Nobunaga The Fool Part 2 (Episode 14-24) (Cert 12)
3 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 280 minutes approx.
The concluding half of Nobunaga The Fool has a lot of work to do in making sense of the myriad of ideas presented in the first half, not to mention give air time to the expansive list of disparate figures from history who have been brought together for reasons only creator Shōji Kawamori would appear to know.
When we left the story, concerning the warring planets of East and West in an alternate universe, Gaius Julius Caesar of the West, had formed an alliance with the East’s nominal hero Nobunaga Oda, under the pretence of gaining Nobunaga an audience with King Arthur, ruler of the West to negotiate a peace deal. As his reward, Caesar asks for the hand of Nobunaga’s sister Ichihime in marriage, which she voluntarily accepts.
Of course this is a ruse as Caesar has been jealous of Alexander, a more powerful member of King Arthur’s Round Table and Caesar’s biggest rival in terms of gaining greater influence over Arthur. But, when more members of the Round Table appear in the West to launch an attack, Caesar sides with his soon-to-be brother-in-law unwittingly sealing his own fate with Arthur.
This is just a small example of the convoluted plotting that makes this show engaging to watch but hard as hell to keep track of, largely as much of the world building in the first half has been based around an already crammed cadre of important characters, who are now joined by even more faces to remember. Their presence is harmed by the lack of backstory and build up, with some not even lasting a whole episode before succumbing to defeat.
Among the many new figures randomly plucked from history to join this adventure are Chandragupta (Mauyra), Charlemagne (aka Charles The Great), Alexander (the Great), Hannibal Barca and Niccolo Machiavelli, both re-imagined as women. Charlemagne and Hannibal are lovers who use their combined water and wind Sacred Treasures to create an icy attack to immobile their opponents.
Despite Charelmagne’s death, they score an early victory facilitating the capture of Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc, who now has her own Armour (mecha) called Orleans. Machiavelli takes the woman we know as Joan Of Arc back to her home town of Domrémy to be publicly burned at the stake for being a demon child – a riff on her true life execution.
Since there are still nine episodes to go, Jeanne is saved by Nobunaga but ends up being re-captured and tortured again, this time stark naked by two men because this show was missing some unpleasant misogyny and gratuitous fan service. In a twist however Jeanne was being forced to accept her powers of foresight rather than deny them, only doing so at Nobunaga’s behest.
The middle portion of this collection sees things get really trippy and starts to overload things with a load of existential surreal frippery, usually a sign that the writer doesn’t have enough material for the two cour run he was given for his story so he needs to pad it out a bit. As before it is all lovingly animated but with the story already buckling under the weight of its huge cast, this is a further distraction that bears little fruit.
And we’re still not done as there are more clashes to be fought, more palace intrigue to be expanded upon, betrayals, broken alliances, deaths, revelations and the climactic battle to unify the planets and save them from destruction. Lest we forget the hitherto unseen antagonist King Arthur makes his long awaited debut, having exhausted the efforts of his Round Table, some of the setbacks being fatal.
In terms of anime villains Arthur is straight out of the catalogue of “deranged megalomaniacs intent on cleansing the world to build a new one from scratch”. With Nobunaga being the one to unite the world by saving everyone, it is understandable the pair would clash philosophically, but the ante is upped as both are being declared the Saviour King by the respective sides.
What makes this series so immensely frustrating is that the story, while hardly original, is strong enough to have been played out with a completely original cast instead of the cute but flawed gimmick of cherry picking established names from history and in some cases, threaten to traduce their lives and characters. Granted Kawamori probably hit upon a nice hook for a series with this idea but this genre was the wrong fit and ultimately does more harm than good.
The characters themselves may be well studied to allow Kawamori to riff on their famous incidents, attributes or achievements – the aforementioned scenario with Joan Of Arc, Himiko being the bridge between the two planets, Leonardo Da Vinci painting a different version of The Last Supper, etc. – but it does help to know this beforehand, otherwise these subtleties are lost on the average, uninitiated viewer.
Credit to Kawamori for managing to deliver a satisfying and definitive conclusion to this sinuous journey, that often felt like a trudge through a swimming pool full of custard, such was the weight of information and story developments one had to keep abreast of. It’s strongest selling point, besides the curiosity of the cluttered celebrity cast list, is the superb animation and visuals, making this one of the better looking shows out there.
Because this show was so ambitious and dared to be different we should embrace as such; if this were a Monty Python sketch, where we know its tongue will be firmly in its cheek, that would be possible. Unfortunately Kawamori’s vision prevents this but as anime fans, we are able to be more accepting towards it than others.
Recommending Nobunaga The Fool is not easy to do – it offers everything one could want from an epic mecha fantasy adventure series, and is an impressive production, but ultimately shoots itself in the foot with its surfeit of ideas and specious central concept.
An entertaining enough but vexing series.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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