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AKA: 織田信奈の野望 (Oda Nobuna no Yabou)
Genre: Historical adventure / romantic comedy
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: Currently available streaming on crunchyroll
Content Rating: 16+ (violence, adult themes, fan service)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Hyouge Mono, the Koihime Musou series.
Notes: Based on the light novel series by Mikage Kasuga, illustrated by Miyama-Zero. The name is a direct reference to the popular and long-running Nobunaga's Ambition historical strategy video game series.
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna

Synopsis

Nobunaga's Ambition superfan (and otherwise ordinary Japanese high school student) Sagara Yoshiharu finds himself in the chaos of a medieval battlefield, where his life is saved by the heroic sacrifice of a low-born warrior. Yoshiharu finds to his horror that the warrior is none other than Kinoshita Toukichirou -- the man who was destined in our universe to become Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the Unifiers of Japan. Vowing to take his place in history, he attempts to join the Oda clan as a retainer, but he is surprised to find that the head of the clan is not the feared Oda Nobunaga, but a beautiful girl named Oda Nobuna - who proves every bit as brilliant, eccentric, and dangerous as the Nobunaga of our history, but as yet lacks the ruthlessness of her counterpart.

Impressed by Yoshiharu's video-game-based knowledge of her world and personal bravery, Nobuna takes him on as her vassal, dubbing him "Saru" ("Monkey") for his hairstyle and antics. Through various trials during the bloody and destructive wars of Japanese unification, their relationship evolves as Nobuna's ideals clash with her ambition to conquer all Japan, and Yoshiharu is determined to keep her from becoming a ruthless demon of Japanese folklore like her real-life counterpart.


Review

You have to hand it to Japan : the concept of turning dead old guys into cute young girls is freakin' genius. I like history way more than the next guy (though not quite enough to want to lose an appendage to Dagger of Kamui) but for the average fan, the prospect of watching a bunch of dudes talking about political alliances and territorial disputes is admittedly forbidding. So hey, swap the genders and bring in the moe quotient! PROFIT!

Unfortunately, history (of the more recent sort) has proven that this isn't a surefire recipe for success. Genderswap series range from middling action / comedies (Ikki Tousen, Shin Koihime Musou) to just plain awful (Battle Girls: Time Paradox, Samurai Girls) to strangely irrelevant (Sengoku Collection). So the prospect of yet another historical genderswap series ... well, it seems pretty daunting. But The Ambition of Oda Nobuna turns all those preconceived notions on their heads, thanks to a surprising attention to historical detail and a plethora of interesting, likable characters.

One of the big mistakes of genderswap historical series is the failure to keep the characters in context: for example Sengoku Collection not only takes the female versions of Japanese warlords to the modern era and has them become idol singers and police detectives, but even includes characters from well outside the Sengoku time period, which prompts one to wonder why they bothered. Not so with Oda Nobuna - not only do most of the existing and complex character relationships remain largely intact (right down to female Akechi Mitsuhide's vacillation between adoration and envy of her liege), but characters who outlive their real-life counterparts are given creative and clever outlets for their personalities to flourish. Token male bald guy / serious badass Saitou Dousan and elegant-but-ditzy Imagawa Yoshimoto are two fairly obvious examples of early casualties of the Warring States conflicts given new life beyond their initial defeats, but the most creative solution deals with Nobuna's little brother, Nobukatsu, who was killed off in real life due to an inheritance dispute, but survives and thrives under a new identity thanks to Yoshiharu's intervention and Nobuna's refusal to surrender filial love to warlord expectations. Nobuna's trust and reliance on her hyper-competent team of vassals is spotlighted, and it's nice to know that this real-life trait does not change an iota with them being girls instead of guys (my favorite vassal being the scorekeeping strategist / stunning yamato nadeshiko Niwa Nagahide). Even the genderswap itself is rendered plausible due to the real-life Imperial claim of descent from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and the real-life existence of female shaman rulers like Queen Himiko (herself referenced as the implied "empress" of Japan here).

