Review: Ryoma! Vol IV, Ryotaro Shiba

Rating: 5 out of 5

It is to my regret that while I bought this the day it came out, I only now took the time to delve into the fourth and last volume of the ‘Ryoma!’ saga. Of course, the experience was very good throughout—not only Mr Shiba’s flowing style, but also the thoughtful tangents, revealing the future for so many of the characters that pass by the book, allow for an unmatched immersion.

The fourth volume traces the final months of Sakamoto Ryoma’s life, in the characters quick travels from Nagasaki to Kyoto and back, several times over. The scope of the thinker—that the reader sees depicted in Ryoma—is unmatched by any of the others around him. It is almost mesmerising how after a meeting with Ryoma, nearly everyone is converted to his way of seeing: a way that transcends narrow-minded loyalism to either the Emperor or the Shogun, and a way which promotes the value of every individual.

The best comparison isn’t, however, to what we can think today, but rather how far above his compatriots Ryoma stood. This is most importantly exemplified by what the reader knows will happen—the success of the Restoration. Thinking back, the relatively small battles that occurred after the Shogun gave up his power are nothing compared to what might have been. And, in trying to avert that ‘might be’, Ryoma also managed to settle a future within international law for the ascendant country.

As a last thought, the story of Iwasaki Yataro, which comes both in and out of this book, is another thoughtful tangent that connects the 19th century with the modern day. The way Mr Shiba managed to combine these pathways of events is nothing short of impressive.

Beyond this, the author’s moral remarks need to be highlighted. The author clearly respected people who did not resort to violence in justification of intolerance. Instead, careful thought and deliberation were the order of the day, and every word Mr Shiba wrote is a statement against parochial militarism.

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