If you’ve seen the opening to the new anime Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu, you may have noticed the small montage of six sword boys in different locations and different circumstances. However, did you know the symbolism and the history behind each of these shots?
The montage begins with Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki, the sword of Sakamoto Ryouma, a famous Japanese revolutionary that was part of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan, known for uniting two provinces against the government. He was assassinated at the age of 31 while staying at an inn in Kyoto. What separated him from many of the other samurai during the time was that apart from using a sword, he used a gun in battle – a feature that was translated to the personification of his sword, as Yoshiyuki is the only known character in Touken Ranbu to use a gun alongside his sword. In this shot, we see Yoshiyuki reloading the gun before dropping it to his side and heading off-screen. This is likely a reference to the night of Sakamoto’s assassination, as when the man was taken off-guard, he instinctively reached for his sword instead of his gun, which could have saved him from the attackers. The fully loaded gun rests by Yoshiyuki’s side the way it would by Sakamoto’s – ready, yet unused, now useless after his master’s death.
The location itself is most likely the Watatsumi Shrine in Kouchi, Sakamoto’s birthplace, where a statue of him was later placed. The tree in the shot is a maple tree – in Japanese flower language, it can mean “important memories”. As maple leaves tend to turn red in December, it could be said that these symbolize Sakamoto’s death which took place on the 10th of December.
Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki during Episode 1 Ending (Opening Scene)
Next come the blades of Hijikata Toshizou, the vice-commander of Shinsengumi, a special police force protecting the shogunate. He was active at the same time as the aforementioned Sakamoto, and as the two stood on opposites sides of the divide on the shogunate question, this is reflected in the anime’s Izuminokami Kanesada’s – the personification of his longer blade – reluctance towards Yoshiyuki, as they would have originally been enemies. In the opening, he is shown walking through a post-battle battlefield. The scene presents the aftermath of the battle of Aizu, as suggested by the banner in the top right corner – the flag of the Aizu domain. A small remaining part of the Shinsengumi (small due to civil war and the fall of Edo and defeat of Tokugawa, to whom they remained loyal) took part in the battle, defending the Aizu territory. They were on the losing side, and although Hijikata survived the battle, the event represents devotion to his mission of defending the shogunate, even in hopeless conditions.
The flag of the Aizu domain
Izuminokami Kanesada walking through the aftermath of the battle of Aizu
A few shots later, we see Yagen Toushirou, the personification of Oda Nobunaga’s beloved dagger, inside a burning building. Oda Nobunaga was one of the three unifiers of Japan in the 16th century and was a highly skilled ruler, but he became ruthless later in his life. His death occurred suddenly, due to a treachery of his samurai general. Oda stopped at the Honnouji Temple in Kyoto, while on his way to the frontlines where he was to aid one of his general’s forces. When the samurai general’s army surrounded the temple and his troops stormed the building, Oda committed suicide and ordered his page and lover (one of many), Mori Ranmaru, to set the temple on fire so that the attackers could not claim Oda’s head. It is said that Yagen, the dagger, was burned down during the incident alongside its master, and it’s this scene we see in this part of the opening.
Yagen Toushirou in the burning temple
The next shot shows Tonbokiri, sitting on the boards of what we may assume is his master’s – Honda Tadakatsu’s – castle, the Ōtaki Castle. The samurai was responsible for the castle’s creation, acting upon the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. Tonbokiri was Honda’s spear, and the leaves in the shot are of the Ginkgo tree. In flower language, the leaves mean “repose of souls” and this scene likely suggests the death of Tonbokiri’s master, as the samurai passed away in early December.
In the next shot, we see a scene representing the Shimotsuki incident. Shimotsuki in archaic Japanese means November, which is when the attack in question took place – November 1285. The Houjou clan was originally allied with the Adachi clan, but once an alleged plan of the Adachi clan aiming to usurp the Houjou clan was revealed, the Houjous authorized an attack on the Adachi. The Adachi clan was caught by surprise and the battle took place outside their residence. Once the Adachi lost after a hard-fought, five-hour battle, they were either killed or forced to commit suicide. Adachi Sadayasu was the owner of the personification of the sword you can see below – Tsurumaru Kuninaga. He too, was killed in the incident and Tsurumaru was stolen by the Houjou clan as a result.
There are two more frames relating to the aforementioned stories shown in the opening scene.
First, a punctured Shinsengumi banner, likely a reference to Hijikata’s death due to a bullet wound.
Next, a bloody, lifeless arm, reaching for a sword with a broken scabbard – a potential reference to how Sakamoto Ryouma reached for Yoshiyuki during his assassination and was unable to defend himself, reportedly due to the scabbard breaking, thus slowing his movements and causing him to be cut down by the enemy blade.
And on that positive (or not…) note, these are all the historical references Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu opening presents. A large portion of the opening sequence revolves around the deaths of the personified swords’ masters. Is that foreshadowing for the inevitable angst in the anime? Or is it simply a treat for the history nerds like myself? Only time will tell!
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