Pachinko is a colorful, noisy diversion where one hurls tiny metal balls hoping they randomly land and provide you a reward. Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is best described the same way — colorful, noisy, providing some diversion but ultimately throws things around hoping the viewer gets something out of it. Perhaps this is an artifact of how it came to be. Eleven years ago, CR Ginroku Gijinden Roman debuted in pachinko halls across Japan featuring character designs by the legendary Monkey Punch, creator of the equally legendary Lupin III franchise. Someone, somewhere in the TMS offices decided “We should make a TV anime around these designs!”
This brings us to ten years ago when Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman premiered 2013 January 7 on TV Tokyo. Running for 12 episodes, the series revolved around Manjiro. By day, Manjiro roams about his town in the Bakumatsu era offering his help in any task you might have. Manjiro undertakes an even more noble task at night. Under the guise of the second generation Nezumi Kozo, Manjiro steals from the rich to return what they have plundered to the poor, an occupation he refers to as being a “Get Backer”. Where Lupin III had his gadgets, Manjiro has… A rather futuristic power suit capable of leveling entire buildings with a single jet powered assisted punch. Unfortunately, it does not completely work and has Ultraman syndrome, the inability to work beyond a set time limit.
This bright shiny sci-fi element is quickly discarded down the chute not to be seen often. Why? No time to explain! The series can fire off more random items on the screen. Does Manjiro need a gang? You bet he does! His sister Koharu makes chopsticks, has a tiny dog, batters Manjiro over his excessive gambling, but is really good at espionage. The local Shinto priestess is an expert archer with a secret past. The diminutive old lecher is a master inventor helping to maintain the power suit and other plot devices. Rounding out the gang is of all things a British doctor harvesting corpses in his spare time to create zombies.
What about adversaries? Intrigue? Enter Magoichi, a mysterious new lawman with his own secret past and agenda. Okuni, our Fujiko stand-in, weaving her own plans with Admiral Perry and sharing a mysterious connection with Manjiro. And what is Admiral Perry’s plan? Much like the chaos of flying pachinko balls, these elements result in a chaotic series run desperately trying to figure out if it is a comedy, drama, or something in between.
What frustrates me is the story had many elements that could have led to a much more engaging story. We’ll have to get into spoilers, but this is a ten-year-old show. The statute of limitations for spoilers has expired, but you have been suitably warned.
Part of Manjiro’s hero journey revolves around Okuni. She is the object of his desire, the most beautiful courtesan in the city. She is also his deadly, Catwoman-esque disguised foe through the series, a foe seemingly holding a personal grudge. Near the end, we learn Okuni was once a child Manjiro promised to protect while helping her escape her abusive life in the red light district. A savage beat down by Okuni’s handlers left that promise broken, when Manjiro let go of her to protect his own life. This alone would have made a fascinating character study. Set aside the random comedy and sci-fi elements and focus on a personal tale of revenge and regret.
Will you be entertained by this cacophony of comedy, action, and characters? Eh… Possibly. I’ve seen worse, and I’ve certainly seen better. Visually, it has held up for its age, but it does not seem to have a home on any streaming platform. If you manage to stumble across it, it isn’t a complete waste of time to watch, but it certainly isn’t a treasure worth seeking.