Now covering the second new character introduced in Kyoto Winds, the historically widely popular Ryouma Sakamoto. Those who are interested in Japanese must’ve heard his name frequently mentioned. Ryouma had appeared in many media adaptations due to his popularity, so it’s not weird that Otomate decided to include him in Hakuoki, especially since his death gave a big impact to the Shinsengumi.
He died in all routes other than his own, so you must play his route if you want to see him.
There will be HEAVY SPOILERS! Read at your own risk, don’t say I haven’t warned you!
Other than Kazama, Ryouma was the only character who was not a part of or allied with the Shinsengumi. He’s an outwardly happy-go-lucky person like he has no worries, giving people the impression that he’s a friendly person. However, despite his carefree attitude, his body gestures showed that he never let his guard down, which means he’s not someone to be underestimated. Ryouma was more than he let himself show.
Ryouma has many people coming after him due to his controversial approach for the betterment of Japan’s future. He dreamt of an independent Japan without feudalism or the caste system, inspired by the democratic principles and studied democratic governance, particularly the United States Congress and British Parliament, as a model for the governance of Japan.
To make this dream come true, Ryouma did what could be seen as a shady business. Not only did he purchase western weapons and sell them to various sides, but he also negotiated the alliance between Satsuma and Choshu and united them against the Shogunate, effectively making him an adversary of the Shinsengumi. In the game, most people who were considered enemies of the Shinsengumi were pretty much bad guys in other routes. Ryouma was different. Though his actions were questionable, he’s by no means a bad person.
Ryouma was born as a country samurai. In Tosa, there were two classes of samurai: joshi (high-ranking retainers) and kashi (low-ranking samurai). In Tosa, the low-ranking samurais were descendants of the enemies of Tokugawa during the Battle of Sekigahara. As punishment for what their ancestors did, they were given unfair treatment such not allowed to use parasol on hot days, and the sort. Growing up under such prejudice, Ryouma has every right to resent the social caste of Japan under the Shogunate.
Ryouma has a point in this. Just because his ancestors who he never even met did stuff that was over two hundred and sixty years ago, does that mean he and the other descendants deserved to be treated like they’re nothing? Absolutely NOT. Being punished for something they didn’t even do, they haven’t even born yet at that time, it was a stupid rule like Ryouma said. The abduction of his family by the high-ranking officials of the domain furthered reinforcing his belief. It’s not wrong for Ryouma wanting to change the social system in Japan if it means ending such meaningless suffering.
This is a problem that unfortunately, still happens in the present day Japan (not as bad as before but still exists). Japanese values tradition and tends to preserve those traditions, which included the negative aspects that they passed down to the future generation. Just like how the Shogunate gave special privilege to high-ranking people that most were only people who took it for granted, many Japanese in workplace and the sort discriminate people they considered ‘beneath’ them. Tradition is important, but is it really worth it if that tradition causes so much injustice? Ryouma’s dream itself is something that common people would dream of: a world without the weak being abused, no more people taking advantage of the starving or the destitute. He just wants to create a fair and just world. There’s no point in keeping a tradition that only hurts people.
Ryouma went to Kyoto to gather information about the Shinsengumi. The Shinsengumi were certainly not pleased with Ryouma’s presence due to his connection to the opposing forces. To add more irritation to the Shinsengumi’s side, Ryouma was a complete opposite from them. He has a self-centered personality that he criticized the Shinsengumi’s way of upholding honor and loyalty. Ryouma believed that propriety and loyalty are just made-up words to get lower-class citizens to kiss the higher-ups, which indirectly insult the Shinsengumi’s pride. He even commented on the Shinsengumi’s job as petty squabble against ronins, though not as far as believing that all the sacrifices they made everyday was all for nothing.
Ryouma admitted himself that he is no saint, and accepted that his tendencies to change sides as he pleases and sold weapons were akin to a devil. Ryouma did not apologize for any of his actions nor did he let the mistakes and choices of others affect him in a negative way. This would make Ryouma appear to be selfish and uncaring. In reality, he was far from being what the rumours painted him. Selfish, yeah, but not to the point of uncaring.
