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Series / Shōgun (2024)

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Shōgun is a 2024 American historical drama series in 10 episodes created by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks. The show is produced by and and airing on FX Networks. It is also streamed on Hulu (US) and Disney+ (outside the US). It stars Hiroyuki Sanada, Anna Sawai, Cosmo Jarvis and Tadanobu Asano. It is the second adaptation of the novel of the same name by James Clavell (the first installment of his Asian Saga) after the 1980 miniseries. Like the book, the story is set in an alternate Sengoku Period, and is loosely based on the life of William Adams, the first Englishman to reach Japan.

In the year 1600 at the beginning of the Edo period, the Japanese Taiko dies. His son Yaechiyo is too young to rule, and thus a Council of Regents has been set up to lead the country until he is of age. This does not please everyone, of course, and a rivalry has emerged between co-regents Lord Toranaga and Lord Ishido. Into the middle of this has blundered John Blackthorne, the English pilot of a Dutch ship who has become stranded in Japan during a mission to sabotage Portuguese ports. With Lord Toranaga facing execution after being outmaneuvered by Ishido and his allies on the Council, he sees the arrival of this Anjin ("pilot") as a means of saving his house.

Originally released as a one-off miniseries, on May 10, 2024 in a surprise announcement FX revealed that it has opted to renew it for a second season, despite the first season adapting the (only) book to completion.

This miniseries contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Mariko is established to be practiced with a naginata. She also manages to fight off some assassins.
  • Action Survivor: Blackthorne is a sailor, not a soldier or samurai, so he doesn't know much about fighting on land. When attacked, he's just doing what he can to stay alive, often by shooting his pistol at assassins before they can get close to him.
  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • In the novel, Toranaga tasks Blackthorne with teaching his forces to use Western muskets. When developing the show, one of the historical advisors pointed out that matchlock muskets had already been introduced to Japan by the Portuguese several decades before, so Toranaga's forces would be very familiar with them by this stage. Instead, the show has Blackthorne teaching the Japanese soldiers how to use the Erasmus' cannons, which would be far more of a game-changer in warfare. This in turn leads to a different fate for Jozen and his troops: While in the book, Jozen was gutted and his followers committed seppuku, here they're shredded by cannon fire. Interestingly, the show's changes ended up lining up more with the actual historical events that inspired the novel. In real life, Tokugawa forces did indeed use cannons taken from the Dutch ship Liefde at the Battle of Sekigahara, with Blackthorne's historical counterpart William Adams assisting in training the gun crews. This was the first recorded use of heavy artillery in Japanese warfare, as previous Japanese military leaders had considered large caliber guns to be too impractical for battlefield use.
    • The novel's subtexts gives the impression that part of Ochiba's hostility to Toranaga is mostly because she believes Toranaga knows the Taiko is not the actual father of her son, as she was impregnated by a non-entity so the Taiko can claim her child as his. Likely as a function of hewing closer to the historical personality Ochiba is based on (Lady Yodo), this allegation is excised completely, turning Ochiba's relationship with the Taiko into a straightforward case of Mal Mariée (with the Taiko depicted sleeping with her). Her hostility to Toranaga is far more personal to her in nature, tied to her belief that Toranaga instigated the death of her father, the dictator Kuroda, via Akechi Jinsai's revolt. These things, coincidentally, are plot points of other Japanese historical fiction / Sengoku Period-related conspiracy theories.
    • Blackthorne attempts to commit suicide relatively early in the book's plot, to protest against a village being slaughtered if he fails to learn Japanese in six months. The show moves this to the very final episode and as a protest against the villagers being persecuted because one of them is suspected of burning the Erasmus; this fits far better into Blackthorne's character arc of learning to let go of his desire to return to England and accepting Mariko's advice that he can only control whether he lives or dies and nothing else.
  • Adaptation Name Change: A few names are slightly altered from the novel. Most of them are genuine Japanese names, but some were deemed necessary to change because:
    • They're too modern-sounding for the 17th century (e.g. Fujiko becomes Fuji, Yabu becomes Yabushige);
    • They're replaced/extended with more historically-accurate syllables (i.e. Goroda becomes Kuroda, Naga becomes Nagakado); or
    • The creators decided to impose Rule of Cool and Meaningful Name on some of them (such as Toranaga, whose original kanji "虎長" [which could be transliterated as "long tiger"], becomes "虎永" ["eternal tiger"].)
  • All There in the Manual's FX's Youtube page and website provides more backstory/story details on Shogun. The podcasts also provide more story details and worldbuilding.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Jozen loses an arm in the cannon ambush, although he's beheaded by Nagakado shortly thereafter.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: The Japanese characters speak period-accurate Early Modern Japanese, which was difficult for those actors in the cast who had no experience with period or samurai dramas.
  • Anyone Can Die: Why yes, plenty of named characters do end up dying in this series.
  • Assassination Attempt: The first time Toranaga allows Blackthorne to sleep in his own room, it's framed as him showing favour against the wishes of the regents, and that night Toranaga faces an assassin. As it turns out, Toranaga is well aware he was not the intended target.
  • Asshole Victim: Given the political maneuvering all the characters are conducting, not all of them will be missed.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Toranaga brings Blackthorne to Osaka, knowing his presence would offend the Catholic lords on the regency council and sow discord between them and Ishido (the de facto head of the council) at a time when they were otherwise united against him.
