Born in Mikawa Province, Tadakatsu loyally served the Tokugawa clan and Ieyasu, who rewarded him with the fief of Kuwana for his service. He was the pride and joy of the Tokugawa clan, and many famous daimyo like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Takeda Shingen openly praised his skills. This is especially notable because Shingen was his master Ieyasu's bitter enemy, and Nobunaga himself was notoriously very thrifty with praise. However, after the victory of Sekigahara, he slowly became estranged from the shogunate as it moved from a military to a civilian and political institution.
In his prime, Tadakatsu was known as "The Warrior who Surpassed Death Itself", as he fought more than 100 battles without suffering any major injuries. He wore a set of Buddhist prayer beads over his armor and a helm decorated with stag antlers, (according to a legend, one day he managed to evade his enemies by following a deer across a hidden ford in a river, and as a form of gratitude he put antlers on his helmet). During the Komaki campaign (where Hideyoshi and Ieyasu struggled for dominance) he managed to cover his lord's escape by rallying a small group of soldiers and firmly planting himself opposite the river the much larger Toyotomi army would have to cross. He then issued a challenge for the enemy to cross and face him. The act was so impressive that Hideyoshi himself ordered that no harm come on Tadakatsu or his men.
He was considered a great boon for Ieyasu, with Shingen claiming so and stating that, if it wasn't for Tadakatsu, Ieyasu would've bitten the dust very quickly (Tadakatsu had also served as rearguard during Ieyasu's escape following a crushing defeat Mikatagahara). His daughter Komatsuhime, who was apparently just as intimidating as her father, was adopted by Ieyasu as his goddaughter and eventually married into the Sanada clan (becoming a sister-in-law of Sanada Yukimura). Aside of that, he's counted as one of the four great generals of the Tokugawa, the Tokugawa Shi-Tennou, with other members Ii Naomasa, Tadatsugu Sakai and Sakakibara Yasumasa.
His weapon of choice was a deadly spear called Tonbogiri. The name means "Dragonfly Cutter", since it was said that a dragonfly which landed on the blade would be sliced in half. The spear itself is considered one of the Great Spears of Japan, a national treasure.
All these facts should make you understand why he's almost always depicted as a top quality badass and a legendary warrior.
Portrayals in fiction:
- In Samurai Warriors, Tadakatsu started off as a random souped-up NPC making a brave stand in Mikatagahara and Shingen comments how he's the treasure of Ieyasu. He was then included in the Xtreme Legends expansion as a unique character and has since supplanted Maeda Keiji as the series' Lu Bu, with his own leitmotif and all. Despite being slow, he's one of the strongest (if not the strongest) character in the game, and acts as the Samurai Warriors counterpart of Dynasty Warriors's Lü Bu, which is to say he appears as a supremely powerful boss. He functions as Ieyasu's right hand man, the one Ieyasu turns to for advice and resolve. He also acts a surprisingly doting father for his daughter Komatsu (who uses the name Ina in the game) and is generally looked up to by various other warriors like Ginchyo or Nobuyuki (Yukimura's brother and his eventual son-in-law).
- In the fifth game, where it's a Soft Reboot, Tadakatsu is featured as a younger man who has yet to earn his reputation. His future reputation has been alluded to and referenced many times.
- Sengoku Basara upped Tadakatsu's badassery by turning him in a giant, Gundam-like cyborg complete with a jetpack, Attack Drones and a colossal drill-spear. He's portrayed as being a silent, almost emotionless servant of Ieyasu fully capable of turning the tide of battle single-handed. In the anime adaptation, he is killed fairly early in the series but makes an unexpected return in the final episode, giving the heroes the opening they need to take down Big Bad Nobunaga. It took until the mobile game Battle Party to introduce his daughter Komatsuhime... who's fully human and not at all robotic. Don't worry too much about that.
- In the movie Kagemusha Tadakatsu makes a cameo.
- In Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, Tadakatsu appears under the name of Heihachi (though he does say his full name at least once). Despite not wearing any armor, he has the beads, and the Genma Tonbo spear, which he uses with great skill. He appears as a boss twice, but eventually joins the heroes. Unfortunately near the end of the 3rd game, he died, creating a Temporal Paradox as he usually lived longer to serve Ieyasu.
- In Sengoku Rance, Tadakatsu is one of the four tanuki generals serving Ieyasu Tokugawa.
- Tadakatsu makes an appearance as an NPC in Kessen III, once again being Ieyasu's vassal and is unrecruitable (even if you can recruit Hattori Hanzo to fight for Nobunaga). He'll appear in stages where Ieyasu is helping (like Kanegasaki or Okehazama). On the defeat of Yoshimoto, while reporting to Ieyasu, Tadakatsu cried Manly Tears in the upcoming freedom from the servitude of the Imagawa.
