Title: Peace Maker (新撰組異聞PEACE MAKER)
Author: Nanae Chrono
Publisher: Square Enix
Published: 1999 – 2001
Length: 5 Volumes
Nanae Chrono’s Peace Maker was released at a time where Shinsengumi fiction was confined mostly to television shows and films – in fact, the same year saw the release of Nagisa Oshima’s Gohatto – despite them being a staple of Japanese history and culture. Rurouni Kenshin and Kaze Hikaru were really the only other established manga that had depicted the historical figures in any light. The decade since has seen the Shinsengumi reinvigorated, with numerous portrayals in Because Goodbyes Are Coming Soon, Sayonara Shinsengumi, Hakuouki and Gintama. However, no manga since Peace Maker has portrayed them so tremendously and to such a memorable degree.
The story follows Tetsunosuke, a determined young boy seeking to join the Shinsengumi – a sort of samurai police force active during the Bakumatsu period – in order to enact revenge against the man who killed his parents two years prior. Revenge stories often struggle to avoid the cliches, and some are definitely present in Peace Maker, but the plot remains thoroughly engrossing through its historical content. The setting is the late Edo period, the Meiji restoration is on the horizon, the final days of the samurai are near approaching and many major events that occur in the manga are events that have occurred in history; such as the Ikedaya incident.
The author follows a rough historical timeline and adapts her material along the way; it’s incredibly well written, planned and paced. The manga is only five volumes long and it goes without saying that certain liberties are taken, but nonetheless Nanae Chrono creates a world based partly in reality and portrays – with great detail – historical Japan. It’s a wonderful setting and her depiction of the Shinsengumi is ever captivating.
Tetsunosuke always attains full focus; he’s a determined young character – not so dissimilar to the Shounen archetypes, but with real heart and soul – and a befitting protagonist. His revenge story remains an engrossing, vivid and sensational read throughout and it’s fascinating to discover how Chrono has woven Tetsunosuke’s fictional story into a real-world timeline and setting.
Chrono’s art style is quite bold; the characters stand out firmly from the backgrounds and her action is ferocious and exciting to follow. Her backgrounds and settings help to bring out the world of Peace Maker and it becomes easy to imagine a general layout of the Shinsengumi headquarters and the surrounding areas, which is quite a feat for an artist in establishing the setting so strongly. The artist provides a fine amount of detail overall and the action is easy to follow through her attentive panel placement.
History books offer descriptions of the Shinsengumi – Okita is often said to be polite, honest and good-natured, though a strict teacher to his students, while Hijikata is said to be tall and handsome, but mean to all but his family and friends (later adopting the nickname the Demon Vice Commander of the Shinsengumi). Nanae Chrono generally follows these interpretations; portraying Okita as a sweet, good-natured pretty-boy, but deadly with the sword, and Hijikata as a tall, handsome fellow, with a mean demeanor. It’s yet another aspect the author gives a real historical edge. Chrono’s character designs are consistent and appealing, and the characters themselves are well written, diverse and absorbing, with great depth and a real sense of development and growth.
Peace Maker is a fascinating series that will not only entertain, but perhaps also pique your historical intrigue. The Shinsengumi are fascinating historical figures and brilliant manga subjects. Chrono presents a wonderfully invigorating historical setting, chock-full with action and drama, complemented by an alluring – and at times harsh – coming of age story, set to the background of revenge. The author continues to excel throughout, offering readers a thoroughly explosive climax. Peace Maker is an engrossing, all around marvellous manga and contains easily one of the most captivating portrayals of the Shinsengumi.