So I have been wanting to write about Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu since the first episode aired. This show is an amazing blend of history, sci-fi, and fantasy and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. The premise of the show is that The Government of Time sends Touken Danshi (manifested spirits of historical swords) back in time to preserve the flow of history. They are fighting the Historical Revisionists who send their demons back in time with the goal of disrupting the flow of time to gain dominance over Japan.
This season of Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu deals with Japan in the 1860s. During this time Japan was ending its isolationist policy and opening itself up to the West. As western influence modernized Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate began to lose its hold over the country. Our protagonists are various weapons who have been given human form by the Saniwa and are known as the Second Unit. They include Izuminokami Kanesada, Horikawa Kunihiro, Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki, Yagen Toushirou, and Tonbokiri and with Izuminokami Kanesada as their leader. The mission I wanted to discuss in this post takes place in Episodes 3-5. The Second Unit is tasked with protecting the meeting between surrender meeting between Saigō Takamori and Katsu Kaishū. These two men are discussing the terms of surrender of the Tokugawa Shogunate forces to those loyal to Emperor Meiji and sought to end the Boshin War. This was a pivotal time in Japanese history as it saw an end to the old Feudal ways of Japan and ushered the once secluded nation into the international scene.
There are plenty of references in Japanese pop culture to Oda Nobunaga. He has been immortalized in films, novels, manga, games, and several anime. The most recent incarnation of Oda Nobunaga in anime has been in Drifters which has seen a more brutal approach to his character. In Drifters we see an almost maniacal man, hell bent on destroying the current world and fulfilling his dream of unifying a nation. One of the most unique iterations of Oda Nobunaga, though, has to be the character Oda Nobuna in The Ambition of Oda Nobuna. In this historical comedy, Oda Nobunaga is depicted as a teenage girl who is befriend by the protagonist Yoshiharu Sagara. Sagara is a modern-day young man who finds himself thrown back in time to an alternate reality version of the Sengoku period where all the main historical figures have been replaced by high school aged girls.
So who exactly was Oda Nobunaga and why is he considered an important person in Japanese history? Oda Nobunaga was a Daimyō in 16th century Japan and one of the “Three Unifiers” along with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nobunaga started a campaign that would ultimately unify Japan as a singular nation. He is also noted for the introduction of firearms into his military forces. Eventually his success would be cut short by the betrayal of his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide.
I have always loved the world that Strike Witches was set in. The WWII meets alien invaders meets magical girls combination gives something for everyone. Added to the mix is a distinct lack of pants and cute animal ears and it is not surprising that the Strike Witches franchise has had such staying power. What was fascinating for me as I started delving into the series more was that the main characters are all based on real WWII fighter aces. Charlotte Yeager tipped me off as an homage to Chuck Yeager (the first man to break the sound barrier in flight) so I knew I would find out more about the other pilots if I did some digging. One pilot in particular stood out to me though above the rest and that was Sanya Litvyak.
Sanya Litvak’s persona is based on Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak who was a Jewish Soviet pilot in WWII. Lydia started her military career by joining the 586th Fighter Regiment of the Air Defense Force after lying about her pre-war flight hours. She was transitioned to the 437th Fighter Regiment where she scored her first two kills while piloting a Yak-1. Lydia and three other female pilots were assigned participate in future sorties using a tactic called okhotniki, which stands for free hunter. Okhotniki refers to pairs of pilots being allowed to search and engage targets on their own initiative.
On August 1, 1943, at only 21 year old, Lydia Litvyak was shot down over Ukraine and she never returned from her mission. She was rumored to be captured by the Germans and this was prevented from being awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Her comrade Yekaterina Vasylievna Budanova led a search for her body for over 30 years and in 1979, Soviet authorities confirmed that the remains of an unidentified grave in the village of Dmitrievka were indeed Lydia. In 1990 Lydia Litvyak was awarded the title of Her of the Soviet Union.
Who is Shimazu Toyohisa? Many people had that question when they tuned into Drifters, an anime put out this winter by NBC Universal Entertainment Japan that puts various characters throughout history into a fantasy world. Some of these characters are pretty well known such as Nobunaga, Hannibal, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. However Shimazu Toyohisa, the main protagonist, may not be a known name to many watchers in the West. He was born in 1570 and at 17 years old fought in the Kyūshū Campaign as Toyotomi Hideyoshi sought to unite Japan at the end of the Sengoku period. It was 13 years later, however, that we are introduced to Toyohisa in the anime.
The Battle of Sekigahara was the final battle in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s struggle to unite Japan. You may remember in the anime how Oda Nobunaga was very interested in what happened to Tokugawa Ieyasu and that is because he carried on Oda Nobunaga’s plan of Japanese unification after he was killed. The Battle of Sekigahara was the final clash the bring Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was during this battle that our main character dies. The Shimazu clan was actually fighting against Tokugawa Ieyasu. Toyohisa sacrificed himself to ensure Yoshihiro, the 19th head of the clan, survived. Yoshihiro and the Shimazu clan maintained their land and power during the Tokugawa Shogunate and actually grew it, becoming one of the most powerful clans in Japan.
