Sword-bearers walk the streets of Japan and all is not peaceful because of it.

In modern day Japan, you cannot just walk around carrying a sword the way you might carry a gun in some parts of America. People haven’t been able to do this for quite a while, which is probably why there are many anime and manga whose premise is “What if the samurai didn’t have to give up their swords and it’s now the modern day?” Samurai Drive is one of these titles. While not everyone walks around with swords akimbo, sword-bearers aren’t restricted to only samurai descendants, and that’s how point of view character Ibuki gets involved in this story.

What little story there is anyway. Samurai Drive might have a coherent plot idea or two in it but it certainly does not come through well. As is always the case with hard to understand manga, I wonder if this is partially the fault of the translation. I’m inclined to think no; the way the characters speak and think feels odd in a specific way which makes me think that it wasn’t much more understandable originally.

The gist of the story is that Ibuki has recently transferred to a school which does allow the students to use and practice with swords. He is curious about his classmate Haruma who is anti-social, incredibly good at sword-fighting, fights people on the street with swords, and somehow wants to clear the name of his older-brother-figure who was involved in a murder and then murdered years ago.

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However, the story is really bad at expressing this and, well, Haruma doesn’t seem to actually be doing anything other than brooding (it’s impossible to tell if he actually knows what happened years ago or if he’s in the dark like the readers are). Ibuki spouts off lines like “the sword is a sign of one’s devotion to sincerity.” There are a few series out there where I could buy into lines that are so weird and spacey, but there’s no charm to this series. The premise is just strange and the characters aren’t even cardboard cut-outs; they’re so insubstantial that they’re more like paper cut-outs!

Interestingly the first volume also includes a “Chapter 0” with the original premise for the story where two other characters are leads in addition to Haruma (whose personality feels like a combination of the main story’s Haruma and Ibuki) and I’m curious why the story underwent such a radical revision. I honestly think this alternate chapter flows much more smoothly, the premise is a bit clearer from the get-go, and the characters simply speak and act more directly. It’s still not a fantastic or even good story by any stretch, but it feels like a competent story. It’s a shame that instead it turned into this muddled mess.