[2024] 多読/extensive reading challenge

I just finished 薬屋のひとりごと 7 and it was nice to get back to that series.
As usual, one overarching mystery with a bit of smaller stuff as we go along.
Sadly, this time around I guessed the solution from the start, which made reading a bit frustrating. The main character getting a new hint and thinking “hmmm this sounds relevant but why” and I am just screaming internally.

There was almost no 壬氏 in this volume, but when he was, he was still abusive. And yet 猫猫 seems to like him (overall) anyway? What the heck. I’m still not quite sure about what to think of their relationship. ESPECIALLY now that I have seen the cover of volume 8… :rage:


Indeed. :man_facepalming: that ought to teach me to stay away from the forums late in the evening.


I still want to do a huge primer on all the ongoing series running in ハルタ magazine once I’ve caught up with or at least gotten to know all of them, but it seems like that’s gonna take way longer than it would in my head, so in the meantime here’s some I’ve read the 1st volume of recently:

(pretty much following a book club nomination format but I’m nominating them not for a club but for your consideration)


Volumes so far: 1
Official translation? No
Japanese summary: 夜を呼ぶ病を持つ少女と、心優しき医者が織りなすヒーリング・ストーリー。
My English summary: A little girl with a magical affliction interacts with her caretaker and a wondrous but foreboding magical world.
Thoughts: An intriguing start! I really like the magical elements like cooking with fictional reagents, they evoke a real fantasy world very well. Has a similar vibe to Witch Hat Atelier (albeit not quite as sumptuously illustrated), so I think anyone who enjoys that series should consider giving this a shot.


Volumes so far: 1
Official translation? No
Japanese summary: 汗と吐息が少女の美を際立たせる。快汗(かいかん)湯めぐり疾走録!
My English summary: Young women run together to onsen where they bathe together.
Thoughts: Straightforward premise. Pretty gay. Fun!


Volumes so far: 1
Official translation? No
Japanese summary: 高校生と冴えない小説家の、“月に一度”の恋。
My English summary: High school student has precognitive flashes when she touches someone, and she gets an image of a future marriage with an oblivious older novelist… Also she’s sort of a landlord.
Thoughts: The precognition angle is I feel like, strangely not treated as much of a factor in this one (I did not intuit it at all when I was reading the weekly magazine). Not sure where exactly it’s going, but I am curious to find out, and the art is impressive!
Age gap sort-of-romances under unusual circumstances is not my favorite subcategory in ハルタ though…


Volumes so far: 1
Official translation? No
Japanese summary: 寡黙な職人×金髪ギャルのイチャラブ婚約生活、始まります!
My English summary: The daily life of a taciturn coppersmith and a bubbly gal as a young engaged couple in Niigata.
Thoughts: Fun! I really like the regional flavor, and the central characters really do feel familiar, like the friends you might have who have been together for a long time and have slightly mismatched personalities but fit each other.


Volumes so far: 8
Official translation? I don’t think so, but apparently there’s some kind of bilingual edition?
Japanese summary: イギリス人の目から見る、懐かしくも驚きに満ちた日本文化
My English summary: Based on a real person and her travelogue, an account of a famous English adventurer’s travels through a Japan in flux just after the Meiji Restoration.
Thoughts: Super fun! The fictionalized Ms. Bird’s determination and enthusiasm for discovering new things and learning about another’s culture is infectious and inspirational, and the book is full of interesting historical sights both in the form of large landmarks and small moments.


Volumes so far: 1
Official translation? No
Japanese summary: すこし天才、だいたいお馬鹿。紙一重な小学生・りんちゃんの毎日
My English summary: 4-panel manga about a girl who looks at things just a little bit strangely.
Thoughts: Not quite outright zany like Azumanga Daioh or Nichijou, this yonkoma is more just… unusual. So you never know quite what’s going to come up next. It’s pretty pleasant! And it’s nice change of pace to have one or two yonkoma sprinkled into a manga magazine.



