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Useful Notes / The Shinsengumi

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Gone into the history books and available as cellphone strap: Kondō Isami, Hijikata Toshizō, Okita Sōji, Saitō Hajime, Nagakura Shinpachi and Serizawa Kamo.

Something of a popular favorite for inclusion in samurai shows, the Shinsengumi have the advantage of actually having existed in the Bakufu era of Japanese history. The group, originally called the Roushigumi (lit.: "Roushi Group," Roushi being a synonym for Rōnin), later changed its name to the Shinsengumi ("Newly Selected Corps") and moved to Kyoto. There, taking the side of the current shogun, they requested and were granted policing powers to deal with the revolutionaries who wished to see the return of the Emperor to power. The raid on Ikeda-ya, where the Shinsengumi managed to stop revolutionaries from setting fire to the city, is probably the most well-documented single engagement of the group during their existence. Though they only ever numbered a little more than two hundred at the very most, and were active for only about five years, they're often credited with single-handedly delaying the Meiji side's eventual victory over the Tokugawa regime.

Easily recognizable by their distinctive sky-blue-and-white haori jackets. (Historically, these may have been yellow and white, but always seem to be portrayed as the blue and white style on television. The design were apparently based from their claimed Spiritual Predecessor, The 47 Ronin.) As something of a far right-wing Praetorian Guard, the Shinsengumi embodies the Knight Templar trope far better than, well, the actual Knights Templar. Ostensibly defenders of the shogun and Japan, they soon transformed into a ruthless Secret Police force with an unbelievably strict code of conduct, and what even The Other Wiki has to give up on sugar-coating and describe as "an unflinching readiness to kill."

However, once the Nostalgia Filter is deactivated, one would find the exploits of the Shinsengumi to be rather... varied. The group's initial inception was not met with warm reception. Due to their diverse backgrounds, the Shinsengumi actually achieved a level of notoriety for being a rowdy and ill-disciplined bunch, frequently involved in brawls and causing trouble for their hosts. While the Shinsengumi managed to stop revolutionaries from setting fire to Kyoto, thus cementing their position as the guardian of Japan's ancient capital; In reality, the security of Kyoto actually belonged to a special Tokugawa police unit known as the Kyoto Mimawarigumi (京都見廻組), who probably did most of the heavy-lifting. Their reputation in the immediate post-Tokugawa era also painted them in a negative light, until somewhat redeemed by revisionist historians post-Meiji Period. Moreover, despite their job technically being to keep the peace, they were generally (and deservedly) viewed as a threat. Like other nationalist paramilitary movements, inter-faction violence and assassinations were frequent.

Nonetheless, the Shinsengumi was dedicated to their cause almost to a fault, and extremely good at doing what they do. Out of the two hundred or so members, most opted to fight for the failing Shogunate until the bitter end, even after the organization's dissolution. Only a few would survive to witness the new era.

The leadership of the group was made up of the following individuals:

Serizawa KamoFormer Commander of the Shinsenguminote 
Kondō IsamiCommander of the Shinsengumi
Hijikata ToshizōLieutenant Commander
Yamanami KeisukeLieutenant Commander
Okita Sōji1st Division Captain
Nagakura Shinpachi2nd Division Captain
Saitō Hajime3rd Division Captain
Matsubara Chūji4th Division Captain
Takeda Kanryūsai5th Division Captain
Inoue Genzaburō6th Division Captain
Tani Sanjurou7th Division Captain
Tōdō Heisuke8th Division Captain
Suzuki Mikisaburō9th Division Captain
Harada Sanosuke10th Division Captain

Tropes that are frequently used in relation to the group:

  • Historical Beauty Update
    • To be exact, this is usually played straight with Hijikata (not that he needs it; the real-life Hijikata was said to be incredibly handsome) and Okita, played with for Kondō (who is either depicted realistically or matches the design style of the rest of the characters) and played up to eleven with others like Saitō Hajime (or at least it was thought so, before his real portrait was published and showed him as reasonably attractive—even as an old man).
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: Fictional portrayals often give extreme exaggeration of their martial skills often giving them superpowers and turning their officers and commanders into individual One-Man Army. Even more realistic portrayals show heavily outnumbered Shinsengumi capable of slaughtering large groups with less than 10 men. Granted in real life their reputation as ferocious warriors is justified history as they were that BADASS in real life.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Fiction (especially the most sympathetic ones) often glosses over the more questionable politics and acts of the leaders and the group as a whole.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: At the same time, you may expect stories which focus primarily on the heroes of the Meiji Restoration to either portray them as anti-heroic but with an honor code at best (see Rurouni Kenshin below), or pure mindless attack dogs of the Shogunate. Which is not exactly hard considering their stint at torturing captives and the bloodbath at Ikeda-ya.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Okita Sōji died young from tuberculosis, and he's often portrayed as romantically coughing up blood mid-battle. note 
  • Working-Class Hero: It's probably appropriate to note that class politics figured significantly in their story. Being mostly comprised of Rōnin, low-class or provincial samurai, they tended to be seen as hillbillies compared to the near-contemporaneous Mimawarigumi (who functionally was motivated by Shogunal loyalty much like them, but was comprised of wealthier shogunate retainers). The fact that Shinsengumi members lasted more among The Remnant of Tokugawa loyalists (while the Mimawarigumi disbanded around the Shogunate's surrender) meant the Shinsengumi gained more credit for Undying Loyalty in the end.

The Texas Rangers were pretty much the Wild West equivalent to these guys, except their Badass Longcoats were brown rather than blue (or yellow).

