Image source: 大正ちっちゃいさん公式アカウント‏ on Twitter

The Taisho Era (1912-1926) of Japanese history was one of the most chaotic and politically volatile in recent memory. There are a few reasons for this, but they largely come down to pro-democratic movements amongst the people and a radically nationalist contingent among young military officers. There were many revolts, conspiracies, assassinations, and factional clashes. This time in Japanese history lends itself very well to weird stories of shadowy conspiracies and occult happenings. Taisho Mebiusline: Chicchai-san turns this seriousness on its head. 

Despite the important conflicts in Japanese society during this time, Taisho Mebiusline: Chicchai-san is not a serious take on its premise. This basic premise is that a young man of upper middle-class upbringing (perhaps of samurai scholar stock it seems), comes to Tokyo in order to continue his education. Education at this time period was a bit hit or miss, but Hiragi Kyouichirou is most likely a university student. He clearly has some martial training but is not a member of the military—and he has the ability to see (and confront) ghosts, the undead, etc. He stumbles upon the use of the undead by young officers of the military.

Oh, and every major character is super-deformed most of the time (but not always) for literally no explained or apparent reason. Although, the characters do discuss how odd it is and wonder why it has happened. 

Image source: 大正ちっちゃいさん公式アカウント‏ on Twitter

The series is based on a “boys love” (BL) mobile game, and as expected has very “pretty” male characters. I was interested in watching the series because of my graduate school focus on Japanese politics and government from 1825-1945, with specific interest in this time period, the Taisho Era. To understand why this period is such a fertile one for just about any crazy story one could come up with, it’s important to understand why the time period was so out of control.

The world in general during this time period was seeing the final throes of colonial and imperial ambition. Nationalist, fascist, communist, socialist, and democratic movements swept across Europe and the colonies. Many movements were themselves movements of movements and therefore combinations or formulations of these ideological and economic systems.

While the end of World War I led to the Roaring 20s in the United States of America, elsewhere the situation was different. Britain and France struggled to rebuild, punished Germany with crushing reparations, and feared the rise of the Soviet Union as it successfully constituted and reconstituted itself a couple of different times according to ever harsher understandings of authoritarian socialism. In European universities, especially the German universities of the ramshackle and unstable Weimar Republic, there were huge debates over the nature, form, structure, and essence of the State. These found their way to Japan.

Japan, able to prove itself a world player with its defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese war, had entered the 20th century with a bang—literally. At the start of Taisho, it controlled Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido (Ezo), the Northern Territories, Korea, and Taiwan (Formosa). Under Ito Hirobumi, it had sought out German ideas of statism and constitutionalism and tried to apply it to its own ancient imperial system in the creation of State Shinto and the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution.

By the time of the Meiji Emperor’s death, and the beginning of the Taisho Era, there was a profound argument about what the Imperial Diet was supposed to do with an inviolable God-Emperor. Taisho’s ascension to the throne, given his known mental issues (he was child-like and likely unable to truly understand anything about his duties, either under Shinto ritual or under Japanese German-inspired constitutionalism), gave rise to “Taisho Democracy” as party cabinet control of government and the desire for popular rights and representation led to what might have been a truly democratic Japan had he not died so early in his reign. 

Image source: 大正ちっちゃいさん公式アカウント‏ on Twitter

The Law Faculty of the Imperial University (now Tokyo University) and the other major universities were awash in debates between the likes of Uesugi Shinkichi and Hozumi Yatsuka on the one side, arguing for a theocratic approach to unlimited imperial power, and Minobe Tatsukichi on the other, arguing for a true representative parliamentary approach where the Emperor was merely a part of the executive branch (the Emperor-Organ-State theory). This debate would spill into private clubs and associations with politicians, students, and labor rights activists attempting to settle these debates on the street, often with violent results. 

And amongst Uesugi and Hozumi’s greatest allies were the young officers of the ascendant Japanese military. Unlike their commanders, who came of age during the time of the Meiji Restoration or just after, these young officers were highly nationalistic, overtly colonialist, and religiously fanatic. They believed that the divinity of the Emperor of Japan required them to assert a Pan-Asian and eventually global Japanese Empire. And they were not above violent revolts against the constitutional parliamentary government or killing their own military commanders in order to see this happen. When they didn’t organize actual revolts or revolutions (always in the name of the Emperor, in order to claim legitimacy), they started riots, attacked labor activists and members of the Communist Party of Japan (which would be banned after the 1925 Peace Preservation Law anyhow), or outright assassinated military and civilian leaders. 

Image source: 大正ちっちゃいさん公式アカウント‏ on Twitter

Okay, so, that was a really down and dirty history of the period, and it was vastly over-simplified. Any other scholar of this period can come up with a dozen ways to bring up exceptions to what I’ve stated or make legitimate claims I’ve used too broad a brush. However, the point was to understand why the idea of a student-samurai, random unaligned actors, and young officers of the Imperial Army would be dueling it out with undead monsters actually fits the time period relatively well. Considering the amount of plots of the young officers at the time, what we see from Captain Tatebayashi and his men (hatching some sort of conspiracy with the help of ghouls and ghosts), isn’t all that terribly surprising. 

In our modern conceptualization and the conceptualization of many in modern Japanese society, these young officers are clearly the villains. So it also stands to reason that Kyouichirou, our hero, would exist in opposition to them. With the clearly presentist view we have now, we are much more likely to side with the leftist socialist, communist, or progressive student activists (many, like Kyouichirou, who were not from Tokyo but came to the capital for university studies where they learned about the great German philosophers and political thinkers), than we are to to side with the nationalistic, colonialist, racist, and religious fanatical young officers. 

Still none of my educational background helps me understand what the chaos of “Taisho Democracy,” the conspiracies of the young officer corps, and undead monsters have to do with the characters periodically turning into super-deformed “chibi” versions of themselves. I guess we’ll find out?

Taisho Mebiusline: Chicchai-san is simulcast on Crunchyroll.

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