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Literature / Nansō Satomi Hakkenden

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Nansou Satomi Hakkendennote , also known simply as Hakkenden ("The Saga of Eight Dogs"), is a Japanese yomihon epic novel by Kyokutei Bakin (also famous for Strange Tales Of The Crescent Moon and many other works). Serialised from 1814 to 1842, it consists of 98 installments published over 106 volumes.

His territory under siege, Lord Satomi jokingly offers the hand of his daughter Fusehime ("Princess Fuse") to the family dog, if he'd bring him the head of the enemy commander. To his shock, he finds himself having to do exactly that. His dog Yatsufusa is in fact the incarnation of a vengeful spirit that cursed the Satomi's descendants to become as depraved as beasts. And Fuse places so much value on integrity that she would never consider breaking an obligation, even if it meant condemning herself to a life of misery.

Two years pass, with Fuse eventually managing to imprint human morals on Yatsufusa and free him from the spirit's influence... only to learn that even with Yatsufusa no longer evil, the curse cannot be stopped - she has become pregnant with his children, the couple's lack of physical intimacy simply forcing them to manifest as bodiless spirits. Soon after, Yatsufusa is shot dead by Fuse's husband-to-be Kanamari Daisuke, and Fuse is mortally wounded. She slits her swollen belly to reveal the truth, releasing her eight unborn "pups" to enter her crystal prayer beads and then scatter to the winds to be born in different families.

Sixteen years later, Daisuke (now a monk named Chudai) wanders the land to find Fuse's lost children and assemble them under one roof as the "Eight Dog Warriors". Each bears the character 犬 (dog) in their family name, one of the crystal orbs from Fuse's necklace (each marked with one of the Eight Confucian Virtues), and one of Yatsufusa's peony-shaped birthmarks somewhere on their body. In order of appearance, they consist of:

  • Inuzuka Shino: Bears the orb of 孝 (Filial Piety), and his peony mark is on his left arm. Acts as The Protagonist for the first half of the story. An orphan who lives with his greedy aunt and uncle, he wields the Murasame - an heirloom sword which controls water and rain - and is on a quest to return it to the Ashikaga family who originally lent it to his grandfather for safekeeping.
  • Inukawa Sōsuke: Bears the orb of 義 (Justice), and his peony mark is on his back. Suffers more than anyone else in the group. Introduced as Shino's servant and best friend, with the two having known for years that they share a strange connection. He is later framed for the murder of Shino's aunt and uncle, with the other Dog Warriors coming to his aid.
  • Inuyama "Michimatsu" Dōsetsu: Bears the orb of 忠 (Loyalty), and his peony mark is on his left shoulder. Initially an antagonist who controls fire and seeks to steal the Murasame, he switches sides after learning his origins but remains the most hot-headed and least virtuous member of the group.
  • Inukai "Genkichi" Genpachi: Bears the orb of 信 (Faith), and his peony mark is on his right cheek. A fisherman's son who trained under a famed martial artist, he is released from prison by the Ashikaga to capture Shino after he insults them by inadvertently presenting a fake Murasame.
  • Inuta "Kobungo" Bungo: Bears the orb of 悌 (Brotherhood), and his peony mark is on his buttocks. A huge man talented at sumo, his mother was Genpachi's wet nurse.
  • Inue "Shinpei" Shinbei: Bears the orb of 仁 (Benevolence), and his peony mark is on his side. The Protagonist of the second half of the story, he is physically younger than his brothers due to spending much of his life in a Spirit World watched over by Fusehime, though he later ages to match them. Despite and because of this, he is the greatest of the Dog Warriors (and well aware of it), embodying the cardinal virtue from which all seven other virtues are born.
  • Inusaka "Keno" Kōzuke: Bears the orb of 智 (Wisdom), and his peony mark is above his right elbow. Frequently confused for a woman, he is a Master of Disguise and expert tactician.
  • Inumura "Kakutarō" Daikaku: Bears the orb of 礼 (Etiquette), and his peony mark is on the left of his chest. A lover of books, whose father was killed and replaced by a cat demon.

Hakkenden is the longest novel in the Japanese language, and likely the most influential of the 19th century. Its success made Bakin the country's first career novelist, and inspired legions of imitators. Among other things it's a Trope Codifier for Birthmark of Destiny, Character-Magnetic Team and Gotta Catch Them All plotlines in Japanese media.

