It’s no exaggeration to say that Oda Nobunaga is one of the handful of most important and legendary figures in Japanese history. Even so, it’s remarkable the degree to which anime and manga is obsessed with him. I can’t think of another characters that’s been reimagined in so many ways, never mind the shows that more or less deal with him on a historical perspective. In many ways, I think the popular impression of Nobunaga is something like an anime character, so I guess it isn’t all that surprising.
I didn’t have terribly high expectations for either of the Nobunaga shows this season, which is why I didn’t preview them. If anything this one was even further below the radar – it certainly came in as the less hyped of the two, not that that’s predictive. But darn it if Nobunagun didn’t turn out to be considerably more interesting than I expected, especially in the first half.
My first reaction in watching this premiere was “Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge” and sure enough, when I checked the credits Art Director Takahashi Maho filled that role on Crime Edge. There’s a commonality in the sense of style here, and both shows are using mostly unknown actors in the lead roles. I guess if I were to take a stab at describing Nobunagun I’d call it a mix of Symphogear and Crime Edge, with a bit of Sengoku flavor for seasoning. And the result is pretty interesting.
My favorite parts of the episode, more than the plot or the characters themselves, are its manic energy and unusual visual flair. I loved, for example, the way we saw the schoolgirl classmates of lead Ogura Shio (Mutou Shiori) as an easel for animated flowers while Shio herself was shaded in camouflage. Shio herself is likeable enough – an awkward and socially inept girl who’s obsessed with weaponry. I actually found the moments before the shit went town on the class trip to Taiwan and the plot kicked in to be the better part of the episode, but the action sequences – while lot lavishly animated – were drawn with panache and originality.
The plot is out there – historical figures as “E-Genes” reincarnated as weapons in the bodies of modern humans (so far we’ve seen the likes of Jack the Ripper and Gandhi) fighting off undersea invaders presumably from outer space. This isn’t even the first time we’ve seen Nobunaga reimagined as a cute teenaged girl, but the overall delivery here is stylish and snappy enough to keep me engaged for at least two more episodes. When so many new anime look and feel alike one that’s as singular as Nobunagun deserves a look just for that, but above and beyond that the first episode was pretty entertaining.
Nobunaga the Fool – 01
This is getting downright silly. Not only two Nobunaga premieres on the same day, but they start at the same place and time – Honnou-ji in Kyoto, on the night Oda died when Mitsuhide betrayed him (as history tells it, though not always anime. A seminal moment in Japanese history, no doubt.
That’s where the similarity ends, for me. I didn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of Nobunaga the Fool, which came off as ponderous and silly. There’s good silly and bad silly, mind you, but for me this is bad silly. To be honest I’d pretty much shut down before the interminable introductory exposition had finished droning on and on.
No doubt, this is the more hyped of the Nobunaga series. A cast full of huge names, most of whom are very good actors (though not all). And of course a story created by Kawamori Shouji, one of the biggest names in anime. As a mecha designer I’m OK with Kawamori but I won’t pretend I like him as a writer – “ponderous and silly” is pretty much his stock and trade. This episode was, for me, full of the same sense of bloated pretension that characterizes much of Kawamori’s work. It’s not a face of anime I especially like, and Nobunaga the Fool is no exception.
I won’t say this premiere was excruciatingly bad, though when you get Kaji Yuuki as Hideyoshi you know you’re in trouble. But it was a real snooze for me, and falls short of Nobunagun on almost every level – premise, cinematography, background art, characters. The only pleasure here, really, is hearing some of the big boys like Mamoru Miyano and Sugita Tomokazu ham it up, but this is certainly nothing exceptional by their exceptional standards. No three-episode rule for me on this one.