Here’s one that may be of more interest to those of you who are fans of Rurouni Kenshin. Or at least of the era it depicts, the early days after the Boshin War when the Meiji Government was laboring to keep itself from becoming a footnote in Japanese history. Meiji Gekken 1874 is notable for being the first anime directly produced by Crunchyroll (though not Sony, their owner), with more set to follow. The staff is not too notable, though director Tamamura Jin is experienced and seemingly capable. As for the writer, I’ve never heard of them – or the studio, that I remember.
The setting here is Tokyo in – unsurprisingly – 1874, though there is a brief cold open set in 1868 (Meiji Year 1). For context, RuroKen begins in 1878, when the government was somewhat more established though by no means secure. The hero of the piece is a young rickshaw driver named Origasa Shizuma, who as a member of a pro-shogunate death squad in Aizu (the last Shogunate holdout) during the war. He survives in order to protect Sumie, the sister of his comrade, and she appears also to be his fiancée. But as of the opening stanza he still hasn’t located her or even verified that she’s still alive.
I confess I was a bit worried at the start, as it seemed as if the series was taking a pretty simplistic view of complicated events – heroic Shogunate loyalists trying to preserve the old ways against evil Imperialists doing the bidding of foreign devils. And to be sure, the British ambassador Harry Smith Parkes fills the role of cartoon villain in his cameo. But in the end the rebels trying to overthrow the government come off looking almost as bad – certainly corrupt and callous at the very least. And for now, Shizuma is basically caught in the middle.
In effect, Shizuma is framed for the attempted murder of Iwakura Tomomi, an important minister in the Meiji government, by pro-shogunate terrorists. In an attempt to clear his name he winds up having a run-in with a yakuza group running a gambling hall and ends up helping the police capture the men who attempted the murder (who also attempted to kill him). He gets asked to join the police force, which presents obvious conflicts given his background, but I suspect Shizuma will accept as a means to help find Sumie.
The wildcard is Shuragami Kyoushiurou, unlike most of the characters here a completely invented figure. He winds up taking down a bunch of the yakuza (well, his freaky acolytes do) but it’s not immediately clear whose side he’s on, if any. It’s a fairly interesting setup, and the episode is certainly competent in terms of execution. For my part I do find this era in Japan quite interesting, and I’m always interested in seeing a new anime perspective on it, even if I don’t get any sense that this one is especially penetrating or nuanced. I’ll certainly give Meiji Gekken 1874 a few episodes to prove it’s a worthy addition to the mythology.