    • He later swaps quarters with Blackthorne in order to confirm his suspicions that the Christian lords and the Portuguese want to silence the outsider.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Mariko is killed by a explosion big enough to have torn her to pieces, but when Blackthorne finds her corpse, she only has a few superficial scratches and soot on her.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In episode 9, Mariko declares that she will commit seppuku in protest of Ishido holding her and the other regents' families hostage. At the end of the episode, Mariko fulfills the trope by choosing to stand in the path of an explosion, again declaring that she does so in protest of Ishido's dishonorable ways, rather than risk capture.
  • Big Fancy House: After Blackthorne is promoted, he is given a consort, a household of servants, and a fitting house for his rank.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In "Crimson Sky", Mariko comes up with the beginnings of a poem at Ishido and Ochiba's request — "While the snow remains / Veiled in the haze of cold evening / A leafless branch...". While this demonstrates her long-established penchant for poetry, Japanese speakers will also understand it as a subtle dig at Ochiba, whose name means "fallen leaves".
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Played with in Blackthorne's first meeting with Toranaga- while both are using Father Alvito as a translator, the scene is cut in such a way that Alvito's translation is eventually sidelined, so that it appears Blackthorne and Toranaga are speaking directly to one another in their native tongues.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Toranaga's manipulations lead to a shut-out victory over Ishido's faction, and with Lady Ochiba's tacit backing nothing remains to stand in his way to becoming Shogun. However, many loyal retainers (most notably Hiromatsu and Mariko) died to grant him that victory, and unbeknownst to John Blackthorne Toranaga has arranged things so he will never return to England and will remain in Toranaga's court for the rest of his life.
  • Burial at Sea: As thanks for Fuji's service to him, Blackthorne takes her out in a rowboat so they can scatter the ashes of her late husband and son out on the water. Blackthorne also symbolically buries Mariko and his hopes of returning home when he drops Mariko's rosary in the water. This act revealed that the opening vision of him dying as an old man in England while clutching the rosary was a dream of a possible future that will never come to pass. Him giving up the rosary also serves as foreshadowing that like his historical counterpart William Adams, Blackthorne will spend the rest of his life in Japan.
  • Call-Back: In Episode 1, Omi asks Yabushige if perhaps they should report the capture of the Erasmus to Toranaga, to which Yabushige scoffs and replies there's no point in telling a dead man the future. At his execution in Episode 10, Yabushige asks if Toranaga really did hold ambitions to become Shogun all this time, and he can tell him as he's about to die anyway. Toranaga steps into position to second Yabushige's Seppuku and tells him there's no point in telling a dead man the future- Yabushige gets the point and commits suicide.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: The end result of Toranaga's Crimson Sky gambit; Mariko's shameful death while in Ishido's care fractures the Regents and, most importantly, sours Ochiba on her alliance with Ishido, so when the time comes for the climatic battle of Sekigahara the Heir's army doesn't arrive to back Ishido against Toranaga, eliminating whatever legitimacy he had and giving Toranaga the victory he needs to become Shogun.
  • The Chessmaster: By the finale, Toranaga has been proven to be one.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: '"A Stick of Time" opens with a flashback, the aftermath of Toranaga's first victory in battle as a fresh-faced 12-year-old. The opposing warlord Mizoguchi compliments him that not many people win a war victory before they've lost their virginity, soon afterwards requesting the young Toranaga be his second as he commits seppuku.
  • Christianity is Catholic: The Jesuits have convinced their Japanese converts that this is the case, with Blackthorne's presence as a Protestant being a threat to their plans.
  • Corrupt Church: While they nominally seek to convert the Japanese to Christianity, the Portuguese priests are more interested in enriching themselves and their collaborators, even inciting an uprising against the late Taiko when he sought to curb their power. Credit where credit is due, however, as Father Alvito is visibly uncomfortable with his superiors'... worldly pursuits.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The story's build-up to a Civil War provides opportunities for such cases.
    • In "Anjin", one of the Dutch sailors is boiled alive. He lasts for hours, pleading and screaming every second of it. A brief shot of him horrifically blistered and still alive is shortly followed by an obscured shot of him slamming his head into the rim of the giant metal pot he's inside, trying to end his suffering more quickly. The people of the village are also clearly disturbed by this.
    • The climax of "The Eight-Fold Fence" involves Nagakado firing cannons on Nebara Jozen's entourage, putting them on the business end of Blackthorne's chain shots and reducing them to Ludicrous Gibs—likely the first in the story's version of the Sengoku Period to die this way. Jozen survives this with a shredded right arm and crushed right side, bleeding out as Nagakado beheads him.
  • Culture Clash: This drives pretty much all of Blackthorne's interactions, not just with his captors/allies but the very land that he's currently trapped in.
    • Christians not only regard suicide as cowardly — while Blackthorne does leave a pistol behind for the despairing captain of the Erasmus once it becomes clear he'll be of no more use, he obviously disapproves — Catholics believe it to be a mortal sin. For the Japanese and especially the samurai class, certain types of suicide like seppuku are integral to retaining or restoring one's honour, or as a form of protest. This all culminates in a massive problem for Mariko: as a woman of the samurai class and a retainer of Toranaga, she vows to commit suicide to protest Ishido's refusal to let her and the other hostages in Osaka leave, while as a Catholic convert she believes that killing herself would condemn her soul to hell. She plans to Take a Third Option by stabbing herself and having someone else deliver the fatal blow, and when she realises that assassins are planning to blow open the doors of the storehouse where she and several others are hiding, she deliberately stands in the path of the blast and uses her last words to condemn Ishido, which allows her to die without officially taking her own life.
