You’ve just been transported from our time to the beginning of the American Revolution. It just so happens your favorite video game was a pretty historically accurate play-through of the revolution, so you have specific knowledge of the outcome of the various events including battles, betrayals, and the deaths of major figures. As a patriotic American, you decide to embark on a quest to ensure the streamlined establishment of the United States. Oh, and it just so happens that in this alternate timeline, George Washington and all his generals are smoking hot babes.
Replace George with Oda Nobunaga, a famed Japanese general. Substitute the revolution for the Sengoku Era, a period of widespread warfare between Japan’s provinces that culminated in the unification of Japan. You now have the plot of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna. Dynasty Warriors fans, eat your hearts out.
The main character, Yoshiharu Sagara, effectively replaces Toyotomi Hideyoshi in history. Sagara is transported back in time, quickly meets and promises a dying Hideyoshi to live out his dream of a united Japan, and then immediately meets Nobuna, the younger, attractive, and much more female replacement of Nobunaga. In normal history, Nobunaga dies just before the country’s union, and Hideyoshi becomes the actual ruler. Sagara decides to alter history, keeping Nobuna alive and allowing her to unite Japan.
What results is an entertaining romp through a light-hearted version of Japan’s warring states period. There is a veritable parade of famous faces as battles are fought and territory exchanges hands, Sagara all the while pushing here and there as his romance with Nobuna steadily develops. The story has excellent pacing - I rarely felt bored, and there’s always a reason to want to watch the next episode. The show does a great job of helping you keep track of the large number of people and places. There’s just enough exposition to keep you in the loop, but not so much that it gets bogged down in conversation.
I found most of the problems occur right at the start. The audience is expected to quickly grasp the fact that Sagara has been thrown back in time for no discernible reason, which is a rather large plot hole for me to immediately digest. He’s also rather unconcerned with the fact that he’s completely cut off from everything he’s ever known. This lets us get right to the meat of the action, but it was a bit off-putting that he adapted so quickly to his predicament. This blip falls by the wayside, however, because once the story hits its stride, you’ll eat it up with a spoon.
Oda Nobuna is, at its core, a relaxed harem story with plenty of fanservice set against a backdrop of the Sengoku Era’s rapid technological changes and romanticized warfare. It’s classic in execution, but takes no risks. It sometimes surprised me, but was more often entirely predictable. Still, it has a certain charm that made me smile over and over. Think Oreos - you know it’s just pure sugar in cookie form, and it’s really not that great compared to other desserts, but once you have it in your mouth it’s so delicious you can’t help yourself. While I score the story low because of its lack of innovation, it was absolutely entertaining, and will probably stick with me for some time.
The animation was lackluster for 2012. Backgrounds were nice, but I was rarely impressed. They often reused scenes, and there were a lot of still frames. A lot of computer animation wasn’t blended in as well as it could have been.
One definite plus is the wide variation in character designs. While ridiculous hair colors are a bit asinine considering this is 16th century Japan, it really helped me keep track of the numerous characters. Maps and dialogue set against battles-in-progress assist the viewer in keeping track of the ever-shifting warfronts.
The sound hit par, but wasn’t anything special. The opener was a bland guitar riff. I actually preferred the ED’s violin and piano combination. Voice acting was well done and appropriate for each character.
Finally a harem lead that isn’t a total pussy. Sagara, our everyman transported from the modern day, earns major points for actually driving the plot. WIth Hideyoshi dead, he decides that the only way to unite Japan is to keep Nobuna alive, and he constantly works for that goal. He has his moments, the hilarious, the serious, and even the annoying, but he is always easy to empathize with.
That might be the strongest part of the whole show - I loved most of the characters. While we have our usual harem stock, the war forces all of them to be strong and useful. Nobody plays the idiot; this world doesn’t have room for stupid bimbos. No time is wasted slowly exploring relationships we know aren’t going to work out; most of the lovey-dovey stuff stays between Sagara and Nobuna, leaving more time for plot I cared about. At the same time, because I was rooting for everyone, the drama was seriously and effectively ramped up when rifts opened between friends.
Nobuna herself was a typical tsundere. I found her very easy to figure out, so she tended to be a bit boring. Again, there’s nothing new there, but originality is not the name of the game. They basically threw everything and the kitchen sink into a big war. Nobuna excels in its execution rather than pioneer anything new, which is fine, but doesn’t exactly catapult it into the realm of greatness.
We all know these anime - the harem comedy, the tsundere lead. A healthy dose of fanservice, and a solid injection of action. Add a touch of drama, and you get something really, really fun. That’s the best word I can use to describe this show - fun, along the lines of Black Lagoon, in the same way as Kore wa Zombie desu ka. It reminds me specifically of Demon King Daimao; Oda Nobuna never takes itself completely seriously, and can drop off into the zany at times, but is still capable of something a little deeper, too. Don’t come in expecting Ghost in the Shell, and you’ll have a blast. I’m looking forward to a second season!