Chizuru, having spent time with Ryouma, could see that he was a good person at heart even though they’re technically on opposing sides. Ryouma simply saw the bigger picture. With the advance of the foreign country’s invasion, Japan must unite and modernize to fight against foreigners. It’s not the time for the people to fight against each other. That’s why compared to the invasion of foreigners, Ryouma considered the fight between the Shogunate and Satsuma-Choshu as a small conflict.
For the Shinsengumi fans, you may find his behaviour annoying since it’s like spitting on the Shinsengumi’s efforts. At first, I was also angry at what Ryouma said. But after thinking objectively, he’s not exactly wrong in some of the things he said. I even found myself agreeing with some of his points. For all of his tendency to change sides whenever it suits him, Ryouma was similar in one thing with the Shinsengumi: he sticks up for what he believes in, protecting what matters most to him, even if the consequences of protecting those things can rub him and others the wrong way.
When he first appeared, my first impression of Ryouma was that he was a womanizer. Scratch that, the moment I saw his design, I immediately thought so. Ryouma recognized Chizuru as a girl and immediately struck a conversation with her that he even offered his help to look for her father. This was not done without ulterior motives. He approached her so he could extract information about the Shinsengumi from her. Having experience with smooth-talking many women in the red-light district, it’s no surprise he chose Chizuru. He used his charm and allure to coax Chizuru into a sense of security and to spill everything to him.
What Ryouma didn’t expect, however, Chizuru was immune to his charm. Yes, there were times she got drawn into his pace, but Chizuru was always able to give some distance between them before they go further and not spill any crucial information about the Shinsengumi. Despite having heard many rumors about him and how the Shinsengumi captains dislike him that they warned Chizuru to be careful, Chizuru personally liked Ryouma as a person. She found his company refreshing since he was the first person outside the Shinsengumi that she got acquainted with (not counting Sen and Kimigiku). This placed Chizuru in a dilemma as the Shinsengumi and Ryouma were more or less on opposing sides, and she didn’t want to see people she cares for fight against each other.
Ryouma felt perfectly comfortable when he’s around Chizuru. Whenever he talked, Chizuru always listened. When they have different opinions, Chizuru accepted his opinion and never forced her own opinion to him no matter how much she disagree. She’ll speak up if she feels that he’s slandering the Shinsengumi, but never to the point of forcing him to understand. People with differing opinions and beliefs tend to argue and at worst trying to force one another to get their point. This was not the case with Chizuru. She instead wanted to understand more about Ryouma even if she didn’t agree with him. As such, Ryouma found that he can be his true self whenever he’s with her. The more he spent time with Chizuru, her honesty attracted Ryouma to her despite the ten years difference in their age and he eventually fell for her.
At this point, I don’t really care about the age differences anymore since all the guys look so young and cool that I’m all for it (maybe except Sanan). That, and I also have an uncle and aunt with the same age difference. I actually quite like a flirty character like Ryouma. Flirty characters like him usually bring out fluffy and adorable moments when interacting with the heroine. Ryouma’s preference for Western culture also led to many skinships with Chizuru who, like all other characters, were not knowledgeable of Western culture. Plus, Daisuke Ono did a fantastic job voicing Ryouma down to the Tosa accent!
Ryouma’s self-centeredness was actually also a good influence for Chizuru. Since the beginning of the game, Chizuru was always selfless, sometimes (or more than often?) to a fault. She cared for others that she hardly care for herself too much, leading to many times her life getting endangered. This part of her was what made her friends constantly worrying for her. In Ryouma’s route, Chizuru learned to be more selfish, in a good way, for herself and everyone else.