- Tadakatsu has an entry in the Badass Of The Week.
- In the NHK Drama TV series Sanada-Maru, Tadakatsu is featured amongst the cast of characters. Notably, here he's played by the veteran actor and fan-favorite amongst Toku genre Hiroshi Fujioka, best known as the original Kamen Rider.
- Tadakatsu appears as his Samurai Warriors incarnation in Pokémon Conquest, under the command of Ieyasu in the Steel-type kingdom of Valora. True to his badassery, he gets a perfect link with one of the most powerful Pokémon in the game in the form of Metagross and, under the right conditions, can upgrade to the even more powerful Dialga. His daughter Komatsu (once again under the name Ina) also appears under Ieyasu's command, using Quagsire in the main story but having Empoleon as her perfect link.
- Tadakatsu appears in Nioh as a Non-Player Character and a Brainwashed and Crazy Puzzle Boss, where he's almost Nigh Invulnerable due to an incredibly fast Regenerating Health; to break him out of his Brainwashed state, Amrita crystals seen around the boss arena must be destroyed. He's available later as Duel Boss for side-missions and still has rapid regeneration (though only when he activates his Guardian Spirit "Shin-roku"). Much of the lore regarding his Healing Factor is based on Shin-roku, as it's implied Tadakatsu was good enough as a Samurai, he impressed the Shin-roku, the embodiment of nature itself, into becoming his Guardian Spirit. Tadakatsu would return in Nioh 2 and since it took place during the time of Oda Nobunaga, we're seeing Tadakatsu in his prime.
- The fifth season of Samurai Jack features a shadowy samurai figure known as "The Omen" who turns out to be a spectre that tries to make Jack commit seppuku for his failure to stop Aku. Although he's not referred to as being Tadakatsu specifically, The Omen has some distinctive features that appear to be at the very least shout-outs to this legendary samurai, such as a long spear and a deer-antlered helmet. And let's be honest, how appropriate would it be for "The Warrior Who Surpassed Death Itself" to become basically The Grim Reaper for samurai?
- Total War: Shogun 2: While Tadakatsu didn't appear in-person, a unit is named after him: Tadakatsu's Tetsubo Warrior, mighty infantry warriors that wield giant clubs... They definitely can't afford to copy his Tonbogiri.
- Fate/Koha-Ace: Tadakatsu is one of the forms that Tokugawa Ieyasu as a Servant can assume form as, whenever he wants to switch into Lancer class. In this form, Ieyasu will gain Tadakatsu's Tonbo-Giri (which interestingly looks like a drill spear) and the antler horns from his helmet.
- The man's spear, Tonbo-Giri, is anthropomorphized in Touken Ranbu as the Sword Spirit Tonbokiri. The third musical adaptation Mihotose no Komoriuta has Tonbokiri suddenly thrust with filling in Tadakatsu's role in history due to him being killed in an ambush by the Time Retrograde Forces, the series' antagonists. Tonbokiri more than makes up for the loss by becoming a formidable general in Ieyasu's army and eventually mowing down a 10,000 soldier strong campaign, by himself. His original game counterpart however references Tadakatsu's iconic horned helmet in his Kiwame (upgrade).
- In Brave10 S, Honda Tadakatsu is the first of Nobuyuki's 10 champions tasked with testing the strength of the 10 Braves. Appears as a large bearded man in a light armor, a huge rosary as a belt and a whole deer's head as a hood. He fights with his huge Tonbokiri spear and manages to inflict a Single-Stroke Battle to Seikai Miyoshi, scoring the first victory for Nobuyuki.
- While the man himself does not appear in Monster Hunter: Rise, its flagship monster is a ferocious and incredibly feared Fanged Wyvern known as Magnamalo. While most of the monsters in this generation are based on various Yōkai, Magnamalo instead seems to be inspired by a samurai. Things get interesting once you notice that the creature's horns are heavily reminiscent of Tadakatsu's iconic helmet antlers, and that its tail is tipped by a spear-like head... Similarly to The Omen, above, Magnamalo also plays up an association with death in the form of the harmful blue gas it exhales, which looks very close to Hitodama Light.
- In Soul Eater, we learn that Black Star's Weapon partner Tsubaki is from the Nakatsukasa clan, and that her strongest form obtained after defeating her fallen brother is the Uncanny Sword Masamune, while the "Spirit of the Nakatsukasa" is a giant deer spirit able to briefly turn into a antlered humanoid to see if Black Star can follow the "Way of the Warrior". The nods to Tadakatsu comes when you learn that aside from the Tombogiri, his personal sword was a Masamune blade called Nakatsukasa.