Saturday, 4 June 2011

土方歳三 白の軌跡 / Hijikata Toshizo: Shiro no Kiseki

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Shinsengumi – although admittedly I’ve never managed to get through an episode of the ultra-cheesy live action Shinsengumi! series. While Peace Maker Kurogane had a lot of flaws with pacing and maintaining interest in a story that couldn’t really sustain 26 episodes, it really gripped me with its characters and imagery. I’ve since read and watched a lot about the Shinsengumi, a much-romanticised squad of samurai who were renowned for being some of the best swordsmen of their generation, and fought proudly in the losing battle against the Meiji Restoration.

Shiro no Kiseki (a bit of a pun on the Japanese words for 'miracle' and 'trail') tells the life story of Hijikata Toshizo, a vice-commander of the Shinsengumi. Like most romanticised Shinsengumi stories, it plays up Hijikata’s bravery against the odds, the tragedy of having to live by the warrior code and…well, makes him very handsome, with consistently lovely hair. Unlike PMK, though, it plays down his reputation as a harsh, brutal leader who was a butcher both in battle and when facing opposition from within his own corps, making him much more human and heroic. It also shows him as very close to Okita Souji (here looking and speaking like a 12-year-old, even in his twenties, with a design vaguely based on his surviving photographs), a popular element of shinsengumi fiction that doesn’t stem from any historical sources except for their long acquaintance. The story would probably be hard to follow by anyone not familiar with the Shinsengumi story, and the portrayal of Hijikata as brave and heroic but also extremely compassionate, mourning the men he himself cut down for trying to retreat, sending Tetsunosuke home because he reminds him of how he failed to protect Souji, riding into his final battle bathed in white hair (perfectly coiffured, of course) is a little bit much. The retro-style art, reminiscent of Fantastic Children, only serves to make it all seem rather less serious and grim than it wants to be.

It was only half an hour long, so its failings didn’t grate too much, and it could possibly be a good companion to anyone studying the history of the Shinsengumi, since most major events get covered, with dates supplied, but outside that niche audience, I can’t see anyone being particularly interested.

(originally written 28.3.06)

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