruma Matsuura (Kasane), asks what is a samurai who cannot wield a blade? The question poses a lot of dramatic and thematic possibilities. The classic film Sword of Doom famously equates an evil mind to an evil sword. So is a samurai who can’t hold a sword nothing but an empty vessel? That’s what Ryudo Konosuke asks himself every day.

Ryudo uses his tongue to bend the tip of sword due to his curse.
Daruma Matsuura/Viz

Konosuke lives as a disgraced samurai who can’t hold a sword. Why? Any metal that comes into contact with him immediately becomes warped. He cannot shave either his face or his head properly. The people around him mock him as a man afraid to hold a sword, unaware of his condition. There is no sympathy for a samurai scared to hold a blade or look the part of his station. 

Ryudo looks on at children who can hold actual swords made of metal. The children mock him in disgust.
Daruma Matsuura/Viz

Daruuma Matsuura’s thick lines and expressive cartooning sell Konosuke’s desperation. She draws Konosuke as a gaunt man whose every day gives him a new humiliation. He’s so poor that he must pawn off family heirlooms so that he can eat. The expressions on his face and his body language convey the loneliness and desperation of Konosuke’s supposed humiliations.

But Matsuura also shows her lead as a man of integrity despite his inability to hold a sword. She draws him practicing his sword work with conviction. Konosuke has a strong sense of justice. Despite his thinking, his hardships have shaped him, not destroyed him. His lack of a sword only robbed him of a sense of entitlement that readers see in other samurai. 

When the beautiful and rich Otsuki Tsukidono appears it seems like a trick. She wants to marry him and seems happy to do so even knowing his plight. Why would a woman like this want to marry an unfortunate soul like Konosuke? How can a wife live contentedly with someone who cannot provide for them? Konosuke constantly thinks she might be a trickster spirit of some sort. 

Ryudo talks about the death of his mother. The dialogue balloons say '"Be full of kindness" said the kindest person I've ever known. And it was that kindness that did her in...No, not quite...'
Daruma Matsuura/Viz Media

This is where the draw for the first volume lies. It’s a story about someone told they’re worthless finding meaningful validation in their life. Konosuke finally finds someone who treats him and his affliction with empathy, not mockery. When Tsukidono listens to him talk about the death of his mother and his feelings of helplessness, she responds with kindness, not laughter. There’s tenderness in how she looks at him at all times. Matsuura crafts characters with psychological depth.

Matsuura constantly hints there’s more to Tsukidono, which only pays off in the last two chapters of volume 1. This is where the hook for the series as a whole lies. It goes from being a quirky samurai slice of life into something else entirely. However, this first volume creates the foundation for why anyone will care what happens later. It’s that base of empathy and self- realization that will carry the series forward.

Ryudo looks up at dagger like rain.
Daruma Matsuura/Viz

Steel of the Celestial Shadows volume 1 is currently available from Viz. Volume 2 will be available on April 16, 2024.