Volumes so far: 4
Official translation? I don’t think so
Japanese summary: 少女は運命を乗り越え、神々と対峙する——。古代倭国ファンタジー、開幕!
My English summary: Travels through ancient Japan, with gods aplenty.
Thoughts: This was the one I understood least trying to read it in the middle in magazine format, and starting it from the top I see why! Given the subject matter, it is positively LOADED with archaisms, religious terminology, and extremely respectful language.
While I’m not 100% taken with the art style yet, I love the world on display so far, and that complexity of language and subject matter makes for some really cool phrases, like:

此岸彼岸しがんひがん あわいは淡く
黄昏くれ にあっては人かすだま

And just the whole atmosphere is really intriguing, with lots of vocab to mine. Plus there’s even some time travel!

Probably best to do it in batches like that anyway!


I’ve completed my 2021 goal of reading 12 books! I initially thought it was a stretch, but as my reading speed increased it turned out to be very achieavable. I’m still not that fast but I also have a decent amount of free time to read daily.




Mystery novel, second volume of the poorly named “S&M series” that we’re reading with the book club. I enjoyed it, it has a lot of similarities with volume 1 but I thought it was a bit better. Easy to read.




A classic of Japanese litterature, I read it with the advanced book club. I found the writing style interesting, but I don’t think it’s my type of book. The story feels a bit pointless and the main character is quite whiny. He(/the author) did have a hard life, but he’s also very self-centered and doesn’t seem to realize that life is not always easy for “normal” people either.




Wikipedia describes it as a “best selling Japanese historical novel […] loosely based on the story of Sazō Idemitsu, the founder of Idemitsu Kosan, a Japanese oil company.” It won the bookseller’s award in 2013.

The first book (of 2) is divided into two parts: the first part starts at the end of WW2 (when Japan is under american control, there isn’t a drop of oil left in the country, and the main character’s oil company has lost most of its assets), and covers the 2 subsequent years. The second part goes back in time to the main character’s birth in 1885 and follows him until the end of WW2. Book 2 (which I haven’t read yet) picks the story back up in 1947 and ends in 1974. So you get to live through a good chunk of recent Japanese history which I found really interesting.

HOWEVER, you should be aware that this is Japanese history from the somewhat biased point of view of a right-wing nationalist. Wikipedia does say that “The book has patriotic themes that would more commonly be associated with the Japanese right wing, but has been popular with the mass market.” I wasn’t sure what that was about at first, but now I know.

Although the main character doesn’t necessarily approve of everything going on in Japan, like the rise of militarism at the expense of democracy, he’s also shown as being a fervent patriot. He’ll do anything for his country, and values long working hours and self sacrifice. Which is all fine I guess, but the narrator, who really should be neutral IMO, is subtly biased. One of the clearest examples is the omission of the Nanjing massacre, which is not surprising since the author is a Nanjing massacre denier.

Towards the end, he tries to justify Japan’s imperialism: 鐵造(main character)が生まれた明治十八年から日本はずっと富国強兵で突き進んできた。欧米の列強がアジア諸国を植民地化していく中で、日本が生き残る道はそれしかなかった。もしも日清戦争日露戦争で負けていれば、日本は他のアジア諸国同様、ロシアや英米に植民地化されていたに違いない。Basically, he’s saying Japan had no choice, othewise they would’ve been conquered by Russia or the UK/US. I don’t know enough about history to be able to say that it’s completely wrong, but I don’t think it justifies Japan’s later expansionism.

Language difficulty: grammar wise it’s pretty simple (there’s a bit of 方言 but it’s pretty intelligible). However, be prepared to encounter a lot of place/people/company/school names, and quite a lot of long strings of kanji like 国務院総務長官. There’s also some technical vocab around oil, the army, railways, etc. but not that much. There are a lot of characters but most of them don’t stick around very long.


Ok I have finished the buk

Actually, according to the atogaki there is one more book left in the series, but honestly I was fully expecting it to end with this one. It seemed like it was heading towards an end, but ey, more oreshura.

This series seriously is the definition of unexpected. Like, it fits nicely into this cliche category so you kinda think you know whats gonna happen, but it truly goes where no harem has gone before. 前人未踏 is the yojijukugo of the day.

