Saturday, 18 April 2015

Oda Nobunaga in Anime pt.II: The Historical Melting Pots

Beside those investigated last time, another disturbing tendency with Nobunaga's contemporary renditions in anime is that of taking a bunch of historical characters from various eras and places and mix them together in some heroic (?) situation of sort.

One of the first series to pop-up styled after this tendency and featuring Nobunaga as the main character is "Nobunagun".
This series was first released as a manga in 2011 by the author Masato Hisa and reduced into a 13 episodes-long anime series on January 2014.
The first proper comparison that popped into my mind was with the manga series "Hagane" by Masaomi Kanzaki dated 1998, which main difference with "Nobunagan" was that the "protagonist" hosted the genes of Miyamoto Musashi rather than the genes of Oda Nobunaga.
In this anime, Shio Ogura is your spacey military otaku girl, who lives her passion with a shy and reserved character, sure that people may make fun of her because of her strange tastes.
Things change for ever when Shio is forced to join the mysterious DOGOO organization, that fights evil aliens for the sake of humankind, because of her peculiar genes, coming staight from the Incident of Honnoji.
So, Nobunaga-sama comes to give strenght and tactical smartness to the girl by temporary possessing her body and showing his strategical genius.
Besides Nobunaga, the other main characters host the genes of Jack the Ripper, Gandhi, Newton, Geronimo, Gaudi, Galileo, the photo-reporter Capa, the criminalist Vidocq and the surgeon Hunter. In my opinion DOGOO had to do a better job with its DNA selection in case of alien invasion! I mean-- Robert Capa?!
The character of Shio was cute at the beginning, expecially because of the fun military passion, then the random sexual innuendos she's the victim of and her really stupid crush on Jack the Ripper left this watcher with a very huge WHY?! on her lips.
I was hoping for some interesting development and well, it just ends with Jack reciprocating his feelings for Nobunaga-chan. --Sorry if I find the mental image a bit disturbing XD

During the same exact period we were presented another anime of doubtful taste, "Nobunaga The Fool".
This was another intriguing project, born as a live stage exhibition in 2013 and later developed into an anime to air on January 2014.
The trailer of the anime looked quite promising, a mecha series set in a Sengoku look-alike mysterious planet and a struggle for power with pretty characters-- I was kinda perplexed by the size of the boobs of Jeanne d'Arc, but I wanted to give this series a chance.
And of course it was a waste of time.
If the superficiality of the characters' treatment in "Nobunagun" was almost its redeeming quality, here the scriptwriters of "The Fool" did their best to characterize the "Western Invasors" as evil, useless, treacherous and overall perverted-- Of course the only reason for the Westerners to be attracted by the Eastern Planet was to steal all its energy and resources, turning the planet into crap.
I still can't believe what happened to guys like Cesare Borgia, Nicolò Machiavelli and Charlemagne in this freaking anime.
The only Western characters who were treated with some mercy where only two: Leonardo Da Vinci, because he followed his wish to visit Jap-AEHM, the Eastern Planet to look for enlightment, and Julius Caesar, because he had the "good taste" to fall in love with a proper Japanese chick, the meek and charming Ichi-hime, Nobunaga's little sister.
The portrayal of Nobunaga had its interesting bits and revelations during the episodes, like how his acting as a fool hid the inner pain and troubles that he wasn't supposed to show, but on the contrary, to use as fuel for his ambition "whatever may happen", I mean, stuff that made one hope for some badass resolution, but no, the conclusion of the anime was exactly as pointless as I was afraid, and in the end Pandor-AEHM, Jeanne's boobs were almost the only redeeming feature of the series.

I'll close this sad list with the only "jewel" of this peculiar genre, the fun "Drifters" by Kouta Hirano, author of the famous "Hellsing".
This manga started its serialization in 2009, and on 2013, bundled with the OVA of the last DVD of "Hellsing Ultimate", was presented a short animation video dedicated to this series, more an omake to the fans of Hirano rather than an actual trailer for an OVA in the making:
Here instead of people with random genes or incarnations of the historical figures, we have the actual historical figures who are transported into a fantasy world, where they find themselves involved in the troubles of the locals, led by mere survival insticts.
The forces on the battlefield are separated into two factions: "The Drifters", those whose deaths were mysterious and left unproven, part of which Nobunaga is, and "The Ends", those who met a terrible death by the hands of others, making them grew spiteful of humankind.
Nobunaga is portrayed as a man in his fifties, being "transported" in the new world right after the Incident of Honnoji: he has a temper and it's a really fun and enjoyable portrait.
I found it interesting how Nobunaga's behaviour is centered around his feelings as a "father", that are the reasons why he takes under his protective wig the yound and wild Shimazu Toyohisa, the protagonist of the series.
The manga of Hirano is quite outrageous and disturbing in many parts, but it's that kind of narration and style that made him popular and entertaining as an author.

This genre start from another curiosity of people: what would happen if important historical characters from various places and historical periods would get to meet? Well, the answer is quite obvious: a war.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1965)

--And here I am to review another historical movie, this time dedicated to the rise to power of a young Tokugawa Ieyasu, yet featuring an exciting rendition of our favourite warlord, Nobunaga!
This 143 minutes-long movie was released on 1965 and directed by Daisuke Ito, who also took care of the scriptwriting.
As we already saw for "The Lucky Adventurer", the "source" for this movie was another popular novel by Yamaoka Souhachi, "Tokugawa Ieyasu" in fact, serialized from 1950 to 1967 on newspaper; from what I could see, the story stops at the third volume of the novel, featuring the introduction of the Oda clan and ending with the Battle of Okehazama.