The Shinsengumi in fiction:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • The most well-known member of the group, at least to western followers of anime, is most likely Saitō Hajime, from his appearance in this series. As in real life, after the fall of the Shogunate he joined the Imperial government under the alias "Fujita Gorō", though in the manga he becomes a top spy for the government rather than merely joining the Tokyo Metropolitan Police (the latter merely being his cover identity in Kenshin). (Okita Sōji also figures in the story, though only in a three-panel flashback—and he STILL ranked in the top ten of the character popularity poll!)
    • Watsuki also based several characters on what he thought the Shinsengumi looked or acted like, or on fictional depictions of them he'd enjoyed, and derived names from them. He says himself that you should be able to guess who he based Takeda Kanryu on... Sagara Sanosuke is also pretty obvious, as is Seta Sōjirō. The least-obvious is Shinomori Aoshi, who was based on Hijikata Toshizō almost accidentally.
    • Shishio Makoto is loosely based on Serizawa Kamo, including details like his violent disposition and being assassinated by his own side as a result of it, though Shishio was actually on the anti-Shogun side (technically). Kamo also died with a woman he was sleeping with, which is probably where Shishio's girlfriend Komagata Yumi comes from. His initial plot, as a diversion, is to burn down Kyoto, a reference to the above-mentioned famous plot foiled by the Shinsengumi.
    • Hannya has his personality based on that of Yamazaki Susumu. While the historical original was a samurai/Rōnin, because he was involved in espionage, it's common for his fictional counterparts to be Ninja, and Hannya is no exception.
    • Manga-only Hokkaido Arc features another survivor, Shinpachi Nagakura: unlike Saito, he's a reasonable and mellow man who declares himself to be no longer a wolf but rather a dog that won't bite. He's still a top notch Master Swordsman and his unique technique allows him to control the opponent's gravity center with a Blade Lock and leave them at his mercy.
  • The Shinsengumi also exist in the world of Gintama — though, the show being a Gag Series, the group has more than a few dysfunctions: Kondō is a hapless, idiotic Stalker with a Crush, Hijikata has a short fuse, chain smokes and puts mayonnaise on all his food, and Okita is a sadist who tries to blow Hijikata up with a bazooka every chance he gets. And Yamazaki is obsessed with badminton, so much so that he is more likely to be carrying a badminton racket than a sword. Their personal names are slightly changed - for example, Hijikata Tōshirō and Okita Sōgo. They also wear black military uniforms instead of the distinctive blue and white haori.
  • The organization of the Gotei 13 in Bleach seems quite similar to the shinsengumi. In addition to being divided into "Captains" and "Divisions", later chapters reveal that the initial group were "defenders of the peace" in name only, and were really bloodthirsty Knights Templar like the shinsengumi. It is unclear, however, whether the organization was actually based on them (though there are definitely expies of the captains among them, most notably Ukitake being a tuberculosis-laden warrior a la Sōji).
  • In the fourth and most recent Code Geass Alternate Continuity manga, Lelouch leads the Shinsengumi against the Meiji revolutionaries - who are the Shinsengumi, unbeknownst to the Emperor.
  • The Shojo historical manga Kaze Hikaru is about a samurai's daughter who joins the Shinsengumi disguised as a boy in order to avenge her family's death at the hands of imperialists.
  • The serious parts of the plot of Touken Ranbu - Hanamaru revolve around the Ikedaya Incident, and the Shinsengumi's swords dispatched to protect history there... and Okita's sword's unwillingness to let go of him.
  • Hijikata and Okita are major characters in the third arc of the Shura no Toki anime. Saitō and Kondō make appearances as well.
  • The whole group was the supporting cast in the Kid Samurai series Peacemaker Kurogane.
  • The OVA and later television series, Moeyo Ken deals with female (supposedly lineal) descendants of the original leaders of the Shinsengumi.
  • The Kyoto Arc of Negima! Magister Negi Magi had one chapter where Konoka and Setsuna hide in Cinema Village, which had reproductions of Edo-era Japan and samurai movie sets. Being the resident Samurai, Setsuna was naturally dressed up as a Shinsengumi member. And if there are any doubts about her clothes, the title of the chapter was "The Bodyguard is a Member of the Shinsen Group".
  • The hero of Intrigue In The Bakumatsu Irohanihoheto seems to know several of the group's leaders for some reason or other. Hijikata is shown as part of the turbulent political maneuvering of the period while the series takes some liberties with history such as including a cursed flying skull that can take possession of people as a mayor influence.
  • Four members show up in Papuwa — Kondo, Hijikata, Okita, and Harada.
  • It is not known if it was coincidental or a deliberate deconstruction, but early in Blade of the Immortal there is a gang of punks who call themselves Shinsengumi. These punks (led by a certain Hishiyasu Shido) kidnap and kill Machi, leading Manji to actively start his attempt to get rid of the Kessenchu inside his body (though not without completely butchering them before).
  • Ginga Reppu Baxinger is basically the Shinsengumi IN SPACE!, on bikes that combine!
  • Okita Sōji's great grand nephew with the same name appears in Yaiba's last Arc as an incredibly skilled yet lazy Master Swordsman who'd prefer to have a normal life rather than being a champion. He even wears the same Shinsengumi jacket as his grandfather.
  • The Shinsengumi and its members are a central feature in the manga Bakudan Bakumatsu Danshi. Makoto, the main character, ends up joining them when he gets thrown back in time to 1863, during the Bakumatsu era.
  • In episode 19 of My Bride is a Mermaid, the heroes help film a movie about the Shinsengumi after the original actors become incapacitated. Hilarity Ensues when everybody except Nagasumi gets drunk, leading to scenes like Akeno attacking Nagasumi with a real sword.
  • In TYPE-MOON's KOHA-ACE manga, the identity of a "joke character", Sakura Saber, is revealed to be a Gender Flip of Okita Sōji. She, along with Hijikata Toshizo (who is not gender-flipped), have been made into playable characters in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order. Okita is one of the main characters in Fate/KOHA-ACE and its Darker and Edgier manga adaptation Fate/type Redline.
  • In Drifters, Hijikata is part of the Black King's Ends; his special ability is to summon swarms of ghostly Shinsengumi, who can inflict Ludicrous Gibs on enemies. As a reference to his history, he develops Hate at First Sight against Toyohisa, whose family participated in the death of countless Shinsengumi.
  • All members of the "New Desides" from Gundam Sentinel are named after members of the Shinsengumi. However, the Theme Naming follows a specific pattern: the first name is translated directly into English, while the surname is an English homophone of a portion of the original Japanese name. For example, "Isami Kondo" is named for the character "Brave Cod".
  • The Shinsengumi also provide Theme Naming in Space Battleship Yamato (and carried over into the remake). Captain Okita is the first and most iconic example, but Admirals Serizawa and Hijikata also show up, as well as second season addition Saito Hajime.
  • Despite Golden Kamuy taking place in the early 20th-century, one of the main factions looking for the gold are Shogunate remnants and former convicts led by an elderly Hijikata Toshizō, who in real life died when he was only 34, but here was secretly taken prisoner instead. There's also Nagakura Shinpachi, who, despite becoming a respected member of Meiji society like his real life counterpart, is secretly aiding Hijikata's group from behind the scenes.
  • A villain from one episode of Lupin III: Part II plans to resurrect the Shinsengumi and force Hokkaido to become an independent nation from Japan.
  • Being set in an Alternate History Meiji period Japan with Giant Mechas and no actual Meiji restoration, Fuuun Ishin Dai Shogun has the Shinsengumi as villains serving the Big Bad. Notably, there are only three, all-female commanders with Custom Uniform of Sexy. Possibly to serve as an Evil Counterpart to the hero's own female companions.
  • Record of Ragnarok features Okita Sōji as one of the Einherjar, human warriors selected to fight against Gods from various pantheons in battles to the death to determine the fate of humanity. Kondō Isami also appears to support Okita from the sidelines. Both Okita and Kondō's designs and personalities are lifted directly from Chiruran: Shinsengumi Requiem, another work by Shinya Umemura, one of the authors of Shuumatsu.
  • In the Rengoku Kyojuro Gaiden of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, the Arc Villain demon is revealed to be a survivor of the organization, who is bitter at how his side of swordsmen were defeated by modern firearms during the Meiji Restoration.