Overall I don’t even know what I think of the series anymore. Its more just one big 何 than anything, honestly, but I still enjoy reading it so I shall continue lol.

For those who don’t care about spoilers and just wanna know what I mean: Usually, in harems the main character picks one girls and all the other girls kinda disappear from the story. In Oreshura, however, he picks all of the girls and they are on board with that, but they are all leaving anyways. Also one girl wants him to pledge abstinence for life despite having 4 girlfriends and tried to cut his dick off.

With that being said, I finally got what I waited 6 years for. What I began learning japanese for


So is 魔法少女育成計画 next then? :slight_smile:

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I took a look at the pages you gave me and unfortunately there weren’t actually any words I hadn’t learned already, so I kinda took that as a bad sign and have it in the 4fun pile.

With that being said, it does actually seem pretty interesting to me, so its at the top of the 4fun pile with youjitsu. I thought PMMM Rebellion was like the best movie ever to exist and am a fan of the darker mahou shoujou stuff, so its definitely a theme that interests me. Im not sure how much its like rebellion per se, but yknow.

With this outta the way, its back to the tsundoku cleanup, though.

tonari tenshi 4 and 5. imouto sae 9-14. And then some books I’ve finished partially (like 100+ pages of) but never read till the end because I have the attention span of a jar of mayonaise like re zero and bakemonogatari. Then I gotta finish up shin sekai yori since that was my koohi book but I kinda stopped using koohi haha.

The only problem is…a certain presence that looms in the distance…Roughly one month in the distance…

I’ll be moving to japan in a couple weeks and will be pretty busy, so if I don’t clean up my tsundoku before that book is released then I’ll get derailed again because I gotta read it ASAP. The first volume ended hella juicily.

Ah, gotcha. I have no idea how representative the pages I provided were. I just skimmed real quick to make sure (hopefully) that there weren’t any major spoilers.

I love Madoka Magica and Rebellion as well. I don’t think this series is as good as Madoka Magica, but it’s the only other dark mahou shoujo series that I do like. I’ve watched a handful of darker mahou shoujo anime, and none were good except for Madoka Magica and 魔法少女育成計画 (and the book for this was definitely better than the anime).

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this once you do get around to it for fun. I still have to get around to book three myself (books two and three form an arc), but that probably won’t be for another 2-3 months.

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See, the thing is I’m a MASSIVE fan of rebellion but honestly I thought madoka magica the series was kinda eh. There are a lot of differences obviously, but one thing I liked that rebellion had that the original series didn’t was Basically the presence of a main magical girl who is “evil”. Like sayaka kinda was in the original series, but I didn’t feel like it got much attention. Just the way homura became some evil embodiment of her love and suffering was so heckin :100:. Not sure if ikusei keikaku has a character like that, but if there is one I’m realllllly looking forward to it. Actually seen rebellion like 30+ times and now that I’m talking about it I wanna watch it again so I’ll probably do that this weekend.

But yeah, my time to read for the past few months has been extremely limited, so hopefully soon I’ll be able to read a lot more and clear my queue up. Theres a lot of books I wanna get around to and even some VNs I wanna read.

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Guess you’ll just have to read and find out then. :stuck_out_tongue:

All I’ll say is that one main difference between Madoka Magica and 魔法少女育成計画 is that the latter has a large cast, and therefore a large number of different backgrounds, personalities, motivations, and goals.

I’ve seen the series (which is my favorite anime) five times now, but I’ve only seen Rebellion twice. I’ve been meaning to rewatch it, but I’ve set a rule that I’ll only rewatch anime I’ve already seen if I can watch it raw or with Japanese subs. No English subs for rewatches. So the (admittedly probably small) effort it would take to get a copy with Japanese subs (my preference over raw for now) has stopped me from doing this so far. The series was conveniently on Netflix JP (before they blocked my VPN), but the movie wasn’t available unfortunately. I’ll get around to it eventually, but it hasn’t been a priority.

