It's half-way into the season, but it's not too late to start talking about the Ambition of Oda Nobuna. There's something special about this (okay, yet another) gender-swap, Sengoku-era retelling that we feel a need to address.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, or Oda Nobuna no Yabou, at a glance, has little special to offer for the average late-night anime viewer, at least at a glance. You wouldn't realize it is based on a series of light novels just from its promo images: an alternative world where Sengoku lords and generals are sometimes women, girls, or in some cases, little girls. For some, that alone gets their attention, but it's easy to be wary of the seemingly over-the-top setup and dismiss the show as pandering.
Of course, that's just not the whole story. It took us half the season to pick up on this show, after all. Click on and see why a couple of us on staff find Nobuna intringuing enough to keep watching, especially if you've played one of these Nobunaga's Ambition games...
Truthfully, if we take the promo poster image for the show and slot in burly old dudes, the Ambition of Oda Nobuna fits right in for a theatrical poster of a Sengoku-era movie. The conscious gender swap goes beyond the usual, friction-free way of simply not spinning out the implication of having a bunch of girls running the local dictatorship. There is some gender-based tension and while the whole gender role aspect is largely ignored (except for Nagamasa, who tries to take over Nobuna's clan through marriage), instead, we're treated to the main thing why the Sengoku era is interesting to modern nerds: war gaming.
The story is pretty much plot-driven by key events in Oda Nobunaga's historic campaigns to unite Japan, at least as indicated by the various games simulating that era. The various generals and vassals Nobuna "collects" over time are treated both as talking heads in a usual situational comedy/drama sort of way, but also as pieces in this hypothetical replaying of a Nobunaga's Ambition campaign. The main character, the time-traveling Sengoku war-gamer, takes the place of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (a major Japanese historic character himself). Between him, Nobuna, and the various clansfolks and allies, the story moves at a good clip, going from battle to battle, showing us the stratagem and some of the character motivation behind them.
Of course, it would be weird for this replay-ish story about medieval Japan to run with a straight, classroom-certified, eduational way. There is a moderate amount of fanservice and some romantic tension between the main character and Nobuna. Thankfully, most of it goes to give what otherwise is known as a ruthless warlord some degree of personality and it opens the door to examine Nobuna's motive in conquering Japan. The plot to Nobuna's Ambition doesn't dawdle much at all.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is animated jointly by Studio Gokumi and Madhouse. The end result is rather striking; some of the open-field cuts are simply great application of computer-generated graphics composition. Many of the battles scenes get top billing in terms of camera work and character animation. While the visuals tend to focus on the strategic view, Nobuna is often well animated, as she expresses a wide variety of feeling both on the battlefield and at home. On the other hand, these events don't happen often, and the rest of the time the show looks merely okay.
A fairly good voice acting cast surrounds Nobuna; perhaps my favorite is main character Yoshiharu's ninja retainer (all big-time warlords have their personal ninjas, right?), a little girl who can barely speak straight, played by Tomoko Kaneda (Azumanga Daioh's Chiyo). Nobuna herself is played by Kanae Ito (Squid Girl, Ohana, Poplar), and sometimes it is a delight to hear her express the more extreme emotions and internal conflicts.
Of course, with a fairly good starting set of episodes, my abyssmal expectation for the Ambition of Oda Nobuna has been raised to a reasonable level. With half the series left to go, it's hard to say if it will end on a good note. Truth is, if you can stomach the gender-swapping, there's probably something in this show that is enjoyable for most. For me, it's seeing the various battle re-enactment played out in a formula closer to an adventure anime with a heavy dose of comedy. It's perfectly okay, however, to pass on this particular treatment of the Sengoku era, if you prefer something actually pertains more to history rather than a video game version of history.
[You can catch Nobuna on Crunchyroll!]
From other sites around the web