「誠心は永遠に」 (Seishin wa Towa ni)
“Devotion is Eternal”
Following the revelation of Koudou’s demon revival plans and the departure of Nagakura and Harada, the situation only gets worse for the Shinsengumi. Amagiri explains to Saitou that Rasetsu destroy themselves by expending all their life energy over a short period of time, prompting Hijikata to forbid the further use of Ochimizu to expand their secret unit. To make matters worse, the eventual stopover at Nagareyama was the most ominous turn of events, as it resulted in Kondou’s surrender to the New Government forces. That may not have seemed so bad given how it bought Hijikata and the rest of the men time to escape, but I couldn’t help but get a little emotional over seeing Hijikata completely torn over complying with Kondou’s orders to do so. The flashback to their earlier days and Hijikata’s words about wanting to see how far he could make it with a farmer turned master of a small dojo really made the scene at the end, along with the ending theme playing in the background. What really hit me though was knowing that this was truly going to be a sacrifice on Kondou’s part, as he was executed about three weeks after he was captured (historically). It was no secret that everyone knew his chances of survival were slim to none for staying behind, and Hijikata understood best of all being his long-time friend and co-founder of the Shinsengumi. Because of that, even watching him use his Rasetsu powers to single-handedly take out all the enemy forces in their way was more depressing than anything else. I can’t speak for everyone, but that was one powerful scene in my eyes, which was right up there with Yamazaki’s death at the end of season one.
「玉響の夢」 (Tamayura no Yume)
During the ongoing struggle in a losing war, the dire state of the shogunate only saw former members of the Bakufu army (i.e. Kyuu Bakufu Gun 「舊幕府軍」) continuing their fight against Imperial forces without the support from their shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. This detached army carrying on the ideals of their wavering leader is led by military strategist Ootori Keisuke, who incorporated the remaining Shinsengumi into their ranks and made Hijikata the leader of the front line unit. Their first campaign together was the Battle of Utsunomiya Castle, which Hijikata’s warrior resolve manages to turn the tides of a stalemate when he shows the former Bakufu army exactly what he’s capable of. Amidst all that, the fictional side of the story becomes a lot more prominent, starting with how Shiranui reveals to Harada that Koudou is starting all these wars to help spill blood for fueling his Rasetsu army. What I find particularly interesting about that revelation is how it doesn’t change the course of history as we know it, meaning that there could have very well been pure-blooded demons roaming about Japan and pulling the strings in the background during the Edo period. Naturally, I don’t believe that’s the case, but from a fiction on top of non-fiction perspective, it sure makes for one heck of a story.
In addition to the Hijikata x Chizuru bit of fan-service from the latter offering her blood to calm the former’s Rasetsu urges, the other thing that caught my attention was Kazama’s grudge against Hijikata. After all his talk about demon pride, it looks like his vendetta for the cut to the face he took at the end of the Battle of Toba-Fushimi (i.e. end of season one) is enough for him to put all of that aside and want to crush the Shinsengumi altogether. Even in the face of the legendary “monster cutter” katana in Kazama’s possession, Dojigiri Yasutsuna, it was pretty cool to see Hijikata overcome it with pure determination alone when his Rasetsu powers faded. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Kazama possesses a weapon that recklessly using one’s life force can’t even regenerate from, which makes an eventual showdown between the two of them seem inevitable. At this point, I’m rather curious as to how things will unfold, since Amagiri’s informed Hijikata that the demons will be withdrawing their help in overthrowing the shogunate and decided to leave Kazama up to Hijikata’s own discretion. However, the depressing ambiance surrounding how the Shinsengumi will eventually go down fighting remains prevalent throughout, as the abolishment of the shogunate is inevitable. Amazingly enough, the characters were still shown in relatively good spirits, despite capturing Utsunomiya Castle only to lose it to Imperial forces again a few days later, forcing them to retreat to Aizu.
The one plus side is that Nagakura’s newly formed Seikyotai division is helping with their efforts, but history doesn’t bode too well for them even with his help. The story has reached the final year of the Boshin War, and for the key members of the Shinsengumi, it’s more or less all downhill from here on. The preview next time looks like it’ll focus on Okita, whose tuberculosis should be taking its complete toll on his body by now. The only thing that has me hoping onto some hope that this will end somewhat favorably is if the fictional aspect comes into play more. Sannan and Heisuke are two examples of Shinsengumi captains who should have been killed already, so perhaps there’s some hope that Kondou will escape his upcoming fate as well. While part of me wants to see them all survive, there’s something really captivating about showing the Shinsengumi in their final days as they hold their heads up high to the bitter end.