5 Reason To Read: Date Masamune

#1 The life story of a hero

As the title implies, this manga is a story about the Japanese samurai ruler Date Masamune, chronicling his rise to power. It’s an interesting work that sidelines the more well-known figures like Takeda Shingen, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Oda Nobunaga, to instead focus on a lord that rose from obscurity and isn’t as often discussed nowadays.

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Date Masamune was truly an interesting person and this manga allows you to see how his worldviews came to be formed, how he challenged mighty enemies, dealt with plots, and survived the direst of circumstances. He was an eccentric, who sympathized with Christians in a land that persecuted them, wished to trade and interact with foreign powers from within an isolated land, and who came to be feared for many different reasons. Getting to read about all that in a manga was an absolute delight.

#2 Spanning all of it

And what makes it that much more interesting is that it doesn’t focus on just a small portion of his life either. Most stories around this period tend to focus on the unification of Japan or the war between Tokugawa and Osaka, but while those do happen in the manga, they are but portions of a greater legend.

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Date Masamune actually begins with the strategic marriage that led to Date’s eventual birth and then follows him all the way to the grave. The scope of the story is amazing, as you really see the times change as Date ages and changes himself accordingly. Allies, enemies, and friends pass away while a new generation slowly creeps in to replace our hero as he himself grows old and unfit for battle. It’s a tale on such a vast scale and, with 63 chapters, it gets plenty of room to develop.

#3 Meeting the other big players

Fans of games like Samurai WarriorsWarriors Orochi, and Sengoku Basara will no doubt know of all the great heroes of this time. The manga makes sure to include their appearances, whether it relates to Date’s own conquests or merely acts as nods to events elsewhere, you can be sure to get updates on the likes of Sanada Yukimura, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and many others.

yukimura

What makes this work in a way that none of the games above do is that the manga stays true to the passage of time. Some of these great people were simply generations ahead of Date and die off without his involvement or simply cease to be a factor early into the story, whereas champions like Sanada Yukimura only appear towards the end because they were born late. And it’s because of these age differences that the dynamics between these famous characters and Date is made all the more interesting.

Having Date try to wait out the death of feared opponents while placating them or having to deal with the ambitions of young upstarts in his latter days is much more interesting than pretending he and Ieyasu were joyfully besieging Osaka Castle together in the spring of their youth; looking at you there, Sengoku Musou.

#4 Foreign influences

The period the story takes place in happens around a time where Japan became tied up in the affairs of nations like Spain, Portugal, England, and The Netherlands. These foreigners interested Date Masamune a lot and how he deals with them is one of the longer and more intriguing threads to the story.

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Are Christian missionaries innocent spreaders of culture and charity or are they liabilities that divide the nation with their strange God. Should Japan learn technologies from the foreigners and buy their arms, or would doing so tarnish the land’s culture and leave them open for manipulation? There is a lot of intrigue relating to the foreigners, the government’s policies regarding them, and how Date plays in on it. Again, an interesting bit of Japanese history that is severely ignored or often simplified, at least in this medium.

#5 The obsessive level of detail

And finally, a big element I enjoyed was just how detailed the story was. Volumes included elaborate family trees to help keep an overview of all the familial ties and alliances, maps of the time to help understand the division of the land, and the manga just loves to namedrop places and minor characters, many of which are relevant for maybe just a few pages. You are going to need those maps, family trees, and timelines.

family tree

While it can be excessive, it did get me to Google some details and further look into story developments and characters that caught my attention. I learned a fair bit of history thanks to this manga and will probably be looking up more of it. Furthermore, the same author also has a manga about Takeda Shingen, which I haven’t read yet, but has the potential to elaborate on this part of history even more. I look forward to it.

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