    • Blackthorne experiences a 'baby' earthquake and is scared, while Mariko is very surprised that he's never even heard of an earthquake before now.
    • At one point Blackthorne cooks some rabbit stew, which the other people in his household are disgusted by and have to force down to be polite. He also receives a dead pheasant as a gift from Toranaga and is excited to eat it in the English fashion, leaving it to 'hang' in order to let the taste mature. To the Japanese people around him it looks as if he's deliberately leaving something to rot, and when he forgets to take it down as he's gotten caught up in personal matters, the village starts to whisper that the house is cursed — but because Blackthorne forbade anyone to touch the pheasant, joking that it would be 'on pain of death', his household can't remove it. The elderly gardener Uejiro eventually volunteers to do so, and is executed immediately afterwards.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Naga survives the events of the novel, while Nagakado dies in an accident as he's trying to assassinate his uncle.
    • Toda Hiromatsu survives the novel and 1980 miniseries, where he acted as kaishakunin when Yabu commits seppuku. Here, he commits seppuku and Buntaro beheads him.
  • Decapitation Presentation: This happens twice, the second time being an Ironic Echo.
    • Jozen's head is delivered to Ishido in a box.
    • Ishido returns the favor: Yabushige sends one of his generals to negotiate, and Ishido answers by sending back his head.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: When the hunt for Toranaga's spy in Ajiro intensifies, the recently deceased Uejiro is framed as the spy to throw off Yabushige and Omi.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Especially in early episodes, we see from both sides that Blackthorne and the Japanese view each other's cultures and values to be totally alien and "barbarian."
      • The Japanese find Blackthorne's sandy hair and blue eyes to be bizarre.
      • Blackthorne is horrified when he discovers that a peasant was killed without even consulting him for breaking his offhandedly delivered orders, though he later learns that this was used as a pretext for deeper matters.
      • Blackthorne is given a consort to "pillow" with as he sees fit. He's uncomfortable with the arrangement and doesn't lay a finger on her.
      • Blackthorne and the Japanese find the other's cuisine odd. The Japanese won't even touch the stew he made, while he is often dubious of the food served to him. Ironically, he's game to try natto even when they assure him he'll hate it, and he seems to find it unexceptional.
    • Some values are more a product of their time than culturally bound:
      • Wives are considered to be their husband's property, something both Blackthorne and the Japanese are comfortable with.
      • Catholics and Protestants are at war and don't consider the other side to be Christian at all.
  • Dies Differently In The Adaptation: Ishido's henchman Jozen gets one of the source novel's grimmer deaths, one that appalls Blackthorne - bayoneted repeatedly by Naga's men, hamstrung, gutted, then mauled to death by the village dogs. He still dies in the same time and place in the show, but is allowed a little more dignity; badly wounded by cannonfire, he defiantly curses Nagakado for not fighting like a samurai before the latter decapitates him.
  • Domestic Abuse: Buntaro, drunk and still irritated by Blackthorne's needling, physically takes out his anger on Mariko later that night. When Blackthorne angrily confronts him, he grovels and apologizes, but only for disrupting the harmony of his host's household.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Not understanding the Japanese language, Blackthorne angrily decries his initial captors as savages (from a Western imperialist view) more than once, unaware that they are calling him the same (as an uncultured barbarian from their perspective).
    • In the final episode, Blackthorne mocks Alvito when he the latter says he hopes they can get over their differences, saying that the day when Protestants and Catholics get along will never come. Of course, any British or Portuguese viewer watching it in the present would know that the other country is a trading partner, military ally, and possible tourist destination.
    • Toranaga states that he feels it is Blackthorne's destiny to remain in Japan his entire life. We've already seen a Flash Forward with Blackthorne as an old man in a western bedroom accompanied by his English-speaking grandchildren.
  • Driven to Suicide: Japan at this time commonly practices seppuku, and it is seen as a legitimate way of protest over another's decisions.
  • Entitled Bastard: Asked about his knowledge of the wider world in "Servant of Two Masters", Blackthorne explains to Toranaga and the other attendants that a treaty (the real-life Treaty of Tordesillas) between Portugal and Spain has allowed the former to claim ownership of Japan. Everyone present is thrown by the idea that their country "belongs" to a European power who just decided it, even the stoic Toranaga making a point to clarify with Mariko (who's translating) that Blackthorne really said "belongs".
  • Excrement Statement: In the pilot, Blackthorne is urinated upon by Omi.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Ochiba is a beautiful woman admired by many. She is also the one who tells Ishido to take more aggressive measures when the regents' infighting puts his plans at a standstill.
  • Fanservice: Kiku, the renowned courtesan in Izu, provides most of this in the show.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Upon seeing Blackthorne wearing a katana to the cannon demonstration, Yabushige sarcastically remarks that it's a bad omen. He was right, as the hot-headed Nagakado decides to start a war against the Regents by opening fire on Ishido's messengers.
  • Flash Forward: Two are shown to us as part of the finale, "A Dream of a Dream":
    • The first one tends to pop up randomly across the episode: that of an elderly decrepit Blackthorne dying in his bed in England, surrounded by Japanese curiosities. This is explicitly stated to be a possibility that's rooting from Blackthorne's grief of everything he lost in Japan—which he ultimately denies to pass by letting go of Mariko's crucifix, accepting his fate to stay in Japan forever.