Side note: You should check out the anime Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. It’s not nearly as dark as Madoka Magica or 魔法少女育成計画, but it’s at least somewhat grey at times and magical girl versus magical girl battles are pretty common in the series. I particularly like the second season (Lyrical Nanoha A’s).

Lmao, well I’m sure there will be a character that I like then. Screen time might be a problem, but I mean baccano managed to handle a large cast very well, so I’d say I have an open mind.

Watch ittt. I actually haven’t seen it in japanese in a couple years so I can probably appreciate the language a lot more now. Only one way to find out.

ill check it out. I honestly dont watch anime much anymore, but im down to add it to the list.

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What’s this? :?


Classroom of the elite is the English title. ようこそ実力至上主義の教室へ is the Japanese one.

週刊プロレス No. 2126

This is the one with the Cyberfestival group shot on the cover! So I don’t need to tell @fallynleaf what’s in here (or perhaps it’s spoilers for later on!)

I’ve been a bit better recently about reading a column or two a day instead of gulping the whole thing down at once - which is good but means my memory is foggier with the earlier parts!

There’s an ad for 新日ちゃん in the front cover - the show’s on njpwworld and it’s pretty fun! Good listening practice, with the variety show propensity for subtitles popping up all over the place, which is helpful.

拳王 completely declining to talk about DDT and what happened at Cyberfestival is very funny. Instead he talks about Kongo membership and team onsen trips.

Taichi talks a bit about recovering from coronavirus - it doesn’t sound like it got as serious as whatever happens to Ibushi later on, but the similar sudden weariness sounds really rough. As the first (?) NJPW wrestler to recover from coronavirus and be back to wrestling, he hopes to inspire hope in people who might be in the same position.

Tanahashi takes questions from twitter and among them says that his diet trick is to just restrict high calorie stuff for the morning and console himself in the evening with “the reward’s in the morning” (which I actually kind of relate to). Then he hears Mutoh has a column in the magazine now and jokes that its title should be “Keiji Mutoh’s Hey My Knees Hurt” but it sounds like that column’s already been going for a while…

Giulia’s column is about signature moves - I should keep better track of which ones to look for in Stardom! It’s harder to do when they often don’t have commentary.

There’s a very fun feature about women wrestler’s pets. Heel Tora Natsuko having four rescue cats is a nice surprise, and everyone’s pets are very good. Haruka Umesaki’s food-based pet names are good, but I think top-prize in pet naming goes to Nanae Takahashi for チャーム☆チャンピオン (RIP).

The history column is interesting. From what I’ve heard, Giant Baba was famously well-respected when he was alive and running AJPW, and had a very strong bond with his wife Makoto Baba who took over when he died but ultimately wasn’t able to prevent the fractures that led to Noah’s formation. Anyway, in 1964 when he was already with Makoto but it wasn’t announced yet, a newspaper printed the false rumor that he was going to marry Rikidouzan’s daughter.
I’m not super clear on the details, but the columnist says that the false rumor was spread by hangers-on of the New Japan front office, I guess because if Baba were to marry Rikidouzan’s daughter (which wouldn’t be implausible as a company/power-consolidation motivated alliance marriage), he and AJPW would have taken on the debts of Rikidouzan’s crumbling promotion in the wake of his untimely death. So the perception that this might happen was good in some way for All Japan’s competitor New Japan, and bad for Baba business-wise and for obvious reasons if it had damaged his relationship with Makoto.
There apparently wasn’t any kind of retraction, the sports journalistic standards were just different in those days and the columnist speculates that if the newspaper had just come out and said “our source was the New Japan front office” it might have been a bigger scandal in Japanese wrestling history.
(Edit: I realized I’m definitely confused about the timeline in this story given when New Japan was founded - so I very well might have other details wrong also)

I thought Risa Sera’s interview would explain why she was photographed for it like, camping or in some kind of tent sauna or something, but it’s just about what upcoming matches she’s looking forward to. She says 「世羅りさを生かしているのは鈴木すずですよ」

I like the occasional ある地方大会の風景 features - a nice way to take in a little bit of vicarious travel… This time taking in a little taste of Sakaide, Kagawa for an Ice Ribbon show.

