Raging Rant: Fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi (and Japan)

History anime are by and large a joke.  I say this not because I hate history, in fact I love history the way a normal American loves football and apple pie.  But just fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  With only a few exceptions I’m aware of, all history anime take place during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) in the 1500’s and Loyalist Rebellion in the late 1800’s.  Their have been some fun, good and even famous anime from these time periods, like Rurouni Kenshin or Gintama.  But I, and many people who I’ve also heard complain about this topic, are sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  They’re fucking everywhere, and even when it’s not about them specifically when I see a show like Onihei roll around I can’t help but be a little disappointed by the fact that it looks just like a show about the Shinsengumi, because the main guy has a similar job.  And Nobunaga is in everything, some of it’s good like the recent Drifters or Nobunagun.  But the stories of these figures are so well trodden and their notable traits, beahviors and even verbal ticks so popularized that they’re pretty fucking boring.  Even in a fantasy show like Drifters you can totally predict that Mitsuhide would show up as an End because Nobunaga was a Drifter, everything about these characters is predictable and that’s rather boring really.

This is why I consider most of the best history shows to be historical fantasies like Seirei no Moribito, which builds a phenomenal setting and society to recreate the feeling of a history show, or Akatsuki no Yona which is great fantasy historical action-romance-drama thing, or Arslan Senki which I’ve praised in detail multiple times, or Katanagatari, which is all about possibilities and subverting history, or Junketsu no Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch) which mixed witches and mythology into the Hundred Years War.  These are all great shows and I highly recommend them but it would be great to get a more normal, realistic history show which avoids Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi somehow.  And we just don’t.  The only example I can come up with is Kingdom, which is fantastic.  The thing that really gets me about this is that it’s not like Oda Nobunaga and Shinsengumi are necessarily the coolest figures, or their eras the coolest points, in Japan’s history.  I think the Gempei War, which completely redefined how Japan’s military, social and political organizations would function from the 1100’s to the 1800’s is far more interesting.  Which is why I was really glad they brought in Yoichi in Drifters and Himiko, a semi-mythical prehistoric queen of Japan, in the awful Nobunaga the Fool, they shed a hint of light on interesting and largely unexplored, in anime at least, periods of history.  Hell a historical fantasy anime featuring Himiko fighting monsters and/or ancient gods practically writes itself.  But what would be even better would be if Japan just branched out a little.

Kingdom and Arslan Senki, and arguably a few scenes from the Fate series are steps in this direction but if we could get a mostly realistic anime of of ancient history outside of Japan I would kill the nearby peasants and loot the local castle to pay for that shit.  There’s so many possibilities, any time period for Rome, the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hunnic invasions and the rise of Attila, maybe go for some original story set in Mesoamerica because most of their history is a mystery, or maybe some Viking story about invading Britain or discovering North America, Egypt, the famed Gupta empire and Chandragumpta of India, the great Arab conquests, the Crusades, the Mongol invasions of Europe or China, an original story featuring the Sea Peoples who suddenly ravaged most of the ancient world without warning, you could even do a Gilgamesh spin off set in ancient Sumeria, etc.  The possibilities are endless and that’s just ancient history, what about the Bolshevik Revolution, the Crimean War, the Opium Wars maybe go for the Protestant and Catholic wars following Luther’s 99 Theses, Vietnam, the Cold War, etc.  There are so many possibilities I can’t even list them all and that’s just the the shit I know, there’s tons of history I don’t know jack about that could make great anime too.  But instead we just get Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi on repeat at least dozen times each and they get mentioned in almost everything with even the slightest connection to history and historical figures.  Stop it Japan.

This leads me to my next point and if you read my Patriotism Problem post then this will sound familiar but Japan really needs to work it’s tendency to make Japan always look good.  I’m not even talking about really controversial shit like admitting to the Rape of Nanking,  I’m talking about basic shit not making the JSDF invincible when fighting dragons *cough Gate cough*.  I can’t tell if it comes from the insecurity of an inferiority complex or the ego of a superiority complex but Japan always goes way out of it’s way to make sure it’s the best.  Oh UBW you have super powered historical figures eh?  Fine be sure to give Sasaki Kojuro a technique so good it transcends heroic abilities and enters the realm of divine swordsmanship to make us look better (I’m not making that up UBW’s Assassin technique, the fabled Tsubame Gaeshi, is explained as being better than the power of mere heroes and stepping into the realm of the gods at least in the wiki, can’t remember if that made it into the show itself).  Nobunagun you have people with super powers based on their ties to historical figures? Make sure to give the girl tied to Nobunaga the all-around best abilities to make us look better.  Drifters you have a bunch of historical figures fighting in Middle Earth?  Ok make sure to have an unusually large portion of the heroes taken from Japan and make them all super badass to make us look better.  I could give examples like this for days.

