Fact and Fiction: Portrayals of the Meiji Restoration in Anime
Japanese anime is a pervasive part of that country’s culture, and is a medium rather than a genre, often dealing in far more adult themes, ideas, and storylines than are typically associated with American animation. In this paper I will argue that anime both represents and reimagines the known historical narrative in a way that resonates with contemporary audiences. To do this, I will look at two shows, Peacemaker Kurogane and Rurouni Kenshin, both of which premiered in the late 1990s. This decade was a period of domestic and economic unrest for Japan, and themes relevant to the viewers of this era abound in these anime. First, though, it is important to provide some historical and political context in order to better understand the events, people, and thought processes of the Meiji Restoration. This will allow me to better explain and analyze their portrayal.
The late 1860s were a tumultuous time for Japan. This period of Japanese history, known as the Meiji Restoration, was a huge turning point for the country: it opened the nation to foreign trade, customs, and industry; it saw the end of a 260-year-old regime; and it had a lasting effect on the Japanese consciousness. The name ‘Meiji Restoration’ simply refers to a restructuring of government power, but that is perhaps an oversimplification of the military conflicts and political disputes that characterized the period (Reischauer, Story 95).
The events of the Meiji Restoration were unique in the progression of Japanese history, and those events and their perpetrators have left an indelible mark on Japanese society. These people and events can be seen in media as varied as movies, dramas, novels, manga, and anime; however, as I must limit my scope, this paper will focus solely on anime and how Restoration-era people, events, and themes are portrayed.