Ryo Mizunami (who seems really cool) talks a bunch about wrestling for AEW. She talks about the differences in American and Japanese wrestling styles and trying different things to see what got a reaction better. She also says she didn’t like the food and got homesick after a few months.

Tenryuu’s back for his column after being hospitalized, so that’s good. He talks about the IWGP title unification and compares it to how people were upset at first when the Triple Crown was unified but now no one has a problem with it, it just takes time for that pedigree to build up. He says a lot of fans are hoping Okada will win the vacant championship so a proven reliable champion can establish the belt properly, but he sees a lot of potential in Takagi and hopes for a result where fans are glad Takagi’s the one with the belt (which I’d say has certainly been born out).

Mutoh’s column is about his rivals and they talk about a whole lot of wrestlers associated with him throughout his career but mainly it sounds like while you might guess his main rivals to be the other two 三銃士 of New Japan, Chono and Hashimoto, nowadays he thinks of them more as allies while his rivals were more the 四天王 of All Japan, Misawa, Kobashi, Taue, and Kawada. Which makes sense - I suppose kayfabe fades over time doesn’t it.


Initially, I thought that I didn’t read enough to join this challenge. Then I realized that my number of books read has increased by 4 since joining the Advanced Book Club in the spring.

I’m going to try to make it to 10 by the end of the year. :sunglasses:


Decided to read another volume of imouto sae since I haven’t in awhile. Just finished the 9th volume and man, the bomb that has been in the making and foreshadowed for like 7 books now finally dropped on the last couple pages.

Still regretting buying like 20 books at once a few months ago, but at least those books are keeping it interesting.


Were they on sale at the time at least?

I bought so many volumes of 本好きの下剋上 earlier in the year, but that’s because they were half off!

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It wasn’t a sale, but it kinda was. Basically I got 50% points (Amazon credit) for buying the imouto sae books. So I think I spent like 80 dollars on them and then I got like 40 dollars worth of store credit or something like that. Then with the store credit I was like well now I gotta spend this right away because I can’t just be looking at it all day and then I bought gimai seikatsu and tonaritenshi with that. Plus some other stuff like oshimoyu maybe.


??? lmao

Of course, I had to check that it was an actual thing and it was.

EDIT: Man, they’re really trying to get you interested in that drama cd lol


I finished 龍が如く 維新! Final in-game tally said 60 hours, across a couple of months, covering the main story, almost all of the substories, and pretty heavy dabbling in the side activities including a chunk of mahjong.
I really enjoyed it! I love the series already, and the historical setting makes this an especially fascinating entry, and it’s also a major 積読 victory for me, since I bought this as a “well I assume I’ll never get to the level where I could actually play this, but it would be cool to have anyway” fully expecting it to 積 forever, but here I am! Played it no problem! It also satisfies another listed numerical goal for the year, so that’s nice too.

About the series as a whole

From the localized title “Yakuza” and how the games were originally pitched in the US, I originally assumed the series was like GTA, lurid crime-filled sandboxes. But they really aren’t anything like that at all. They’re more like elaborate twist-filled melodramas with over-the-top characters and set pieces and a zany and good-natured heart, that just happens to use the yakuza as a backdrop and aesthetic. And it turns out for me, that’s all I could really ask for out of a video game. Thanks to the series’ remarkable consistency, there’s always some wild story beat or intrigue to keep me moving forward, and there’s always some ridiculous side mission or minigame that’s just compelling enough to keep me happily not bored while bouncing from objective to objective, and the series engenders enough earnest good will that along the way I get truly invested in the characters and want to see things work out for them.