As Ryouma was from Tosa, he’s of course acquainted with Kaoru. Seeing the developing relationship between him and his sister, obviously, big bro Kaoru was not pleased and several times tries to discourage Chizuru about trusting Ryouma (and all ends up in failure). Here, Kaoru tried to guilt-trip Chizuru so that she’ll help him and Kodo by revealing all the hell he went through for her sake. Chizuru, being the kind-hearted girl she is, felt guilty after hearing his story.
Ryouma saved the day by pointing out the fault in Kaoru’s story: Kaoru himself was the one who decided to go to Nagumo Clan without asking or telling Chizuru. That decision, that choice was his alone to make. He doesn’t have any right to put the blame on Chizuru for something he did out of his own volition. Like Ryouma said, Kaoru trying to blame Chizuru means it’s because he was the one who doesn’t have the resolve to see through his own choice.
Ryouma knew the experience of being blamed for something he never did, and he didn’t want Chizuru to feel the same way. They might be twins and what happened to Kaoru was unfortunate, but it’s something outside of Chizuru’s control, so she didn’t need to feel responsible for it. I really love Ryouma at this moment. Chizuru could be too kind for her own good, so Ryouma’s self-centeredness was exactly what Chizuru needs to realize that she’s not at fault and she deserved happiness. Chizuru also influenced Ryouma, making him less selfish. When Kondou was going to be executed, he refused to save him since he was already dead to the public (Kondo himself also willingly turned himself in) and stopped Chizuru from recklessly trying to. However, he compromised by trying to help Chizuru to at least see Kondou in his last moment.
Shiranui’s inclusion in this route is one of the best things! We get to see Shiranui friendly interacting with another human other than Sano at the end of his route. Ryouma used to work as a bodyguard for Takasugi, so he and Shiranui got acquainted. Based on their interactions, it didn’t seem they’re close enough to call each other friends the same way Ryouma did with Nakaoka or Shiranui did with Takasugi, but their shared memories of Takasugi and mutual goal of stopping Kodo and his army of Furies made them a good team. What I love the most about Shiranui’s inclusion was how he became a third-wheel between Ryouma and Chizuru. Twice he came at the wrong time and ruined their intimate moments. He’s like “Hello? I’m here too.” or “This is not the place and time.” LOL
In Ryouma’s route, the main antagonist was Ryouma’s long-time best friend, Shintaro Nakaoka. Out of all the three new antagonists introduced, I placed him on number 2 after Miki. His contrast with Ryouma despite having a similar outlook made him an appealing antagonist. Like Miki, he was a sympathetic antagonist who had a justified reason for his actions. What made him different from the other two new antagonists was his friendship with Ryouma that gave more importance to what was at stake for Ryouma. Aside from worrying about Nakaoka’s army of Furies dooming the entire Japan, what Ryouma worried the most was losing his best friend.
Nakaoka was serious, meticulous, and cautious, the very opposite of Ryouma who was more laid-back and all-smiles. You can imagine him like a mother hen, more than often being attacked by headaches because of his best friend who has the tendency to take a stroll for little reasons without telling him regardless of the fact there were many people after his life. Rather than Ryouma himself, Nakaoka was the one who was more worrying for the both of them.
Like Ryouma, Nakaoka also envisioned a just and fair society in Japan. This desire originated from his and his comrades’ experience of being treated as dirt beneath the noble’s feet. After losing his comrades one after another, Nakaoka grew resentful of the high-ranking people. During the Ikeda Inn incident, several Tosa ronins who were comrades of Nakaoka also participated and got killed by the Shinsengumi when the raid happened, so Nakaoka’s hostility towards the Shinsengumi was not only because the Shinsengumi was against his and Ryouma’s goal, but also because they have killed his comrades. They’re already on the opposing side, Shinsengumi’s action added more reason for Nakaoka to hate them. The same way the Shinsengumi warned Chizuru not to get close with Ryouma, Nakaoka opposed Ryouma’s closeness with Chizuru. He did help the two exchange letters and was grateful to Chizuru for helping Ryouma escape from Mimawarigumi, but still wary of her due to her association with the Shinsengumi.
