Samurai Anime

So much of Japanese history centers on the legendary warrior class known as samurai that it is no wonder that there is a great deal of Japanese animation about these warriors and their lives.

What is a Samurai?

Samurai literally means "those who serve." Samurai comprised the warrior class of ancient Japan. However, to be a samurai isn't simply to be a fighter - a samurai is a man of honor, the backbone of the military, and a member of the aristocracy. Samurai were versatile warriors, court officials, and disguised assassins. In fact, this dual role of warrior and administrator is often cause for comparison between medieval European knights and feudal Japanese samurai.

Samurai Honor

Samurai were bound by honor and codes of ethics that may seem strange to Westerners. They swore absolute fealty to their masters, and would willingly die on command. Arguably, this is what made them so effective. In addition, if they failed their master, or brought shame upon his house, they could voluntarily (or upon orders) commit ritual suicide.

Odago Koinosuke, an ancient samurai, in the anime Jubei-chan, demonstrates this sort of behavior. Upon his deathbed, Odago's master give him the quest to carry on the legacy of a great school of Japanese swordsmanship, no matter how long it took to find a worthy successor. After hundreds of years of searching, Odago Koinosuke finds Nanohana Jiyu, a cute high school girl who fits the description given to him by his master. Being a traditional samurai, Odago acts in ways that are strange and upsetting to Jiyu. For instance, as Jiyu is his new master, Odago refers to her with the -dono Japanese suffix, which is an honorific used by samurai and nobles to express high respect. Also, at one point in the series, Koinosuke almost commits ritual suicide when Jiyu falls ill. Overall, he is very dramatic in everything he does, which adds a comedic element to the series by caricaturizing samurai court custom.

Samurai Combat Arts

These warriors were the masters of the art of war. They were foot soldiers, cavalrymen, archers, and silent assassins. Within the frame of bujutsu, they specialized in over 60 armed and unarmed disciplines, ranging from swordsmanship and archery, to armed combat with fans and chains. Furthermore, bujutsu encompasses arts of swimming, horse riding, spying, and over 20 forms of unarmed combat.

One shining example of the different arts used by samurai is the manga Blade of the Immortal by Samura Hiroaki. One of the main characters, Manji, carries twelve samurai weapons on his person at all times. In addition, he practices several forms of both armed and unarmed combat, utilizing weapons such as katana, wakizashi, tanto, jitte, kusari-gama, and nunchaku.

Samurai Movement

One of a samurai's greatest strengths is his speed and agility. Many of the combat arts relied on quick dodging, evasion, and turning, in order to defeat multiple opponents at once. In addition, samurai practicing the occult art of ninjutsu had to rely on stealth, silent running, and cloak-and-dagger tactics in order to carry out their missions. Often, these ninja would sneak deep into the compounds of enemy officials and execute them, leaving without a trace or a footprint. In addition to stealth, samurai were trained in swimming while wearing armor, and fighting on horseback. Examples of the way samurai move can be seen in the Rurouni Kenshin (also known as Samurai X) OVAs.

Samurai Customs

One of the most famous customs is that of seppuku, or ritual suicide. Seppuku is carried out by cutting into and disemboweling one's own abdomen. This gruesome feat was usually required of a samurai who had done something dishonorable, such as insulting someone of higher rank than himself.

Another interesting custom of the samurai involved using ordinary objects as weapons. In some settings, such as that of a superior officer, samurai were not allowed to carry a sword. Not wanting to go unarmed, samurai would equip themselves with fans or pipes - ordinary objects that could be used in deadly combat. There are many accounts of deaths resulting from blows from folded fans or metal pipes.


Samurai were experts in the art of combat - both armed and unarmed, using traditional weapons or everyday objects. These men were not simply warriors: they were court officials, assassins in the night, and honorable men ready to leap to their deaths in defense or revenge of their master.

-Eric Goldberg Click to learn more about Eric


Oscar Ratti / Adele Westbrook, Secrets of the Samurai, Castle Books, 1999

Stephen R. Turnbull, The Book of the Samurai: The Warrior Class of Japan, Arms and Armour Press, 1982

Samurai X
Blade of the Immortal




Manji from Blade of the Immortal brandishes his weapons.






Manji draws a jitte on his adversary.




"I'm not finished with you yet."


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The University of Michigan Japanese Animation Group
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