Thursday, November 26, 2009

Selling Sekigahara: The Legacy Of The Taiga Drama

One of the more popular manifestations of pop culture history in Japan is the yearly Taiga Drama produced by national public TV station NHK. Beginning in 1963 and usually based on popular historical novels, they’ve featured virtually every period of Japanese history. They can range from sticking to history closely (2000’s Aoi Tokugawa Sandai) to deviating wildly from it (2003’s Musashi). This year’s drama, Tenchijin, falls in between the two extremes as far as historical accuracy goes. The story of Uesugi vassal Naoe Kanetsugu seems to have proven popular among both Japanese audiences and Western ones alike. With a new hour long episode every week of the year, it provides something for Japanese history buffs to look forward to on a regular basis. Most Taigas have a short ‘historical’ segment at the end, providing background on one of the personalities or places featured during the main body of the episode, helping to spark curiosity and boost tourism. These short segments reinforce the mini-boom of interest in the subject matter that Taigas create, with documentary programs, books, biographies, movies, video games (there have actually been licensed video games based on the official Taigas), board games, and all sorts of novelty merchandise being created to cash in on heightened awareness. Tenchijin is no different, not only making Naoe a ‘star’, but also popularizing his cohort Ishida Mitsunari. Ishida was the ill-fated commander of the so-called ‘Army of the West’ opposing the eventual victor Tokugawa Ieyasu and his ‘Army of the East’ in the Sekigahara campaign. Sekigahara was also the epitome of Naoe’s career, as he and the Uesugi clan played a major part in how the campaign in the northeast played out. This past October was the anniversary of Sekigahara, and late September saw a slew of new books, games, and the like released to tie in with Tenchijin (although not as many as were seen during the battle’s 400th anniversary in 2000 in conjunction with the Aoi Tokugawa Sandai Taiga). This week, we’re going to be taking a look at some of these Japanese language releases.

Most Shogun-ki readers will be familiar with Rekishi Gunzou, Gakken’s lavishly illustrated pop culture ‘mooks’ (a hybrid of a magazine/book). They’ve produced many mooks dealing with Sekigahara over the years (and reprinting a lot of the same stuff with a new title), but this September added a new twist to Sekigahara. They released ‘Sekigahara No Tatakai (関ヶ原の戦い, Battle of Sekigahara)’…in 3-D. Yes, there’s a pair of 3-D glasses bound into the book with a large fold-out map that features a 3-D view of the battlefield complete with troop positions. This is the only part of the 96 page book to get the 3-D treatment-but the combination of maps of the campaign and the battle, gorgeous artwork, photos of artifacts, and engaging text make it an entertaining and fun read. There’s a four page timeline of events from the campaign along with the page numbers in the book where they’re examined. There are over three dozen maps (divided among traditional ‘plain’ maps and bird’s eye views of the battles in progress), and every aspect of the campaign is covered. Whether you want to know about the activities of Kato and Kuroda in Kyushu, Hidetada’s dalliance with the Sanada at Ueda Castle, the battles around the Maeda holdings in Kaga, the many castle sieges, or the fighting between the Uesugi and Date factions in northeast Japan, you’ll find them all multiply mapped out. There are extensive sidebars that examine the key figures and commanders of the campaign as well. For lesser known figures, there’s an additional section full of mini-biographies. Finally, the reverse side of the large 3-D fold out map shows the layout of Sekigahara today along with rail stations and directions to tourist attractions on the battlefield, each of which has an accompanying photograph. This little treasure is cover priced at ¥1300.

Released a bit earlier this year was a similar work, Kessen Sekigahara (決戦関ヶ原, Decisive Battle of Sekigahara), #11 in Futabasha’s series of mooks that recreate Japanese history through the use of computer graphics. In many aspects it’s similar to the aforementioned Rekishi Gunzou volume-heavy on illustrations and light on text. However, the maps and battlefield tableaus are recreated using CG and miniatures, giving things a more realistic look. It focuses more on the actual battle than the Gakken book, but gives you a real feel for how it played out. You’ll be put right behind the barricades in Ishida’s camp and in the middle of the Shimazu’s escape through the ranks of the Eastern Army. The view from the Tokugawa headquarters that takes in the entire battlefield and all the troops scattered about is not only gorgeous, but helpful for understanding Japanese tactical warfare. The castles that took part in the sieges surrounding the campaign such as Osaka and Fushimi are elaborately rendered and ‘reconstructed’ in CG. Many Sekigahara painted screens are broken down and examined in detail. There are illustrations of individual troop types and the gear they would carry. It also contains artwork similar to that used for Osprey books-these feature key points from the battle, such as Ieyasu biting his nails waiting for Kobayakawa to defect, Mitsunari receiving news of the inaction of the Mouri and Kobayakawa, and the escape of the Shimazu troops after the battle had been lost by the Western Army. It also has great ‘regular’ maps in the back showing what area of Japan was controlled by which daimyo at the time of the battle, along with a chart showing their holdings, wealth, troops they could muster, and other information. This book also has a ‘tourism’ section; however, it shows many of the sites associated with the campaign rather than just the battlefield. While smaller than the Gakken book at 52 pages, it’s priced to sell at ¥933.

