Set during the troubled times between the arrival of Admiral Perry in 1853 and the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Peacemaker
(2003) often feels like a prequel to Rurouni Kenshin
, but from the politically opposite side. Tetsunosuke "Tetsu" Ichimura initially seems like an anime stereotype: the irrepressible half-pint who wins out through sheer determination. At 15, Tetsu is stubborn and impetuous, but he's wrestling with personal demons. When his older brother Tatsu becomes a bookkeeper for the Shinsengumi
, a group of samurai the Shogun organized to protect the capital, Tetsu decides to join the quasi-military corps. His resolute spirit charms fey swordsman Souji Okita, who coaxes iron-willed vice-commander Hijikata into accepting the boy as a page. Tetsu becomes the unofficial mascot of the goofy but deadly ronin
of the Shinsengumi
: they call him "Puppy Boy," tease him about being cute, and even speculate that Hijitaka keeps him around for sexual favors. As the series progresses and the conflict with the anti-Shogun forces nears, Tetsu must decide whether to avenge his parents, who were murdered by Imperialist agents, or become a "Peacemaker," as his father desired. The spectacularly choreographed battle scenes show just how grueling a trial Tetsu faces.
Many of the characters and incidents in Peacemaker are based in fact, although the filmmakers take considerable liberties and the story rambles. But it's the interaction of the characters that gives the series its appeal: Even the minor samurai feel like credible individuals. Writer Hiroshi Yamaguchi and director Tomohiro Hirata refuse to offer facile solutions to Tetsu's inner conflict, which gives Peacemaker a satisfying depth. The boxed set lacks the many extras--both on video and in print--that were included with the individual discs. (Rated 15 and older: violence, alcohol and tobacco use, nudity, risqué humor) --Charles Solomon