Review for Ambition Of Oda Nobuna Collection
No, this isn’t déjà vu. You are seeing another show from MVM this year, which tells the story of the Warring States Period through the eyes of an unsuspecting time-traveller, who surprisingly ends up in a parallel history where all the main players are recast as cute young girls. We had Battle Girls: Time Paradox back in January, and now it’s the turn of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna (as Nobuna is the feminine version of Nobunaga). This time the time traveller is a perverted teenage male, so you can expect in which direction this show will go. Only it was Battle Girls with its all female cast that fell afoul of the BBFC, not this show.
Sagara Yoshiharu is the perverted teen male who suddenly finds himself 400 years in the past, in the middle of a battle, trying to comfort Toyotomi Hideyoshi as he dies. Sagara is a committed fan of videogames about the Warring States period, and he knows his history backwards. Which is why he knows that Nobunaga Oda’s loyal aide isn’t supposed to die just yet. What else is there to do but to take Hideyoshi’s place and keep history on track, or even better, make history unfold the way he’s always wanted to in his videogames? He isn’t expecting Nobunaga Oda to be Nobuna Oda, a cute young girl in a bra-top. He certainly isn’t expecting to become sweet on her, although her abusive response tends to cast ambiguity on her feelings. While she takes him on as a loyal vassal, she dubs him Saru, Monkey. Even better from his perspective, most of the notable figures from this period of history are also young, female and good looking. But this is no videogame, there are no save points, his choices will have a lethal finality, and dying looks like it really hurts...
The twelve episodes of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna are presented across two discs from MVM. I’m reviewing the DVD release, but the show is also coming out on Blu-ray.
1. Nobuna & Monkey
2. Intrigue in the House of Oda
3. Upheaval in Mino
4. Winds of War: Okehazama
5. Recruiting a Genius Strategist
6. Sunomata – One Night Castle
7. Nobuna Heads for the Capital
8. Sakai: City of Freedom and Riches
9. Face-off at Kiyomizu Temple
10. Nobuna’s Dire Peril
11. Siege of Kanegasaki
12. A Nation of Virtue
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic PAL transfer. It’s another Sentai title, this time localised for PAL playback by Hanabee in Australia. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with strong colours. The character art is pretty much as you would expect for this kind of historical harem anime, with a fairly non-descript male lead (although able to SD into monkey form at the drop of a hat), while a lot of effort is put into the female characters to enhance the fan service. Oda Nobuna’s anachronistic bra is a case in point. But the world design is pleasing, with sufficient detail, while the real money is put into the animation, fluid, vivid, and atmospheric, and certainly with more production value than the average comedy anime. The difference between this and Battle Girls is palpable and in Oda Nobuna’s favour. While the DVD is good, certainly free of visible compression artefacts and the like, and scales up pretty well, this still looks like a show that will greatly benefit from the HD upgrade, and I’d opt for the Blu-ray given the choice.
You have the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The original language track is the way to go here, with voice actor performances suited to the usual character clichés. The action comes across well, and the stereo gives the show a decent sense of space. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typographical error. I gave the dub a try and while enthusiastically performed, the voices just don’t sit right for me, in a dub that’s a little too colloquial, and not really nuanced enough, another example of a ‘get it in the can quick’ job from Sentai.
The discs present their contents with simple, static menus, while each episode is followed by a translated English language credit reel. Is it just me, or are these credit reels getting longer with each new series. You now have to sit through over 2 minutes of silent scrolly between episodes. Well you can always skip.
Disc 2 merely has the trailers for Problem Children are Coming From Another World, Aren’t They, Majestic Prince, Little Busters Refrain, and Humanity Has Declined.
No textless credits for you...
It’s a harem comedy. Don’t let the historical setting fool you, don’t be distracted by the battle scenes, the talk of strategy, the violence and death. The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is as traditional a harem set-up as it gets, with a non-descript teen male collecting a coterie of young women through sheer force of personality, like he’s putting stickers in a Panini album. And despite themselves, all these women fall for him. Like all harem shows, the central pairing is obvious, and carries through the show, with relationships with any of the other girls merely a tantalising possibility to cater for the vagaries of the target audience. If you think that Sagara should be with the lisping ninja, you might get half an episode of maybe, but really it’s all about Sagara and Nobuna. As per target audience standards, Nobuna is the tsundere stereotype, hard on the outside as a warlord, but with a soft gooey middle that only Sagara can melt, after being kicked in the face a few times for his trouble.
One advantage this show has over the usual harem shows is that Sagara is nondescript on the outside only. The character design may be bland but the characterisation isn’t. He’s not the hapless teen male who doesn’t know one end of a female from the other. He’s interested enough in the opposite sex to at least be labelled a pervert for his adequacy, and he’s certainly enthusiastic and energetic about the historical period he finds himself in, a veritable Sengoku Jidai otaku, putting his encyclopaedic knowledge of the period (gained through playing videogames) into making sure that Oda Nobuna comes out on top. That he takes the place of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (prematurely killed in this parallel history), simply ensures that he’s centre stage for all of the major historical events, and can even move and alter them to his preferences, though that begins to have unanticipated consequences as time goes on.
It’s all very much from the fantasy otaku perspective. How Sagara winds up in the past is never questioned. He doesn’t even think twice about staying there, never thinks about how to get back to the future. He’s in his ideal fantasy playground, where his favourite and indeed most notorious historical figures are now young, female and attractive. He gets to interact with all manner of anime stereotypes. Nobuna is the most developed of these characters quite naturally, although she doesn’t stray too far from the tsundere baseline. One of her generals is the female stereotype who marks everything out of 100 points. The other is a badass berserker with big breasts (which are her weak point). It isn’t long before Sagara is assigned a ninja bodyguard, a cute little girl named Goemon, who has an endearing speech impediment that she’s self-conscious of. There’s a little sister stereotype, the haughty and aloof stereotype, the slutty stereotype, the vulnerable stereotype and on and on...
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna starts off well. The historical setting, the battles, and the title character’s aim of conquering the nation give the show more of a dimension that the usual harem comedies. There’s more going on under the hood than just a teen male awkwardly falling into a nearby bosom and getting smacked for his impudence. The story of Nobuna’s campaigns holds the interest, gives the grey matter a little work out, while the usual harem comedy glands are stimulated by the character interactions. But the initial problem, right from the off, is that of character overload. There are so many notable characters in this period of history, that the first few episodes are constantly offering a freeze-frame and voice-over biographies for the new arrivals, most of which went in one ear and out the other in my case.
This never lets up. There are new characters being introduced right to the end, it becomes something of a plate spinning act trying to keep everyone memorised, and certainly by the halfway point this was beginning to feel like a chore. Also by the halfway point, the character interactions seem to take less precedence than the reinvention of history as experienced by Sagara. By then, I was firmly of the opinion that you have to be just as much a Warring States period otaku as the main character himself to get the most out of this show. I want my harem comedies to be entertaining and funny, not feel like hard work. The final straw is the end of the show, which is infuriatingly open-ended, a creators’ plea for a second series.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna starts off on the right foot, balancing its historical pretensions with entertaining, if clichéd harem comedy, but towards the end it becomes bogged down in the lore of the period, making it less enjoyable than it could have been. It started off better than Battle Girls Time Paradox, but ended up worse. I guess that averages out to the same...
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