Nobunaga The Fool Part 1 (Episode 1-13) (Cert 12)
3 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 331 minutes approx.
In the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a pair of time travelling slackers collect some of the most famous – and infamous – people from history and bring them into the modern day (well 1988) for a school history project; this being a valid reason for the likes of Genghis Khan, Socrates and Napoleon to stand side by side with each other.
Nobunaga The Fool doesn’t have the same excuse for tampering with history even if this is a fantasy show; then again, when has that stopped anime and manga creators from bothering with little details such as facts, credibility and historical accuracy? If you are seeking such things in this series, you are truly barking up the wrong tree.
The setting of this tale is an alternate universe in which two planets, East and West, were joined by a chain called the Dragon Stream, but the chain broke and now the two worlds are at war. In the West, a young woman, Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (Joan of Arc to you and me), has a premonition of a Saviour King who will unite both worlds again. An inventor named Leonardo Da Vinci learns of Jeanne’s presage and accompanies her on a journey to the East.
When they arrive, they find the East in the midst of its own conflict as the Oda Clan is battling against the Takeda for the dominion of Owari, the heir to which is the eldest son of Lord Oda, Nobunaga. A headstrong and capricious young man, Nobunaga is known as “The Fool” and many cannot foresee him as a capable ruler. When Jeanne is caught up in a battle and Nobunaga saves her, somehow managing to activate and pilot a mecha Da Vinci had built, Jeanne wonders if Nobunaga could be the Saviour King.
Seasoned anime and manga fans will know that the Japanese are notorious for messing around with western history and indeed its own. To wit, the titular protagonist Nobunaga Oda has been portrayed in various guises and temperaments over the years to suit whatever the wild narrative may be, including, on two occasions, as a woman! But Nobunaga The Fool extends this act of irreverence to western historical figures in what will prove to be a polarising move, depending on your sense of humour.
Certainly depicting Joan Of Arc as a provocatively dressed busty blonde who gets coy when men leer at her – she does give them a good slap to be fair – and simpers after Nobunaga might be a stretch too far for some. Blessed – or cursed – with the power of foresight, Joan was a social pariah in her home village thus has a sensitive demeanour, but is driven by noble intentions.
Nobunaga is portrayed a rock star with his wild hair, flashy attire and gregarious, carefree personality yet he has a genuine sense of duty to his kingdom and its people, even if his methods are a tad esoteric and vexing to the traditionalists at the palace. Flanked by his friends Mitsuhide Akechi and Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Nobunaga forms an alliance with Da Vinci and Jeanne – disguised as a man named Ranmaru – using Da Vinci’s mecha – called Armour – named The Fool to battle Takeda.
But the plot isn’t that simple as back in the West, King Arthur has united the planet under his strict ruling and wishes to crush the East. One of his most loyal servants is Gaius Julius Caesar, arriving in the East to hunt down Da Vinci but becomes embroiled in the Oda/Takeda war, siding with the latter. Caesar’s armour piloting skills – his is Quo Vadis – make him a formidable opponent for Nobunaga but this feud is about to take an interesting turn.
No anime would be complete with an irritating lolicon so step forward Himiko, the diminutive queen of Yamatai with a huge crush on Nobunaga. She gives him a Sacred Treasure (a magic amulet to boost an Armour’s power) in exchange for his hand in marriage, and although they don’t actually marry she is forever calling Nobunaga “hubby” and generally is presented as comic relief.
As you’ve probably surmised by now this show is jam packed full of ideas and storylines that both compliment and confuse the cross genre premise and the egregious historical aberrations. It’s origins lay in a half live action, half animated stage play devised by mecha design legend and creator of the Macross franchise and The Vision of Escaflowne Shōji Kawamori.
It’s not all mecha battles however. The East is an alternate feudal Japan, a period of intense political discussion and machinations behind the scenes. With Nobunaga having to step up to prove himself worthy of being the next ruler, there is the palace intrigue subplots in the early going revolving around the youngest Oda son and preferred choice of heir, Nobukatsu and their timid sister Ichihime.
Shockingly, despite an absolute smorgasbord of eclectic ideas, genres and personalities being mashed together, the storyline is rather engaging and does hold up rather well once it gets going. Of course it hardly makes sense but where Kawamori could have been lazy and just made a mockery of the whole thing, he does at least give us something more than the spectacle of mecha battles to hold our attention.
The production values are also of a high standard, and Statelight – who also handled the animated segments for the stage shows – deliver a superb looking show that, thirteen episodes in, hasn’t once faltered in quality. The Armour designs in particular are among the most impressive looking Mecha you’ll likely and are smoothly animated to boot.
On paper, Nobunaga The Fool really shouldn’t work but in execution, remarkably it does. Some viewers may not even get past the opening episodes, but if you stick with it, there is something beguilingly watchable here. Let’s hope the second part gives us a satisfying conclusion to this ambitiously obtuse tale.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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