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 story Tales of 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. And for some reason, Yoritomo didn't like how much attention Yoshitsune got and proceeded to nullify all those titles, despite Yoshitsune's ever strong loyalty. Yoritomo began to grow more megalomaniacal that Yoshitsune eventually agreed to ally with his uncle Yukiie to stop him. 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 Fujiwara 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, with Hidehira eventually beheading the dead Yoshitsune and then giving his head to Yoritomo as proof of the death of his brother.
There were other rumors that Yoshitsune didn't actually die, but fled somewhere else and took another identity. 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:
- As noted, Tale of 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.
- 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 Shin Megami Tensei: 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 and received a 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.
- 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.