Having never encountered Samurai Warriors and its cast, I had consequently never stumbled across Ranmaru Mori before. And, as such, I had also never encountered the numerous… discussions over this particular character that appear to crop up pretty much each and every time a new Warriors game featuring the Samurai crew shows its face.
So… well, what better time than the present to get stuck in and see what we can find out?
First up, let’s get something important out of the way, because, well… oh, I’ll just say it. Ranmaru Mori is a guy, and thus technically ineligible for Waifu Wednesday, but encountering him for the first time in Warriors Orochi presented me with some interesting questions and also prompted me to look into his history. Also… well, look at him.
The reason why so many people over the course of the last decade or so have been rather confused by Ranmaru’s gender identity is quite simply because, in the Warriors games at least, he’s designed to unabashedly present as feminine. He has a distinctly feminine character model that is dressed in a similar fashion to other female members of the cast. He has a face that looks rather feminine (albeit stern), giving the impression he is wearing makeup. And in both the Japanese and English incarnations of most of the games in which he appears, he is voiced by a woman — Tara Platt in the case of the English dub, and Naomi Shindo in the original Japanese.
So how did this come about? The Ranmaru Mori in historical records and fiction based on those historical records is male, so why the genderbend? Was Ranmaru Mori a trans woman? Was he an example of otokonoko culture? Was it just a stylistic choice by Omega Force?
Ranmaru spent most of his life as an attendant to legendary Japanese feudal lord Nobunaga Oda, who plays a prominent role in both the Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi series. His most defining characteristics in accounts of the Sengoku period — both historical and fictional — appear to be his unwavering loyalty and his unusual beauty. Indeed, while many alliances and relationships shifted and changed throughout the entire Sengoku period, Ranmaru remained by Nobunaga’s side until the Honnou-ji incident of 1582 saw both of them meet their end at their own respective hands — but not before Ranmaru set fire to the temple they were both in so no-one could claim Nobunaga’s head for their own.
Nobunaga and Ranmaru are believed to have had a type of relationship that is defined by historians as 男色 nanshoku, which, read literally, means “male colours”. This term was used to describe homosexual relationships due to the character 色 (for “colour”) also meaning “sexual pleasure” in both China and Japan. Isn’t linguistic ambiguity fun?
Anyway, the point is, back in the Sengoku period, homosexuality was a lot more widespread and “accepted” than it is regarded to be in modern-day Japan — though of course, the times are ever a-changin’. Early nanshoku relationships tended to be paederastic: they typically involved an older individual, known as a 念者 (nenja, “lover” or “admirer”) taking a younger boy — sometimes adolescent or even prepubescent — as their partner. Besides the sexual angle, there also seemed to be something of a spiritual angle; many such relationships were conducted between religious figures and young boys, and the practice is somewhat loosely associated with Buddhism.
As well as this going on in society at the time, artists of various descriptions also felt free to depict figures engaging in homosexual love. In particular, a number of the Shinto gods, including Hachiman (commonly regarded as “the god of war”) and Tenjin (the “god of poetry”) came to be regarded as the guardian deities of the nanshoku practice, and Saikaku Ihara, a writer from the Tokugawa period (which followed the Sengoku period in which Nobunaga and Ranmaru were active) argued that since the Nihon Shoki (the second-oldest book of classical Japanese history after the Kojiki) depicts only male gods for the first three generations of their genealogy, they must have surely engaged in a bit of man-on-man action at one point or another. But then he did write a fair few erotic stories in his later life, did Ihara-san, including a compendium of stories about homosexuality known as 男色大鏡 (Nanshoku Oukagami, “The Great Mirror of Male Love”).
The Great Mirror of Male Love actually provides us with a bit of interesting context that may shed some light on why Omega Force chose to represent Ranmaru as at least appearing to present female, if not actually being female. In Ihara’s preface to the book (translated to English by Paul Gordon Schalow in 1990) he notes that “alas! since [the fourth generation of the heavenly gods], women have managed to capture the attention of men… [they] may serve a purpose for the amusement of retired old men in lands lacking handsome youths, but in a man’s lusty prime they are not worthy companions even for conversation.”
In other words, while it was by no means a universal attitude — otherwise Japan’s birth rate in the Tokugawa period would have been worse than it is in the modern day — it was certainly an established feeling that “boys” were a desirable companion for a man in his “lusty prime”. The Great Mirror of Male Love was a popular book at the time — even if modern audiences tend to find its somewhat aggressive take on homosexuality borderline misogynistic at times, particularly when read through Schalow’s translation — so this was by no means a niche opinion whispered in the dark.
But I digress. Short version: everyone’s favourite samurai vampire and his loyal nodachi-wielding ladyboy page were almost certainly knocking boots. And such relationships in the Sengoku and Tokugawa periods, despite being between two males, tended to mirror the dynamic in a heterosexual relationship, with the older partner taking on the “masculine” role, while the younger partner was more “feminine”.
With this in mind — along with his legendary boy-beauty — it’s not hard to see why Ranmaru might be depicted as female in a popular culture (specifically, Japan’s popular culture) that is still, at times, a little uneasy about depicting homosexual relationships. He’s not trans and he’s not an otokonoko in that he’s not deliberately trying to present as female, he just… well, he just looks a bit girly, is all.
And indeed Warriors is by no means the only piece of media that has raised this issue, either. 2013 stage play Nobunaga the Fool featured a female Ranmaru, as did Gen Urobuchi’s 2013 take on the Kamen Rider franchise, Kamen Rider Gaim. While no-one seems to make a big deal about Ranmaru’s gender in Warriors Orochi (at least so far as I’ve played at the time of writing), it’s a point of contention for him in the Samurai Warriors games; many people mistake him for a woman or tease him for his effeminate appearance.
He is understandably frustrated by this… and thus I would just advise anyone considering mocking his feminine appearance that a nodachi is a very big sword indeed and would probably hurt a lot regardless of exactly where you found it inserted about your person…
More about Warriors Orochi
*Husubando, if you must. But come on now. Tara Platt.
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