Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.. A sentiment that has lead many a person to call back to days past in an attempt to procure a better future. Of course, when Santayana said this I highly doubt he was considering the potential for an alien incursion. Yet this is what anime has opened the door to, an interpretation of wisdom that pits figures long gone, yet far from forgotten, against hideous beings that do their damndest to defy expectation. I suppose in a world as infinite as that of the fictitious domain, it is far from an impossibility, but still…I don’t think anyone pictured the history having such a lively impact on the present.
As long as fiction and space decided to cross streams and explode into the sci-fi genre, aliens have been an ever looming threat upon the denizens of Earth. As said genre has evolved, so too, conveniently enough, have said alien threats, a concept taken to its logical extreme via your helpful friends over at Nobunagun. Piggybacking on a meteor that decided to make tracks for Earth at some point in the past, the aliens designated Evolutionary Invasion Objects (EIO), have made it their self-driven mission to make landfall and invade the continents of the world. Of course, this would spell the end for humanity as it currently exists, you know…existing. Thus, a special supranational organisation known as Defense Organization aGainst Outer Objects (DOGOO) was formed with the intent of quashing any and all alien threats. Naturally, this laydown of backstory denotes a certain importance and relevance to our story, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the titular Nobunagun takes position as the newest member of DOGOO and brings the pain to alien menaces the ocean over.
As a concept, the E-Gene holders are an interesting one. Bearing the undefined essence of certain historical figures within them, these choiceless champions fight for Earth with abilities tied to the lives of said figures. The most obvious example would lie in the title of the series, combining Sio’s soul sympatico Oda Nobunaga and the weapon they choose to wield. That being said, the choice of historical figures is interesting to say the least. Save for a few known the world over, some such as Gaudi, Vidocq and Dai Zong are noticeably unique. At least to me, I apologise if they tremendously well known, I am far from a scholar of the past. But I digress. This combination of skillsets provides the series with a heck of a varied force that can force back the invading alien force…forcefully so. Though I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how the AU Weapons bestow these impossible powers on their wielders, beyond declaring it alien science. The good kind, probably provided by Dogoo (the alien, not the organisation). Who somehow knew when the EIOs would appear…and where…a long time ago. Yeah, that one was never really explained.
As yet another collection of unexpectedly aged champions uniting to protect this big blue marble, tensions are high and personalities clash aboard the multitude of flagships that comprise the DOGOO forces (Fun Fact: All of which are named after sci-fi film protagonists, such as the Ellen Ripley). Said personalities add the majority of humour to the series, with lines constantly being drawn and blurred between the E-Gene holders and the personalities of the souls they carry. This split/blend is called into attention openly by Mahesh, wielder of Ganghi’s spirit. He notes that he is quite the ladies’ man (or tries to be) when not embodying pacifism and others, such as Jess/Newton, exhibit much more sadism and bloodlust when embodying their respective spirits. This conflict of identity is actually one of the series stronger points, though it could have used a touch more focus if I’m being honest. Sio’s ability to call upon Oda to steady her hand and initiate her battle instincts became easier and easier as the series progressed, with her even beginning to act like him in non-combat situations. Due to her place as the protagonist, the focused placed on her internal struggle shone a light on those around her who did not receive the same treatment, bar a few key moments for other major players, such as Adam/Jack.
As far as style goes, this series definitely has some. Starting early on with some interesting pattern prints of flowers and tactical camouflage overlaying Sio’s school trip, Nobunagun paints some visually interesting scenes. However, by and large the most impactful visual aspect of the series is the instigation of what I shall dub Battle Mode. Whenever one of the villainous alien creatures rears its ever evolving head, the entire colour palette of the series shifts into one much darker in presence. Skies turn crimson, normally bright objects are given purple and blue overtones and the overall series becomes much more sci-fi horror than monster fighting anime. Essentially, it serves as a representation that the situation just got serious, carrying the implicit feeling of oddity and dread. It’s pretty cool. Through this technique, it’s not even until episode three that we actually witness Nobunagun’s actual gold colour, having only seen the shades of purple that are far more iconic to the series.
Having translated into the realm of English, as so many anime tend to, the ADR team this time around decided to keep the international appeal of this time crossed team by adding in accents. Now I’ve said it efore and I’ll say it again now, this is remarkably rare for anime, at least the ones I’ve seen. This time around, I feel like they were handled pretty darn well. I’ll admit, when I heard the character of Adam in the trailer, I was a bit taken aback. Upon seeing the series, I realised that I had not once considered that other characters would also possess accents…which is admittedly stupid of me not to have done so. Back on topic, this vocal decision added more life into some characters who, through choices made much further back in the line, are much less developed than Sio and her main crew. Though I guess that’s what separates protagonists from…not-protagonists. Listening to the audio commentary, this decision was also made, in part, for the benefit of the ADR crew. Some may note the (commentarily confirmed intentional) choice of casting Christopher Bevins as Mahesh and Caitlin Glass as Jess, who in turn reprised their accents as Dhalsim and Cammy from Street Fighter IV. Just a fun little tidbit that. Also props to Ian Sinclair’s Scottish accent, it was one of my personal favourites.
Nobunagun also contains quite an interesting backtrack to accompany it. Comprised of a fairly diverse selection of tunes, the oddly twangy guitar really stood out for me. In certain instances, said guitar almost would’ve suited the scene of an old school surfer movie. It didn’t actually compromise the situation, it merely stood out enough to note. The heavy music section also leave quite an action packed impact on their respective sequences, which generally involve a whole heap of chaos, carnage and the occasional cephalopod.
This series is an odd one. Existing somewhere between an anime series and sci-fi love letter, it provides its concepts with a healthy dose of referential humour and fandom. In addition to the previously mentioned protagonist-named warships, characters make more than their fair share of pop culture references, with Will Smith, Michael Bay and Aliens used as descriptors. Pacific Rim even nets two mentions, under two different circumstances and meaning and the E-Gene holder of Robert Capa tells someone to “shake it like a polaroid picture”. It’s as funny as it is jarring. This however, is combined with a somewhat awkward pacing that fluctuates from well done to staggered. This would be my largest complaint about the series, with the final episode containing an oddly lengthy flashback that drew much away from the drama of the battle. Conversely, the first episode featured a well thought out and implemented pace that made the cliffhanger exciting, as opposed to the cop out open ended pilots can tend to be. What I’m getting at here in my own roundabout way is that Nobunagun is a cool series that is just one step away from truly reaching the peak of its potential. That being said, I’d still recommend checking it out, even if just to witness the originality that is, for example, Isaac Newton bring the hurt to a giant fish monster. Historians did not see that one coming…
Think you have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with some EIOs? No…oh. Well why not head over to Madman and watch some other people do it