History is what it is. The Past. A stepping block that led to the present…a bunch of old stuff. Call it what you will, it is an unchangeable facet of existence. I mean, it’s not like anyone can time travel or anything…wait, one guy did? Ok fine, but it’s not like he has a near encyclopaedic knowledge of the time period he was sent to or anything…he does…well, what do you know. Even still, who would dare risk change the past with their knowledge? Him. Ok, you know what, I’m just going to stop asking questions at this point. History is what it is…but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.
As the history books tell us, the Sengoku Period was a time of turmoil, headed by numerous clan leaders who fought for their self believed right to rule the entirety of Japan. Hardened warriors who used all of their cunning, skill and power to lead their armies through the battlefields. That being said, I don’t think the history books ever mentioned the fact that these leaders were, for the most part, a collection of cute girls…so I’m pretty sure that’s where this particular series diverts from what we would all consider accurate. Then there’s the part where a high school student mysteriously travels back in time…just because. Luckily for all involved, said high school student, known formerly as Yoshiharu Sagara and currently as Monkey, is incredibly well versed in the Sengoku era. This is of course the result of careful study and conscientious effort…via the game Nobunaga’s Ambition. What, did you think I was talking about history class?
Given that historically powerful figures are gender shifted in this particular interpretation of the past, one would imagine that women would be placed in quite the high regard. Unfortunately, that is not entirely true. Though admittedly it is the norm, there a quite a few prominent characters who besmirch the title of any female leader, believing them to be redundant in a world of men. Unfortunately yet again, it’s kind of hard to disagree with this logic, given how the female cast is portrayed. Befitting their appearance, the women of this series act as if they are all in high school. On the contrary, all male characters appear to be substantially older, as well as actually making the war their main concern. Given the context of the series however, this also paints them as villains, whilst the never give up, peace and forgiveness mantra of the Oda is the infallible beacon in a wartorn world. Sure this is nice and all, but it’s not exactly pragmatic given the state of Japan at this time. So basically what I’m getting at is that this series is Sengoku Japan through the filter of a high school drama, with the exuberance of youth standing firm against the “evil” logic of the older.
Though he is presented as the typical anime goofball, Monkey is unmistakeably the lynchpin of the entire series. With his surprisingly intricate knowledge of the period, he proves a valuable resource to Nobuna throughout her campaign…pretty much her only resource when you get right down to it. Though her followers are established as being powerful in their own right, they are really only successful when following one of Monkey’s plans, making them the brawn to his brain. Thus, this series boils down to one of the weirdest harem series ever. With all of the main cast appearing, as well as acting, as highschool girls, the concept of war is severely watered down. If any foe of Nobuna is of the female persuasion, you can count on Monkey to step in and save them, refusing to allow the world lose a hottie. Now I’m not entirely well versed in the history of feudal Japan, but I’m pretty sure alliances weren’t formed based on how attractive clan leaders were. Either way, that’s what goes down in this version of history. Yet even with all of these unabashed alterations, Monkey’s overall completion rate is so high, that even when he alters history for the benefit of Nobuna, he still wins.
Visually speaking, the art of the series is pretty decent. Not amazing, not terrible, just good. This may account for the fact that, despite its setting, the series often glosses over battle sequences. Through a combination of quick cuts, dramatic teleportation and reaction shots, choreography is far from central in this story of the past. So why don’t we slide on past this and instead focus on the cast of this series, the section that receives the most attention…especially if they happen to be female. Look, I’m not here to step on the whole “cute anime girl” trope, but this is most certainly a series where said trope is in full swing. Regardless f their position, the female cast varies in size, shape and hair colour, leaning heavily into the cute spectrum. Males on the other hand are gruff, buff and more often than not fielding a rather basic crop of black hair, though grey also makes an appearance in the older gentlemen. But as we all know, only attractive people can be heroes, so this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. At least villains are kind enough to telegraph their allegiances, makes the battlefield easier to navigate.
For the most part, the English dub of this series is what one might consider average. The main negative arises in moments of intense action, where voices tend to fall flat. Though this isn’t true of every scene, it is by far the norm and serves to put a limit on the intensity emotion. That being said, there is a particularly memorable, albeit brief, moment in the penultimate episode involving Mitsuhide and a truly powerful scream. It’s honestly one of the best moments in the dub.
Overall, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is a series that seems at odds with its own premise. Though set in a historically powerful time period, the events of this era are treated as a game by some and a triviality by others. Even when characters such as Nobuna focus on the war at hand, it seems quite shallow given her general demeanour and actions. For the most part, this series is a high school drama wrapped in the Sengoku period. Discussions of true love, a substantial amount of female characters falling in immediate love with the charming protagonist, there’s even a festival episode where Monkey feeds Nobuna (which is a super big deal in a budding relationship, according to anime at least). Though this youthful take on the Sengoku era is an interesting one, I feel that the constant reminders of historical detail confuses the vibe of the series, continuing as a bit of a goofball comedy until the final two episodes, when it leans heavily on the drama of battle. At the end of the day, this series is worth checking out if your all about the “will they, won’t they (but they’re obviously going to)” relationships of youth, with an ancillary interest in history…also cute girls.
History, now with 90-100% more cute girls (via your friends at Hanabee)