Welcome to the modern world, Yoichi
The word “harem” in the title should clue you into what you can expect from “Samurai Harem” (Japanese title “Asu no Yoichi” meaning “Tomorrow’s Yoichi.”) Yes, it is that kind of manga.
The set-up has 17-year old Yoichi Karasuma, who has spent his entire life deep in the mountains training to be a bushi warrior, being sent into the city by his father. His father feels he has nothing more to teach Yoichi, who must now test his skills and resolve in a different manner. With a letter of introduction, Yoichi arrives at the home of the Ikaruga dojo, ancient allies of the Karasuma family. Almost entirely abandoned, the dojo is now the home of the four Ikaruga sisters, only one of whom maintains the family’s martial traditions. Hijinks ensue.
The conflict and comedy of “Samurai Harem” comes from Yoichi’s naivety and old-fashioned ways conflicting with the girls and the modern world. Yoichi still dresses and lives like a old-style samurai, and has never spoken to a girl before or lived with electricity or gone to school. Even though he is a master of the blade, he is pretty much a clumsy oaf with everything else, and about twenty pages into the book he finds himself with panties on his head and his hands in places they shouldn’t be, all while trying to explain to the eldest sister Ibuki that it isn’t what it looks like.
It is a familiar situation, crossing Love Hina with Ranma 1/2although Yoichi is a much more earnest character than Ranma or Keitaro. Yoichi is conflicted between his desire to walk the true path of the bushi, and the sudden desires for something softer and sweeter that he had never had to deal with before isolated in the mountains. His supposed rival, a local tough guy named Washizu, isn’t quite sure how to deal with Yoichi. Yoichi beats Washizu soundly every time they brawl, but Yoichi seems to treat the encounters as fun rather than the beat-down Washizu wants to deliver.
The four Ikaruga sisters all have distinct personalities and their own way of reacting to Yoichi. Eldest sister Ibuki (the main target for Yoichi’s affections) is large-chested and good-natured, but prone to excessive fits of violence that leave everyone feeling the smack down. Next sister Ayame is a sarcastic modern girl addicted to her cellphone, although some of her harshness is a screen for her deep shame at being so flat-chested and always second-best when compared to Ibuki. Sister number three Chihaya is a glasses-wearing bookworm who aspires to be a manga artist. She comes off as one of the most interesting characters, as she realizes that she has found herself in the middle of a typical manga storyline and decides to manipulate circumstances to the most outrageous effects, so that she can use it for her artwork. Last up is the typical sweet and shy youngest sister, Kagome, who is a dead-ringer for Shinobu from Love Hina and also can’t seem to keep her underpants off of Yoichi’s head.
Formulaic? Totally. But you either like the formula or you don’t. I like it, and thought that “Samurai Harem” delivered a good variation on a favorite theme. Cute girls in compromising positions, some samurai action (but not too much), decent characters and a fun storyline…”Samurai Harem” isn’t going to go down as one of the greatest manga of all time, but it is definitely worth the read if you like the genre.