[AniFemTalk] Learning from historical fiction

This past weekend, Otakon and theaters around the US held screenings of In This Corner of the World, a historical slice-of-life film about characters who lived in or near Hiroshima before it was devastated by nuclear attack. During the introduction for the Otakon screening, Animation Director Hidenori Matsubara expressed “anxiety” at bringing the film to the United States at this present time and a strong desire that the story remind audiences that we should “never repeat” the events depicted.

Given both the film’s content and goals as well as current real-world events, it’s worth taking time to think about what we can learn from our media consumption.

  • Have you watched any historically-based anime? What kinds?
  • Is there a particular subject you’ve seen explored exceptionally well or badly?
  • What have you learned from those films, either from the events portrayed or the way they were framed?
  • What responsibilities should media have when telling stories based on real events?


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  • GreyLurker

    To this day Grave of the Fireflies remains one of the greatest films that I will never watch again. It is an absolutely amazing piece of work but one that left me incapable of being happy for days after having watched it. Incredibly powerful film

  • I’m going to rep for Rose of Versailles here. It is based on historical facts, starring a fictitious person, through whose eyes we see issues that arise when the wealthy, living in a bubble of privilege fail to take into account any other perspective or experience. Oscar provides the empathy, the conflicting emotions we need to address our own privilege. And while we may not be putting ourselves on the line for other people, it’s not a bad idea to wrestle with the idea. ARE we willing to put ourselves in danger for others? If not, why not? If so..how can we express that meaningfully?

    In addition to issues of class, opportunity and poor government, the series also addresses issues of sex and gender, of differing standards and the various ways people manipulate, abuse, neglect and ignore others.

    It’s not an easy series to watch. But it is an important one.

  • Just about everything I watch has an element of the fantastic, but I’ve seen anime running the entire gamut from placing its fantastical events in real history (e.g. Katsugeki Touken Ranbu) to working with acknowledged historical myth (e.g. the first half of Otogi Zoshi) to repurposing historical events to a non-historical setting (e.g. Kado).

    The question of whether history has been handled well or badly is often addressed as “does this agree with the narrative I’m used to”. I personally go by whether it is clear on what is factually supportable and what isn’t. The responsibility of media is to make sure it’s not passing off lies as the truth, but that still leaves room for a wide range of narratives. So, for instance, I think about WWII portraying Japan as a totally innocent victim of unprovoked Western aggression is handling history badly, but one which focuses on the well-documented fact that real human suffering occurred when the war came to Japan is not handling it badly.

    There are two main things I get out of historical anime: one is to just learn more about Japanese history, by looking up events and people referenced, and the other is to expand my understanding of how history looks from various viewpoints.

  • Lauren Vaughn

    1. Historical series I’ve enjoyed.

    -I have watched Hakuoki, which got me interested in the Shinsengumi.

    -I’m reading Kaze Hikaru (also about the Shinsengumi) which I highly recommend. The manga volumes have a section where the creator talks about her research etc. Kaze Hikaru has an amazing heroine who joins the Shinsengumi disguised as a boy. The series has flaws – problematic depictions of sexual harassment, some uncomfortable attempted rape scenes that are used to create drama, and using queerness for both humor and as part of a creepy harasser character.

    All that said it also shows the female lead as a capable fighter, acknowledges that male/male love affairs were a big thing for both the samurai class, and Buddhist monks and priests – so it doesn’t erase an aspect of queer history in Japan.

    – Rurouni Kenshin isn’t historically accurate but it does explore the transition into the Meiji era. The themes of a new era, end of the samurai class etc are intriguing.

    – Nobunaga Concerto anime. The art wasn’t great but the story was exciting and (as far as I know) taught me about the political rivalries of the era despite taking some creative license. I wish the manga would get an official release.

    • Gorion

      I originally got into anime & Japanese culture through the Kenshin OVAs, which also sparked my interest in the Shinsengumi. When I worked in Japan I actually lived 2 blocks from Saito Hajime’s grave! 🙂

      I’ve had Kaze Hikaru on my to-read list for a while now but didn’t know about Hakuoki, but I’ll check it out. If you like live action shows there’s also Shinsengumi! (~2002 NHK drama with some A-list Japanese actors) and ‘When the Last Sword is Drawn’, a movie about Saito that’s currently on Crunchyroll. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_the_Last_Sword_Is_Drawn