The story of the Eight Dog Warriors has received many, many adaptations over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, from the stage to the cinema and TV. These include the films Legend of the Eight Samurai and Message from Space, as well as the manga Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East. Fuse, the Dog Warriors and their orbs also make a prominent appearance in the videogame Ōkami.

This work provides examples of

  • Adaptational Villainy: While she was already villainous, a number of adaptations have Tamazusa curse the Satomi without dying, promoting her to a series-long Big Bad or Sealed Evil in a Can.
  • Anachronism Stew: Somehow Daisuke easily gets his hands on a musket in fifteenth century Japan.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The Murasame-maru, Shino's sword which conjures water from its blade and never becomes stained.
  • Arc Number: Eight. The number of Fuse's children is attributed to a combination of Yatsufusa's eight spots, the eight Confucian virtues, and the eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra which she recited.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Even thus can a beast conceive a heart to know truth" - a Buddhist aphorism which first appears on Fuse's prayer beads (replacing the Eight Virtues) the moment Yatsufusa earns his claim to Fuse, then disappears after his grudge is purified. The spirit of En no Gyoja also appears to use it as something of a calling card to let Lord Satomi know that a message came from him.
    • "Ill fortune and good are like a rope intertwined" - first given by En no Gyoja to explain why he doesn't simply remove Fuse's curse, and later repeated by multiple characters.
  • Behind Every Great Man: Lord Jin'yo is a drunkard heavily dependent on the advice of his favorite concubine Tamazusa. She takes advantage of this to hand out favours to those who please her, and eventually marries Evil Chancellor Sadakane after the two plot together to have him assassinated. When Sadakane's forces are captured and placed on trial, Tamazusa is by far the most quick-witted, repeatedly and easily twisting the protagonists' words to paint them as the villains.
  • Birthmark of Destiny: The eight peony-shaped spots on Yatsufusa's body are divided up between his eight children. In the ending they start to slowly fade away.
  • Curse That Cures: The man who gives a young Fuse her prayer beads explains that he could simply remove her curse, but that fate is a complicated thing where good and bad outcomes are hopelessly entwined, and that as long as they remain virtuous the curse's attempt to destroy her family can ultimately raise them to further greatness.
  • Daydream Surprise: After some time with Yatsufusa, Fuse looks at her reflection in the river and hallucinates that she has a dog's head atop her shoulders. This is implied to be a side effect of her Mystical Pregnancy kicked in.
  • Debut Queue: The Dogs' full roster of eight is slowly assembled over the course of the story.
  • Disguised Hostage Gambit: Learning that two men plot to assassinate him, Evil Chancellor Sadakane convinces Lord Jin'yo to go on a hunting trip incognito. He then loudly announces his own intent to go on a hunting trip. Soon into the trip, the lord's horse mysteriously falls ill, so Sadakane lends him his own distinctive white steed. This has the desired effect, tricking the assassins into killing their lord and allowing Sadakane to seize the throne.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: The eight large beads from Fuse's necklace are divided between each of the Canine Warriors, while the remaining 100 small ones are restrung and carried by Chuudai.
  • Dying Curse: After he deposes the treachorous Sadakane, Lord Satomi initially plans to spare his wife and partner-in-crime Tamazusa, but on Kanamari Hachirou's advice changes his decision and has her executed. With her dying breath she curses the Kanamari family to die out, and the Satomi to "fall to the level of dogs". This results in her lingering grudge inhabiting the dog Yatsufusa, kicking off the main story.
  • Egopolis: When Evil Chancellor Yamashita Sadakane (surname meaning "Under the Mountain") and his new wife Tamazusa (read "Jewel Azusa") take control of Lord Jin'yo's lands, he renames Takita Castle to Tamashita Castle (meaning "Under the Jewel"), which is either a invoked Portmanteau Couple Name or a gesture that it would be under her ownership.
  • Elemental Weapon: Shino's katana Murasame ("Autumn Shower") is always damp to the touch, and sprays droplets of water with each swing. It can also project clouds of mist which have been used to extinguish enemy torches or open a path through a forest fire.
  • Embodiment of Virtue: Each of the Canine Warriors is themed after one of the eight Confucian virtues.
