Saito no Musashibo Benkeinote (11551189), popularly and simply called Benkei, was a Japanese warrior monk who served Minamoto no Yoshitsune. He is commonly depicted as a man of great strength and loyalty, and a popular subject of Japanese folklore.
Stories about Benkei's birth vary considerably. One tells how his father was the head of a temple shrine who had raped his mother, the daughter of a blacksmith. Another sees him as the offspring of a temple god. Many give him the attributes of a demon, a monster child with wild hair and long teeth. In his youth, Benkei may have been called Oniwakanote , and there are many famous ukiyo-e works themed on Oniwakamaru and his adventures. He is said to have defeated 200 men in each battle he was personally involved in.
He joined the cloister at an early age and traveled widely among the Buddhist monasteries of Japan. During this period, monasteries were important centers of administration and culture, but also military powers in their own right. Like many other monks, Benkei was probably trained in the use of the naginata. At the age of seventeen, he was said to have been over 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) tall. At this point, he left the Buddhist monastery and became a yamabushi, a member of a sect of mountain ascetics who were recognizable by their black caps. Japanese prints often show Benkei wearing this cap.
Benkei is said to have posted himself at Gojō Bridge in Kyoto, where he disarmed every passing swordsman, eventually collecting 999 swords. On his 1000th duel, Benkei was defeated by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a son of the warlord Minamoto no Yoshitomo. Henceforth, he became a retainer of Yoshitsune and fought with him in the Genpei War against the Taira clan. Yoshitsune is credited with most of the Minamoto clan's successes against the Taira, especially the final naval battle of Dannoura. After their ultimate triumph, however, Yoshitsune's elder brother Minamoto no Yoritomo turned against him.
During the two-year ordeal that followed, Benkei accompanied Yoshitsune as an outlaw. In the end, they were encircled in the castle of Koromogawa no tate. As Yoshitsune retired to the inner keep of the castle to commit seppuku on his own, Benkei fought on at the bridge in front of the main gate to protect Yoshitsune. It is said that the soldiers were afraid to cross the bridge to confront him, and all that did met swift death at the hands of the gigantic man, who killed in excess of 300 fully trained soldiers. Long after the battle should have been over, the soldiers noticed that the arrow-riddled, wound-covered Benkei was standing still. When the soldiers dared to cross the bridge and look more closely, the giant fell to the ground, having died in a standing position. This is known as the "Standing Death of Benkei".
- Has a Badass of the Week entry and was featured on Cracked's The 7 Most Badass Last Stands in the History of Battle at number 3.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- The Alcoholic: Usually a 50/50, Benkei was known for his love of Sake, and many depictions often play this up, an example being Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!.
- Annoying Arrows: Zig-zagged. Often in depictions, they're shown not to bother him. The issue is that Benkei was historically a Close-Range Combatant and had no ranged weapons. Which leads to, almost poetically, depictions of Benkei's biggest weakness being ranged characters, especially archers.
- Big Fun: Normally depicted as the easygoing, fun-loving member of Yoshitsune's group.
- Blood Knight: Well, he made a habit of beating the crap out of people for fun, at least before Yoshitsune managed to beat him. Usually, the depictions make him out to be a Spirited Competitor.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Going with his status of the Big Fun, this is a given.
- Died Standing Up/Dying Moment of Awesome: Benkei is perhaps the Ur-Example. He was said to have died this way, over 800 years ago. After fighting to buy time for his lord to commit seppuku, none of the enemy wanted to test his wrath, believing him to be a demon from hell. Medically speaking, it's believed that the lactic acid his muscles produced from the fighting caused a sudden onset of rigor mortis, causing his body to "Lock up" while still standing and holding his spear. He has a small shrine today where this happened. In Detective Conan the shrine becomes a plot point, and many characters in Japanese media have deaths based on his death.
- Benkei guarded the bridge to his master's keep and is said to have killed over 300 trained soldiers that attempted to cross the bridge. Because of their fear of him, they shot arrows to try and fell him, but he held his position riddled with those arrows. The only reason they approached was because they realized he had stopped moving for far too long.
- Face of a Thug: He was apparently nicknamed Oniwaka or "Demon Child" for either his size or appearance. Most mentions of him say that he had a "terrifying face". In depictions, this is usually translated as him being near-Gonkish levels of ugliness.
- Guile Hero: Despite his reputation as a warrior, many stories paints him as this. In Kanjinchō, he's able to recite a long list of names from a blank scroll to keep him and his lord Yoshitomo disguised as traveling pilgrims.note
- Historical Badass Upgrade: Though with him it's kind of difficult. Benkei is quite possibly the most badass of all Japanese Folk Heroes, both before and after him. And he has some serious competition in that regard, too.
- Historical-Domain Character
- Historical Beauty Update: As stated in Face of a Thug, Benkei was often considered quite ugly or terrifying. Most depictions not going for 100% accuracy often give him this, leading to a Hunk or even Biseinen of all things.
- Mighty Glacier: Most of the Video Game depictions.
- Multi-Melee Master: He knew how to use many, many weapons. Including some things that aren't normally considered a weapon. Most depictions just go with his signature Naginata however.
- Rasputinian Death: It took a lot to finally put Benkei down. Portrayals of his death often show him in a Human Pincushion-level of punishment. Portrayals of him that don't have him die in that manner still have him taking a massive amount of punishment.
