Main Characters in ‘Shōgun’ Ranked by Ruthlessness

One of the best new shows of 2024 is also one of the most difficult to keep up with. Shō fgun, which follows an English sailor stranded in Japan in the early 17th century, has so many characters that you’ll need the entire season just to learn their names. And by that point, there’s no use, since the show is a limited series and will end with this first season.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t be worth it. If you put in the work, then this show, which is inspired by real historical events, pays off big time. The sweeping landscape shots, the intricate production design, the thrilling violence, the epic romance, and the compelling introduction to Japanese culture will all glue you to your seat. That said, if you miss too many lines of dialogue, or if you have problems remembering Japanese names, then you will have absolutely no idea what is happening.

That’s where we come in. To help you get into this incredible show, we’ve laid out the show’s power players below. And just for fun, we’ve ranked them by ruthlessness. 

Toda Mariko 

Played by: Anna Sawai

Ruthlessness score: 0 out of 5

Reasoning: Though one of the bravest, toughest, and wisest characters on the show, Mariko isn’t ruthless by any means. She’s great at compartmentalizing and squirreling away her feelings, but that’s just her way of dealing with the chauvinistic society around her. Despite her zen approach to death, this translator has a kind, sympathetic heart, and harbors oceans of compassion for not just her charge and love interest, John Blackthorne, but for her fellow Japanese.

John Blackthorne 

Played by: Cosmo Jarvis

Ruthlessness score: 1 out of 5

Reasoning: Like his secret flame, Mariko, Blackthorne is a benevolent man with a heart of gold. Though short-tempered, proud, and just a tad egotistical, he’s also an open-minded man whose knowledge of human behavior has helped him integrate into Japanese culture. This sailor, who initially came to Japan to help seize it from the Portuguese, is learning to love the country that he now lives in. That said, he has no patience for his enemies or for anyone who harms those he cares about; hence, the one point of ruthlessness.

Lord Yoshii Toranaga

Played by: Hiroyuki Sanada

Ruthlessness score: 2 out of 5

Reasoning: This brilliant strategist and politician – and former favorite of the recently deceased Japanese ruler – has recently resigned from Japan’s Council of Regents as part of his slow takeover of the Japanese government. And yet, despite being persona non grata to his former fellow Regents, he hasn’t done much of anything ruthless. Until now, he has remained more of a tactician and political power player than a ruthless warrior. That will likely change, though, as his son recently initiated an all-out war with the Regents. Oh, and speaking of Toranaga’s son, Yoshii: He’s the reason Toranaga gets two points. After Yoshii brutally butchered his father’s rival, Nebara Josen, as well as all of his men, Toranaga punished Yoshii and stripped him of military command, then promoted his friend instead. That’s a little ruthless, even if it does ultimately teach his son a lesson.

Toda Buntaro

Played by: Shinnosuke Abe

Ruthlessness score: 3 out of 5

Reasoning: In the realm of men, Mariko’s husband is a hero. In one of his most indelible scenes, he sacrifices himself to fight off an entire army so that Toranaga can escape Osaka. Then he miraculously survives. However, in the realm of home and hearth, he’s brutal. Refusing to humor his wife’s depression or show tenderness toward his son, he approaches life with an icy grimness. He also disrespects his wife enough to risk her life just to impress Blackthorne with his archery skills. It’s that action – the willingness to kill his wife just to protect his ego – that earns him a 3 out of 5.

Ishido Kazunari 

Played by: Takehiro Hira

Ruthlessness score: 3 out of 5

Reasoning: We haven’t seen him do much yet besides plot against Toranaga and rally the Council of Regents, but his willingness to impeach Toranaga and sentence him to death is enough to earn him a “3.”

Yoshii Nagakado 

Played by: Yuki Kura

Ruthlessness score: 4 out of 5

Reasoning: See above. This aforementioned son of Toranaga just decimated an entire delegation of soldiers with no warning at all, blowing them to smithereens with Blackthorne’s impressive cannons. He also started a countrywide war.

Kashigi Yabushige

Played by: Tadanobu Asano 

Ruthlessness score: 5 out of 5 (plus 20 bonus points for being the worst)

Reasoning: He’s the easiest to hate of all the characters in Shōgun, and that’s saying something. To understand why he earned the top position on this list, then look no further than Episode One, where he boiled a man alive just to listen to his screams. Outside of that, he’s mostly an annoying, sycophantic, wishy-washy incompetent spy who can’t seem to pick a side – and for that, he gets 20 bonus points for being the worst.

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