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ANIME REVIEW: “Peace Maker: Complete Series”

ANIME REVIEW: "Peace Maker: Complete Series"

The samurai action series Peace Maker (2003) suggests a prequel to the popular Rurouni Kenshin, but told from the
opposing political side.

 

By the middle of the 19th century, the Bakufu or shogunal government of Japan
had grown inefficient and ineffective. Its failure to formulate a satisfactory
response to the arrival of Admiral Perry and the Black Ships in 1853 produced
the political debates, social unrest and civil wars that culminated in the
Meiji Restoration of 1868.

 

Kenshin Himura, the beloved hero of Rurouni Kenshin, was once a deadly assassin working for the
Imperialists, who sought to establish direct rule by the Emperor. Stubborn,
hot-headed 15-year-old Tetsunosuke “Tetsu” Ichimura, the hero of Peace Maker, saw his father and mother
cut down by an Imperialist agent from the Choshu clan. When his older brother
Tatsu becomes a bookkeeper for the Shinsengumi,
a corps of samurai the Shogun organized to prop up his rule in Kyoto, Tetsu
decides to join the quasi-military body. He wants to become a powerful
swordsman so he can avenge his parents.

 

Initially, Tetsu may strike viewers as an anime stereotype:
the irrepressible, red-haired half-pint who wins out through sheer
determination. After his initial rejection, he kneels outside Shinsengumi headquarters in the rain
until the officers change their minds. That resolute spirit charms effete
swordsman Souji Okita, who persuades iron-willed vice-commander Toshizo Hijikata
to accept the boy as a page.

 

Despite his desire to become a ferocious warrior, Tetsu is quickly
adopted as an unofficial mascot by the colorful but formidable samurai of the Shinsengumi. They dub him “Puppy
Boy,” tease him about his small stature, and even speculate that Hijikata
keeps him around for sexual favors. But beneath the banter is a respect for
Tetsu’s steely dedication. Souji and the other warriors train him in swordsmanship.
His hard-working older brother dutifully tries to look after him, apologizing profusely
whenever Tetsu’s powderkeg temper lands him in trouble.

 

As the violent conflicts between the supporters of the Shogun
and the Imperialists build, Tetsu must decide whether to pursue his plan to avenge
his parents’ murder or become the “Peace Maker” his father hoped he
would be. The flamboyant, bloody battle scenes underscore the weight of Tetsu’s
decision. In the climactic duel, he squares off against Yoshida, the warrior he
believes killed his parents. His friends in the Shinsengumi have molded Tetsu into a formidable fighter: He lops
off Yoshida’s sword arm with a single stroke. But he can’t bring himself to
kill another person, not even one he hates. Souji beheads Yoshida—and saves
Tetsu’s life. That mortal encounter decides Tetsu’s future: He will become a
Peace Maker, working to reconcile the opposing forces to build a better future
for Japan.

 

Many of the characters and incidents in Peace Maker are based in fact, although the filmmakers take
considerable liberties with them. At times, the story rambles and some of the
subplots feel unnecessary. But the interactions among the characters give the
series an appeal that’s difficult to resist. Even the minor samurai in the Shinsengumi feel like fully-drawn, credible
individuals.

 

Souji and Tenth and Second Unit Captains Sanosuke Harada and
Shinpachi Kagakura become Tetsu’s special friends, teasing and training him—and
protecting him from the potentially fatal consequences of meddling in affairs
he doesn’t fully understand. They banter and fight their way through slapstick antics,
but the viewer never forgets the deadly powers at their command. Writer Hiroshi
Yamaguchi and director Tomohiro Hirata refuse to offer a facile solution to
Tetsu’s inner conflict—a much grimmer conflict than American animated heroes
face–which gives Peace Maker a
satisfying depth.

Peace Maker: Complete Series (Classic) Funimation: $49.98 (4 discs, DVD)

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