Minamoto no Yoshitsune is one of the most well known military commanders within Japan. A figure that invokes courage, Yoshitsune has participated in many battles during the Genpei War, yet it was by the tragedy of the political drama surrounding his family that Yoshitsune perished.
Born Ushiwakamaru as the youngest child of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, with his mother being Tokiwa Gozen, the Heiji Rebellion were at the onset of breaking in Japan. The rebellion claimed the lives of his father and many of his brothers, but Yoshitsune survived and fled with his mother. He was placed in the care of the monks of Kurama temple at the age of 10, but he didn't want to be a monk. Thus when a gold merchant that happened to know his father passed by, Yoshitsune took a ride. And already in young age, he displayed incredible martial prowess, singlehandedly defeating a group of bandits led by Kumasaka Chohan at the tender age of 15.
As Yoshitsune grew up, he heard about the exploits of his half brother Yoritomo. While Yoshitsune fled his home, Yoritomo was banished, but nevertheless he grew to become a famous and powerful man, reclaiming the position of the head of the Minamoto clan. Yoritomo made a call-to-arms to obey the request of Prince Morihito to defeat the Taira clan, an exploit that would be immortalized in The Tale of the Heike. Despite never meeting his brother personally, Yoshitsune answered his call to arms, along with his other half brothers that he also never met. Along the way, Yoshitsune stumbled upon a certain warrior monk Saito Musashibo Benkei and bested him in combat as opposed to getting his sword stolen for Benkei's 1000th's collected sword, and made Benkei his most loyal retainer.
Yoshitsune went on to become Yoritomo's ace samurai. Many tales about his feats in battles, from obliterating the army of betraying brother Yoshinaka in Awazu (although Yoshitsune never personally encountered Tomoe Gozen), being the headline of the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, reportedly the greatest battle in the Genpei era or finally finishing the Taira clan in the Battle of Dan-no-Ura, where one of the most famous myth of Yoshitsune originated: Dan-no-Ura is practically a naval battle between Minamoto and Taira. Through Yoshitsune's command, he managed to get the commanding Taira commander, Noritsune to admit defeat or prepare to surrender, but instead attempted suicide. Yoshitsune, with his own feet, decided to leap through 8 boats to either escape from Noritsune's suicide because it was causing chaos that could drown his navy; or he leapt through 8 boats to make sure Noritsune didn't get the chance to commit suicide, and severed his head.
Regardless, Yoshitsune's 'eight boat leap' (originally written as 'Hassou Tobi') became one of his biggest feats, historically accurate or not. But after the war with the Taira, everything just went to hell for Yoshitsune.
For his services, Emperor Go-Shirakawa granted Yoshitsune several titles such as the Governor of Iyo. However, Yoritomo—who is already in the process of consolidating the Kamakura Shogunate—didn't like a) how much attention Yoshitsune got and b) how Go-Shirakawa's actions essentially undermine his authority. He thus proceeded to nullify all those titles, despite Yoshitsune's ever strong loyalty. Yoritomo's suspicion grew to the extent of actively shunning Yoshitsune, such that he was forced to ally with his uncle Yukiie to force a resolution. But Yoritomo's forces was too many, that Yoshitsune had to flee and was tragically separated with his faithful mistress Shizuka who carried his unborn child.
Yoshitsune took shelter in the Oshu region, specifically within the home of Fujiwara no Hidehira. Hidehira protected him well, but his son Yasuhira, pressured with the might of Yoritomo's forces, ended up selling out Yoshitsune to Yoritomo. Surrounded with no hope of victory, Yoshitsune was forced to commit Seppuku while Benkei made sure his Seppuku went undisturbed, including his mighty Last Stand against Yoritomo's forces culminating him dying while standing up. Yasuhira eventually beheaded the dead Yoshitsune and then giving his head to Yoritomo as proof of the death of his brother. Not that this ultimately worked out for him—as Yoritomo, already long-designing to unify Japan under his hegemony in ending the Heian period, would ultimately assault Oshu and bring down the Fujiwara.
There were other rumors that Yoshitsune didn't actually die, but fled somewhere else and took another identity either to Hokkaido becoming Oinakamui or to mainland Asia becoming Genghis Khan. Tales of Yoshitsune's bravery and tragic end continued to permeate the stories of Japan, turning Yoshitsune into one of the nation's most famous and romanticized Samurai.
Appears in these works:
- The Tale of the Heike chronicles Yoshitsune's actions and some of the legends permeated to him.
- The Genji video game series featured Yoshitsune as its main hero, accompanied with Benkei. In the second game, he's also joined with his mistress Shizuka Gozen, and it somehow ended more happily (even if Benkei had to die), because Yoshitsune got to walk together in peace with Shizuka, there was no mention of his tragic betrayal by Yoritomo. He's a twin blade-using speedster who's big on combo attacks, as opposed to Benkei's Mighty Glacier status. Note: In his actual life, Yoshitsune has never encountered a Giant Enemy Crab, flipping it off For Massive Damage while using Real-Time Weapon Change, that was just the game's artistic liberty and immortalized as a meme about him.
