The Ambition Of Oda Nobuna (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 303 minutes approx.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: high schooler Yoshiharu Sagara suddenly finds himself transported into an alternate version of the Sengoku Period of Japanese history, right in the middle of a raging battle. His life is saved by Hideyoshi Toyotomi who dies intercepting a bullet aimed at Sagara. Thinking this is a dream set in the world of his favourite video game The Ambition Of Oda Nobunaga, Sagara gets a rude awakening when the warlord Oda Nobunaga arrives – not a burly man but a cute teenage girl called Oda Nobuna.
The Ambition Of Oda Nobuna will sound familiar if you have seen Battle Girls: Time Paradox, although the time travelling protagonist in that show is a girl. However Ambition is not the imitator but Battle Girls, which appeared two years after Mikage Kasuga’s original Ambition light novels debuted in 2009; it is easy to mistake Ambition anime as the copy cat as it arrived a year after Battle Girls.
If you can put the similarities of the plots aside one will find significant differences between the two shows beyond the opposing genders of the protagonists. Most notably will be the toned down fan service, which is still present but without the nudity and overt sexualisation of the females. Bosoms are large, cleavage is prevalent and there is plenty of jiggle but that is as far as it goes. Even within the parameters of this harem set up it is refreshing to see this aspect diluted for once.
This allows for a more concerted focus on building the relationships between the key characters while following Oda Nobuna’s journey in uniting the Warring States of Japan, as per the history of her real life inspiration. This puts the emphasis on action and the political machinations of the various warlords, leaving little room for the silly shenanigans found in Battle Girls; not to say this doesn’t have its fair share of comedy distractions though.
Beneath the historical conflicts this is a harem show so expect Sagara to be on the receiving end on the usual female related stress beholden to the genre. It begins with Oda not understanding Sagara’s name thinking she heard “saru” so she names him “Monkey” which sticks and is adopted by everybody. And while pretty much all of the women play the tsundere card Oda plays it the most, meting out some violent beatings one minute then fretting about Saraga’s safety the next.
Among Oda’s inner circle, Mitsuhide Akechi is another who acts all high and mighty towards Sagara while harbouring deep feelings for him but does nothing to act upon them, aware of what Oda would do to her in response. While the others – tiny ninja Goemon Hachisuka, spear wielding Inuchiyo Maeda, tough general Katsuie Shibata and tactician Nagahide Niwa – all grow fond of Monkey, none of them take this beyond platonic.
It won’t have escaped your attention that this is a show with an extensive cast list, and even naming the principal players would require some space. Suffice to say, we encounter many names synonymous with the Sengoku Period as both male and females, who either form an alliance with Oda or remain opposed to her, but most names are recognisable to anyone who has experienced any of the numerous other shows or films set during this period, the closest in terms of a similar hefty roll call of characters being Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings.
The initial format of the show in the early episodes is akin to the “villain of the week” template in which Oda and her advisors, which now includes Sagara, try to negotiate with the other warlords and village heads and engage in battle if talks break down. It is later in the run that we begin a multi-episode storyline to take us to the conclusion, bringing together many of the previous plot threads and the involving parties for the inevitable climactic battle royale showdown.
Credit to series writer Masashi Suzuki and director Yūji Kumazawa, these final few episodes offer plenty of twists and shock events to leave the conclusion wide open in terms of predictability. Even the ham-fisted addition of a new, last minute foe doesn’t ruin the tension while the violence level is stepped up a noticeable amount for this particularly brutal and costly battle.
The script is actually very well constructed and the dialogue is kept as authentic as possible under the circumstances, what with many liberties being taken with the characterisations, altered genders being the least concern. The production values are competent and the visuals are vivid and right, with the battles being spectacles you’d expect them to be.
One area which is sorely underdeveloped is Sagara’s story. He is practically a blank slate to us, aside from the fact he is a schoolboy, loves video game and boobs. We are never even told or shown how he was transported back in time or within this alternate universe – the first episode literally opens cold with him already in these strange surroundings.
With no flashback to help us, we are left to just accept this while Sagara himself shows no desperation in learning how this occurred or how he will return home. At least this was for an ongoing concern for Battle Girls hero Yoshino Hide, as were her feelings of homesickness and a sense of displacement. And in what we assumes was “irony”, Sagara tells a dying Hideyoshi Toyotomi at the start that he cannot die as this would alter history – this from a guy who spends the next 12 episodes doing just that!
It is perhaps fitting this show is entitled The Ambition Of Oda Nobuna since this is an ambitious show, yet while its shortcomings are obvious, it does provide a satisfying dose of historical fantasy entertainment. It may lose some appeal coming after the similar Battle Girls but it offers enough alternatives to stand on its own merits.
Disc 2 Only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black