The biggest difference between Ryouma and Nakaoka was how they handle their hatred. Even though he lost many of his comrades, including at the hands of the Shinsengumi, Ryouma never held onto his resentment for long and learned to let it go in favor of uniting the people to get Japan on the right track. Another reason most likely was because he learned from how he was condemned for things that happened long in the distant past, teaching him not to brood over the past otherwise will lose sight of the present and future. Nakaoka, however, won’t have any of that. After everything they did, Nakaoka believed that he and his comrades deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. That’s why it’s important for him to kill all the high-ranking retainers who have wronged them and their comrades. Removing those people would be the only way to rebuild Japan as a congress that they dreamed of and honored their deceased comrades.
The final fight against Nakaoka was a hard one for Ryouma. Regardless of what Nakaoka had done after becoming a Fury, Ryouma still wished to save his friend. Ryouma already experienced many life-and-death situations, no doubt having killed people as well. But when it comes to his comrades, Ryouma didn’t have the heart to end their lives. Ryouma hesitated many times in fighting against his former Tosa comrades who became Furies. When fighting them, he tried his best not to hit their vital points, which almost cost him his life. The same also goes against Kaoru. He hesitated to kill Kaoru because he was Chizuru’s brother, leaving Shiranui to do the work. It never occurred to me that Ryouma would be this much of a softie. He is one of the oldest bachelors, so I thought he would be one of those who would less or not at all hesitate to kill. It’s not bad though. Ryouma’s emotional struggle was another selling point from his route.
It took a lot of time for Ryouma to steel his resolve. The pain must’ve been unimaginably deep for him when he had no choice but to kill his best friend with his own hands. In his dying moment, Nakaoka admitted that he just fought for the respect of his and their comrades. He actually knew that neither he nor his comrades would receive any respect from this, but Nakaoka’s refusal to accept the unfair treatment pushed him to continue. Ryouma understood because he wished for the same thing. Even as adversaries, both Ryouma and Nakaoka still shared the dream of a just and fair society in the name of their deceased comrades, making Nakaoka’s end all the more tragic.
Overall, I enjoyed Ryouma’s route. Playing his route gave a new understanding as well as ideal from the perceptive outside the Shinsengumi, offering other paths aside from the path of warriors. Throughout his route, I felt like watching a swashbuckling adventure mixed with tiny bits of Romeo and Juliet. Ryouma’s penchant to flirt and tease Chizuru brought out cute reactions from her, and not forgetting the discussion about their differing opinions pushed Chizuru to be more outspoken. The way they exchanged letters was also sweet. His use of guns made him unique among the bachelors as most of them, except Sano who used spear, used swords. The icing on the cake would be…Chizuru with short hair and wearing modern clothes! SUPER CUTE! (^w^)
My problem with this route is that there were things left unresolved. First, Ryouma became a Fury, but there’s never a mention about his lifespan and how to cure the Water of Life’s effect.
Second, Ryouma was unwittingly responsible for Inoue’s death in his route, and Inoue was even killed right in front of Chizuru. And yet Chizuru forgave easily after he secretly gave Inoue burial and apologize to her. No matter how kind Chizuru was, I think her reaction wasn’t realistic. Even if Ryouma never meant for Inoue to be killed, it still didn’t change the fact that he was the one who led the Furies who killed him. Perhaps the message the writers trying to get across was it’s not good to hold grudges and how important forgiveness is, but I think the execution was weak and unrealistic. I think it would’ve been better for Chizuru and Ryouma to be distant for a while and spent some times to slowly reconcile.
Third, why must they cut the last fight between Sanan and Heisuke against Kodo? Rather than implying they and Kodo killed each other, it’s better to just go straight to the point and be clear about their fate.
If you’re a Shinsengumi fan, you may find this route lacking because once you entered Ryouma’s route, the whole matter about the Shinsengumi was pretty much forgotten, the focus completely shifted to Ryouma’s goal in stopping Nakaoka and his Fury armies.