Sekigahara has been a favorite subject of gamers in both Japan and the West. With two upcoming games by GMT and Hexasim, the battle has produced 20 (at least) full blown highly detailed tabletop simulations/games. September saw the release of three-and two of them were to be found in the pages of Game Journal #32 (put out by Simulation Journal in Japan). Sekigahara Taisakusen: Sekigahara He No Michi (関ヶ原大作戦:関ヶ原への道, Sekigahara Grand Strategy: Road to Sekigahara) recreates the broader campaign, stretching from Osaka castle and the satellite castle battles in the west to the campaign pitting the Uesugi against the Date in the northeast. It’s a hex based simulation with 90 step-based counters (color coded into the Tokugawa, Eastern Army Allies, Ishida’s Army Of The West, and potential Western Army Defectors, each with clan mon) and 16 cards used to introduce random events into the game. Nyuusatsukyuu Sekigahara (入札級関ヶ原) covers the actual battle of Sekigahara itself, and its title is a clever play on words-it can mean ‘Bid For Rank Sekigahara’ but can also be read as ‘Bid For Decapitated Heads Sekigahara’ (referring to the severed heads of slain enemies presented by samurai to their lords). The game’s best feature is a well done two piece map of the Sekigahara battlefield that includes the areas off to the east that saw only a small amount of fighting (which are often left out by other games). This better simulates the precarious position Ieyasu put his forces into during the battle, and the potential disaster that awaited him if the Mouri stationed at this rear had been better motivated. No cards in this game, but a few more step-based counters (99) in a huge variety of colors with clan mon on each. This too is a traditional hex based game, eschewing the trend towards going to area or point-to-point movement systems. The order of battle is detailed and well done, with a good amount of differentiation. It’ll prove useful for armchair generals who want to compare the varying strengths of each contingent. The ever-shifting alliances in the power struggle are also a key feature of the game. There are really nine factions at work here-the Eastern Army frontline forces (largely composed of former Toyotomi retainers), Ieyasu’s contingent, the Eastern army ‘road’ troops at the army’s rear, the main Western army, the Kobayakawa, the Shimazu, the Kikkawa, the ‘Mouri Group’ east of the main battlefield, and the Western army turncoats that historically defected when Kobayakawa did. Gameplay tends to run along historical lines, so the Western Army faces more of a challenge.

Both games are of low-to-moderate complexity and consequently play smoothly, with Nyuusatsukyuu Sekigahara being an exciting nail-biter (just like Ieyasu was said to do during the battle!). The magazine also includes a number of historical articles on Sekigahara and the forces and personalities involved along with a multi-page Manga that offers up gameplay tips-you get a chance to read about the actual history and then replay it. The designers weigh in with their thoughts on the two games. There’s a look back at other Sekigahara wargames produced over the years and an article on the classic game ‘Sengoku Daimyo’. Reviews and features of other wargames and simulations round out the 84 page issue-at ¥3600, it’s a particularly good value for Sengoku simulation aficionados.

Japanese History War Game Quarterly #3: Sekigahara Seneki (関ヶ原戦役, Sekigahara Campaign) was also released in September, and features a simple recreation of the campaign in a point-to-point movement format. It’s an ideal game for those new to the Japanese language-the rules are written with the intention of being short and easy to understand. Games play out quickly and tend to have a high fun factor, not getting too bogged down in number-crunching and looking up rules. While the map is somewhat unattractive (being largely a series of holding boxes), the 80 game counters are excellent. They’re organized by clans and contain leader units-they can also be flipped over to switch sides. They’re color coded into different factions-Ieyasu’s main force (although many can and will defect), the Date, the Maeda, the Satake, and Mitsunari’s main force (also with many potential defectors). 30 cards are used to liven up the game. The production quality of the magazine is outstanding-it’s squarebound in stiff covers, has a plastic bubble and baggies for easy storage, and the magazine and rules are bound into the side of the book across from the bubble. Unique to this publication, there’s a full color Manga strip that runs in the margins of the rulebook explaining some of the game’s subtleties and strategies (and where the goofy female main character always ends up screwing over the serious male lead character). The entire 32 page magazine is given over to articles dealing with Sekigahara, and also includes a section spotlighting many Japanese movies and TV shows about the battle. It also uses illustrations of the game map and counters to show how the historical campaign unfolded. JHWGQ’s goal of producing low-complexity, quick and easy to play games has proven so popular that it’s already spawned a companion magazine that features warfare the world over. It weighs in at ¥2800. It looks like the upcoming JHWGQ #4 is going to be a simulation of the 47 Ronin’s assault on Lord Kira’s mansion on a single man scale (timed to be out around the anniversary of the conflict). I can only speculate that it’ll be a simulation of the fictional accounts of the raid, since historically it was a huge 47 to 4/5 mismatch.

We’ve only covered a fraction of the books and items released in Japan in celebration of Tenchijin and Sekigahara, but enough to show the influence and attraction the Taiga drama has on Japanese audiences. Next year’s Taiga focuses on the wildly popular Bakumatsu figure Sakamoto Ryoma, and the media frenzy for it is already getting warmed up as detailed on the Samurai Archives. Japanese History War Game Quarterly has already run a game on the Shinsengumi-maybe this year they’ll have one that features their foe Ryoma shooting his way out of the Teradaya. Hopefully it won’t have optional ‘Romulus Rulz’ for fist-pounding and snickering…

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