in 2004 NHK decided that the next Taiga Drama would be about the
Shinsengumi. For those of you that do not know what a "Taiga" drama
is, it is a year long drama that aims to bolster patriotic feelings
amongst the Japanese. It started back in 1963 with NHK starting a
drama focusing on historical fiction called "Hana no Shougai".
NHK's Shinsengumi is in my opinion epitomizes the
presence of Shinsengumi in pop culture. Why? First of all it came
out as a Taiga drama, second it employed SMAP members whose members
are are considered for lack of a better word, "teen idols" and third
it propelled an enormous amount of commercial paraphernalia and fan
work like doujinshi. Basically while tackling the more serious
matter of national unity, it also satisfied the fangirls worldwide.
Let's admit it, one reason the Shinsengumi group was such a hit
amongst the ladies, was partly because they were composed of dashing
young men who fought for their country and in the end had a tragic
ending. What is more perfectly romantic than that? Their appeal to
men is the somewhat similar, that they embody the romantic vision of
the "Last Samurais". To the masses they are a symbol of hard work
and trying to get past their status in society, specifically for the
likes of Kondou and Hijikata.
What's the point you ask? Well what I just
described above is what fandom has made for the historical figures.
It is in essence historical fiction where fans have decided, with
the use of some historical information and their own ideals, they
have created a creature that resembles but does not necessarily
mimic the real people. This is exactly what NHK's Shinsengumi is, it
is a drama full of ideals, hardships and hope. It is historical
Now about Saitou, he is played by Jo Odagiri as a
quiet man with a past with the Yakuza. He surpases his gloomy past
when he meets Kondou who shows him kindness and faith, that
eventually he joins them in Kyoto. In this portrayal, NHK has
decided to follow history by showing Saitou as a quiet man.
Unfortunately, for the most part, this did not work well for me
because at times, I had forgotten he was there! Indeed in one of the
episode guides, at the end of the show, he is said to show his
passion only after Kondou was caught. Quite a different flavored man
to what I'm used to but hey, RK and Mibugishiden are my holy grail
so my preference is quite different. However, I do believe that
NHK's casting of Jo Odagiri was a good pick. He certainly seems
mysterious and such a pretty boy too!