    • Second, and more inexorably, to the famous Battle of Sekigahara, set to take place a month from the Grand Finale, in which Toranaga's master plan, set into motion by Mariko's death, delivers Ishido a decisive defeat.
  • Flowery Insults: Blackthorne is fond of creative insults, such as calling Omi a "milk dribbling fuck smear" when he tries to take Blackthorne's pistols. He's also able to get away with quite a lot of them by saying them in Portuguese, banking on Mariko providing a Tactful Translation so as to not offend the target.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The finale reveals the inevitable war to be one in favor of Toranaga: a Flash Forward to him and Ishido meeting at Sekigahara has him reveal that Ochiba has allied the Heir and his army with Toranaga, with the resulting dissolution of the Regents' own alliance paving the way for Toranaga to claim the title of Shogun. As such, the series ends without having to show the resulting battles.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Flashback in episode 7 has the enemy commander Mizoguchi requesting the young child commander Toranaga to assist him in his seppuku, mostly as a means of sharing some spiteful last words and forcing the young boy to bloody his hands himself, to assuage the humiliation of being defeated by a 12-year-old child in battle. By the present, Toranaga notes that Mizoguchi's decision was a poor and short-sighted one: by requesting an inexperienced child to wield the blade, it took nine blows of the sword to cut his head off, giving himself a more painful and drawn-out death just for the sake of soothing his pride. This foreshadows Nagakado's own death in the episode's end, as he likewise impulsively acts to try and assassinate his traitorous uncle Saeki when he betrays Toragana and prepares to hand him over to the regents, only for him to be too focused on killing him to take notice of his surroundings, slipping on the same wet rocks Saeki did fleeing from him and giving himself an Undignified Death from short-sightedness. Adding insult to injury are the hints that Toranaga has a secret plan in mind to take advantage of his enemies thinking they've defeated him, which Nagakado's assassination attempt threatened to undermine.
    • During an early conversation in "A Stick of Time", it's established that amongst the Japanese phrases and statements John has learned during his time under Torananga, he's able to understand the words for "Crimson Sky", a codeword amongst Toranaga's retinue referring to the theoretical invasion and occupation of Osaka Castle, should it become necessary to liberate it from his power-hungry rivals, a last-ditch move that Toranaga has been vocally against until recently. During the closing moments of the episode, when Toranaga is forced to surrender to his traitorous brother and be escorted to Osaka for summary execution, he admits in Japanese that "Crimson Sky... was a mistake" with a Meaningful Look at John. John immediately leaves the meeting whilst disparaging Toranaga's apparent failure of his plans and leading his loyal followers to their doom, referencing Crimson Sky arbitrarily in Portuguese as he stalks off ignored by the high-ranking Japanese as a mere barbarian, showing that he picked up on that reference amongst Toranaga's dialogue. This hints at an unspoken plan between John and Toranaga to take advantage of the latter's hopeless situation and the former's disparagement amongst the natives to execute Crimson Sky under different circumstances, with John acting as the lynchpin whilst being Beneath Notice.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Although Toranaga is reluctant to execute his incredibly risky plan to quickly seize Osaka by force, the news brought by Hirokatsu (that Ochiba and Ishido have taken the other Regents hostage to force a vote on impeaching Toranaga) left him no choice but to go ahead.
  • Gorn: The seppuku performed by the defeated samurai Mizoguchi in the opening flashback scene of "A Stick Of Time," has the camera focus on his stab wound and his intestines spilling out as he drags the knife across his belly.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • In "Servants of Two Masters", the execution of the prisoner by decapitation is obscured via the bars of the prison Blackthorne is in, although his head is seen bouncing into frame.
    • The camera pans away from Jozen and towards his killer Nagakado as he is beheaded.
    • When Toranaga acts as Mizoguchi's second, as it's later mentioned that he needed nine strikes from his katana to decapitate the man, only the first of which is shown before the scene cuts to the opening theme.
  • Great Offscreen War: The second episode reveals the Taiko unsuccessfully attempted to invade Joseon (Korea) during his reign, alluding to the real-life Imjin War waged by his historical inspiration Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Among the referred-to casualties is Lady Fuji's father.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: As consort to the most powerful man in Japan at the time, Ochiba is forced to play this, and is visibly disgusted when a stage play portrays an inaccurate retelling of her "courtship". Mariko and Fuji are both also forced to pretend to be content with their marriages.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Buntaro stays behind to hold off Kiyama's men by himself so Toranaga can escape Osaka. though he manages to escape Osaka as well and reappears at Toranaga's camp.
    • Per the official podcast, this was the real reason Hiromatsu committed seppuku. When he saw that three of Toranaga's generals were about to commit seppuku in protest (which Toranaga expected), he unexpectedly speaks out against Toranaga on their behalf to spare them. As Toranaga's closest and most loyal vassal, Hiromatsu's suicide makes Toranaga's fake surrender convincing and allows the three generals to serve Toranaga in the fight to come.
  • Holier Than Thou: The Christian regents believe themselves to be more enlightened than their non-Christian peers.
  • Honey Trap: Toranaga decides to gift Blackthrone a night with Kiku, renowned courtesan, and in the same conversation orders Mariko to be present in case Blackthorne is the type of man to reveal sensitive information to his bed partners.
  • Hope Spot:
    • In episode 7, after Toranaga surrenders to Saeki, Nagakado ambushes him at the tea house and prepares to kill the betrayer... and then he slips on a rock, hits his head, and dies.
