Matt Kamen on why the Shogun must go on….
In the world we know, the Tokugawa Shogunate lost power in 1868, at which point the capital changed name from Edo to Tokyo. In the world of Akira Suzuki’s Samurai Girls, the course of Japan’s history took a significantly different path. The shogunate still exists into the present day, and the nation of Great Japan is still largely isolated from foreign nations. Instead of developing technologically, samurai still rule the day, right down to the school level.
At a school where the children of military families train in the way of the sword, the council mercilessly oppresses the student body. Muneakira Yagyu is one such student, tired of the bullying power plays of the upperclassmen and accidental founder of a rebellion that will have repurcussions far outside of the school’s walls. Luckily, he has the ability to ‘upgrade’ any female into a Master Samurai with a mere kiss, bequeathing them near-superhuman abilities in the process. With a rapidly expanding army of super-powered babes, the movement might just stand a chance!
While real history was markedly different, Samurai Girls takes a lot of inspiration from the actual figures in the 15th-16th centuries, when the Tokugawa Shogunate rose to power. Muneakira himself is based on Munenori Yagyu, who brought the Yagyu New Shadow School of swordsmanship to Edo. Though the school trained many in the style Munenori’s father Muneyoshi had mastered, it’s generally not believed kissing the teacher had any beneficial effect.
Muneakira’s first recruit to the cause is the similarly named but unrelated Jubei Yagyu. In the series, she switches from a gentle, childish innocent to a furious, almost demonic warrior when powered up by a kiss from Muneakira. The name Jubei Yagyu should be familiar to long-time anime fans, as the original samurai has been the inspiration for the likes of Ninja Scroll, Ninja Resurrection and even a light-hearted parody, Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl. The real world Jubei was the son of Munenori, and though actual records of his life are few and far between, he is popularly regarded as something of a Robin Hood figure, rebellious and protecting the common man from the excesses of a corrupt upper class.
Muneakira’s second Master Samurai is Yukimura Sanada, a 15-year-old who favours giant battle fans that she uses as both a shield and a tool to manipulate the wind. When powered up, her powers rage out of control but, unlike Jubei, can transform on her own accord. Her historical namesake was the opposite of her unrestrained nature, known as a keen tactician who led small armies to victory over much larger forces. At one point known as the greatest warrior in Japan, Sanada would die in combat during the Siege of Osaka in 1615, beheaded following a brutal battle.
Many other characters in Samurai Girls take their origins from other pivotal figures of the period – lightning-powered Sen Tokugawa is named for an actual Tokugawa princess, while her retainer Hattori Hanzo shares a name with another lauded warrior. So while the series may well indulge in fanservice to a fair degree, there’s nothing to stop you getting a history lesson out of it at the same time!
Samurai Girls is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.