If there is one anime I hope you all have watched this past season it is Golden Kamuy. This anime by Geno Studio game out in April and has really blown me away with its blend of history, action, and comedy. There aren’t any spoilers so feel free to read this before watching the anime. In fact, my reason for writing this should help you understand the motivation behind several of the characters.
So for those of you who have not read my Lime-iro Senkitan post, the Russo-Japanese war (1905-1905) was a war between Russia and Japan over controlling influence on mainland Asia. The nexus of this war revolves around Port Arthur which was under the control of the Russians. Japan launched a surprise naval attack on the port and later blockaded it. This set the stage for the land battle to overtake the port. The problem the Japanese ran into was that there were two hills overlooking the port that the Russians had heavily fortified. These hills were (incorrectly) labeled 203 Meter Hill. The Japanese had to take the hills before they could take the port. The first Japanese assault on September 20th resulted in over 6,000 casualties and decimated the 3rd division. It wasn’t until troops from the 7th division arrived that they tried another assault. After extensive sapping and artillery, the newly arrived troops from the 7th were ordered to charge 203 Meter Hill with General Yamagata knowing that they would suffer incredible losses. On December 5th the Japanese finally took control of 203 Meter Hill but the cost was high. Almost the entire 7th division was lost in the assault.
So, for those of you who have seen the anime I hope this sheds some light on why the characters with ties to the 7th are motivated to do what they do. For those of you who have not seen this amazing anime, keep this event in mind when watching.
So I came across the cutest Japanese history anime that I want to recommend to everyone called Meow Meow Japanese History. Each episode is nine minutes long and covers different historical figures throughout Japanese history. However the characters are all cute cats! I was a little sceptic at first but after watching a few episodes I have to applaud the writers and animators for really capturing the little details without boring the audience. In the first episode Himiko entrances everyone to stop fighting, an allusion to her use of witchcraft. Later in the episode, she stops fighting amongst the cats again while basking under the sun, an allusion to her being a descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. In the Oda Nobunaga episode, Toyotomi Hideyoshi is portrayed as a monkey. This is because Nobunaga’s nickname for Hideyoshi was little monkey. Also in the Nobunaga episode, at the betrayal at Honno-ji, he is depicted as dancing in the fire. This is because, while there is no actual account of Oda Nobunaga’s death and the body was never recovered, it is often portrayed in cinema and theater that Nobunaga performed the Atsumori before his death. The Atsumori is a play about a young samurai who was killed in the Genpei War and Oda Nobunaga was known for performing this play for his comrades. It is little touches like this that make me excited to watch the rest of Meow Meow Japanese History and I really encourage everyone else to give this anime a shot.
So, I finally got around to watching a historical themed anime that came out this season called Sengoku Night Blood. It is based on the smartphone dating-sim game of the same name where you play the role of a young girl, Yuzuki, who is transported back to the Sengoku period and seek to fall in love with a prince who will transport you back to the present. With that well-developed plot how could I not want to delve right into this!
Our first episode has Yuzuki opening her phone and being magically sent back in time to seeing several pretty boys duking it out on the battlefield. From my understanding these are the “princes” that you are meant to seduce during the game. None of them are wearing period specific clothing and look like are ready to hop on stage at a J-pop concert at any time. However, I will use them as a segway to explain a question I often get. “Did main characters actually call each other out on the battlefield and duel?”
The answer to that is, yes and no. What can I say, I am a historian so there is never a definitive answer! While not always the case there are records in the Azuna KJagami of samurai calling out their name before entering a battle as a means of finding a worthy opponent. If someone met their challenge, there would be a duel. This single combat is known at ikki-uchi. The most hilarious example of ikki-uchi in my opinion would be during the Mongol invasion of Japan. When the Mongol troops landed on the shore individual samurai hoping to make a name for themselves stood in front of their armies and stated their names. The Mongols, not knowing of the tradition or understanding the language, killed the samurai on the spot. Also, despite depicting it in Sengoku Night Blood, the practice pretty much phased out by then as militaries used large troop formations.
Well I hoped you all learned something interesting about Japanese medieval combat. I know we didn’t talk too much about the anime itself but just like how Sengoku Night Blood is a dating sim disguised as a historical anime this article is a history article disguised as an anime review.
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.
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 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.
I absolutely loved watching Girls Und Panzer and cannot wait to explore this anime in more depth. So to start on this series I wanted to talk about the tank driven by our main protagonists. The Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. D or Panzer IV for short is crewed by Miho Nishizumi, Saori Takebe, Hana Isuzu, Yukari Akiyama, and Mako Reizei. The Paner IV was the most widely produced tank by the Germans in WWII with over 8,000 built. So why was this tank left with the other “un-sellable” tanks at Ooarai? Well that is because the Panzer IV was never designed to fight other tanks but was originally planned as an infantry support vehicle. Its short KwK 37 L/24 gun did not have that penetrating power or the range that other tanks on the battlefield had and couldn’t penetrate the armor of tanks like the Churchill (as seen in the fight against St. Gloriana Girls High School. During WWII the Panzer III was designed to deal with tanks but failed at this task, resulting in changes to the Panzer IV to beef it up for anti-tank combat. But, the Panzer IV needed some more fire power if it was to penetrate the armor of the Russian’s T-34s so the KwK 40 was added. This was added in the Anime before the girls fought Pravda (which means truth in Russian and was also one of the state sponsored newspaper/propaganda tools of the Soviets). This brought the Panzer IV’s classification to Ausf. F2. Lastly before the final match against Kuromorimine Girls High School the Panzer IV gets its trademark Schürzen skirts which were basically metal sheets attached with brackets over the treads. This upgraded the girls’ Panzer IV to the Ausf. H which was basically the final form of the Panzer IV. While there was an Ausf. J produced it was a simplified model of the Panzer IV to cut down production time at the end of the war. Also during this time the Panzer IV’s armor was greatly increased which meant the tank would be much slower. However this was not demonstrated or explored in the anime which I think was a real shame. Despite showing its ability to drive at the same speed or faster than Maho Nishizumi’s Tiger I it was actually much slower. The Ausf. H version of the tank could reach speeds of 25 km/h (16 mph) max and only if it was on a nice even road while the Tiger I with its massive engine could reach 45.4 km/h (28.2 mph). But if the writer’s kept to that then we wouldn’t have gotten to see Ooarai’s victory in the tournament!