What’s it about? Choshu Samurai Shinsaku Takasugi was meant to lead a crusade against the seclusionist Tokugawa Shogunate, leading to the Meiji Restoration that rapidly industrialized Japan, but a fateful encounter with a time machine sends Shinsaku, with his best friend Kogoro Katsura, into an alternate steampunk Japan.
Why does Takasugi have a boob-window shirt on?
No really, what is up with the alternate timeline fashion here? The Shinsengumi look pretty fashionable in their uniforms inspired by western armies, but it seems the rebel samurai have risen up against them after raiding a Spirit store’s sexy Halloween costume aisle.
Not to say there isn’t a fair amount of exhibition from the anime’s outset, as Takasugi simply instructs Katsura to “strip” as he unravels his kimono when they’re cornered on a Tokugawa treasure boat; but the perpetual club-stripper look for Takasugi and Ryoma Sakamoto makes for one of the most distracting aspects of the show.
BAKUMATSU is here for eye candy dedicated to the (straight) female gaze. There’s no denying that’s the first and foremost focus of this series, based on a mobile otome game that’s been released in Japan. Historical accuracy takes a backseat, though the creators appear to have at least put some emphasis on how these characters are historical figures, highlighting their family crests in the shading of everyone’s hair.
There is a certain level of enchantment many Japanese people have about historical moments in Japan’s military past. The two most prominent chapters of history are Sekigahara in 1600 and the civil war leading up to the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. The central figures of the rebellion, Takasugi, Katsura, Sakamoto, among others, are idolized by Japanese culture, along with the Shinsengumi, the shogunate’s anti-rebellion taskforce.
It always unnerves me when fiction romanticizes real historical figures. The contributions these men had to the creation of modern-day Japan is often glossed over in an unquestioning and shallow adulation of historical hegemony.
To put it in perspective, shows like BAKUMATSU would be something like an anime about the American Civil War, but with sexy Abe Lincoln having wild west gunfights against sexy Jefferson Davis while General Ulysses S. Grant is, for inexplicable reasons, wearing really fashionable glasses.
So far, only one woman has appeared in the series (although there are two more in the opening credits), and her role, aside from stealing the time machine from Takasugi, appeared to be offering a brief interlude of eye candy. Known only as “mysterious women” in the credits, she appears in a body-tight suit, and most of her shots highlight the curvature of her body with slow and deliberate pans.
Notwithstanding the questionable penchant for showing off chests, the show appears to be dripping in sex appeal and sexual humor, even dropping an obvious dick joke towards the end as Takasugi faces off with Toshizo Hijikata of the Shinsengumi.
Visually, the fantasy setting of Susanoo Castle looming in the background is cool. I’ve always liked the industrialized Meiji aesthetic, and BAKUMATSU cranks it up to 11 with the massive citadel of cannons intermingling with cherry blossom trees and Shinto gates. The city of Kyoto has a fresh take on it as well, with Japanese umbrellas covering red western lamps.
So is the show actually… interesting?
Given this is not a straight retelling of historical events nor even a reinterpretation, BAKUMATSU could have the cast go in any which direction, whereas a more historically accurate story might be confined to some harsh realities of certain characters being killed off by the end of the series.
The added benefit of having additional Japanese historical figures pulled from throughout Japan’s military history as antagonists might bring together an all-star cast of warriors, but whether the series will emphasize teaching history or reducing them to sex objects remains to be seen. However, given the emphasis on the show taking place during the twilight era of the Tokugawa shogunate, it’s hard to imagine any of these anachronistic villains taking a leading role compared to the named and revered Shinsengumi, who have already made a memorable entry into the show.
Basically, if you’re in it to watch hot boys wave around their swords in a magical and fictional steampunk Japan, go for it. This is probably what you’ve been waiting for.