FEATURE: Head Space – “Drifters” The Counterfactual Character Guide Pt. 1

Alongside the gratuitous displays of violence and pure attitude, one of the most engaging aspects of following Drifters has been discovering the unique ways Hirano has adjusted, massaged, or outright ignored historical fact to fit into the narrative. Let’s face it, Hirano definitely has a “type” when it comes to characterization and there are precious few prominent historical figures that could be said to fit into his  mold. Fortunately, history is written by people, who don’t have the best reputation for honesty. Some of the biggest surprises aren’t the narrative moves Hirano has made to duck the odd inconvenient fact, but details which didn’t require any adjusting at all.

 

Welcome to part 1 of our guide to the characters of Drifters and their historical counterparts, where I’ll be perusing their backstories with an amount of detail that will doubtlessly frustrate honest historians to see if Hirano’s portrayals hold true. We’ll also focus specifically on the events surrounding each of their “supposed” deaths for opportunities Murasaki may have used to spirit them away. First up will be the Drifters, then part 2 will focus on the Ends.

 

Shimazu Toyohisa (1570-1600) Aged 30

A warrior of the Shimazu clan who fought in the historic battle of Sekigahara. The outcome of this battle is widely considered to be the victory which led to the consolidation of the Tokugawa shogunate. Unfortunately, the Shimazu were fighting under Toyotomi Hideyori against Tokugawa. Shimazu led a short and violent life as a soldier, giving us very little insight into the accuracy of Hirano’s portrayal. Olminu’s observation about Shimazu’s disturbing obsession with head collecting is pretty spot on and would have been considered extreme during that period. Shimazu is the only character in Drifters lacking historical prominence sufficient to score some sort of lasting artistic recreation, which might help explain his need to collect accolades as well as the unsatisfying lack of an interesting wood-cut or statue above.

 

It’s widely accepted that Shimazu was killed in the battle of Sekigahara, fending off a pursuing force and facilitating the retreat of his uncle, Shimazu Yoshihiro. Reports of his death are inconclusive, however, some stating he died in the field and others later on from his wounds. Can’t really blame them for making an assumption if it played out like Hirano depicted. The tomb of Toyohisa was constructed on the Odu Slope, where he is believed to have perished.

 
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Nasu no Yoichi (~1169-~1189) Aged 19

Nasu no Yoichi is an individual of much debated historicity, appearing as a prominent character in The Tale of the Heike during the Genpei War, specifically one of the most popular passages during the battle of Yashima. Yoichi is portrayed as a talented young archer (so far so good) fighting with the Minamoto who is ordered to respond to an open challenge, to shoot the a fan held by a woman standing upon one of the opposing army’s ships. Yoichi initially objects, believing the opportunity should be given to someone of greater stature, but is ordered to fire. He rides his horse out into the water and, of course, scores a direct hit with a single arrow, causing both sides to applaud his shot. The character in the passage seems decidedly humble, essentially unlike the type of person to ruin a quiver of arrows to show off in the face of some talented beginners. The discrepancy is one of the few directly addressed by Hirano, with Nobunaga commenting that Yoichi is nothing like the stories claim.

 

After that (also before it) things get a bit more nebulous. Yoichi was indeed thought to be the 11th son of his family, the kanji of his name translating roughly to “10 plus to an extra one”. It seems there is a debate about whether he even even existed at all. Despite supposedly dying at such a young age, information about his death is hard to come by, which may explain why Yoichi’s moments up to his encounter with Murasaki is the only one not discussed among the main trio of the story.

 

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Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) Aged 47

A warlord during the Sengoku period and one of the most divisive figures in Japanese history. Nobunaga came very near to unifying Japan under his rulership before his untimely death. He was known as a brilliant military strategist, primarily for his use of musket brigades, as well as his political and business acumen. Depending upon who you ask he was either a great unifier or a bloodthirsty tyrant. In war he was certainly unscrupulous but there are no accounts of unusual behavior outside of some childhood eccentricities that would explain Hirano’s gleefully bloodthirsty portrayal. He also never lost an eye, although the patch may just be a fashion statement.

 

Nobunaga purportedly committed seppuku while trapped in the burning Hanno-ji temple during a coup by his vassal Mitsuhide Akechi. Historical accounts are unclear about the precise nature of his death, however, making a disappearance and cover up in the realm of possibility. Either way, Ranmaru Mori must have had some very confused last moments.

 
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Abe no Seimei (~921-1005) Age 84

An onmyōji and advisor to the emperor during the Heian period of Japanese history. Abe no Seimei was a respected mystic who was known for the accuracy of his astrological predictions. Although his life and admirable work as an advisor are well-recorded, there are a great deal of embellishments and legends surrounding him, including his mother being a Kitsune, frequent mystical duels with rival Ashiya Doman, and battles with oni. Hirano seems to prefer to more fantastical version of events as Abe’s magic is very real in Drifters. It’s worth noting that Abe has sought out other Drifters to fight The Black King, inquired directly about their chances, and his organizational structure was directly criticized by Nobunaga. Having lived during a peaceful period of Japanese history, it makes sense he would have no idea how to fight a war.

 

Abe definitely has the most uniquely incongruous appearance among the Drifters. He leads a group of mages called the Octobrists (which is the name of a political party in Russia from the early 1900s) that wear elaborate uniforms from no time period or location in particular. Abe’s armband says “October” in Kanji with a Star of David, whereas Abe’s mon was a pentagram, which is all very confusing. Additionally, Abe lived to the ripe old age of 84 before dying of natural causes, which doesn’t quite line up with his youthful appearance. His longevity was chalked up to magic back in the day, so Drifters probably has a similar explanation.


