With a huge well of inspiration to draw from, the genre of historical anime is one of the most varied out there. In this piece, we’ll be discussing various historical anime, variations within the genre, and the appeal of these series in general. The time is right, let’s go!
Hardcore Historical Anime
We’re starting off with anime we’re calling ‘hardcore’ when it comes to history. While the specific stories or characters from these series or films may often be fiction, these are anime that nevertheless embrace historical accuracy and don’t feature fantasy elements or overexaggerated superpowered characters. Unsurprisingly, one of the most common types of hardcore historical anime are set in the Sengoku or Edo periods of Japan, known for samurai and influential leaders like Oda Nobunaga. Some series of this type worth highlighting are Hyouge Mono, Saraiya Goyou (House of Five Leaves), and Shigurui.
For historical series covering more recent times in Japan, many of the lesser-known works by the legendary Studio Ghibli are great examples. Films like Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies), based on a semi-autobiographical story covering the horrors of the American firebombing of Kobe in 1945 and Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) which tells the story of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, chief engineer for the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, the most famous airplane in Japanese history that was heavily used in WWII.
Some other great series include Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, a thoughtful drama centered around a traditional form of Japanese comedy called Rakugo that jumps between the past and present, and Sakamichi no Apollon (Kids on the Slope) another drama series, this one set in the 1960's and following a high school jazz group in Kyushu.
There are also plenty of hardcore historical anime not set in Japan such as Ikoku Meiro no Croisée The Animation (Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth The Animation), a slice of life series that tells the story of a Japanese girl named Yune living in France during mid-late 19th century and Eikoku Koi Monogatari Emma (Emma: A Victorian Romance), an aptly named Victorian romance series following working class maid Emma and wealthy aristocrat William Jones and their struggle for love in their rigid, class-based society.
Alternate History Anime
When things still mostly stay realistic but have history go down a different path at some point in a major way we get alternate history anime. As the basic idea has remained popular throughout the years it’s not surprising that this sub-genre has representation in anime, although it’s not as widespread as you might think. One of the best examples is Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, a psychological drama revolving around a member of an elite police force set in a universe where Japan has been occupied by a victorious Nazi Germany after WWII for supporting the allies and only recently become independent. Another example is Makoto Shinkai’s Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho (The Place Promised in Our Early Days) which takes place in a Japan split in half under the control of the Soviet Union and America.
Supernatural Historical Anime
Anime’s love affair with fantasy, sci-fi, or otherwise supernatural elements makes this type of historical anime likely the most common type out there. We have series that base themselves on figures and events of Japanese history but take a lot of liberties, like Sengoku Basara which once again draws from the Sengoku Period but focuses on over-the-top shounen action, and Samurai Champloo which heavily infuses Edo Period Japan with modern pop culture and hip-hop style. Another standout example of a historical anime that draws from traditional Japanese history is InuYasha which features “modern day” (at the time at least) student Kagome Higurashi being transported to the feudal era (also Sengoku) after falling down a well at her family’s Shinto shrine. This time, however, the many legendary yokai (or demons) roam the land and some humans also possess spiritual powers.
Further combinations of genres exist such as Code Geass’ mix of sci-fi superpowers and mechs and an alternate history time where the United Kingdom became the Holy Britannian Empire after several events changed history in a major way, highlights being the American Revolutionary War not being successful, losing the U.K. to Napoleon (forcing the nobles to move to North America), and the new Holy Britannian Empire expanding to many other countries around the world, including an invasion of Japan.
Without going into exhaustive detail, other strong series that have fun with history include wacky comedy Gintama which is ostensibly about aliens invading feudal Japan, Meiji-era samurai series Rurouni Kenshin, which could probably be considered ‘hardcore historical’ if not for some superpowered characters, Ookami to Koushinryou (Spice and Wolf) which is a fairly accurate depiction of Medieval Europe that goes a lot into the economics of the era but also features a cute wolf goddess (among other things), and supernatural mystery anime set in 1930s America: Baccano!
Altogether, historical anime has a lot to offer for history buffs and beyond. There are series that specifically cater to historical accuracy, explore alternate timelines, add a wide variety of embellishments, and beyond. Sometimes the history part is a subtle element, sometimes it’s front and center but whenever it is used it adds its own type of appeal and can even be educational, at least as inspiration to look things up! History connects us to our past and culture and if we can experience that through anime, even better! Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to stick around Honey’s for more of all things historical… anime and otherwise! See ya~