After watching a playthrough of 0 and then starting playing them myself with 3, I was quickly hooked, and not entirely coincidentally, this was right before I started learning to read Japanese. I’ve often said since that even if the only thing I got out of my studies was more of an excuse to appreciate the background design in these games, that would be enough to justify it. And it’s absolutely true, since a huge part of the attraction of these games is the sense of place they build and all the different things they show you along the way. Thanks to the series, I’ve seen fictionalized glimpses from cities pretty much literally all across Japan, from night life districts in Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama, to Sapporo and a matagi village in Hokkaido, to Naha in Okinawa, to Fukuoka, to Onomichi. And done everything from karaoke, to spear-fishing, to batting cages, to taking care of a baby, to employment certification exams, to zombie fighting, to Virtua Fighter, to sexy insect bikini themed rochambo trading card games for some reason, to stock car racing, to Shogi, to golf, to sexy ping pong, to Japanese folk dance, to managing a giant corporation and apologizing to investors. I even learned to play (and love) Mahjong!
Just having a reason to stop and smell the roses a bit more amid all of that is a plus that I immediately experienced on learning a little hiragana. Which makes it especially cool that nowadays I’m unlocking whole new frontiers in the series for myself.

To put it another way, the series is consistent in quality and vibe – all of those minigames are just the right level of compelling enough to sink a little bit of time into without deserving its full game, and you pretty much know the kinds of things to expect from the story going in (there’s probably gonna be twists and betrayals and you’ll wind up storming Millennium Tower at the end), but the specifics are constantly new and surprising, and I really love that dynamic.
It also helps that the specific tone, of over-the-top action + absurd goofiness + earnest heart is one I tend to especially like in things like superhero comics or professional wrestling – the series very much has a vibe of especially good pro wrestling, to the point I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NJPW wrestlers have cameos in multiple games in the series. I always kinda felt like the “Kiryu doesn’t kill, but he’s clearly killing all these dudes in the brawling sections” was missing the point – it’s not ludonarrative dissonance, but ludonarrative kayfabe, so to speak. The same way in wrestling the violence is a spectacle we can enjoy the drama of even knowing it’s fake, the violence of the gameplay in the series is fun and works as dramatic amplifying spectacle even though in the context of the story it isn’t “real” (in this one there’s a whooole lotta shooting and stabbing people who get up when the cutscene starts, which isn’t any less realistic than when the same thing happened after the fist fights in the other games when you really think about it).

It’s a series with a caveat or two though. Given the subject material, it’s really hard to know, especially when new to the series, how much you’re supposed to interpret the characters as like, actual yakuza members in real-world logic terms. There’s many story beats or minigames, especially when the series pretty frequently depicts the sex industry, that would, one would have to imagine, be exploitative or at least wildly skeezy in real life. But isn’t in the game only because all the characters are lion-hearted dragons with no tangible connection to anything that happens in the real-world. Before you trust that that’s what they are (and even after sometimes), it’s hard to know exactly what to make of a lot of that stuff.
There’s also pretty reliably one or two sour notes sprinkled in amid the fun stuff per-game, usually in the form of a trans caricature (this game, for example, has a minor substory among 60-70 others where you’re looking for a かまつき expecting, I think, a sickle-wielder, only to find out it really meant かまつき and they lead a gang of “おかま”). There’s also an occasion or two in the older games where it finds fat people a lot funnier than it should. Even in (most of) these sour moments, I think the general good heart of the series shines through (the heroes are never angry at trans people existing, for example, and are more than happy to let them do their thing, it’s just generally used uncomfortably as a zany element for laughs), and notably I think over time they’ve gotten much better in this area. But it’s the kind of thing that’s more of an obstacle the less bought in you are already.

All this is to say that after never really being the kind of person to click so thoroughly with a specific series, this is a fascinating one that I really love, especially 3, 5, and 7 – the last of which was a massive milestone for me with reading Japanese and consequently the most fun I’ve had with a video game pretty much period.

About 維新 specifically

It’s a 龍が如く game! So I liked it for all the reasons I just described. In terms of the usual 龍が如く stuff, like the brawling combat, pretty much the only comment I have is that the four fighting styles of firsts, sword, pistol, or sword AND pistol, are all pretty fun (but I’m still looking forward to the next RPG-style game in the series since when it’s at its most grindy the brawling can get more tiring for me).