    • In episode 9, Mariko's suicide is prevented by Ishido relenting at the last minute... but she still dies at the end of the episode when Ishido sends ninja to kidnap her and she throws herself in front of a bomb to die.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: As a Catholic Christian, Mariko believes suicide to be a mortal sin, and so when she declares that she will commit suicide in protest of Ishido's treatment of his hostages, she asks that Kiyama be her second. When Kiyama does not rise to the occasion, Mariko is visibly unnerved at the prospect of needing to follow through on her own, until Blackthorne steps up to fill the role.
  • Insulting from Behind the Language Barrier: Blackthorne is fond of using creative insults against Japanese he doesn't like, and is able to get away with quite a lot of them by saying them in Portuguese, which most Japanese can't understand, and counting on his personal translator, Mariko, to provide a Tactful Translation so as to not offend the target. For their part, Japanese will frequently insult Blackthorne to his face, knowing that he can't understand them.
  • Internal Reveal: While in prison, Blackthorne mentions to a priest that he heard of the existence of a secret Portuguese gun-running fortress in Macao, where a small army of Catholic Rōnin are stationed, and which helped support the uprising against the Taiko. In his second audience with Toranaga, he informs him of this, to his shock.
  • Kick the Dog: Yabushige, who is Playing Both Sides, is established to be a villain when he has one of the western sailors boiled alive just to listen to him scream.
  • Language Fluency Reveal: In the final episode, the Ajiro headman Muraji is ordered by Toranaga to spill the beans to Blackthorne and reveals that he has actually been fluent in Portuguese all along but had to pretend to not understand him until now in order to be continue spying on Yabushige for Toranaga.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: In episode 9, Mariko is spared from seppuku at the last possible second when Ishido authorizes her leave from the city, which she had was been protesting.
  • Last Moment Together: In the finale Blackthorne learns that his consort Fuji is being released from her obligations to him and has been given leave to become a nun. Before she leaves, he requests that she allow him to do her a favor as thanks for being loyal to him. She agrees, and the two row out onto the water so that he can help her commit her late husband and child's ashes to the sea.
  • Lighter and Softer: Dark as the series is, it still has a (marginally) lower body count than the book, where Toranaga ordered many of the household guards to commit seppuku after they failed to catch the assassin that infiltrated the palace and nearly killed Blackthorne, and Fuji (after her initial breakdown) wanted to kill herself after losing her husband and son as opposed to becoming a nun. In addition, several of the deaths that remain are far less gruesome; Tadayoshi, Fuji's husband, is allowed an honorable suicide in the show whereas in the book he was crucified, and while Jozen's fate of being ripped apart by cannonfire and then beheaded is pretty grim, it's still a better end than the book, where he was stabbed several times, hamstrung, gutted and then torn apart by dogs.
  • Loophole Abuse: After his escape from Osaka, Toranaga sends Hiromatsu to deliver his resignation from the regency council on his behalf. When Ishido scoffs and proclaims that they'll vote to impeach him anyway, Hiromatsu points out that the late Taiko required all five regents to be present for a vote. As Toranaga's resignation leaves them with only four, the regency council is paralyzed for the time being. Indeed, the remaining regents meet all day to discuss a replacement and only end up bickering over candidates and vetoing each others' proposals. Only the return of Lady Ochiba and her exerting her authority as the Heir's mother over the Regents breaks the deadlock.
  • Makes Us Even: Rodrigues considers his life debt to Blackthorne paid after he lets his galley escape being forced aground.
  • Meaningful Rename: In her final protest against Ishido before she gets blown up, Mariko refers to herself by her maiden name "Akechi" instead of her married name "Toda," thereby proudly reclaiming her family's legacy in her last moments.
  • Mercy Kill: The role of the kaishakunin is to decapitate a person committing seppuku after a few moments, preventing their prolonged suffering. Toranaga was made to do so to a defeated enemy at the age of 12, Buntaro is forced to second his father, and Mariko requests Kiyama second her; Kiyama ultimately refuses, forcing Blackthorne to take the burden off her shoulders.
  • Morton's Fork:
    • Blackthorne unintentionally creates one for his servants when he jokingly states that anyone who touches his pheasant will die, then forgets to take it down. Leaving the pheasant to rot creates a serious health hazard and ruins the cleanliness of the house, but if anyone were to dispose of it, they would have to be killed as per Blackthorne's order. In the end, Uejiro volunteers to get rid of it, as he is elderly and ill.
    • In "Crimson Sky", Mariko demands to be allowed to escort two women from Toranaga's court back to Edo, per Toranaga's orders, and when Ishido refuses her request, she declares her intention to commit seppuku for failing to complete an order from her liege lord. This puts Ishido in a bind; on the one hand, allowing Mariko to kill herself within the castle walls would enrage the Catholic regents, especially since Mariko has requested that Kiyama be her second. On the other hand, allowing her to leave would open him up to requests from the other liege lords to return all the hostages he's taken. He tries to Take a Third Option by giving Mariko permission to leave but then sending Ninja into her quarters to kidnap her and murder the other hostages, but Blackthorne's resistance slows the ninja down and Mariko puts herself in the way of a blasting charge, dying and disgracing Ishido in the eyes of the other Regents.
  • Naturalized Name: The trade between the Portuguese and the Japanese has resulted in members of both factions adopting alternate names. For instance, the priest Father Martin Alvito has adopted the name "Tsuji" ("interpreter") when dealing with the Japanese, whereas Mariko, one of his students and a convert to Catholicism, adopts the name "Maria" when dealing with the Portuguese. The Japanese also give Blackthorne the name "Anjin" (meaning "pilot"), because they find his name hard to pronounce.
