Saturday, 3 January 2015
REVIEW - THE AMBITION OF ODA NOBUNA
Who would've thought Oda Nobunaga could make such an awesome tsundere?
An anime about one guy, surrounded by half a dozen young girls in kimonos/armor. Sound familiar? It's no surprise that my first instinct was HAREM! If it wasn't for Emily Neves voicing Oda, I would probably have skipped this anime. To my surprise, this anime is unusually dehydrated when it comes to ecchi and fanservice. It's almost literally the opposite of what you'd expect and it is freaking awesome!
I'll admit that part of my attraction to this show isn't the genderswapped Japanese dudes, but my love for the Dynasty Warriors franchise. After I got over the 'not going to be a harem' thing, I imagined The Ambition of Oda Nobuna to be a gender-flipped version a Dynasty Warriors game-anime. I was sort of right. Yippee!
"You don't look like an ugly old dead dude the history books depict you as."
This series draws you in within the first minute as we observe Sagara Yoshiharu trying to survive on a Japanese battlefield. Shortly after, he's saved by none other than Kinoshita Toukichirou (more commonly known to the future of Japan as Toyotomi Hideyoshi) who helped the legendary Oda Nobunaga unify Japan. With Toukichirou now dead and history missing a key member, Yoshiharu decides to take his place and rescues the head of the Oda clan: Oda Nobunaga, who he discovers is not a dead old bearded guy, but a beautiful girl named Oda Nobuna.
Apparently everyone in this version of his history has been gender-swapped. Oda is impressed by Yoshiharu's video-game-based knowledge of her world and makes him her vassal. The Ambition of Oda Nobuna revolves around the struggles of Nobuna as she tries to unify Japan in the warring states period as well as Yoshiharu's pledge to keep Nobuna from becoming a ruthless demon that Japanese folklore would later make her out to be.
So yes, instead of playing volleyball and vying for Yoshiharu's affection, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna features fights, wars, strategies and some history lessons which are very interesting if you're like me and 1) don't like history and 2) don't know anything about the warring states era of Japan. The 12-episode series features adventure, romance, conquest and some seriously awesome battles.
"We only have five chairs. You have to sit on the ground I'm afraid. Deal with it!"
The more I watched, the more interested I became in what happened to the famous Oda Nobuna. I will admit, the fact that we don't find out how Yoshiharu traveled back to the past is a bit nail-breaking, but like Jason in Atlantis, it's mostly handwaved in favor of the plot which is rich in Japanese folklore. Another thing I should note between Ambition and the BBC series Atlantis and this is something that irks me about Atlantis is that where Jason seems to ignore/forget/not care about using his knowledge of the future to his advantage, Yoshiharu makes a career of it. That's his thing. He's played the Nobunaga's Ambition video game so many times, he knows what's coming and he uses this knowledge to predict and change history. This isn't to say it comes easy though. He may be knowledgeable, but change historical events long enough, and your information's accuracy gets called into question. This is something I loved. First couple of episodes Yoshiharu uses his knowledge to make things better, before making him realize that at some point, his knowledge of his-future will become obsolete, making him useless. Suddenly he begins doubting his decisions as history starts spiraling in different directions, with outcomes he can't predict. It's quite fascinating.
Left to right: Mitsuhide Akechi, Nagahide Niwa, Inuchiyo Maeda, Katsuie Shibata, Oda Nobuna, Sagara Yoshiharu, Hanbē Takenaka, Goemon Hachisuka
Alternatively left to right: Krystal LaPorte, Molly Searcy, Caitlynn French, Carli Mosier, Emily Neves, Clint Bickham, Brittney Karbowski, Hilary Haag
The characters are easily the strongest aspect of the series. Dynamic, engaging and you can't help but root for them in whatever struggle they find themselves in. And believe me, this series isn't about Nobuna walking into a new region and taking over - these characters struggle! A lot! I mean this series portrays just how freaking hard it was unifying the nations. From battles to personal conflicts - they are all here. It's a case of the longer you watch, the harder the fights gets.
"Now that's how you pledge yourself to someone."
It also helped a lot that this anime didn't just go the harem route and have all of Oda and her war cabinet fall in love with Yoshiharu. Especially since there are a lot of lolitas in this series as well. I hate 1) lolitas in 2) harems. So the fact that it's made crystal clear that Oda and Yoshiharu are the only romance going on was such a breath of fresh air. The relationship is also not made easy, mostly thanks to Oda's portrayal as a tsundere heroine, but that's part of the fun I suppose. Back to the non-harem thing, it's clear that although they don't love him, all the female characters grow to accept and appreciate Yoshiharu as a comrade and they acknowledge his status as Nobuna's morality chain.
"Nothing like having a heated argument while your backs are turned to a beautiful sunset on a traditional Japanese bridge."
The animation is breathtaking. The character designs are colorful, while still adhering to the high quality animation shown throughout the series. The plot is also very engaging as it features little to no filler. Every episode is connected to the previous, either as a continuation or a foreshadowing come true.
The voice acting is spot on. Seriously, Emily Neves as Nobuna is utter perfection. She owns the fire/ice, hot/cold, emotionally tortured/unstable aspects of Nobuna. I also massively enjoyed Carli Mosier as her best general Katsuie Shibata. I'm not that big a fan of Clint Bickham's voice, but I agree he was Sagara Yoshiharu. If it had been anyone else, I probably would have hated Yoshiharu and that would've been bad for my liking of the series. Special shout out has to go to Hilary Haag who plays loli ninja Geomon who is portrayed with a lisp and the inability to say something with more than 30 syllables. That was hilarious to listen to, even if I couldn't always understand what she was talking about.
From left to right: The Strategist, the Ninja, the little sister and the Bodyguard
It's not all good though. This series does have a couple of faults. The first as I mentioned...it would have been nice to see Yoshiharu traveling from the future to the past. Also, what exactly was the point of the lolitas? Why not just genderswap them? Why de-age them as well? The aren't used for fanservice and aren't part of a harem, so why? I also have an issue with the length of the series. It feels like The Ambition of Oda Nobuna could easily get away with a second and third season.
Lastly and this is unavoidable so I have to forgive it: This series has a lot of characters with a lot of them being classic Sengoku Japanese names meaning that remembering everyone's names is going to get confusing. I just registered the faces and went with it. Again, this was like 450 years ago.
In the end, this series works. I don't know about you guys, but for some stuff, I use a different scale to rank my enjoyment. You get the things that blow your mind the first time and then do so in a regressive way the more you watch it. You get the crap you never want to see again, the good stuff you become addicted to and then you get the things that continue to blow your mind no matter how many times you watch it. Even something with an average score can be like that. Your enjoyment of it never increases or decreases. The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is the almost ten that stays an almost ten regardless of how many times you watch it. I consider those types of stories the best in the TV world.
Rating this series: 9/10. If you are not familiar with Japanese history, this show does a pretty decent job convincing you to get interested in it.