  • Evil Chancellor: Yamashita Sadakane to Lord Jin'yo in the prologue. He eventually has him assassinated and seizes the throne.
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: Shino and Dousetsu have water and fire powers respectively, and are initially rivals.
  • Foreshadowing: Near the start of the story, Lord Satomi and his retainers witness a white dragon as it rises from the ocean to the heavens. While they discuss what good omens this might bring, he makes an off-hand comment that even though dragons are divine beings, they can still succumb to earthly desires, in particular citing the various Hybrid Monsters that exist because of their habit of mating with beasts.
  • The Good King: Lord Satomi is repeatedly shown as a humble, intelligent man who believes in using his wealth to enrich the people.
  • Homage: Many to Chinese tales. In particular, the initial "my daughter's hand for my enemy's head" bet was inspired by Gaoxin and his dog Panhu, as Bakin spells out in the preface.
  • Jidaigeki: The story is set in the Sengoku era, with some of the characters being based on historical figures.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The title characters are each part-human, part-dog.
  • Hereditary Curse: Tamazusa's curses extend not only to Satomi Yoshizane and Kanamari Hachirou, but also to their descendants.
  • Historical Fantasy: The story is a heavily spiced-up biography of the Satomi clan in the 15th century, filled with supernatural beings and events.
  • Hitodama Light: After Daisuke's father commits seppuku, Lord Satomi spots a flame next to him which briefly takes the shape of a woman and embraces him, later identified as Tamazusa's wraith enacting its vengeance.
  • Honorary True Companion: The character of Masaki Daizen teams up with the protagonists later in the story, and is treated as an "honorary Canine Warrior".
  • Improvised Weapon: In the prologue, when two of Sadakane's men turn against him he briefly manages to fight them off armed only with a bamboo flute. When the flute gets cut in half he throws it with enough force to pierce one man's arm, taking him out of the fight. Then as things devolve into grappling, the remaining attacker pulls the flute from his companion's body and uses it to stab Sadakane in the neck.
  • Long Runner: Usually considered the longest novel in the Japanese language, published in instalments over the course of almost 30 years.
  • Love Redeems: Originally Tamazusa's curse would have led Yatsufusa to rape Fuse, but through listening to her recitals of the Lotus Sutra he gradually became elevated to human-level morality.
  • Magic Antidote: In the prologue, Kanamari Hachirou has spent years disguising himself by swathing his body in skin-irritating lacquer, making him so ugly that he barely looks human. When Satomi Yoshizane comes on the idea of rubbing him with crab meat, it restores his former looks so quickly that the cast say it must be some kind of miracle.
  • The Magic Goes Away: After the Canine Warriors restore the Satomi family they gradually lose their supernatural traits, with their peony birthmarks fading away and their orbs losing their markings.
  • Meaningful Name: Bakin is very fond of kanji puns.
    • Each of the Dog Warriors is born to a family with 犬 (dog) in their name.
    • Fuse's name was chosen as an Alternate Character Reading of 伏, referring to the summer rest period in which she was born. However, the components of this character are 人 (person) and 犬 (dog).
    • Yoshizane was excited to adopt the dog Yatsufusa (found raised by a tanuki in a village) because 狸 (tanuki) can be broken into 犬里 ("dog village" or "dog Satomi"). In hindsight, he mourns that it was foolish to trust a female "jewelface" (玉面 gyokumen, but can be read as tamazura) when he knew he was being haunted by a woman named "Jewelbirch" (玉梓 Tamazusa).
    • Yatsufusa (八房 "Eight Bunches") was named in reference to the peony-like markings on his body, one of which is inherited by each of his children. On witnessing the beads bearing Fuse's children scatter to the winds after her death, Yoshizane notes that the characters for "Yatsufusa" can be broken down into 八一尸方, meaning "one corpse in eight directions".
    • When the long-missing Daisuke (大輔 lit. "great assistant") accidentally kills Fuse just before Yoshizane arrives at the scene, Yoshizane assumes that he has fallen victim to a fate originally meant for himself, as he had recently received a courtly title also spelled 大輔.
    • Daisuke's name as a monk is 丶大 (Chudai), derived from splitting 犬.
    • Daihachi/Shinbei's parents are named "Fusahachi" and "Nui", inversions of "Yatsufusa" and "Inu" (dog).
