Today we take on the harem-comedy series The Ambition of Oda Nobuna. It features an... interesting take on the famous Sengoku period in Japan. It has a whole bunch of historical figures gender-swapped and a time-traveling protagonist. Yeah, it's pretty weird.
This show starts off by dropping our modern-day protagonist Sagara "Saru" Yoshiharu into the Sengoku period of Japanese history. Not only that, but he's been dropped into the middle of a battle! Oh hey, it's Toyotomi Hideyoshi! Oh crap, he's dead.
Yoshiharu then meets Oda Nobuna, the young gender-swapped version of the historical figure Oda Nobunaga. Determined to set the future right, Yoshiharu uses his knowledge of the future to become Hideyoshi's replacement and set history right.
In addition to Nobunaga's gender-swapping, the majority of the cast is made up of suspiciously young gender-swapped versions of real life generals and daimyos.
For how shallow the show looks on paper and in the first few episodes, Yoshiharu and Oda Nobuna actually manage to be rather nice characters with some complex motivations and feelings. Yoshiharu is an awesomely genre-savvy time traveler with a penchant for predicting events based on his intimate knowledge of the Sengoku period (due to a game). He's actually a likable guy that is almost too competent. Oda Nobuna, on the other hand, is an interesting twist on the historical Nobunaga that manages to reach surprising depths by the end of the show.
I will mention that I thought that the animation was above-par compared to what I expected. I did rather well and the battle scenes were very good. It's just barely worthy of being mentioned though, this isn't one to write home about.
The show is a surprisingly accurate interpretation of the entire cast (again, they are all actual historical figures) even though they've been de-aged and gender-swapped. The relationships and motivations of the characters very much reflect our own reality in many ways.
I've got to mention that I liked Manchiyo's "points" running gag where she assigns things arbitrary points. It's a funny quirk that serves to both lighten the mood and (surprisingly) effectively illustrate the importance of certain elements. This is one gag that I might use in real life out of boredom.
I'll let the opening illustrate the cast for you all. You'll only grasp the ridiculousness if you see it. On the plus side, the theme is actually pretty good!
In opposition to what seems like a shallow wish-fulfillment story, this series is actually a pretty cool retelling of Oda Nobunaga's rule in the Sengoku period. I'm actually something of a closet historian on the Sengoku period. In fact that was the primary reason I bought Total War: Shogun 2. It's a fascinating time in history because of how it fundamentally changed an entire nation in such a (relatively) short time.
The protagonist has knowledge of infamous events that ended up turning out bad for Oda Nobunaga, so he goes out-of-his-way to prevent Oda Nobuna from making the same decisions. A rather cool string of "what-if" scenarios are explored and it slowly starts piling up to show us what could have been. Even those without an extensive knowledge of Japanese history will have a certain amount of delight with the deceptively strong plot.
The final arc of the show serves to illustrate this quite a bit: it is surprisingly dark and it manages to demonstrate that this show is far more than your typical harem hijinks show. This one of a few, great, instances where it manages to transcend its romantic harem comedy genre roots and become deeper than you'd normally expect.
It's pretty deliberately ridiculous more often than not. There's a ton of fanservice in the series to the point that it just gets difficult to bear. There's also the problem of this being a historical series and the dissonance that gets introduced by the explicit magic in this series. Magic. Yeah, I couldn't get entirely behind that. It just barely scrapes by on my "rule of cool" threshold. Just barely.
The ridiculousness of how young some of these characters get is particularly jarring. The entire cast is pretty much guilty of this (the main character actually lampshades this), but Yoshiharu's mini-harem of loli girls is particularly ridiculous. It's just... wrong.
For all the development and exploration that Oda and Yoshiharu get, the majority of the cast is completely left out. For the most part, they seem to exist as the equivalent of a backdrop for the main characters.
The plot also has the tendency to shift between the cool, deeper plots and the lighter romantic-comedy plots very quickly. It can't seem to decide exactly what it wants to be.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is actually surprisingly solid show for how shallow it looks on the surface. It is definitely guilty of many things, but a weak framing plot is not one of them. It has tension, good characters, and a competent genre-savvy protagonist.
One has to wonder if this whole series was initially supposed to be an alternate reality exploration drama before the gender-swapping comedy/harem aspect was added. It certainly manages to be a solid example of the former when it gets in the mood to do so.
It falls into the same trap that so many harem comedies do though, the fanservice is ridiculous. There's no shortage of reviewers and viewers calling this series out on the ridiculousness of the rapid-fire fanservice and the weirdness that comes with it.
Still, there's actually a solid show hiding behind the shallow-looking surface and the fanservice. It was fun, well-written, and it also managed to break out of its simple harem premise a couple times to great effect. It elevated it significantly in my book.
This is best if you're looking for a well-done alternate history show set in the Sengoku period of Japan. It has a lot of fun moments and a whole lot more depth than what you expect. It is a harem series, so you should keep that in mind too. That'll make the the more serious crowd stay away.
You can watch The Ambition of Oda Nobuna on Crunchyroll.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
Kokoro Connect, Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth or Evangelion 3.0 next time.
This is part of Anime Marathon 2014, a continuation of Anime Marathon 2013 by popular demand. I'm on a mission to review every anime I can for the TAY community and anyone else that wants to read it. I can never guarantee when these reviews will be posted, but I'll do my best to keep it consistent.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.