Feudal Japan is heavily used in historical anime. While there are certain historical accuracies these anime get right, there are others they neglect.
Samurai’s, Shogun’s, and Kimonos are as synonymous with anime as the sound of cicadas, special attacks, and gratuitous fan service. Anime has a deep fascination and affection for the Feudal period of Japanese history, frequently using the period as a backdrop for many of their manga and series.
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Over the countless years and of the many anime that have released since the 1600s, some have managed to capture the time-period perfectly and others, not so much. In this list, well be taking a look at 5 things historical anime managed to get right about Feudal Japan and 5 things they got wrong.10 Right: The Figures and Characters
We all know the usual suspects, Oda Nobunaga, Miyamoto Musashi, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Anime never fails when it comes to capturing the famous figures of the Feudal period, while also creating new characters that fit perfectly with the period. From politicians, street merchants, brainless thugs, and highly skilled swordsmen, they are always present and look as if they were taken straight from a history book.9 Wrong: The Language
One thing about most anime set during the Feudal Era get wrong is they fail to accurately capture the dialect of the time. Anime like Samurai Champloo even try to adapt modern slang and hip hop culture into the period, putting realism on the back burner. Hyouge Mono is a series praised for its use of complicated and outdated language more closely related to the era. If creators focused more on language, not only would it be more accurate, but it would help with immersion.8 Right: The Architecture
It’s safe to say that one of the things we all love about anime is how it captures the architecture of Japan, whether its the claustrophobic alleyways, lush countrysides, or the winding roads that curve bend around the boxy houses of the suburbs.
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When it comes to historical anime, the architecture is always perfect down to the grain of the wood of a pagoda, tatamis around the dining tables, folding paper screens, and sliding doors.7 Wrong: Fantasy
A lot of anime in the historical category also fall into the realm of fantasy for one reason or another. There were so many things about the era that make for an interesting complement to the fantasy genre like samurais and demons, ninjas and aliens, the limits are endless. But too often, the combination makes for more fiction than reality. It’s safe to say, if you’re getting your history from Gintama then you should probably look elsewhere.6 Right: The Fashion
We all wish we could go to work every day in sandals and a kimono, strapped with a giant sword or a hidden dagger, and during the Feudal period, it was a way of life for over 10% of Japans population. Anime is ripe with character adorned in luscious silks interwoven with decadent patterns and colors. The genre’s love for the era really shines through in their fashionable attention to detail and creativity while staying true to life.5 Wrong: The Lawlessness
How many times have we seen a fight break out in a market or a soup shop, over something that would otherwise be an innocent offense, and end in someone getting completely dismembered? The level of lawlessness in the time period was not as pronounced as it exists in anime and other fiction; in fact, only samurais were allowed to openly carry weapons in the street and suffered dire consequences if used unjustly, and would frequently have to appear in court for minor offenses.4 Right: Love And Respect For Nature
Japan has a deep respect and love for nature with its culture being rooted in Shintoism which is the belief in Kami, holy spirits that exist in the landscape of the earth, and in nature.
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Historical anime keys in on many elements in nature from the sound of cicadas in the summer to a rush of water cascading off a hillside, or the red sun peeking over the snowy mountain tops. The aesthetic plays beautifully with the period and helps to create a long lasting image of a long-gone era.3 Wrong: Only Men Were Samurai
An absurd stereotype that has been perpetuated throughout history is that only men were allowed to become samurai. This is pure hogwash. In fact, there was an entire unit of elite samurai known as the Onna-Bugeisha which was comprised entirely of women and whose first member was an empress. Women were so important to the class, that at one point they even made up a significant population of the warring samurai. Tomoe Gozen was one of the most fierce and determined warriors of the period leading a small army of 300 samurai in a victorious battle against 2000 enemies.2 Right: Seppuku
While it may seem like a running joke amongst anime fans and the internet, Seppuku was very real and at one point even outlawed because of its highly ritualized nature. It is the act of self disembowelment with one’s sword, and would typically be done as a way of preserving a person’s honor and self-dignity as opposed to being murdered at the hand of their enemy. It has become somewhat of a trope for historical anime to play at the ritual sacrifice, but it was still being performed as recently as 1970.1 Wrong: Samurai Never Left Japan
It’s a common misconception that samurais and the bushido teachings never left the island of Japan, but there are many instances throughout history where samurai went to other countries. There was even a large scale war fought in the Philippines between Japanese pirates and the colonial Spanish. Historical anime tends to focus solely on the happenings strictly within Japan, but it would be interesting to see some that follow samurai who ventured from the far reaches of Japan during the time of isolation.
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