  • The Navigator: Blackthorne is a seasoned sailor, and the Japanese refer to him as "pilot." He establishes his sailing skills several times in the early episodes by taking the helm during some dangerous sailing feats.
  • Ninja: The show portrays them, albeit in the form of the more historically-documented shinobi-no-mono (忍びの者), whose main objectives are infiltration, intelligence-gathering and/or night-time assassinations. Mariko notes that such operatives are expected to spend long times integrating in their area of operations to become nondescript. The ones seen include:
    • Muraji, the unassuming Christian villager of Ajiro, revealed to be The Mole for Toranaga inside Yabushige's territory. He reports the presence of the Erasmus and Blackthorne's Dutch crew to his master—even as Yabushige tried to hide it. Muraji is clearly good at remaining Beneath Notice as he is yet to be discovered after 4 episodes, even as Omi is nominally searching for him.
    • A female shinobi posing as a West Palace maid named Kayo, technically making her a Ninja Maid. In episode two, she nearly assassinates Blackthorn, having cleanly killed half a dozen people with terrifying simplicity. Kayo's killing spree is finally halted when the very Genre Savvy Toranaga (who has swapped his sleeping quarters with Blackthorne's) effortlessly cuts her throat before shoving her into the garden to bleed out.
    • In episode “Crimson Sky”, more than a dozen ninja storm Osaka castle to assassinate Toranaga's retinue and their families. They wear dark clothing and attack in groups from multiple directions, quickly overwhelming the unprepared guards. Once the alarm is raised, Anjin and Mariko's bodyguards are able to put up some resistance, but they're eventually worn down and cornered.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: The main cast are all thinly-veiled analogues of real world historical people; John Blackthorne stands in for William Adams, Yoshii Toranaga for Tokugawa Ieyasu, Mariko Toda for Gracia Hosokawa, etc.
  • Non-Action Guy: Blackthorne repeatedly notes to the samurai around him that, as a sailor, fighting man-to-man is not his specialty. He wears swords through much of the series but has no idea how to use them properly. When attacked, he's a Action Survivor who stays alive with haymaker punches and a handy pistol.
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: When Toranaga resigns from the Council of Regents before they can impeach him, he leaves them stuck as five regents are needed for a vote. The remaining noblemen immediately start discussing whom to appoint as a replacement regent so that the impeachment vote can continue, but — as Toranaga was likely banking on — they can't come to a decision, since they all cordially hate each other and veto each other's suggestions. It takes Ochiba sweeping in and telling them that they'll be answering to her now for them to begin getting anything done. Even after Ochiba's arrival, the bickering continues. In defiance of Ishido and Ochiba, Sugiyama refuses to vote for their hand-picked nominee for the fifth seat on the regency council. When he attempts to escape Osaka, Ishido and his guard contingent intercept him outside of town and put him and his retinue to the sword. Similar to Yabushige's rescue of Blackthorne, this is officially reported as a bandit attack, which is the story that a disbelieving Toranaga hears. Ochiba becomes extremely frustrated at the delays resulting from this turn of events.
  • Off with His Head!: Happens several times throughout the series, including a villager who attempts to pray for Blackthorne and a prisoner Blackthorne watches be executed.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Toranaga and his allies are wide-eyed with shock and audibly gasp during Blackthorne's explanation of Portugal's intentions for Japan, particularly when he reveals that both Portugal and Spain are forcibly carving up Asia into colonies with the blessing of their rulers, but most chillingly that Portugal claims to own Japan and intends to replace its leader with Christian puppets.
      Toranaga: Did he really use the word "belongs"?
    • Yabushige is horrified when Nagakado orders the cannons to fire on Jozen and his men, a provocation that will inevitably lead to war against the Regents.
  • Pet the Dog: Father Alvito acknowledges upfront that he and Blackthorne are enemies, and yet he is always polite and even kind to Blackthorne.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Although Blackthorne wears samurai swords for much of the series, he relies on his pistols to survive actual combat situations. Because they're single-shot, he uses them like clubs in between reloads. Luckily for him, they're build to pack a wallop.
  • Playing Both Sides: Yabushige waffles between betraying Ishido for Toranaga and betraying Toranaga for Ishido.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Blackthorne hangs up a pheasant to dry and orders no one to touch it on pain of death. While he meant the last part as a joke, Fuji and the rest of his staff took him at his word. Soon it starts rotting, ruining the cleanliness standards of his Japanese household and causing a health scare throughout the neighborhood. The gardener Uejiro (whom Blackthorne is shown to be on excellent terms with) volunteered to dispose of it and die for it. Realizing that he caused a good man's death gives Blackthorne a severe case of Heroic BSoD.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The writers adjusted Blackthorne's character arc to remove the 'white saviour' elements that inevitably crept in throughout the book, e.g. moving his attempt at sepukku to the end of the show where it feels more earned and reframing it so that it was more Toranaga testing Blackthorne than the latter winning over his captors by giving up his life for the village, as evidenced by Toranaga punching him to get him to cease his attempt and essentially telling him "now that you've gotten this out of your system, you've got work to do".
    • The novel's final chapter had Toranaga explain his actions - burning Blackthorne's ship, Mariko's role, how he puppeteered everything - via a lengthy internal monologue. The show, having previously eschewed such methods, alters this to Toranaga doing this in a final conversation with the condemned Yabushige, converting the doomed traitor into a temporary Audience Surrogate so he and they can have Toranaga's actions explained at the same time.