This is, however, by no means a five-star series due to the unfortunate and pervasive fan service elements - it's essentially impossible to Google image search this show without violating some sort of workplace guideline. In the case of relentless and steadfast warrior Shibata Katsuie, it's sort of hilarious - having Gainax boobs is one thing, but bouncing battle armor is really a bit much! (And Portuguese Jesuit monk - turned X-cup nun Luis "Louise" Frois? Hysterical.) But the big problem is what can be best described as Yoshiharu's loli brigade: ninja girl Hachisuka "Goemon" Masakatsu, tiger-hatted spear-wielder Maeda "Inuchiyo" Toshiie, mystic Takenaka Hanbei Shigeharu, and even Hideyoshi's real-life first wife Nene, all of whom are depicted as being 13 or under, and sometimes show up in some form of undress. To his credit, Yoshiharu is very adamant about "not being into little girls", but I wish I could say the same for this anime's intended audience -- one look at the Crunchyroll comment page is enough to reveal that I'm not just talking about the Japanese basement boys either!

Fortunately, it's not enough to detract much from what is otherwise a well-researched and entertaining work. How well researched? Oda Nobuna's habit of lounging half-dressed with her kimono hanging half off isn't fan-service: it's one of the real-life Nobunaga's actual personality quirks. There are a few occasional liberties taken, of course -- Matsunaga Danjou Hisahide may frequently be given magical powers in various games and series, but elephant cavalry? That's novel. However, most of the actual warfare is well-researched, right down to the introduction of revolving volley arquebus fire (twenty years ahead of real history, with Yoshiharu even name-checking the battle where it should be applied in real-life by Oda Nobunaga).

Though there are a couple of storyline missteps (the "iron chef Sakai" contest, while being remarkably punny if you know Iron Chef AND Japanese history, doesn't exactly deserve a whole episode!), The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is rather impressive when the story focuses on the battles and complex, shifting alliances of the Japanese factions, especially when you consider that this whole thing is essentially a setup for a harem show love comedy (a genre I rarely find entertaining) - it's not much of a surprise to realize this is essentially a love story between Yoshiharu and Nobuna, but it is surprising just how heartwarming this is, given that this is a series set in a war with casualties regularly in the thousands. Yoshiharu, for all his geekiness, is a brave and likable character, and while Nobuna does come off as a tsundere, she has responsibilities and psychological complexities that far outstrip the majority of characters with that label. Knowing that the show can't go on without either of the leads takes the sting off any mortal danger they're in, but like so many stories, it's not always what is happening that is entertaining, but how it happens.

Animation-wise, the series is competent with no major flaws, and occasionally stunning action and scenery shots - no surprise seeing that the primary studio handling this is Madhouse (a name familiar to any veteran anime fan). Voice-acting is essentially what you should expect from a big-budget production with a zillion characters - for example, Nobuna is voiced by Kanae Itou (Elsie from The World Only God Knows) and Yoshiharu is voiced by Takuya Eguchi (apparently tired of playing clueless dudes like hapless Kujou in Gosick or Watanuki Banri in Inu x Boku SS). A further glance at the cast list reveals veterans like always-way-too-cute Tomoko Kaneda as Hachisuka Goemon (because clearly Chiyo-chan was always destined to be a ninja someday), perennial seiyuu princess Mamiko Noto hamming it up as Imagawa Yoshimoto, and even dub Patrick Stewart - Mugihito - as Saitou Dousan.

While certainly not perfect, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is a whole lot of fun, and given its popularity and the wealth of light-novel source material, should be a shoe-in for a second season (unannounced as of this review), especially given the introduction of a new character (tough mama Takeda Shingen) at the end of the final episode. Even as the start to what is clearly an ongoing story, this series will hook a lot of fans and take them for quite a ride. If it means even a few of them become interested in the real historical events and people that inspired this series, that's even better.

The rare show that is entertaining for history buffs and fan service fans alike, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is an enjoyable and oddly sweet-hearted riff on the Warring States period that is, ironically, about as close to a Nobunaga's Ambition anime as we're likely to see. The most serious of serious cats might knock another star off for the fan service, but that's probably not giving this series the credit it deserves.Carlos Ross

Recommended Audience: With high redshirt and minor-character death tolls, plus underage fan service partially couched in deliberate historical values dissonance (late preteens and early teens were considered marriageable in this era!) this is clearly for older teens and above.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream, English subtitles only.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna © 2012 AT-X / Ambition of Oda Nobuna Production Committee
 
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