    Audio Play 
  • The Wasurenagusa series focuses on the Shinsengumi and their internal and external struggles, but acts as a sort of Otome as well given that they're all pursued by a young girl they rescued from the Ikeda Inn aftermath.

    Comic Books 
  • Chronin involves a pair of graduate history students from the not too distant future who become Trapped in the Past at the end of Tokugawa era Japan as the move to overthrow the Shogunate heats up. Before getting stuck in the past, the less serious of the two students (whose interest in history was sparked by historical manga, including a lawyer friendly pastiche of Rurouni Kenshin), mentions at one point that it would be cool to actually see a member of the Shinsengumi in person. The more serious student (and who is actually Japanese instead of Japanese-American), is alarmed by this, and points out that the very last thing she should want to see is the Shinsengumi, since it is all but certain to mean danger for them. A fictional member of the Shinsengumi is a fairly important supporting character, but from the historical Shinsengumni members only Kondo is seen in a couple of scenes, one of which is first volume's Wham Episode, when Kondo presents the heads of multiple leaders of the revolution, including some who should have lived decades longer and played key roles in post-revolution Japan, apparently sending the world into an Alternate Timeline as a result.

    Film — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • NHK aired a live action drama in 2004 simply called Shinsengumi!.
  • One episode of Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger involves our heroes attempting to recreate the Meiji era (using Toei's own Jidaigeki film sets, no less) to pacify an ancient alien, and some of them dress up as Shinsengumi members. In keeping with the traditional depiction, Okita Sōji is portrayed by a female.
  • Kamen Rider Ghost can channel the spirits of historical and folk heroes. In a spin-off stage show, he calls on the spirits of the Shinsengumi (specifically Kondo, Hijikata, and Okita) and is able to use their power. And since spirits take the form of disembodied coats in this show, this absolutely means that Ghost wears the trademark blue-and-white jacket.

  • The music video for Tsukiko Amano's song "Same" features her and her band dressed as samurai, battling cowboys in a far west town with katanas and peashooters. The drummer is wearing a Shinsengumi haori in black and white.

  • The Takarazuka Revue has done musicals about the Shinsengumi.
    • An adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin.
    • An adaptation of Jin.
    • An adaptation of When the Last Sword Is Drawn (the original novel).
    • "Makoto no Gunzou -Shinsengumi Metsuboushou-" (The Spirit of the Samurai -Chronicles of Shinsengumi Wandering-).
    • "Hoshikage no Hito -Okita Souji Maboroshi no Seishun" (Man of Starlight -Fanciful Youth of Okita Souji-).
    • "Ishin Kaiten - Ryouma-den! ~Kouha - Sakamoto Ryouma III~" (Sketches from the Life of Ryoma Sakamoto).
    • "Takeki Ougon no Kuni" (In Search of El Dorado) features Okita Souji as a side character.