So I came across this anime by accident and frankly, I couldn’t get more than one episode into it. Was it the character that turned me off? No. The plot? Not that ethier. Instead it was the 2 minute opening describing the start of the Russo-Japanese war. See, Lime-iro Senkitan takes place in 1904. A period when Japan was rapidly modernizing its military and society in what would be later known as the Meiji Restoration. At this same time Russia was facing its own difficulties modernizing. The sparks of revolution were already being lit in the Tsarist state and morale was at an all-time low. While this was occurring the Empires of Russia and Japan were vying for influence on mainland Asia. Russia, looking for a warm water port, had a long term lease of Port Arthur (Порт-Артур)(Jap. Ryojun (旅順)). However, Japan wanted control of Korea and her politics. Japan has had a long history of trying to conquer and control mainland Asia via Korea. However, Russia’s military presence in the region was preventing that. Negotiations began between the two Empires. Russia offered a buffer zone, with itself holding Manchuria and northern portions of Korea while Japan would hold the Southern part. Japan countered with a deal that would have Russia completely leave Korea. Needless to say both sides did not agree to anything. This would lead to Japan launching a surprise attack on Port Arthur on February 8th, 1904. The fighting was intense and even though the Japanese outnumbered the Russian three to one a siege of the port began. On January 2nd, 2905 the port fell to the Japanese. This was one of a series of defeats given to Russia by the Japanese. Although European diplomatic interference would limit Japan’s gains from the war. Also, Port Arthur was surrendered prematurely. While the Russians put up a significant fight, at the first sign of their defenses faltering they gave up, even though they had food and munitions to last them for months. Its commander, Anatoly Stoessel, was executed upon his return to St. Petersburg.
So now that you know what actually happened we can look at how this anime bridges from entertainment to propaganda. The first episode opens with a foreboding narration of the Russo-Japanese war. Explaining how “weak” a country Japan was and that “its existence was threatened by a fortress protected by the army of evil.” The narrator goes on to announce how it was inevitable that the two countries could clash. Clearly this is the case as one country rented a port from a third party and the other country wanted to conquer mainland Asia. I understand how artists would want to paint their nation in a favorable light but Japan clearly was the aggressor of this war. Also, while being painted as the underdog “weak” nation, Japan clearly had an advantage in the fight. The majority of Russia’s fleets were located in the Baltic Sea, on the other side of the world, and would have to travel for months to even reach the fight. Lastly, in the anime Port Arthur is not lead by Anatoly Stoessel, but rather Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin, while he did influence Russian politics, engage in drunken orgies with courtesans, and admonished trivial acts like bathing, did not have any influence over the siege of Port Arthur.
So love it or hate it Hetalia is still going strong in anime culture after all these years. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of it but I can appreciate what the creators have done in terms of presenting the nations in a historical light. I wanted to focus on America after hearing his American voice actor, Eric Vale, speak on him. To paraphrase, he said he wanted to embody America as cool, cocky, and arrogant and while this may have been how American soldier’s entered the European theater, this attitude was quickly put in place after fighting veteran German units on the march to Berlin. See, for the early years of World War II, America was supporting the Allied powers with both supplies and finances. During this time America was gearing itself up for total war manufacturing. The State Department worked with major manufacturers to retool their facilities to create everything from parachutes to ammunition. By the end of the war, American manufacturing was incredibly efficient. American industrialists applied assembly line production techniques to everything from planes to boats. It has been argued by many historians that it was American (and Russian) mass production that overwhelmed the German army. In short, Eric Vale’s cocky attitude is perfect for depicting America in Hetalia.
So for this post we are heading back to Kancolle! I promise to expand out to new shows soon (I am watching Hetalia this week!). Hibiki is one of my favorite characters in Kancolle and I absolutely loved learning more about her. Originally launched on June 16, 1932, she was one of the last Fubuki Class destroyers built. Now if that class name sounds familiar it is because the Fubuki Class was named after the destroyer Fubuki, the main protagonist in Kancolle. That is why Fubuki is referred to several times as a name ship. But anyways, back to Hibiki. I love Hibiki’s character design as I feel it truly reflects her history in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Hibiki served throughout the entirety of World War II and was one of the few ships involved with the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. These were the islands that stretch of the tip of Alaska and was one of the only times Japanese boots walked on American soil during WWII. I believe this is why Hibiki was given ice-blue hair. Another thing to note about Hibiki is that she often speaks Russian throughout the anime. This is because in 1947 the Hibiki was given to the Soviets as a spoil of war after WWII. She was ultimately renamed the Dekabrist (Декабрист) (Decembrist) and served several years in the Soviet navy. Sadly she would end up being sunk as a target dummy in 1953.