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 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.