[My thoughts on Peacemaker Kurogane (the anime). I know there’s a manga out there but I didn’t read it.]
Peacemaker Kurogane, released in the early 2000s, is a straightforward story of a boy who joins the Shinsengumi in order to become a demon capable of avenging his parents’ murder. Despite its simplicity, the story is packed with danger and action, and isn’t as plain as one might expect.
To a great degree, when watching this show, I could never shake off the feeling that something nasty was waiting to happen, right around the corner. And well, nasty things did happen with alarming frequency. Enemies are killed, friends are killed, family members are killed, comrades are killed and even weird, inexplicable magical monsters are killed. People are beaten, stabbed, burned and even beheaded. It’s not as bad as it sounds, really, and the violence did help to create an appropriate atmosphere for the story.
I suppose to balance out some the unpleasantness associated with… well, the killings, we are given a bright little ray of sunshine in the form of our protagonist. Like most of the characters in this show, Ichimura Tetsunosuke did exist in Japan’s history and he really was a part of the Shinsengumi, but I’m quite sure that he wasn’t the excitable puppy that that the show made him out to be.
I like Tetsu’s characterisation. He’s loud and brash, in the way many young male protagonists are, but his bite never matches his bark, which makes him rather cute. That’s not to say he escapes the darkness in the story unscathed. Shadows lurk in Tetsu’s mind, and he does have a traumatic backstory, enough to make him want to discard his humanity in search of vengeance. He’s driven and eager to achieve his goals half the time, and frightened of what that would take from him the other half of the time (although he’s probably not aware of this), and while he does finally find the answers that he’s looking for, it’s a trying journey.
One of the things that I thought Peacemaker did well was Tetsu’s development, actually. It was very traditional in the sense that there was a start, middle and end. We get a character who was in truth quite broken, in spite of all the cheer and cuteness that he displayed, and we see how he pieces himself back together with the help of his comrades. The story doesn’t say it explicitly, but he was fortunate that he found the friends that he did because he could have become a very different person otherwise.
We can see this through Tetsu’s rival (or friend) Suzu. Suzu is definitely created as Tetsu’s foil. They are the same age and share a similar background, having lost their family in a violent manner. They find powerful swordsmen to serve, who incidentally are enemies from opposite factions. Like Tetsu, Suzu is a gentle soul who is afraid of losing his humanity in his quest for vengeance. While Tetsu’s master enables him to seek his own answers, Suzu’s is less understanding (he is the villain after all) pushing him further and further into chaos.
Similar to these two, all of the characters in the show have some measure of darkness and doubts in them. Duality seems to be a running theme in this story, on many levels. It starts with the Shinsengumi itself. Peacemaker is not the first anime I’ve watched that features the infamous Shinsengumi and their passion for killing, but it’s the first that showed them as a mildly idiotic family (with a passion for killing). They’re friendly and funny, and have a brotherhood going, but then we learn that the previous head was assassinated by none other than the most senior members of the ‘family’. I’m sure there’re some really fantastic reasons for stabbing a guy in his sleep but the show never expounds all that (and I never bothered to read up on that bit of history).
Then there’s the curious case of Okita Soji, the effeminate and easy-going Shinsengumi captain who often keeps the company of his pet piglet. He’s a mentor figure of sorts for our young protagonist. Okita looks terribly frail, has a thing for sweets and dotes on Tetsu. All of these tend to trick the audience into forgetting that he’s got quite a bloodlust and that he tried to grievously damage our protagonist in the very first episode. Like I said, duality.
In spite of all that contrast and confusion, I did like Okita Soji and the rest of the Shinsengumi, and not because they were putting their lives and knives on the line for the good of the society, but because they were hilarious when they wanted to be. Peacemaker didn’t shy away from comedy and it was generally well-timed, without being thrown into the thick of battles or emotional situations.
There were other things that were not so well-timed though – like the magical monster. Yes, there’s a magical monster, and why he’s there, or what he is, I haven’t the faintest idea. Honestly, I think magic has no place in this story so the few scenes and episodes which featured spells, a creepy cat, and the monster were just plain weird. I’ve watched this show a couple of times but I’ve never managed to understand the mystical and magical aspects of it. Thankfully, these aspects are kept to a minimum.
Anyway, I suppose it’s possible to enjoy a story even if one doesn’t understand all parts of it. Peacemaker Kurogane was easy to enjoy. It was rather well-paced and had a pretty good soundtrack, with a complete plot and a generally happy ending (for most of the characters, because oh-my-god, it really doesn’t end well for some people…). Altogether, it’s a very decent anime to watch if one has time to spare.
(If you’ve actually watched this show, feel free to leave your thoughts behind…)