Meiji Gekken: 1874 – Episode 1

By: Cy Catwell January 15, 20240 Comments
a young man pulling a rickshaw

Content Warning: Blood, gun violence and warfare

What’s it about? 1874 marks seven years since the start of the Meiji Era and the race to catch up to Western society. Swords have been exchanged for rickshaws and warfare for peace–save for one Origasa Shizuma who is on the hunt for his fiancee. His search will take him into the police force, an assassination attempt, and more adventure than he could have ever thought as forces emerge from the shadows, seeking to restore the age of blades and samurai…

I picked Meiji Gekkan: 1874 (hereafter just Meiji Gekkan) because of it’s mild resemblance, at least mentally, to Baccano!. I wanted something that had a lot of moving pieces across a sprawling story that understood how to contain itself and not lose too many plots. It’s a lofty goal in a lot of ways: the very real historical timeline of the Meiji Era is full of happenings and changes, and to capture that in animation–especially with the inclusion of a lot of fiction–is a somewhat daunting task.

Yet I believe that Meiji Gekkan can do it. Or…do I?

Aizu's castle burns under a barrage of cannon fire.

Episode 1 starts off with shells and fire: it’s 1868, and life in Japan is about to change due to the Boshin War. It’s the end of an era, and as ashes fall on Aizu’s famous Tsugura Castle, change ripples through the air like a stone thrown into a pond. Blades meet bullets, countrymen fights against countrymen, and altogether, it’s a grizzly, if not true, reflection of how brutal warfare can be. But the war is in its last gasps and soon, Tsugura Castle falls to the might of the government, ushering in a new era.

Move ahead to January 1874, and we meet a man searching for his wife, one Kanomata Sumie. No one seems to know her, but he continues his search, all while pulling a rickshaw through Nihonbashi. It feels like a new era as you take in the start of westernized clothing mixing with traditional Japanese attire. Yet there’s still something in the air, still tension unresolved.

And that’s kind of the meat of this premiere: it’s set up for a bigger story focused on the tension between the government and those left in its wake–namely, those without the title of “warrior.” Yet Shizuma Origasa, one of those men left behind, is about to find himself charged with a new duty: saving the country.

Members from all levels of society gather at a dice throwing hall for a bit of gambling.

I’m normally not one for this kind of historical anime because of the nature of nationalism, which is kind of inherent in a story like this. But speaking honestly, I think Meiji Gekkan is interesting. I don’t know where or how it’s going to tackle its story: there’s a lot of moving parts already, but I do think it has the chops to tell an interesting story from the perspective of someone who was once situated in opposition to the government’s ambitions.

That said, this is historical fiction, and there should be really heavy emphasis on the fiction part because this story isn’t fully set in our reality. There’s plenty of breaks from normal gravity, physics, and hey….wait, did that kid just shoot FOUR ARROWS at once?! Basically, don’t come into this expecting grounded historical fact mixed with fiction from a former loyalist. Expect to suspend your disbelief.

Shizuma and the police talk post-confrontation.

I’m honestly on the fence about my like of Meiji Gekkan: 1874: a part of me found it really enjoyable and harshly realistic, but another part of me found it oftentimes cluttered. It certainly knows what it wants to be, knows what it wants to be…isn’t necessarily hitting all those marks which is troubling already. I know it’s just the premiere but like…there’s a lot happening here and I worry that this show is only going to get more well…cluttered.

Yet I also found this premiere interesting: there’s a lot happening, and a lot of elements that make it intriguing, save for some of the more…unrealistic aspects that toe the line into historical fantasy over historical fiction. I think for now, that’s enough to keep my interest piqued, even if I don’t see a clear trajectory for this anime-original series.

But as always, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt: I want to trust that this show is going to work itself out and start to have a more cohesive structure than it does at this moment. For now…I’ll keep watching: I think a bit of historical fiction will be nice this Winter season.

About the Author : Cy Catwell

Cy Catwell is a Queer Blerd journalist and JP-EN translation & localization editor with a passion for idols, citypop, visual novels, and the iyashikei/healing anime genre.

You can follow their work as a professional Blerd at Backlit Pixels, get snapshots of their out of office life on Instagram at @pixelatedrhapsody, and follow them on their Twitter at @pixelatedlenses.

Read more articles from Cy Catwell

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