- Yoshitsune was one of the playable characters in Warriors Orochi, despite the Japanese side mostly filled with people from the Sengoku Period, and he wields a lightsaber. Once again, Benkei is also playable and he had to tend to his rival Taira no Kiyomori.
- Yoshitsune is one of the more constant demons summonable in Shin Megami Tensei or the sub-franchise Persona. In the latter, he's notorious as one of the high level Personas that is never a personal Persona of a character, but considered an extreme game-breaker thanks to his skill Hassou Tobi, based on his famous 'eight boat leap'.
- In the Kentaro Miura manga "Oh Roh Den", Minamoto no Yoshitsune appears in Mongolia, with his trusted Benkei, and has become Genghis Khan, aiming to create a huge empire on the continent. Unlike most depictions of him, he's a muscular giant of a man with a mane of wild hair and uses a giant katana.
- Yoshitsune is one of the enemies you face in Genpei Toumaden, since in the game, the Minamoto clan are portrayed as demonic villains. This incarnation of Yoshitsune also appeared in Namco × Capcom
- Yoshitsune is a Rider-class Servant in Fate/Grand Order using the childhood name Ushiwakamaru, is summoned as her teenage self and received a Historical Gender Flip. She is portrayed as a fearless general that could seep into being Ax-Crazy, but overall she is an earnest general that loves nothing more than a headpat and shows utmost adoration to her brother Yoritomo despite his betrayal. Her Noble Phantasm is a re-enactment of the 'eight boat leap', titled "Dan-no-Ura Hassou Tobi", which takes cue from the scenario that Yoshitsune jumped through boats to kill the enemy. She officially appears in the Babylonia Singularity, and ended up corrupted by Tiamat, where she ended up showing extreme viciousness towards mankind, mostly rooted from her hidden bitterness that the brother she adored would still betray her after her Undying Loyalty. She can also be summoned as an Assassin-class Servant. This version draws on her childhood training with the Tengu (there named 'Kiichi Hogen' and eventually became summonable too). Later, a version of her with an adult body appears as an Avenger-class Servant, but it turns out she is actually being possessed by her enemy, Taira no Kagekiyo, due to their mutual hatred of Yoritomo.
- Fate/Requiem: Called Minamoto Kurou Yoshitsune, she is summoned as her adult self. While she is very cold in battle, outside of it, she generally acts like her younger self.
- A Revenant Zombie of Yoshitsune (under the name of Ushiwakamaru) appears in Samurai Deeper Kyo as a zombie summoned by Saishi and Saisei to fight Akira alongside Benkei. He's wrapped in cloths and extremely fast with a sword, but also has Red Eyes, Take Warning.
- In the 2019 installment of Samurai Shodown, while Yoshitsune didn't appear, his chief concubine Shizuka Gozen does appear, as the Final Boss of the game, turned into a revenant due to a magic at work barring her from entering the afterlife and becoming possessed by an evil entity. Her links with Yoshitsune still existed via her weapons: A hatsune drum, said to be her memento for Yoshitsune after they were forcibly separated by Yoritomo's forces.
- In Nioh, a bonus mission from the DLC Dragon of the North had William visit the grave of Yoshitsune where many of his regrets lingered and turned him into a revenant. After dispatching some Youkai, the revenant of Yoshitsune, armed with dual swords, will attack William accompanied with the revenant of Benkei, armed with odachi. He then became the focus of the second game's DLC, Tengu's Disciple.
- The NHK's Taiga Dramas unfailingly feature him as a main or supporting character whenever the Genpei War and Kamakura Period is covered. Notable portrayals in the 21st century include:
- Yoshitsune (義経, 2005): Featuring a pretty straightforward retelling of his tale (give or take a few supernatural elements and even Canon Foreigner characters). Yoshitsune as portrayed by heartthrob musician Hideaki Takizawa is essentially a Stock Shōnen Hero, a charismatic warrior who amassed True Companions and who naturally attracts women (like Unlucky Childhood Friend Utsubo and his One True Love Shizuka Gozen).
- Taira no Kiyomori (平清盛, 2012): Being portrayed by Ryunosuke Kamiki during the latter part of the tale, he served more as a significant foil to the now-elderly Kiyomori (the Tragic Hero turned Villain Protagonist of the series). His kind of rebelliousness contrasts with the angry young man Kiyomori once was—and how he will ultimately undo everything Kiyomori worked towards.
- The 13 Lords of the Shogun (鎌倉殿の13人, 2022): As portrayed by Masaki Suda, this Yoshitsune is probably one of the more unflattering ones—especially as it takes a Perspective Flip on behalf of the Hojo ruling alongside Yoritomo. Yoshitsune is portrayed mostly as a Blood Knight whose feats of derring-do are undoubtedly effective, but does it at the expense of his fellow generals and even soldiers, and even war customs. He is even shown to have poor impulse control (quick to anger, easily seduced and would quarrel when questioned on his ideas). He can even be openly malicious (even leading someone along to die via False Reassurance). That said, he is not without self-awareness—openly and sadly admitting he is the kind of person who is only good at warfare and very hungry for affirmation, especially from his brother. Unfortunately, the increasingly paranoid, ruthless and emotionally-unavailable Yoritomo would have none of that to spare for him, pitting them in their historical collision course.