  • Mineral MacGuffin: Fuse's prayer beads, gifted to her as a child by a mysterious old man (implied to be the spirit of En no Gyouja) in order to ward off the worst of the family curse. The eight large beads are normally marked with the Confucian Virtues, but from the time between Yatsufusa's victory and purification this temporarily changes to the phrase "Even thus can a beast conceive a heart to know truth". When the Dog Warriors are born they each take one of the large beads with them (in some cases appearing inside their bodies). While holding them, the Warriors gain a Healing Factor and can sense each others' presence.
  • Mystical Pregnancy: Yatsufusa was originally an incarnation of Tamazusa's vengeance, meant to bring shame to the Satomi by physically violating Fuse. However, through Fuse's diligence and The Power of Love, the curse is purified and transfigured. This results in a chaste Fuse becoming pregnant with eight bodiless spirit-children who have the potential to raise the Satomi to greatness.
  • Named Weapons: Besides the Sword of Plot Advancement 村雨丸 (Murasame-maru, "The Autumn Shower"), the story has a number of other named weapons, including Shino's wakizashi 桐一文字 (Kiri Ichimonji, "Paulownia Ray").
  • Nearly Normal Animal: Yatsufusa is significantly more intelligent than the average dog, which is attributed to him losing his mother and being raised by tanuki.
  • Old Beggar Test: Kanamari Hachirou makes his entrance to the story as a hideous beggar covered in scabs, only revealing his identity to Satomi Yoshizane once he's sure he's someone he can count on.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Is the source of one, with the sword Murasame making many appearances in later media.
  • Recycled In Space: Hakkenden can be loosely summed up as "Suikoden in Japan" (the naming scheme is not a coincidence).
  • Rotating Protagonist: The prologue focuses on Satomi Yoshizane, the first half of the main story on Shino, and the second half on Shinbei.
  • Snipe Hunt: In the prologue, when a dispossessed Satomi Yoshizane offers to join the Maro and Anzai families in their fight against Sadakane, they try to get rid of him by ordering him to fish up a big carp (supposedly so they can present it as an offering to Hachiman before they march to war). Naturally, the area contains no carp. However, while fishing he is spotted by Hachirou, who introduces himself as an enemy of Sadakane and provides the Satomi with the means to defeat him by themselves.
  • Spirit Advisor: The deceased Fuse appears to her children in spirit form at multiple points in the story, with Yatsufusa in tow.
  • Standard Hero Reward: How Yatsufusa becomes Fuse's husband. Though Lord Satomi only promised this to Yatsufusa as a joke, never expecting he'd have to uphold it. Fuse makes it clear that, while she appreciates Yatsufusa's heroism and believes that marrying him is the morally correct course of action, she doesn't remotely like the situation, even threatening the dog with a dagger not to try anything funny.
  • Suicide Pact: Before they were killed by Daisuke, Fuse and Yatsufusa had planned to commit suicide together by jumping into a river.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: The Ashikaga family once lent the powerful Elemental Weapon Murasame to Shino's grandfather for safe-keeping, and Shino now seeks to return it to its rightful owners. However, he discovers that its blade has been swapped for a forgery...
  • Theme Naming: Each of the Canine Warriors has "Inu" (dog) in their name.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Fuse and her children struggle to be reconcile being both a good Confucian and a good Buddhist, embodied by the story's signature Plot Coupons - Buddhist prayer beads inscribed with Confucian virtues.
  • Tragic Villain: Yatsufusa's villainous behaviour is the result of Tamazusa's spirit, and he's a genuinely good dog once Fuse helps free him from her influence.
  • Trilogy Creep: The ninth and final "Volume" of the story is as long as the first eight Volumes combined.
  • Trojan Prisoner: In the prologue Hachirou defeats Shietage Kokurou, the first of Sadakane's lieutenants, by having a group of peasants pretend to tie him up, then walk up to the gate presenting him for judgement.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The historical Satomi probably did have a group of retainers with "dog" in their names called the Eight Dog Warriors, though only one source has been found which mentions them. Played for Laughs in the preface, where the author claims that the true story of the Dog Warriors was revealed to him by a lorekeeper he met in a dream... but he forgot half of it before he could write it down, and filled in the blanks with random stuff from other stories he thought was cool.
  • Youkai: A number of classical youkai appear in the tale, including villainous tanuki and bakeneko, and a benevolent kitsune.

Alternative Title(s): Hakkenden, Satomi Hakkenden