“Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman” — ‘A Lavish Banquet for Guys in Trouble’

Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is a fantasy tale set in late 19th Century Japan. When the black ships returned to Japan in the 19th Century, the 200 year old rule of the Shogun was overturned, and with it came mass social instability and rampant crime. Fortunately the people one town have a Robin Hood-like protector, Roman, who is actually “Mister Helper” by day. Aiding Roman is his sister Koharu (dressed as a ninja) and their cute dog Sakura (disguised with a kerchief over his head). There’s also a full cast of characters supporting him, whereas others are hunting him and some whose motives are still unknown.

This is Roman on the left, in disguise, and his sister Koharu beside him. In the middle is Suzuki Magoichi,  the new investigator with a hidden mission and a master of gun-fu. To the right of him is the mysterious geisha Lady Okuma with a hidden agenda herself, and on the far right is probably the villian’s comedy relief henchman.

Bakumatsu-Gijinden-Roman

‘A Lavish Banquet for Guys in Trouble’

The episode opens with master thief Ishikawa Gojuemon gloating over the success of his most recent robbery at the behest of Lady Okuma. What he stole wasn’t revealed, but his reward was a night with her, which didn’t exactly turn out all that well: he winds up drugged and paralyzed, laying on the matting, and they the geisha leans over him, catching his gaze as her eyes turn into hypnotic kaleidoscope patterns. In the next scene, the poor thief is wandering the streets of the city in a daze, until he is noticed by the police, upon which starts to wake up but the image of her eyes is too strong and he dives into the river to his death.

And what was stolen? It was a map of the country, the most complete map ever made, describing every natural landmark and waterway, an essential source of information for any invading army, and just it so happens there is a Western military force already established in a hidden fortress nearby, where the mysterious geisha has just delivered it. Roman and company have to invade the fortress and retrieve the map to save Japan from invasion. Magoichi is also involved, as his mysterious superior orders the death of the fortress commander. From then on, the map switches hands several times until the fortress commander rides away with it, proving in the process that he, too, is a master of gun-fu.

Commentary: If the characters, especially Roman, and the overall theme of the series appears to resemble Lupin III, it is because both were the visual creations of Monkey Punch. Whether Roman is supposed to be an ancestor of Lupin is doubtful, given the time frame, as Lupin III grandfather, the original Lupin, was French.

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