The Bakumatsu period in Japanese history marked the end of the Tokugawa shogunate that brought the country into the Meiji era, a time when Japan actively opened its shores to the West. But let’s face it: this is an anime review about a rock band set in a century before rock music was even a thing, and even this show based on an otome visual novel admits to being historically inaccurate! But that’s fine by me, because this show was decently funny, and I enjoyed it for what it is: a music promotion for a visual novel series, cleverly disguised as an historic parody!
Bakumatsu Rock brings us into the alternative Bakumatsu period, where apparently rock is a thing and all the fan girls want half-naked guys who can sing. And if that wasn’t enough of a spit in your Japanese history class, the stars of the show are the rebels of the time period: Ryoma Sakamoto, Shinsaku “Cindy” Takasugi, and Kogoro “Sensei” Katsura! These three men were political organizers who were instrumental in starting what we know of today as the Meiji era, but for now, they will be picking up instruments and jamming in a different kind of revolution.
Also, they will be joined by the Shinsengumi officers Soji Okita and Toshizo Hijikata, who would have hated them in real life. But they’re together here because why not?
This is definitely a show for the ladies, as it is all about these handsome devils. And in case you forgot that this is NOT historical whatsoever, they dress in really gaudy outfits, only to be stripped by the very energy within them whenever they play music. Talk about “rock out with your cock out!”
But I can’t help but wonder if the series also attempted to cater to the male audience. There are some nice-looking ladies that appear, and their personalities vary enough to be of some kind of interest, maybe?
One thing I thought was very creative about this series is how the story incorporates the revolution that brought the West to Japan (or Japan to the West, depending on how you look at it) alongside the influence of rock. The Bakumatsu period was very brief by comparison of the Edo period, but it was definitely the most exciting part of it. Japan used to be isolated from the rest of the world with only a few missionaries around to exchange cultural ideas. Japan didn’t really have political or economic exchanges with anyone during the Edo period until Matthew Perry of the United States showed up with his notorious black sails (SPOILER: he will show up in this series).
And yet, rock music (which started as an American phenomenon) is the pivotal medium to spark this revolution, not nationalist strife.
Rock began as early as the 1950s, almost 100 years after the Bakumatsu period. From what little I understand about the history of music, rock often deals with many themes, including angst, struggle, and political strife, the same feelings that can be ascribed to Sakamoto, Takasugi, and Katsura in the Bakumatsu period.
The historical accuracy is clearly not all there, but I think this series does a fantastic job at making history one’s own, and paralleling two different kinds of cultural revolution in a single, humorous series.
The guys of this series still remain rebels to the government, as is true for their characters in history. But their conflict isn’t so much about political oppression as it is about the freedom of expression, that is, through music. The government hired J-Pop groups like the Shinsengumi (yes, I said that) to entertain the public, and the fans drool all over them without a care in the world! Ryoma’s strife is that their music isn’t liberating to the soul, and hopes to someday change the face of Japanese culture with the power of rock, which we know today had also changed an era.
And if you thought this series was going to be all silly and musical and whatnot, think again!
But alternative history and shoujo parody aside, the one thing I enjoyed most about this series is the music. While there are plenty of fun J-pop sounding songs that are included, the best part of this series is rock. Technically pop music in general is influenced by rock, but real rock music has a band at the heart of it. And when you have a bunch of political rebels jamming with a guitar, bass, drums, and synthesizers, you know this series is going to be full of energy.
Rock in its very beginnings was not welcomed by the generation before it, as is the perception of every new form of music to this day. But to those who have committed themselves to a real rock band, their music is quite liberating to the soul. And if there’s anything that rock did in this series, as it did in real life, it brought people together. How often do we find ourselves singing along in unison to music that shakes our very core, in a way that sets us free?
The people of this series did just that. That is the power to change an era.
So if you don’t mind historical parodies and like rock music even more, watch Bakumatsu Rock. And I do hope that you will feel set free as well.