Fact, Fiction, and the Shinsengumi

Failure to differentiate.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched a lot of the new shows this season yet, although I beg chaotic schedule as my defense for having not. I have watched the first episodes of Angel Beats and Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan, though. But I’m not going to comment on either of them, really, until I’ve seen another episode or two of both… or, at the very least, before I’ve watched the first episodes of Working!!, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Senkou no Night Right, Boku wa Uragiri blah blah blah, etc.

In other words, I’ve got a lot of viewing time to put in.

However, I am going to comment on something tangential to Hakuouki – specifically, the fact that I have such a difficult time ignoring historical fact whenever I watch or read anything involving the Shinsengumi.

As an aside, I find it interesting that we are seeing a Shinsengumi piece in a season flooded with Three Kingdoms adaptations.

Anyway, when I was watching Hakuouki, I kept feeling this strange sort of pang as characters were introduced. And I recognized it – its the same feeling I got when watching Peacemaker Kurogane, and when reading its manga equivalent. Its the same feeling I got when I read Kaze Hikaru. And its actually the same feeling I get when I read the memoir of Myrlie Evers-Williams leading up to the murder of her husband, the Civil Rights’ worker Medgar Evers. Its an overwhelming sense of impending doom.

Quite simply, I cannot remove myself from the knowledge of the historical realities of the various prominent members of the Shinsengumi. I know that Okita dies of tuberculosis when he is still quite young. I know Yamanami commits seppuku. I know that Kondou is decapitated. And I know that history was ultimately not on their side.

I find it nearly impossible to forget all of this when I watch shows like Hakuouki. I realize that I am indulging in a work of fiction, and, as such, there is the possibility of outcomes that are favorable instead of accurate. But even knowing that, I can’t manage to ignore the reality of what happened to these men. Because they were real people before they were fictionalized.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much Hakuouki adheres to historical reality. Peacemaker Kurogane was a show that didn’t really indulge fiction too heavily, ultimately (fact: Ichimura Tetsunosuke was a real person, as was his elder brother) – Okita is depicted coughing up blood, and Yamanami is forced to commit seppuku in it. Kaze Hikaru has been for the most part more concerned with romance (both of the falling-in-love kind and of the more classical kind). Based on its roots, Hakuouki looks to deliver quite a bit of romance and blood.

But its hard to truly enjoy these shows/manga. Because I know that almost all of the characters are doomed.

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8 Responses to Fact, Fiction, and the Shinsengumi

  1. What? Doomed characters leading up to their final moments is an authentic guilty pleasure! Seriously, a strong portrayal of characters with no way out… that’s just one of the best things in stories. Am I alone in this?

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Its not really that… I don’t think I’m explaining it well. Its more that I can’t get past the real-life figures and their tragic fates as opposed to taking issue with the fact that the fictional characters themselves are (maybe?) doomed. I’m not sure how to convey it exactly…

  2. hashi says:

    I don’t want to get too serious here, but we’re all doomed — some of us just have a bit more time left than others. I’d better really read some of the history and get acquainted with the Shinsengumi members’ particular versions of doom. To increase my not-so-guilty pleasure in true tragedy. Love and death. Yum. Thanks for this post.

  3. Joojoobees says:

    Hey man, don’t watch Hamlet, ‘cuz it doesn’t have a happy ending either.

    Personally, I don’t care as long as I get a good story, and, with an anime, something cool to look at.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      There is a very large difference between the Shinsengumi and Hamlet – the characters in Hamlet are fictional. The Shinsengumi? Not so much.

  4. 2DT says:

    Well… Maybe you can do what Aristotle says and get some catharsis out of it. After all, if this dread you feel is because you know what happens, won’t you feel the slightest bit ripped off if it doesn’t?

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Maybe I’ll feel happy that at least they could live on happily even if only in fiction? Who knows.

  5. Caddy C says:

    I can totally get this, and yet, I feel the opposite way.

    I love Shinesengumi historical fiction. Love it. I know that these guys are doomed. I know how Okita dies so young, how Hijikata allegedly tortured people, how Kondou was beheaded. But I still love getting there. Maybe that’s a really weird and twisted pleasure of mine, but I love it all the same.

    I think it might even be because these characters are doomed that I like watching them; I like seeing how the different versions of the characters struggle and fight against their tragic destiny. That sounds way more flowery than I’m sure I mean, but hopefully it makes sense.

    I also love comparing and contrasting the wildly different versions of the same person, because we can never really know what these people were like in real life, after all. I find it kindof comforting that even those these guys lost, their legacy lives on in a really weird, specific, niche sort of way. (Plus, Shinsengumi stuff is seriously all over Kyoto!)

    Also, it doesn’t hurt that they are generally drawn as attractive bishounen 🙂 Though my first Shinsengumi favorite was Saitou Hajime from RuroKen, and he’s not the most attractive character ever. Also one of the few who lived through the end of the Shinsengumi.

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