Nanashi — originally meaning “nameless,” but later written as “seven desires” — is a minor but important character in Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru, a sci-fi/samurai manga written by Masashi Kishimoto and cancelled at 43 chapters. They’re also a surprisingly well-handled genderqueer character, especially considering Kishimoto’s history.
Samurai 8 revolves around the titular Hachimaru, a boy born with a weak body who nonetheless longs to be a samurai, spending his days stuck to his life support and climbing the ranks to #1 in an online fighting game. The series kicks off when he receives the powerful cyborg body of a samurai, and Nanashi is one of the first people he meets outside of his home.
When we meet Nanashi, they are a nameless shut-in at a dojo — the things they need to survive are delivered by robots, and they spend their time on the same video game as Hachimaru, standing at rank #2. They have very little presence and no one to talk to but their own hands, which they call Mr. Right and Miss Left — according to Mr. Right, they are a boy who wants to be a strong samurai, and according to Miss Left, they are a girl who wants to fall in love, with their hands often arguing over which is correct. This is obviously a reflection of Nanashi’s own uncertainty regarding their gender — while they’re stated to be biologically male and use the masculine first-person pronoun “boku,” it’s clear they don’t feel comfortable identifying as such, at least not solely.
Part of what makes Nanashi a good depiction of genderqueerness is that the narrative doesn’t equate them overcoming their insecurity and weak sense of identity with finding their “real” gender. Thanks to Hachimaru’s encouragement — and their self-encouragement via Mr. Right and Miss Left — they find the strength to draw their sword and aid him in battle. While this is taking a step in the masculine direction asserted by Mr. Right, Nanashi also expresses romantic interest in Hachimaru, simultaneously pushing them in the feminine direction of Miss Left. (This also means a biologically male character having feelings for a boy, which makes Nanashi queer no matter how you slice it.)
For his part, Hachimaru is initially confused and a bit weirded out by Nanashi — but other than a misguided comment equating biology to gender, he doesn’t seem very concerned with how they identify. There’s plenty of other things odd about Nanashi, after all. He’s happy and proud to call them his friend, and while they disappear from the narrative for the bulk of the manga, they remain a source of inspiration and strength for him throughout.
Nanashi is even the one to save Hachimaru from what looks to be certain defeat — when we next see them in person, they’ve become a full-fledged samurai with a chimera for their familiar, which I personally think is very genderqueer of them. Unfortunately, it seems as though the manga was cancelled almost immediately afterwards — they appear again in chapter 40, and chapter 43 is the finale — so we don’t get to see very much of them. Nanashi’s gender is never mentioned, for better or for worse, and the name they choose is apparently gender-neutral — they just swoop in like the hero they are and inspire Hachimaru the way he inspired them.
Overall, Nanashi is a lovable character whose gender is handled fairly well, considering their limited page time. There’s not all that much that could be improved on — cutting Hachimaru’s tasteless comment, of course, and explicit confirmation that they’re genuinely genderqueer and not just “confused” would be nice. Personally, I wish Samurai 8 had been allowed to run for longer — I would have loved to see more of them. Hopefully Kishimoto’s next work, whatever it might be, will keep up the trend of improving nonbinary character representation.