  • Precision F-Strike: First instance is when Blackthorne is being lead to prison on Toranaga's order. The next is when Blackthorne refuses to stay in Osaka Bay at the demand of Ferriera and decides to race the Black Ship before it can block Blackthorne from esaping.
  • Pun-Based Title: Crossing over with Bilingual Bonus, the pilot episode's name is "Anjin," which translates to...pilot (of the nautical sort).
  • Puppet King: In his first meeting with Toranaga, Blackthorne tells Toranaga the Portuguese claim the right to do this to any non-Catholic country in the half of the world that "belongs" to them. However, Blackthorne telling Toranaga that "I fed you shit" in the finale suggests he knew their plans probably weren't quite so grandiose.
  • Regent for Life: Ishido and Toranaga are battling for the title of shogun, the title of the series, which is a warlord who rules on the emperor's behalf.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Nagakado's death in episode 7 is the embodiment of his inability to wait patiently, learn from past mistakes and commitment to proving himself contrasted against the reality of the world he lives in. He tries to assassinate his traitorous uncle Saeki for betraying Toranaga to the regents, but is too focused on killing him to properly observe his surroundings. He slips on the same wet rocks Saeki did fleeing from him and cracks his head falling down, giving himself an Undignified Death in contrast to his romanticism of an honorable death he discussed with his uncle before. Furthermore, it's heavily implied that Toranaga is deliberately counting on Saeki's betrayal as part of an Unspoken Plan Guarantee to catch his enemies off-guard after the landslide devastated his army too much to win outright combat, with Nagakado's unsanctioned assassination attempt threatening to undo that, showing how he was too short-sighted to the end.
  • Sexless Marriage: Blackthorne is assigned the recently bereaved Fuji as his consort, to both their discomfort. The two develop mutual affection over the course of the series, but never become physically intimate. It's implied in an early episode, and confirmed in the final one, that Fuji approved of and helped facilitate his sexual and romantic relationship with Mariko.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • Ishido's attempts to put Toranaga to death are stymied by the arrival of Blackthorne, a Protestant, because the Catholic regents, Ohno and Kiyama, demand that Blackthorne be executed for heresy before they agree to vote on Toranaga's fate. Toranaga was counting on this to happen, as unanimous consent is required for him to be impeached and executed.
    • After the devasting earthquake and landslide, Omi is privately incensed after Blackthorne is given command of the cannon regiment. An exasperated Yabushige points out that he's far more focused on their precarious overall situation, since a major chunk of Toranaga's (who's side he's largely stuck supporting) army was just wiped out by natural disaster.
  • Spiteful Suicide:
    • Mizoguchi's seppeku during the Flashback in episode 7 has elements of this. He requests the inexperienced child Toranaga to be the one to actually decapitate him, forcing him to bloody his hands directly as payback for the humiliating loss against such a young commander, and his last words to him are contemplating if they meet again in the afterlife, he could be the one holding the sword that time, before gutting himself. Years later, Toranaga notes that Mizoguchi's decision was very poorly thought out: by requesting an inexperienced child to decapitate him rather than a proficient soldier, it took nine blows of the sword before his head came off rather than a single clean one, giving himself a more painful and messier death just for the sake of avenging his Pride a little.
    • In “Crimson Sky”, Mariko declares that she will be taking her life in protest of Ishido holding the regents' families hostage. At the end of the episode, she chooses to stand in front of an explosive, allowing her the honor of calling out Ishido's treachery with her last words.
  • Stewed Alive: See Cruel and Unusual Death above; in "Anjin," one of the Dutch sailors is sentenced to death by being boiled alive in a large cauldron.
  • Suicide is Shameful: In “Crimson Sky”, Mariko, unable to leave Ishido's castle per Toranaga's order, decides to commit seppuku to atone for her shame. However, since she is Catholic and knows suicide is a mortal sin, she asked Kiyama to be her second. The Council are well aware about the church's opinion on suicide and believe Mariko won't commit seppuku for fear of her soul, but Ochiba believes Mariko will go through with it regardless. Sure enough, when Kiyama doesn't show up, Mariko is still determined to continue the ritual, but is now shaken with fear and removes her rosary.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Episode 7 begins with a flashback to Toranaga's first battle at age 12, wherein the enemy commander Mizoguchi requests he be the one to decapitate him during his seppuku. The scene cuts away just as the young Toranaga brings his sword down. Saeki later on tells of how Toranaga struck Mizoguchi's head off with a single blow. However, Toranaga later admits that it took him nine sword strokes to decapitate Mizoguchi, ruefully noting how foolish it was to request a 12-year-old as a second.
    • Nagakado's attempted Battle in the Rain with his traitorous uncle, which also happens to be his first ever duel, ends as soon as it begins; he takes one step onto the wet rocks, slips, and falls back to crack his head open on a stone. Turns out that fighting for the first time on slippery terrain isn't safe!
    • You might expect that the show would have the outsider Blackthorne quickly pick up the Japanese language so that he can participate more in dialogue with other characters. While he does learn a lot, he never comes close to fluency. Even in the final episode, he can only pick out words to infer the basic meaning of what people are saying to him, and he often relies on preplanned speeches to communicate anything complex.
