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History Girls Lead the Trend – Travelling to Past with Samurai Warriors

2018.05.18

The online game Touken Ranbu started in January 2015.  In the game, a player collects up to six “Meitou”, masterpiece blades, to form a battle team to combat antagonists who try to avenge their master by changing history.

The registered users exceeded one million in less than half a year, mostly young women. What is the hook?  The player, who assumes the role of “Saniwa”, has the power to bring the spirit of swords and they come alive as samurai warriors.

It’s not Just a Game; It’s a Whole New Universe

Set in 2205 AC, the History Correctionists begin attacking past events to change the course of history in order to achieve the world their master wished.  The government sends out Saniwa, who can bring the spirit of artefacts to life and give thm the will, and the skills to fight.  They turn into “Touken Danshi” (Sword Warriors) with the human body, and prevent the enemy from changing the past.

The characters are anime-beautiful boys.  It was an instant success, and a variety of mixed media collaboration quickly followed.

Just ten months later, in October 2015, the first musical was released, and ran as a trial with success.  Since then, five official musicals were produced, and one of them toured to Shanghai, China.  Live streaming events in cinemas are trendy in China and Taiwan. The musicals’ actors form boy bands and release CD/DVDs.  The tickets are sold out for all the shows, including standing tickets.

The next show is scheduled in Paris, as a part of Japonisme 2018 on 15th July.  Tours from Japan, for three days only in Paris, with tickets for the best seats included, are almost sold out.

Separately, three theatre plays were released, and a new title is scheduled in June 2018.  On TV, there are animated drama series, and there will be a live-action movie scheduled for release in 2019.  The franchise is unstoppable at the moment.

Museums and Galleries Rocked by History Girls

All these warriors in the game are based on the swords that still exist, or that are known to have existed.  As they are weapons, many were lost during battles, but many remain in the museums around the country (and some overseas), especially the ones produced by master swordsmiths, such as Masamune and Muramasa.

In fact, out of five swords that the player can pick at the beginning, four remain in the hands of the descendants of a long line of owners. The only non-existent sword, Kashu Kiyomitsu, can be traced to the last owner, Okita Soushi – a famous rebel warrior in Meiji Period who perished in 1868.

The museums, galleries, and historic sites are full of young women visitors, often known as “Rekijo”, History Girls.  One of the galleries, Tokugawa Museum, has received so many requests over one blade that they decided to pull it out of the archive for a special exhibition. Yamambagiri Kunihiro, one of the five starter swords, was exhibited at the local Ashikaga City Museum for one month in March 2017 for the first time in 20 years.  The total number of visitors was 37,800, their highest on record, with over 80% being teens/twenties women.

Unique Relationships of Swords and the Owners

The original online game is well-crafted and is improving, with characters that are unique and attractive.  The marketing strategies of this franchise are robust.  But there is an impression that the enthusiasm among the fans is leading the trend, not the game producer nor the marketing company.  The activities outside the game and shows, such as seeing the actual artefacts (often accompanied by the game character’s illustrations in recent year) and learning about historical events and places, getting people out exploring, and experiencing first hand.

Of course, there are stories of the wars, killings, pain, and heartbreaks.  But Japanese swords are at the centre of the legendary foundation of the country, and always have been the ultimate protection/gift for newborn babies as well as brides marrying into opposition clans.  They are symbols of sacred souls, independent minds and loyalty to your family.  These very human stories from the past attract young people in modern society.

Sacred Object, National Treasure, Soul of Japan

There are over 100 pieces of blades registered as National Treasures It is a significant percentage of the treasures, out of a total of 885 artefacts.

A sword is one of the three sacred objects in the legend of Japan’s foundation.  That very sword, Kusanagi, is kept safe in Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya city.  Many others are worshipped as sacred objects in shrines around the country. Its beauty, sharpness, and out-of-this-world quality made it believable that it is a source of divine power.

The skills and efforts that were devoted to the creation of these blades, together with the loyalty and rivalry of their successive owners, captivate the visitors.  What they find in the reflection of these blades may be the souls of the creators, the owners and those who came into contact, including themselves.

The journey to find out human spirituality can start anywhere.  This game franchise is providing it to the young generation of devoted women.

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