- Undying Loyalty: If Yoshitsune is around, expect this. If not, Benkei will still be an incredibly honorable man who will fight to the bitter end to aid his allies. In Kanjinchō he literally wept Manly Tears when he had to beat his lord (who's pretending to be his servant)
- Warrior Monk: With extra emphasis on the "Warrior" part more often than not.
- You Shall Not Pass!: Benkei did this twice. The first was his "bridge toll" time, collecting 999 swords from passing samurai. The second was, of course, The Standing Death of Benkei.
Appears in the following works:
- A cut Lancer Servant from Fate/Apocrypha is assumed to be him, but is actually another monk who served Minamoto no Yoshitsune.note He has a proper appearance in Fate/Grand Order.
- Edward Newgate (or Whitebeard), of One Piece, was partially inspired by Benkei. Newgate is abnormally large in stature, wields a polearm, and died in a standing position after suffering innumerable injuries in battle.
- He provides the names of three incarnations of Getter-3's pilot in Getter Robo - Musashi, the original pilot of Getter-3, Benkei, his replacement pilot who would pilot Getter G Poseidon, and a warrior-monk who inherited his whole name and piloted the Getter-3 in the New Getter Robo OVA.
- In Detective Conan, a statue of Benkei and his standing death are one of the central clues for solving a murder case.
- Benkei's friendship with Yoshitsune is also referenced in the movie Crossroads of the Ancient Capital.
- Azan in Berserk is partly based on him: a Warrior Monk who once held a bridge against multiple opponents.
- Oh Roh Den is about a Japanese historian and fencer being dragged back in time to China where it turns out Benkei and Yoshitsune faked their deaths and went to mainland Asia where Yoshitsune would eventually become known as Genghis Khan... if he hadn't died and been replaced by the historian.
- Marvel's "Comic Book/5Ronin" has several Marvel characters as feudal Japanese. The Hulk becomes a monk more than two meters tall whose ferocity is the of a demon. Hmmm...
- The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, an early Akira Kurosawa feature, dramatizes Yoshitsune, Benkei, and their companions trying to escape Kaga province as Yoshitsune's brother hunts for them.
- Kamen Rider Ghost features Benkei as one of fifteen main Eyecons, based on fifteen different historical people. It acts as second Mighty Glacier after Newton. In this form, Takeru as Ghost armed with Gan Gun Saber in Hammer Mode after combine with Spider Lantern.
- The Melodic death metal band Whispered released an album titled Thousand Swords containing the songs based on Benkei. Combined, they are Twenty Three Minutes long.
- He is referenced in Yu-Gi-Oh! as a DARK-type Warrior monster by the name of "Armed Samurai - Ben Kei". The original Japanese version of the card depicted a warrior monk pierced with many arrows, referencing Benkei's famous death. The arrows were removed for the international release, ostensibly for being too graphic. Additionally, the "Superheavy Samurai" archetype of monsters is based on the various stages of Benkei's life, for example, Superheavy Samurai Sword-999 "Kyukyukyu" being a reference to the 999 swords Benkei collected before being defeated by Yoshitsune. One of the strongest monsters of the series is directly named "Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei."
- He appears in Genji, voiced by Akio Ohtsuka.
- Benkei appears as a playable character in the Warriors Orochi series.
- In Ōkami, Benkei is first seen on a bridge fishing for his 1000th sword. In the sequel, Ōkamiden, he is seen on the Sunken Ship questioning Kurow for his flute, which would be his thousandth weapon.
- Benkei is the namesake for Ben-K in Gitaroo Man. Their names are pronounced the same in English, but Ben-K has a slight emphasis on the "K" in Japanese.
- He appears in Genpei Touma Den and subsequently also Namco × Capcom. However, since in that game the whole Minamoto clan are portrayed as villains, Benkei is also portrayed as villainous.
- Benkei appears as a Mini-Boss in the Edo stage of Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban. Don't ask what he's doing in the same time period as Tokugawa Ieyasu.
- Until quite recently, Final Fantasy's Gilgamesh had more in common with Benkei than with his namesake. Badass naginata? Check. Collector of weapons? Check. Big Bridge? Check and mate.
- Benkei exists as a Youkai in Yo-Kai Watch. In one sidequest, he begins abducting other Yo-kai out of frustration that nobody carries swords for him to win in challenges anymore (which helpfully explains his legend to non-Japanese audiences). There's also a cyborg version of him, called B3-NK1 in English, who collects "Hero Screws" from machines instead of swords.
- Benkei is one of the trial bosses in Elemental Story. Befittingly, the boss fight has him putting up tough defenses which greatly reduces damage dealt on him.
- A robot enemy named Ben-K appears in Mega Man 6. He spins a naginata and throws it before getting another one from his back compartment; rinse and repeat.
- A resurrected Benkei appears as an optional fight in Nioh. While he's never referred to by name, the fact that he's been collecting weapons from anyone he comes across and both wears and drops what is explicitly stated to be his hood makes it clear that it's him.
- A busty genderswapped clone of him appears in Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!, along with a genderswapped clone of Yoshitsune and Nasu no Yoichi, another samurai of Yoshitsune.
- He's featured in Harukanaru Toki no Naka de as the Suzaku of Earth, with a major case of Historical Beauty Update.
- As well as a romance-able character in Shall We Date?: Ninja Destiny, with another case of Historical Beauty Update, however instead of going with the usual Biseinen, he's more of a Hunk.