  • Tactful Translation: Mariko does this repeatedly to smooth out the aggression between the translated parties. For example, after Blackthorne demands she "tell that milk dribbling fuck smear" that he was ready to go, Mariko instead tells Omi that the Anjin apologizes for the misunderstandings with utmost respect.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Blackthorne gets one when he drops by the slums where his crewmates have been living. A clearly distraught Salamon mentions that only six of the crew are still alive, queries whether they really had no choice but to head through the Straits of Magellan rather than home, then angrily accuses Blackthorne of putting glory-seeking ahead of the crew's welfare. Blackthorne's enraged beating of Salamon would indicate that the sailor touched a nerve.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Jozen's enraged response to being blown up by cannon fire, along with all of his men. It's not just a matter of the assault going against Sacred Hospitality, it violates everything the samurai believe about fighting honorably.note 
  • Title Sequence: The show, following the vein of 21st-century prestige television productions, has one which portrays a Zen garden, with symbols representing important plot elements appearing such as:
    • Moss-covered rocks that look like islands;
    • The Erasmus, Blackthorne's ship, cutting through the white gravel and sand like it is water, as the emblem of the House of Yoshii (the real-life Tokugawa mon) emerges from the sand;
    • Smaller galleys bearing the emblem of the House of Yoshii come sailing into view;
    • An aerial shot of Osaka Castle looming on the horizon;
    • A Catholic cross drawn in the sand being blown away by the wind and embers; and
    • Banners planted on mountains and flaming arrows firing towards the direction of another mountain, which then crumbles to reveal the kabuto Rage Helm of Yoshii Toranaga.
  • Translation Convention: Japanese is rendered in Japanese, while English is used for all western languages (mostly Portuguese but also Dutch and English itself). Notably played with when Toranaga and Blackthorne first meet in Episode 2, as gradually the conversation begins to focus back and forth on the two men's faces, Father Martin's translations eventually omitted so it looks like a straightforward discussion with each man using their native language.
  • Translation with an Agenda:
    • Upon learning that Blackthorne is an English Protestant, the Catholic priest translating for Yabushige completely forgoes translating for him in favor of accusing him of being a pirate. Blackthorne becomes aware of this and calls him out.
    • Lord Toranaga invites Mariko to attend his first meeting with Blackthorne, so that he can be sure that Father Martin is not such a translator.
    • When Fuji presents Blackthorne with her family's swords, her request boils down to "Please, take them." Mariko "translates" this by pointing out that, as hatamoto (a high-ranking samurai in the shogun's service), Blackthorne is required by law to carry swords.
    • Blackthorne is officially summoned for an audience with the heir, with Mariko accompanying as a translator and Ochiba as the Heir's guardian. In reality, Blackthorne doesn't say anything to little Yaechiyo beyond a wink, and his response to Ochiba is a short prepared sentence. Ochiba wanted nothing more than to speak directly to Mariko face-to-face.
  • Undignified Death Nagakado spoke about his desire for a beautiful death. He ends up tripping and splitting his skull open on a rock during a botched assassination attempt against his uncle Saeki. Saeki bitterly remarks, "Where's the beauty in that?" as the younger man lays dying.
  • Wham Line:
    Yabushige: Who ordered those cannons to be fired?
    Nagakado: I did.
  • We Used to Be Friends: When they were both growing up in the previous taiko's, court, Ochiba and Mariko were as close as sisters. However, Mariko's father killing Ochiba's father, Ochiba being forcibly married to the new taiko as a result, and Mariko becoming a loyal retainer of Toranaga (whom Ochiba considers responsible), slammed the brakes hard on that friendship. Ochiba still has some deep-buried empathy for her old friend, however, and subtly implores her to surrender peacefully in "Crimson Sky". It is also ultimately Mariko's death due to Ishido's desperate attempt to take her out that leads Ochiba, in a twist, to secretly communicate support to Toranaga instead, handing him victory.
  • Xanatos Gambit: As Ochiba points out, Toranaga ordering Mariko to escort two ladies of his court from Osaka to Edo results in a win for him regardless of what Ishido does: If Ishido allows her to leave, the other hostages will start demanding to be allowed to leave as well, weakening his leverage over the other noble houses. If Ishido refuses her request, Mariko will commit seppuku in protest of not being allowed to fulfil her liege Lord’s order. This would effectively be an admission that he's holding the hostages by force, a hugely dishonourable act that would also cause him to lose support from the noble houses, not helped by the fact that he grew up a peasant. Ishido attempts to Take a Third Option by sending shinobi to kidnap Mariko, but this backfires when she and Blackthorne fight them off. During their escape, Mariko sacrifices herself by placing herself behind a barricaded door the shinobi are about to blow open. Her death then disgraces Ishido, as he will be accused of either killing a noble lady or failing to keep her from being killed in his castle.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Yabushige hires bandits to ambush Kiyama's party that was transporting Blackthorne for execution. Once the deed is done, he has them killed while they scrabble on the ground for their payment, then brings Blackthorne to Toranaga.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: In order to make sure Toranaga and his group gets safely to their ship, Buntaro fights off the group of Kiyama's soldiers and leads them away from the harbor, risking his own life in the process.


Video Example(s):



Toranaga mentions to Yabushige that since he can't send his army to Osaka without the possibility of being killed, he made arrangements for Mariko that would be done in such a way that she would be eventually be killed while in Ishido's custody. Even due to his insistence that she's not "his prisoner", her death would stage the end of the Council of Regents from backing Ishido. Even Lady Ochiba pledged to make sure the Heir's army wouldn't come out to support Ishido as well.

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