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Hannibal Barca (247-181 BC) Aged 66

A Carthaginian general popularly considered to be one of the greatest military strategists in history. Unfortunately for him, his enemy was the Roman Empire. Under Hannibal’s command, Carthage won several notable battles during the Second Punic Wars and became the terror of Rome. The phrase “Hannibal is at the gates” became an idiom for disaster among Roman Senators. Eventually Rome’s vastly superior resources and the Fabian strategy of war by attrition, followed by Scipio’s victory at Zama, finally broke Carthage. After his defeat, Hannibal tried his hand at politics with no small amount of success, but was eventually exiled and pursued by the Romans until he was finally betrayed to them by Bithynia.

 

Before he could be turned over to the Romans, Hannibal committed suicide by ingesting poison. Given his reputation, it’s likely they took great pains to confirm his death, which would make slipping away to another dimension difficult. In his final years, Hannibal commanded some smaller militaries, worked as a statesman, and delivered quotes history students still smirk at after two millennia, making it unlikely he suffered from the mild state of senility depicted in Drifters by the time of his death. He also never lost an eye.


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Scipio Africanus (236-183 BC) Aged 53

Like Hannibal, Scipio Africanus is considered among the greatest military strategists in history. He was undefeated as a commanding officer and had the crowning achievement of defeating Hannibal at the battle of Zama and breaking the back of Carthage. Scipio surprised both nations by offering merciful terms for Carthage’s surrender. Despite his status as a hero among the populace, he had a tumultuous career as a statesman, many political enemies, and an unflattering but accurate reputation as a Grecophile. Drifters specific reference to Scipio being beardless and the style of his toga were both minor cultural oddities that have been accurately carried over.

 

Scipio may be one of Hirano’s most thoughtful portrayals among the Drifters. His character’s admiration for Hannibal and moderate personality (especially by Hirano’s standards) is evidenced by his life as a statesmen. His tumultuous relationship with Rome and generosity toward Hannibal may indicate that he felt more in common with the Carthaginian than his own people. Scipio died in his home some years after his retirement from politics from what may have either been natural causes or suicide. Details are sparse about any formal funeral or the location of his tomb, which gives Murasaki a lot of wiggle room to have snuck Scipio out. It’s also possible Hirano doesn’t take Scipio very seriously as a military strategist, given that he retains both of his eyes in Drifters.

 
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Butch Cassidy (1866-1908) Age 42 and The Sundance Kid (1867-1908) Age 40

Born Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh respectively, the pair were founding members of The Wild Bunch, a notorious gang of American outlaws considered to be some of the most successful train robbers of all time. Their practice of splitting up after robberies and keeping a network of hideouts and contacts among various ranches made them so difficult to catch that the Union Pacific Railroad considered negotiating for their amnesty if they ceased their activity. The Wild Bunch robbed another train instead.

 

Although no strangers to killing, The Wild Bunch wasn’t known as a particularly murderous gang, with Butch and Sundance being potentially two of the least violent members. Like many outlaws, they prefered to use intimidation to get what they wanted. Essentially, their introductory rampage might not be entirely representative of their usual techniques, although The Wild Bunch was never up against an army of orcs. The gang also wasn’t known to have ever come into possession of a gatling gun either.

 

Butch and Sundance’s deaths are the subject of great controversy, making them excellent candidates as Drifters. After blowing their chance at amnesty, the two fled from the Pinkertons to various parts of South America, eventually ending up in Bolivia. Around that period, two bandits died in a shootout with the military after stealing from a local mining company. They are believed to be Butch and Sundance, but this has yet to be confirmed.

 
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Naoshi Kanno (1921-1945) Aged 23

A Japanese fighter pilot during World War II. He flew a Shiden Kai 21 fighter, was squadron commander of the 343rd Air Group, and was nicknamed “Bulldog” and “Kanno the destroyer”. The propagandist nature of record keeping during that period makes it difficult to get accurate information about his service, but he was considered an ace. Kanno had a reputation for his rebellious attitude, which is vague enough that it might describe the sort of disposition which involves shouting angrily at dragons and seeking out fist fights with armed pig men.

 

His escape from death is actually one of the most probable of the Drifters. During a mission to intercept American B-24 bombers, a shell exploded in one of his wing-mounted guns and forced him to return to base, but Kanno never made it. His remains were never found. When Kanno first appears, his fighter looks damaged but is still capable of flight, so it would have just been a matter of picking him up en route for Murasaki.

 
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Count of St. Germain (???-1784) Aged either ~93 or >300

One of history’s greatest oddities, a Renaissance man and, perhaps, the first ever recorded chuunibyou. The Count of St. Germain was an adventurer, philosopher, composer, and musician who appeared out of nowhere under an assumed name to created a splash in the English and French courts, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Voltaire, Casanova, and Madame de Pompadour. Despite a popular disbelief of many of his outlandish stories, he was a sought after guest, entertainer, and diplomat. A classic jakigan-kei, he also claimed to be a 300 year old alchemist who has discovered, among other things, the fountain of youth and a technique to merge gems together into larger stones.

 

Just about any sort of eccentric behavior wouldn’t have seemed out of place for such a colorful character, but crossdressing was one of the rare few in which we have no record of him indulging. His reputation as both a scholar and politician make him a plausible ruler, especially since purchasing an entire nation seems like just the sort of story he would love to tell over dinner. Being snatched away at his moment of death might actually be the least plausible part of his story as, like Abe no Seimei, the Count passed away from old age and was given an elaborate and well-recorded funeral.


What do you think of Hirano’s portrayals of these figures? Any other events, either in the Drifters or the history books, that stands out to you? Let us know in the comments below!

Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll, author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight, and streams on Crunchyroll’s official Twitch channel. You can follow him on Twitter at @PeterFobian.