The far-and-away most interesting element in this one though, is the historical fiction aspect.
It’s the 1860s in the Bakumatsu era, and you play (ostensibly) a person who really existed: Ryouma Sakamoto. For brief historical context, with Japan divided under the shogun into restricted, semi-independent 藩, things are beginning to reach a boiling point that will result in civil war between the shogunate forces and loyalist armies hoping to restore the emperor and depose the shogunate in order to modernize and strengthen Japan against foreign imperial forces, leading to the Meiji Restoration (hence the title of the game).

My (very limited) understanding is that the real Sakamoto played a crucial role in fomenting that eventual war from the loyalist side, particularly in uniting and coordinating Satsuma and Choshu domains in the lead-up to the war and restoration. Then he was assassinated at an inn before the restoration itself happened.

Throughout the game, I had a very interesting time navigating all of this context – not knowing exactly what happened historically just on basic details, not knowing what pervading interpretations of those details are or what political controversies different ones might entail, not knowing where the game was going to go or how closely it was going to stick to any of that, etc. To my American educated mind, it was initially tricky even just to break out of a “civil war in the 1860s → okay one side is super going to be in the right on this issue and the other side super isn’t going to be but it’s gonna be a wildly politically fraught topic to this day” mindset at all. (I’d still be super curious to see how for example, a Japanese high school textbook would talk about these events, because I’m not sure at all now. I had vaguely assumed Sakamoto would be lionized in those contexts Founding Father style but I really have no idea).

It pretty quickly becomes apparent though – you’re not really playing the historical Sakamoto. You’re playing Kazuma Kiryu, the protagonist of the series. He looks like Kiryu, he acts like Kiryu, he is Kiryu, he even gets framed for the murder of a parental figure like Kiryu and not, I’m assuming, like Sakamoto. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the real guy never infiltrated the shogunate-backed Shinsengumi in order to track down a mysterious ninja who killed his father. I also feel like he did a lot less dual-wielding swords and pistols. I ESPECIALLY don’t think Sakamoto ever single-handedly stormed Edo Castle with his friend Majima to personally present a proposal to Shogun Tokugawa after, naturally, dueling him in a sword fight.
There’s also an especially weird angle where like, as a side thing you get to live an idyllic pastoral life with Haruka, Kiryu’s daughter figure in the main games, (and it’s just Haruka - her name is just “Haruka” not anyone historical) something that due to circumstances you never quite gets to do very much as like, actual Kiryu. Which gives this strange vibe of like, living your own best life while wearing someone else’s skin.

I guess what I mean is that it’s less “historical fiction” and more a 龍が如く story run through a history soup. That means it’s got all the twists and turns you would expect from one of those stories, as well as all the “hey isn’t this institution kind of messed up in real life oh well this is just about the dragonlike ultramasculine individuals with the institution as a backdrop” baggage (The Shinsengumi here might as well just be a 龍が如く yakuza clan, it’s a cartoonish pile of over-the-top characters with mysterious back stories and secret plans that at the end of the day completely overshadows whether or not it was an oppressive organization or not).

After a while, I thought this was kind of too bad, since it honestly highlights how… simple… these games can be. In the sense that like – Kiryu is an apolitical cartoon character. He is defined and driven 100% solely by 1. being superlatively strong. 2. continually getting wrapped up in other people’s business and trying to do the right thing 3. “love.”
There is nothing else to him. (it’s actually one of the things I like about the change in 7 – Ichiban is a protagonist with a more believable grounding for pushing for social good that feels at all connected to the real world). And it seems like to me… this would be an incredibly critical and interesting time to have political stances! We know from historical fact the country is going to be going through massive changes – whether and how you think that should happen seems like it’s critical for navigating the spaces the game takes place in. But Kiryu isn’t really capable of verbalizing anything like that beyond war and suffering being bad, and his motivation throughout is really just resolving a mystery, not anything to do with enacting change. His closest attempt to that is to personally duel the Shogun and then like, just ask him to return authority to the emperor. Surely that’ll work.
Which seems a whole lot different from the real Sakamoto! For a chunk of the game I found myself really hungry for a more grounded historical fiction (or even textbook) take where I could immerse myself more in like, what the real people actually thought and discussed and fought over. It seems like it would be extremely fascinating! But you don’t really get that here, at least not in any kind of grounded way.