    Video Games 
  • In Ayakashi: Romance Reborn, Ginnojo is revealed to be a former member of the Shinsengumi.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, Okita Souji has a starring role in the GUDAGUDA events as a Historical Gender Flip of herself. Portrayed as a cheery, excitable girl with an Incurable Cough of Death, she's dangerous nonetheless when she gets serious. Her superior, Hijikata Toshizo, makes an appearance in the second GUDAGUDA event, leading the Shinsengumi once again, albeit only consisting of himself, Okita, and an army of defected Mini Nobus. The fifth GUDAGUDA event saw the debut of Saitou Hajime as a Saber-class Servant, Yamanami Keisuke in a non-playable but still important role, and former commander Serizawa Kamo as the Arc Villain and non-playable Saber-class Servant. Yamanami would eventually become playable as a Saber-class Servant in the seventh GUDAGUDA event, two years after his initial debut.
  • The otome game Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 5 features Kondo, Okita (who is one of the Hachiyou) and Hijikata.
  • I=MGCM: One of limited-time events has Shinsengumi-theme, about the heroines are trapped in an Edo-era Alternate Universe. There are also Shinsengumi dresses (with extremely short shorts) for Ao, Cocoa and Kaori, which the first two can only be acquired in limited-time gacha, while the third one in completing the Shinsengumi event story.
  • The Fall of the Samurai expansion to Total War: Shogun 2 features Shinsengumi (and their Imperial counterparts, the Ishin-Shishi) as agents on the campaign map. They can be used to assassinate rival generals and agents, bribe troops into joining your cause, instill discipline in your troops (which translates to a boost to melee defence), and incite rebellions in enemy provinces. Shogunal factions also have access to Shinsengumi police as battlefield units, where they prove themselves to be both excellent line infantry and deadly melee combatants, especially with their 'Banzai' ability.
  • Toukiden has a substantial number of Shinsengumi members available as Mitama, heroic souls that the player character can equip to gain special abilities and passive boosts.
  • In Touken Ranbu, which features male personifications of historical Japanese swords, several characters are personifications of swords that belonged to members of the Shinsengumi. Izuminokami Kanesada and Yamatonokami Yasusada both wear the Shinsengumi's distinctive blue and white haori, while Nagasone Kotetsu wears the rarely depicted black white version.
  • SNK has a representation of the Shinsengumi in The Last Blade, which members Wachizuka Keiichiro and the Sanada sibilings (Kojiro and Kaori, appearing disguised the former after his death) are representations of Saitō Hajime (mostly based on his Rurouni Kenshin representation) and the sibilings Okita (Sōji and Mitsu) respectively.
  • In Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, the guards of Minister Kataoka (target of the 5th mission) are seen wearing the traditional Shinsengumi white and blue uniform, with the Kanji for "sincerity" (Makoto) written on their backs, something odd as the series has never actually hinted at being set anywhere close to the Bakumatsu period. Perhaps due to this fact the detail was removed in the Japanese's Updated Re-release, Shinobi Gaisen, with the guards now sporting a full dark green uniform with no kanji on the back.
  • The Ryu ga Gotoku series, or Yakuza as it's known in the west, has two historical fiction spinoffs never released in English. The second one, Ishin, takes place in the final days of the Edo era, where several familiar faces from the base series make cameos as historical figures. Most of the major characters from the series, including protagonist Kiryu Kazuma, portray Shinsengumi captains and their real-life opponents.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV's second expansion, we're introduced to the Sekiseigumi, the police figures of the Japanese-inspired city of Kugane. They brutally enforce Kugane's neutrality and will kill you if you intend to try to start any sort of violence.

    Visual Novels 
  • Some members of the Shinsengumi are main characters and possible love interests in Cybird’s Destined To Love and are thus portrayed in a significantly more heroic and sympathetic light as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • The Shinsengumi are the focus of Hakuouki, a Romance Game franchise which adds a young woman named Chizuru and some supernatural elements into the mix but also devotes a surprising amount of attention to the history of and politics surrounding the group. The original game and its immediate prequel were adapted into an anime of the same name.
  • Miburo depicts the ascension of the Gender Flipped Shinsengumi, from their humble beginnings as a voluntary police force to an outright violent and ruthless paramilitary group, and their eventual downfall by the Boshin War. It also depicts the politics and power plays of the late Bakumatsu Period in good detail.
  • Shall We Date?:
    • In Shall We Date?: Ninja Assassin and Shall We Date?: Ninja Shadow, set in the Edo and the Nagasaki from right before the end of the Isolation days respectively, the Edo and Nagasaki Vigilantes are strongly based on the most romanticized views of the Shinsengumi. Like in Hakuouki, the female Player Character hangs out with the groups and can romance members of the Vigilantes.
    • Ninja Shadow actually has two Shinsengumi members, Hijikata and Okita, as first allies of then Nagasaki Vigilantes and then as prospect love interests. At first they were seen in Tsubaki Kusunoki's path, chasing down the Anti-Villain Zeyo Sakamoto; their respectivce routes would be released in late 2017.

  • (One of) The most popular fashion doll(s) in Japan, Takara's Jenny, is available in a Shinsengumi uniform.

Alternative Title(s): Shinsengumi