「輝ける暁光」 (Kagayakeru Gyoukou)
“Shining Light of Dawn”
The Shinsengumi casualties are piling up one after another as the Bakufu continues to fight a losing war against the New Government forces. It’s admittedly a bit depressing at this point as the story approaches its inevitable conclusion, but I’m completely caught up in the depiction of their final hours both fictionally and non-fictionally. As I mentioned in my last post, part of what I really enjoy about this series is how it portrays everything according to history, yet tosses in the existence of demons that the Shinsengumi crosses paths with. If something like this actually happened, it would have never made it into history books, which is the “what if” element of the story that intrigues me a lot. In terms of dates and events, this is otherwise a history lesson or sorts in anime form. One just has to know when to discern if something is obviously fictitious, and also be wary that the details leading up to some of the outcomes could also be as well. One such example is the injury Hijikata sustained during the storming of Utsunomiya Castle last time, which most people can safely conclude, probably wasn’t at the hands of a pure-blooded demon named Kazama Chikage. Another is how Harada teamed up with Shiranui to wipe out all of Koudou’s Rasetsu army, where he ends up dying. In Harada’s case, it was pretty sad to see him go, but not at all unexpected either since he was killed during the Battle of Ueno, where the Shougitai barricaded themselves in Kaneiji Temple as depicted. It’s just highly unlikely he died fighting off a new breed of imitation demons alongside a pure-blooded one packing a box full of silver bullets.
In comparison, Kondou’s execution at Itabashi was a bit harder to swallow, simply because there was no valiant struggle. After surrendering to Imperial forces, this is how the commander of the Shinsengumi met his end. If their two deaths weren’t enough, we also had Okita’s follow suit shortly afterward, as he protected Hijikata from some Imperial samurai who had stumbled upon where he was recovering in hiding. Historically, Okita had succumbed to the fatal effects of his tuberculosis, but here he went out fighting to protect the new commander that Kondou had entrusted the Shinsengumi to. While Harada’s death felt pretty heroic when he told Shiranui that this is his repayment for his help at Koufu Castle back in episode fifteen, Okita’s was a lot sadder and moving since he didn’t have much time left to begin with. Even in his current state, he fought valiantly to protect Hijikata to the point that his katana was chipped beyond recognition. It was even more meaningful since the use of his Rasetsu powers expedited his death, plus he didn’t allow himself to die on the side of the road. The flashback earlier in the episode helped reiterate all the emotions going through Okita as well, which involved how he was taken in by Kondou and became a prodigy in the art of Tennin Rishin Ryuu at his Shieikan dojo. In light of all of the above, the only uplifting aspect of this episode was that Koudou seemed to meet his end as part of Okita’s dying act, but we find out otherwise in the very next episode.
「天道の刃」 (Tendou no Yaiba)
“Heavenly Way of the Sword”
With most of the main Shinsengumi members killed, the story takes us north to the Aizu domain where Saitou is reporting to Lord Katamori Matsudaira on Hijikata’s behalf, and the decision is made to make Aizu a last stand against the combined Sacchou forces. This would ultimately become known as the Battle of Aizu, where the Imperial forces continued to march into Bakufu territory and forced them to retreat. Depicted in this episode were the battles at Shirakawaguchi and Bonari Pass that are a part of the Battle of Aizu leading up to the siege on Aizu Wakamatsu Castle, which were almost as depressing to watch as all the deaths in the episode just prior. However, the most interesting aspect of this episode was the encounter with Masaki Tokishige (Ishida Akira), whose unit was assigned under Saitou’s command by Katamori. What should have been a simple merger was met with a lot of resistance simply because Saitou was dressed in foreign clothes and kept his katanas on his right-side — a taboo in the teachings of a samurai where wielding with one’s right hand was the only accepted way. It wasn’t until after the battle at Shirakawaguchi where Saitou convinced Masaki and his men to retreat and defended their escape with his life did they realize that he embodies everything a samurai and decided to follow him faithfully.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Masaki’s involvement in the story, but the battle at Bonari Pass made me quickly realize what an integral role he had. When the Imperial army made its way towards Oshu and the Bakufu forces were losing this critical battle, Masaki took his men and sacrificed themselves to buy them time to escape, showing Saitou the true spirit of Aizu samurai. This is what eventually led to Saitou’s decision to go back to Aizu and defend it, when Keisuke insisted that they fall back to Sendai because Aizu is a lost cause. After the earlier discussion Saitou had with Keisuke about how Aizu people lack versatility due to their thick-headed and simple-minded nature, I could already get a sense that Saitou wasn’t too fond of how the people of the domain that created the Shinsengumi was being talked down upon. Saitou did make a point of saying its that honest nature in them that led to their assignment to protect the capital, but it wasn’t until Masaki’s valiant sacrifice did it remind him that he can’t just abandon them. After learning it was in the true spirit of the samurai that Katamori ordered the rest of the forces to retreat while Aizu stands its ground and fights to the bitter end, it was practically impossible for Saitou to do so.
With absolutely no chance of winning, I thought it was pretty awesome how Saitou asked Hijikata to allow him to carry the Shinsengumi’s banner for “Honesty/Integrity” into battle even though he’s no longer fighting alongside them, especially when he and his men were proudly hoisting it in the air as he charged into enemy forces. For those familiar with history, Saitou’s decision to part ways and fulfill his sense of duty to Aizu shouldn’t turn out as badly as it seems right now, at least not when compared to the rest of the shogunate forces. In any case, Toudou and Sannan make their way to Sendai first, where it looks like Koudou managed to survive the explosion last time. Judging from the preview, I’m still a bit wary about Sannan’s intentions and get the feeling he’s still interested in Koudou’s research. The preview also suggests that Toudou’s going to be killed, which leaves me wondering if Sannan will be too since both of them should already be dead by now. Either way, the “last boss” of sorts should be Koudou at this point, since there’s no way they’re winning the war.