The Wandering Witch Confronts Mongol Invasion in Angolmois

Posted on Jul 26 2018

Welcome, all, again. As I’m slowly getting a handle on the new season’s shows, I can’t help but notice how similar many storylines seem: the plots; the settings; even the characters. Luckily for us, some artists just refuse to conform! Today’s discussion will focus upon Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion, a show that reminds me of last season’s stunner Golden Kamuy. Both are works of historical fiction with a former soldier as protagonist, and–while admittedly playing fast and loose with certain historical facts–both chronicle the hardships of people born to the frontiers of a small island nation, most especially that nation’s willingness to sacrifice those marginalized by either society or geography. This series is set upon the western Japanese island of Tsushima, which lies in the Korea Straight and is roughly halfway between Korea and mainland Japan. This strategic position has often brought it unwelcome attention; in fact, the naval battle there between the Japanese and Russian fleets in May, 1905, practically ended the Russo-Japanese War. But in 1274 and again in 1281, Tsushima was the site of Mongol invasion as Kublai Khan tried to add Japan to his growing empire. He failed, but hardly due to Japanese resistance.

Angolmois (which name is taken from the prophecies of Nostradamus) is set during the first Mongol invasion of 1274. The show’s protagonist, Kuchii Jinzaburou, is a former retainer of the Kamakura Shogunate who has been exiled to Tsushima in the company of other political prisoners. Upon their arrival, they learn that they have been sent specifically to strengthen local resistance against an anticipated Mongol invasion. But as might be expected, the exiles aren’t particularly eager to defend the regime that imprisoned and then exiled them. Their resentment becomes a moot point, however, once the Mongols actually arrive and survival is suddenly at stake. An advance Mongol party kidnap the local princess, who is then rescued by Kuchii and crew. Despite this, her father (Governor Sou Sukekuni) fails to take the Mongol threat seriously until they’re burning his villages and villagers, at which point the crusty old daimyo gathers up his roughly 300 or so men and gets himself and his male heirs slaughtered. This leaves his capricious 17-year-old daughter as his proxy for the continuing fight. I’ll be intensely interested to how this storyline is developed, especially given that the second episode has already seen the defeat and death of Sou. Thus, while the first two episodes were primarily filler material, we’ve nonetheless already reached the end of the historical story.

And that leaves quite a bit of history to deal with, at that. During this time period, Japan and Korea were on friendly terms, having united their efforts to defeat and destroy the Wokou pirates during the early 13th Century. (And in fact, when these pirates resumed their practices just over a century later, they frequently used Tsushima as a base.) So when the Mongols invaded Korea (Goryeo) in 1231, the Koreans made certain that the Japanese received plentiful information about the invaders. And when the Mongols began their first invasion of Japan roughly four decades later, the Shogunate could not have been better informed about their enemy, especially since the invasion force was launching from Korea itself. The Japanese had dates, troop and ship counts, weapons descriptions–the kind of information that modern-day spy movies are made about. But even with all this, the Japanese were unprepared. Why, and how so? Did they not believe the information provided by the Koreans? Were they so convinced of their own martial superiority that they underestimated the Mongols? Or did contact with the Song Dynasty of southern China–not conquered until 1276–make the Japanese aware of reverses suffered by the Mongols in Europe? Might the Song themselves have been seen as testament against the inevitability of Mongol conquest?

We know these things: when Mongol forces landed on Tsushima in October, 1274, Governor Sou scratched-up a cavalry of about 80 riders whom he led against the invaders; he died with his men. With the island subjugated, the Mongols continued on to the island of Iki, which provided another easy victory. Apparently, the Shogunate–safely on Japan’s mainland–felt no inclination to reinforce these rustics, content to let them die futilely in battles wherein defeat was virtually preordained. The Mongols continued to mainland Japan, where they landed at Hakata Bay (near Dazaifu) and fought the Battle of Bun’ei, which showcased Japanese inexperience coordinating the movement of large bodies of troops. That this Japanese debacle did not prove fatal is thanks to the arrival of the typhoon that first gave rise to the legend of kamikaze (divine wind). That’s the history we’re working with, here, powerful stuff in its own right: I can’t imagine why anyone felt the need to embellish it. But I am enjoying the show–please join me!

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