Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shinsengumi, ka?

I was thinking the other day about the Japanese penchant for using their history as the basis for a fair amount of anime, either as the basis of a series or as the backdrop of one.  And of course, high on the list of eras that they focus on is the period of time around the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji era.  The list of amine which contains the Shinsengumi, or refers to them is pretty long.  Interestingly creators of anime series are not at all shy about playing fast and loose with actual historical events and actual historical characters, twisting and changing them to suit plot lines and the need for certain character types.  Series involving the Shinsengumi range from nearly purely historical, to romantic, to comedy.

At the top of the historical list I would have to put PeaceMaker Kurogane.  This series follows the exploits of a boy who joins, or tries to join, the Shinsengumi to avenge the death of his parents.  The series uses all the main historical figures who were actual members of the Shinsengumi, including Kondou Isami, Hijikata Toushizou, Okita Souji, Saitou Hajime and Yamazaki Susumu, to name some of them. This picture shows the series main character (red hair) standing in front of Okita on the left, Yamazaki on the right and Hijikata in the back.  The series adds the main character and other random side figures and the plot revolves around them, but it loosely follows actual events.  The plot climaxes at the famous battle between the Shinsengumi and the anti-Tokugawa forces at Ikedaya.

Another series which is more or less hisorical and follows actual events loosely is Hakuouki: Shinsengumi Kitan.  Again actual events are followed and all the historical figures who were real Shinsengumi are present, but in this series the extraneous main character is female and a possible love interest of several in the group.  In order to create more plot, a group of demon youkai are included and the Shinsengumi become vampires by drinking a concoction intended to give them strength. The picture shows, from left to right, Okita, Harada Sanosuke, Hijikata and Saitou, with Todou Heisuke in the center.  The series was created from a game, which no doubt explains its limitations.

Samurai X is also historical and follows actual events and characters involving the Shinsengumi around the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  The main character in Samurai X and in the series Rurouni Kenshin is a charcater loosely based on one of the assassins who worked for the anti-Tokugawa forces at the end of the Shogunate.  Samurai X mostly follows the hsitoric events and characters, but Rurouni Kenshin is generally only touched by the Shinsengumi peripherally, mostly through the character of Saitou. 

One series that is also touched by the Shinsengumi peripherally is Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto.  This is a historical series that occurs in time in the early Meiji period.  It doesn't follow Shinsengumi-based events, but two of the people who were part of the Shinsengumi, Hijikata and Okita, make appearances in the series.

A series that makes use of all the Shinsengumi characters buts twists them almost beyond recognition is Gintama.  Gintama is a unique series that falls into the category of 'historical science fiction'.  It takes place in fuedal Japan, but a fuedal Japan that has been taken over by aliens.  The Shinsengumi are acting as a police force for the alien conquerers and the people in power.  The four Shinsengumi pictured here include Yamazaki (badminton racket), Kondou (running), Hijikata (with mayonaise) and Okita (katana).  The series is a comedy of course, and it's main character, Sakata Gintoki, is frequently at odds with the Shinsengumi characters.  Nothing here follows real historical events of course. 

So there you have it.  There are other historical periods and figures that anime creators like to play with, but the Shinsengumi is apparently one of their favorites.  I suspect I'll see them again in other anime.

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