The many faces of Date Masamune

NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!

Or should that title be ‘The many eyepatches of Date Masamune’? Ha ha ha! *ahem*

Ever noticed how there seem to be a lot of good-looking men in Japanese TV series and video games- specifically, young handsome samurai? I came across this amusing article on Japan Probe, which tries to answer the question of why Japanese women are so in love with ‘scarred, disease-riddled, brutal men of history’. In fact, this question stretches to western women as well – I myself am a self-proclaimed Sengoku-era nut and, although I am genuinely passionate about samurai history, my perceptions have definitely been skewed by pop culture portrayals of various samurai. Let’s look at one particular example: Date Masamune.

My favourite line in the Japan Probe article is ‘The biggest turn-off might have been that Lord Date has been dead for 373 years, having flourished during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period’.

I’m having a few ‘easy’ blog weeks after the madness of the cosplay competition, so I’m using this opportunity to look at some of the modern variations of one of Japan’s best known samurai. If you’ve come across the post and have absolutely no idea who Date Masamune even was, here’s a summary taken straight from Japan Probe:

Masamune Date is not an obvious heart-throb for today’s young Japanese women. He has an aristocratic lineage and love of the arts — but he is also a one-eyed ruthless killer. He lost an eye to smallpox and in his relentless pursuit of power is said to have slaughtered his own brother, as well as Christian missionaries, Korean peasants and countless of his compatriots.

Oh my god, I totally want to take this guy back home and introduce him to my mum!

Sengoku Basara Date Masamune

I’m getting this one out of the way first, seeing how most anime fans will already be familiar with this version of Date Masamune. This show is guilty of so many historical inaccuracies it should really make me cry but I can’t help loving it. Sengoku Basara‘s Date Masamune is most recognisable by his steed decked out as a motorbike, the six electricity-generating swords that he wields and completely random English dialogue that makes absolutely no sense or relevance to the plot. It’s the Japanese equivalent of a show about Queen Victoria… and Queen Victoria is a Transformer.

Shut up, I love this show!

Here’s a video of this Date Masamune’s ‘best bits’.

Samurai Warriors Date Masamune

This version of Date Masamune, along with Sengoku Basara‘s, is probably the most well-recognised modern depiction of our dear samurai. Note the eye patch and crescent moon helmet! Although it is well known in Japanese history that Date Masamune was indeed recognisable by that famous helmet, it’s debatable whether he ever actually wore an eyepatch, as he’s rarely depicted wearing it in traditional art. We might think that eye patches today are the epitome of badassery but Masamune’s missing eye is what led to his mother condemning him as unfit to take over the Date clan as leader. It’s even rumoured that she tried to poison him one night.

Anyway, historical inaccuracies aside, this Date Masamune (and Sengoku Basara’s) probably have the largest female fan bases today. He’s young, handsome, reckless and a bit of a bad boy. Is there any need for character development of any sort? No, the Samurai Warriors game series is all about the fighting and good-looking men.

Tono to Issho Date Masamune

The Date Masamune in this series (a parody sketch show of Sengoku-era samurai) is probably the stupidest Date Masamune of them all. He seems to walk into walls and get stuck under things a lot… plus, he has a million different eyepatches that have various and pretty useless functions. Definite eyepatch fetish thing there. It’s also hinted that he was probably dropped on his head a few times and, yes, it’s historically inaccurate again.

Here’s a clip from Tono to Issho, so you can see the stupidity in action:

Brave 10 Date Masamune

Oh look, another historically inaccurate Date Masamune! I shouldn’t expect anything else…

Brave 10 is a manga and anime series based on the legendary Sanada Ten Braves, a group of ninja aligned to the samurai warlord Sanada Yukimura during the Sengoku era of Japan. For some reason he is very effeminate, unlike the other versions we’ve seen so far. He is also great rivals with Sanada Yukimura, as in Sengoku Basara, even though there’s no historical evidence that the two had much to do with each other…

Wrestling Pro Date Masamune

I’m not even joking, there is a wrestler in Japan who goes by the name of ‘Masamune’. Even better, he forms the tag team ‘Sengoku’ with wrestling partner Hideyoshi. There’s something for you historians to enjoy! Masamune and Hideyoshi won two tag tournaments and competes mainly in the Osaka Pro Wrestling tournament, so I guess he kind of counts as a warrior?

Alright, so this Masamune is actually Mexican and lacks the main features associated with our historical subject, but I couldn’t resist adding this one to the list.

NHK Date Masamune

Of course, there’s no shortage of samurai drama on Japanese TV.  Since 1963, NHK has broadcast the Taiga dorama (Big River drama), an annual year-long historical fiction series. The 25th Taiga drama, broadcast in 1987, was Dokuganryu Masamune, ‘dokuganryu’ translating to one-eyed dragon, and Date Masamune was played by Ken Watanabe. Does that name sound familiar? Well, for starters, he was Ra’s Al-Ghul in Batman Begins, and he also starred in Memoirs of a Geisha and Inception.

Sadly, I’ve not found any footage of Dokuganryu Masamune but I have every reason to assume Ken Watanabe pulls off Date Masamune well. He looks more ‘bad ass’ than ‘bishounen’, so it looks like NHK kept the samurai a little closer to his origins.

Lady Date Masamune

Now, I’m all for gender equality but I’m not so keen on this ‘presentation’ of Date Masamune. Sengoku Otome, Sengoku Collection and Nobunaga no Yabou obviously think otherwise.

There seems to be a theme of gender-bending in Japanese anime and, for some reason, Sengoku-era samurai seem to be the favourite targets for many show creators. Out of all of these shows, I managed five minutes of Sengoku Otome and had to turn it off. I can cope with historical inaccuracies but I draw the line at Date Masamune being a woman with huge knockers…

Kitty Date Masamune

I hate to say something so painfully obvious but Japan really loves its cute stuff. There seem to be 500 odd anime or manga series that feature a cute kitty mascot and Nyanpire takes it to another level by making a vampire kitten the main character of its non-sensical yet cute series. There’s an array of fluffy characters and Date Masamune somehow worked his way into the series as Masamunya Dokuganryu. Well, at least they kept the eyepatch and helmet but I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a particular fondness for cute fluffy kitties.

Of course, there are more interpretations of Date Masamune floating around out there but here are some of my favourites. I came across a salaryman version of Date Masamune but sadly can’t find it now. If anyone can point me in the right direction it’d be very appreciated!

6 thoughts on “The many faces of Date Masamune

  1. I totally hate female versions of Sengoku era, it’s just so pathetic and characters are awkward as always in every anime I’ve ever seen, the rest is however fine and fantastic..but can’t find anywhere that tv series with young Ken Watanabe as Masamune..:(

  2. I’m gonna admit it…I noticed HUGE inaccuracies when playing the Samurai Warriors games…But I love them all the same. Believe it or not Masamune was fourteen years old when he began killing people, so at a certain time I think he was a good looking guy…

    Missing an eye with battle scars.

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