Anime Characters You Didn’t Know Were Based On Historical Figures
Anime creators like to draw inspiration from real historical events and people for their work. Some shows have accepted the challenge of adapting real events from Japanese and world history, while others choose to reimagine well-known characters in a setting unrelated to their real life.
Japanese animators are especially fond of carrying their own cultural icons into anime, resulting in myriad shows about Oda Nobunaga. Other industry favorites are less obvious, like the countless animated iterations of Joan of Arc. Many of these references are prominently displayed, with the creators’ intent to use history as inspiration very evident. Still, some creators obscure their historical inspirations pretty well, and fans might have no idea what their favorite anime characters’ true prototypes are.
ten Jiro Horikoshi wasn’t a figment of Miyazaki’s imagination (The Wind Rises)
Japan’s WWII fighter chief engineer turned protagonist in Hayao Miyazaki’s film The wind picks up. The heartfelt historical drama doesn’t accentuate its factual origins, and many of the film’s admirers don’t even know the story was based on real life.
The film’s protagonist, Jiro Horikoshi, was a skilled Japanese aircraft designer and manufacturer. Despite his affiliations with the Japanese military, he was strongly opposed to the idea of World War II. Miyazaki retained many elements of Horikoshi’s professional background in his film; however, most details about the protagonist’s personal life are completely fictional.
9 Ren Honjo was inspired by Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols (Nana)
The handsome guitarist Ren Honjo from the classic shojo series granny shares many similarities with its actual prototype. Much like Sex Pistol bassist Sid Vicious, Ren has a dangerous drug addiction that jeopardizes his relationships and his career. Ren and Sid Vicious even share visual similarities, both being tall and lanky with attractive facial features.
The most prominent aesthetic similarity between the two is the locker Ren wears on his neck. The silver padlock with an R letter on it looks exactly like the one the Sex Pistol bassist had. In the show, Nana Osaki is the only person who has the key to Ren’s necklace.
8 Ash Lynx’s character design was based on River Phoenix (Banana Fish)
The author of Banana fish, Akimi Yoshida, has confirmed that Ash Lynx was primarily inspired by beloved American actor and musician River Phoenix. The similarities in appearance between Ash and his real-life counterpart are striking, as well as their tragic backstories.
Like River Phoenix, Ash was abused at a young age and struggled to survive and earn money during his teenage years. River Phoenix’s passing in 1993 came as a shock to many, including Akimi Yoshida, as she even considered changing her manga’s ending. Nevertheless, the author decided that the only respectable way to end Ash’s story would be to fulfill his original plan. One year later, Banana Fish ended with the death of Ash Lynx.
7 Eva Silver is the reimagining of Eva Braun, partner of Adolf Hitler (Seikon No Qwaser)
Seikon no Qwaser is a bizarre show in so many ways, from its puzzling supernatural plot to its shocking use of fanservice. The series experiments a lot with different historical elements and themes, with many of its characters being of Slavic origin.
The most unorthodox historical figure featured in Seikon no Qwaser is Eva Silver. The show confirms her true identity of being Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s real-life lover. However, Eva Silver’s personality seems to bear no resemblance to her historical inspiration, and even their physical similarities are rather unnoticeable.
6 Katsushika Hokusai’s daughter was portrayed authentically in an animated film (Miss Hokusai)
The iconic artist behind the legendary Great Wave off Kanagawa painting, Katsushika Hokusai, is internationally renowned. However, the 2015 animated film Miss Hokusai presents the famous artist from an unorthodox point of view. The story takes place from the point of view of Hokusai’s daughter, O-Ei, who was herself a real painter.
The protagonist has lived her whole life in the shadow of her father. His talent and skills have gone unrecognized. While the anime takes some creative liberties in telling O-Ei’s story, it is remarkably realistic in its depiction of the story, painting a melancholy picture of Miss Hokusai’s tragic life.
5 Kawakami Gensai was the historical prototype of Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin)
The Meiji era was the era of samurai in Japanese history, which is why it is seen so often in anime and manga. The thrilling romantic adventures of Himura Kenshin, a brilliant former assassin who swore never to kill again, were not simply inspired by the historical setting.
At Rurouni Kenshin The protagonist was actually based on an infamous Japanese samurai Kawakami Gensai, one of the most skilled assassins of the Bakumatsu period. Gensai’s swordsmanship and unorthodox life story have made the samurai an inspiration for several anime characters.
4 The evil version of Isaac Newton is Emperor Dornkirk (Visions of Escaflowne)
The ultimate fantasy romance anime antagonist Visions of Escaflowne hails from Earth, where he was known as the scientist behind the discovery of gravity, Isaac Newton.
After his death, the famous scientist found himself on Gaea. Newton established an industrial society, the Zaibach Empire, on his barbarian land. The fictional version of Newton is not faithful to his real-life counterpart and takes almost nothing from the English physicist except his appearance and background. Nonetheless, Emperor Dornkirk is a fascinating example of historical references present in the anime.
3 A famous English novelist meets Ciel and Sebastian (Black Butler)
Black Butler: Book of Murder OVA follows an intriguing murder mystery plot and features an unrecognized young author named Arthur as one of its characters. The humble but passionate writer is none other than Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes novels.
The anime depicts him as an insecure struggling gentleman with a considerate, if unassertive, personality. Arthur’s professional tribulations actually resemble the journey of his historical counterpart, as the real Arthur Conan Doyle also struggled to get his writing career off the ground.
2 Char Aznable shares similarities with a historical ace pilot (Mobile Suit Gundam)
The historical origins of Gundam franchise are not as apparent as in other anime. Nevertheless, the characters of the cult series of classic mechas had real historical figures as the basis of their personality. For example, the legendary villain of GundamChar Aznable, was created with German WW1 soldier Manfred von Richthofen in mind.
Von Richthofen was a highly trained Air Force pilot who shared a similar nickname with Char Aznable. The historical “Red Baron” became the iconic “Red Comet” in the anime.
1 The character of Gintama has completely reinvented its historical counterparts (Gintama)
While many animated series draw inspiration from the past to write their characters, the author of Gintama was one of the few to completely reinvent its historical references. The real people who inspired Hideaki Sorachi have been exaggerated to the point that even a history buff would struggle to recognize them.
The satirical gag anime plays with its sci-fi premise set in Edo-period Japan by naming its cast after real samurai and historical politicians. However, in the Gintama universe, famed Vice Commander Shinsengumi Hijikata Toshizo turns into a mayonnaise maniac, and brave nobleman Saigo Takamori becomes an overly emotional transvestite.
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