Japan it’s fucking embarrassing, and more than little irritating sometimes.  Look I’m from America and I have no problem with patriotism and being proud of your heritage.  But it intrudes on the story when you say deliberately make Hannibal Barca, one of the most revered generals of all time, a senile old man to make sure he doesn’t outshine his Japanese contemporaries in Drifters for example.  Japan’s obsession with inflating it’s own image and/or worth in historical shows is a complete waste of time.  It’s a minor nuisance at best and can totally break a story at worst.  I just don’t really get why it even exists.  To me it projects an arrogant fragility more than anything else and it severely limits what most anime with even the loosest ties to history can do and where they can take place.  There plenty of western medieval fantasies or recent WWI/WWII era fantasies like Shuumatsu no Izetta but the, in my opinion of course, far more interesting ancient world is left frustratingly untapped because of Japan’s need to always look like the best.

That’s it really, just wanted to flip Japan the bird and scream ineffectually at it like a bunch of liberals at an anti-Trump protest, which is the kind of thing I can only say here because California is overrun by liberals and trying to argue with them is an exercise in futility.  I don’t expect many people to care much about this, I don’t typically envision most readers as history buffs, I just needed to get it out of my system.  On the off chance you are interested give some of those shows I recommended a shot or if you just want to talk history for a bit that’d be fun too.  Thanks for reading and see ya next time.

Hidden Gems: Seirei no Moribito

Although anime is typically associated with massive battles, endless power-ups and extremely dramatized dialogue, there exist much quieter and more graceful series waiting to be discovered.  Seirei no Moribito, or Guardian of the Spirit, is one such a series.  And I recommend this series to basically everyone because I think it does everything right for the story it’s trying to tell.  My one caveat is that this show probably isn’t for anyone who can’t handle slower character driven stories and needs lots of action.  Now let’s look at the premise.

The story follows Balsa, who I touched on before in my post about badasses here, who returns to the country of New Yogo just in time to see a royal procession fall victim to a dangerous accident while crossing a bridge.  After rescuing the second prince in river, Balsa is brought to the palace of the second wife of the Mikado, or emperor of New Yogo.  She explains that the court believes her son, Chagum, is possessed by some kind of water demon and is trying to kill him to maintain the purity of the royal line.  She begs Balsa to protect Chagum and Balsa accepts the task.  Balsa and her allies in New Yogo must raise Chagum in hiding, dodging imperial assassins along the way.  They must also find some clues as to the mysteries of Chagum’s apparent possession and what it means for the young man going forward.  Moving right along, let’s examine the setting.

New Yogo makes for one of the best historical settings in any anime despite also being a fantasy kingdom.  In New Yogo there are two distinct ethnic groups, the Yogo who migrated to this land a few hundred years ago and the native Yaku.  But while most anime would use this ethnic division to add discrimination and oppression to their story, Seirei no Moribito takes a different approach.  It explores the costs and benefits of cultural assimilation with various Yaku songs and traditions being altered or adopted outright by the Yogo, while other Yaku traditions begin to die off and get replaced by Yogo traditions.  It makes for a fascinating multi-layered historical setting that feels so right and so complete.  But wait there’s more.  In a fashion similar to Nickelodeon’s Avatar, New Yogo has physical and spiritual worlds that exist side by side with some places overlapping in both worlds, and people with the correct training can visit the spirit world.   The spirit world looks amazing, with all kinds of unusual landscapes, flora and fauna, all rendered in fantastic detail.  Likewise the landscapes and cityscapes of New Yogo look gorgeous, like movie quality gorgeous.  Overall I’d say you could watch Seirei no Moribito for the setting alone and still be wowed by the level of depth and detail poured in its construction and visuals.  Now it’s time to talk characters.

I’ve already covered Balsa in some detail in the post linked above, but here’s a quick recap.  Balsa is a fully mature, strong female lead and one of the best of her kind in all of anime.  She is a badass spear fighter who is comfortable in her own skin and supremely confident in herself.  She’s the glue that holds the rest of the cast together but the rest are no slackers either.  Chagum is actually a very interesting character because he’s well educated and intelligent but has no experience in life of a commoner.  But rather than cast him as a bumbling fool who can’t adjust, as I’ve seen happen before, Chagum’s story is about how he matures by experiencing life outside the royal palace and grows to understand the joys and struggles of everyday life.  Balsa and Chagum are assisted by Tanda, a Yaku healer and old friend of Balsa’s.  He tends to be the voice of reason in the group and the support character to Balsa and Chagum, while occasionally playing the role of surrogate father to Chagum.  The final major character in the group is the shaman Torogai, the badass grandma.  Her role is largely restricted to solving the mystery of Chagum’s demon possession since she can interact with the spirit world.  She also serves as a font of wisdom and humor when it’s called for.  Now let’s wrap up with all the things this series has to offer.

I mentioned that this series doesn’t have much action, and while that is true you should also know that the action it does have is phenomenal.  This show has some of the best fight choreography around plus some great camera angles to spice up the experience.  The world is amazing especially if you have an eye for detail or just like staring at artist renditions of more untamed China-esque landscape.  The story can be a bit slow, but there’s always a lot of things going on and even when during the most quiet and calm scenes I never felt bored.  And the characters are great, which in turn is great for the story because this is really a character driven story.  The narrative has its twists and turns to be sure but the human drama, Chagum’s coming of age tale and the examination of Balsa’s life and maturity are what really keep the story going.  It’s hard not to like and root for these characters and because we spend so much time with them, as opposed to watching them fight, we can really get invested in them.  Overall I found this to be an amazing show and I highly recommend it.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.