It turns out though – that ends up being kind of the point. At the end of the game, it turns out that a different character, assuming the Sakamoto name, does most of the political action leading up to war associated with the real historical Sakamoto, and thanks to a photograph, it’s underlined that he, not you, is supposed to be that Sakamoto we think of in historical detail terms, despite your character being the “real” Sakamoto.
The climax of the game ends up being Kiryu – the platitude-spouting, lionhearted and brave, more dragon than human, virtuous hero Sakamoto Vs. the arms-dealing, gotta-break-some-eggs-to-make-an-omelet, sometimes war is necessary to enact change Sakamoto. And after the fight (climactic sword duels in castles are definitely up there with ripping off your shirt to reveal your cool tattoo and then fist-fighting on the roof of a skyscraper), the two Sakamotos come to a mutual understanding, not resolving their differences but both ganging up on someone who’s planning to sell out Japan and make it an English colony, which we can ALL agree is a bad idea no matter what we think about the war and Sakamoto. It’s made clear that the Kiryu Sakamoto is the one that ends up in statues, while the political Sakamoto is the one that influences the new government going forward.
That’s honestly a much more interesting and thoughtful exploration of like, historicity and our interpretation of it than I was expecting from the game! Even if in the end I don’t think it like, takes a stance really, and it does devolve a bit heavily into generalities about love and patriotism. That core concept of the two Sakamotos is really interesting and a cool use of the strength of the series being two dudes fighting on a big tower.

Hard to tell if I know more or less about Japanese history after it though! I think the game heavily confused me when it comes to particular details of figures’ biographies and motivations, and I’m no clearer than when I started on like, what an average person’s views on these events and these people would be. BUT I think the game gave me a much much better understanding of like, the basic mechanics of the circumstances of the time. I would have had a very hard time verbalizing like, what’s actually different about a 藩 vs. a 県, what IS the Shinsengumi, what does a Restoration actually mean, etc. One small example is I had just sort of assumed Edo was the official capital in the Edo period, and so I was really confused about where exactly the game took place when the characters always just say 京. Turns out, I eventually figured out that 京 is what’s modern 京都, and it was still the official capital because the emperor was based there even though the heart of politics, etc. was administered out of Edo where the Shogunate was based. Edo became 東京 only once the Restoration happened and the emperor moved house there. In retrospect, I guess it makes sense from the names huh. Kinda funny that essentially there was a capital city just called “Capital” and then they moved to a different city and just renamed it “East Capital” and kept both names like that…

So I think at the very least, I’m more prepared than I was before to read more in-depth things about the time period. I’ll just try to not let like, “hey isn’t that the guy who looked and acted exactly like Majima” color my take on the real people who existed.

Some memorable substories (my favorites were the ones that take the setting into account): The one where you decode 土佐弁 for somebody, the logic puzzle mystery-solving one, the one where you meet Natsume Soseki and help him with title ideas, the one about the (apparently real) ええじゃないか movement, the one that’s basically a reading comprehension quiz, the sex (or “look after”) minigame that’s like space invaders and you’re shooting hearts is also sure something. Also the one where you fight a bear.

Oh yeah! Also all of the anachronistic setting things are very very funny to me – there’s karaoke somehow, there’s a minigame that’s basically just a batting cage except you’re slicing cannonballs with a sword, and you better believe there’s a Don Quixote, complete with an old-timey version of the jingle.

I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me game-wise – it’s been so long with this one that I’ll probably try to tackle a number of shorter and older games before going after anything large. Plus there’s a lot of cool stuff coming out the last couple weeks… Including Lost Judgment, the newest 龍が如く Studio game! I’m excited to get that… but unfortunately I’m definitely not in the mood for more 龍が如く after how much time I spent on this, so I’ll have to give it some time.