Our first meeting with Nobunaga is during the captivity of Ieyasu (named Takechiyo) by the hands of the Oda.
Nobunaga is intrigued by the strenght, smartness and dignity of the little boy and offers him his friendship, sympathizing with the forced distance of his mother.

The actor playing Nobunaga both as an adult and as a youngster is Nakamura Kinnosuke, again, the same actor who played Nobunaga on the above mentioned "The Lucky Adventurer"-- So I won't tell you again about how popular and entertaining this guy is.

This time, I confess you that I didn't recognize him at all-- Sure he changed a lot during those six years... And I'm kinda amazed by how much difference a chonmage and some make-up can do to the facial features of a person!

The portrait of Nobunaga in this movie is quite intriguing.

The difference with the portrait of the daimyo suggested by recent series as Gunshi Kanbee is revealing of the spirit of the times: Nobunaga is a leader so he's both the politician and the strategist.
His eccentricity has the genuine taste of the strong man, and he's far from being portrayed as someone who needs someone to take "care of him".
He's surrounded by vassals, helpers and assistants but he's the one putting his men to use and not the opposite.

The first relevant action that Nobunaga did even as a young lad was taking care of his fellow countrymen. In the scene where he got to meet with Otai, Ieyasu's mother (Ineko Arima), he's showing as teaching kids to sing and dance so that they can sustain themselves.
After this first meeting with Otai, he did everything to keep in contact with the woman for the sake of Ieyasu.
Behind his eccentricity and roughness he's actually the caring type --Not sure how historically accurate it may be, but sure it's a reassuring thing for the audience to assume that they are led by responsible fellows.

Hideyoshi is played by Kei Yamamoto:
It's an interesting portrait! Instead of being characterized as a bufoon, here Hideyoshi has the vibe of the spy, the information gatherer, almost as a fishy henchman from a noir movie...
Nobunaga used to meet him at the market by Kiyosu's castle, but later on he's showed as servicing him as a proper informer: "I know everything in-between Heaven and Hell" is his catchy motto!

In this movie both Imagawa Yoshimoto (Kou Nishimura) and his uncle advisor Sessai (Koreya Senda) managed to get a good deal of screentime, and are immediately portrayed as the shrewd villains of the movie.
Faithful to his nickname, "The Fox of Suruga", Yoshimoto, advised by his uncle monk, makes sure to secure his lands by keeping his rivals on check with cruel plots.
How he used up the strenght and resources of his "forced allies", the Matsudaira, placing them on the vanguard of his army to do all the dirty job for him, was pointed out by Nobunaga as a reason to hope for Ieyasu's support.

Nou-hime was played by Junko Miyazono, and her presence in the movie was not very relevant.
She's just showed as serving Nobunaga her meal and seeing him off to pray for him on the eve of the Battle of Okehazama.
A dignified rendition, but just worth a note for the sake of a complete review.

On a fangirly note, an actor playing as Iwamuro Nagato-no-kami, Nobunaga's favourite page during the Kiyosu days-- YEEEE!
He's Koujiro Kawakami and he's a pretty boy!
I was delighted by the presence of so many pages around Nobunaga in that period, a real treat!

Pages and warriors are also the special feature of the Atsumori of this movie; a real show that Nobunaga presented to everyone, expecially to Nagato, that, as Nobunaga jokes, by now he should be bored to see:

"Sing with me, as this may be my last performance!"
Again, a vigorous, moving performance by our kabuki superstar.

Another interesting bit of this movie that caught my attention is the quick "lucky meal" that takes the place of the usual bowl of rice gulped down while putting up the armour:
Nobunaga takes a bit of each of the three dishes and recites (according to the English subs) "Strike! Victory! Happiness! I will eat the ogre!" before swallowing the treat and washing it down with three cups of sake.
I assume that it's some kind of ritual to bring good luck (the word "打ち勝つ" is an expression that means "to overcome")-- I assume that it's also related to the served food... As "katsu" means pork... If you get to know more about this curious ritual, please share your infos!

The Battle of Okehazama is shown while being performed early in the morning and during the famous storm:
It wasn't accurate and I'm always sad at seeing Yoshimoto dying like a moron, but that's it-- A short bit of a battle in difficult conditions to remark the drama of Ieyasu and the stubborness of Nobunaga.

Long story short, an interesting and original rendition of the facts that I suggest you to watch to re-fuel your imagination on the events.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Nobunaga's Unexpected Allies: Shingen and Kenshin

The Sengoku era was indeed a period of disorder and treacherous ways, and it was easy, as we saw in the post of Nobunaga's rebellious retainers, to find an enemy in the friend of yesterday, and viceversa.
Some of Nobunaga's enemies gained their fame exactly because they strongly opposed Nobunaga, but it wasn't always the case and the look of things changed in due time.

I would love to focus this first post on the subject on two of the characters that were most famous for their active partecipation to the so-called Anti-Nobunaga Alliance (信長包囲網, "Nobunaga Encirclement"), Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin.
The relationship between the three is one of those messy things from the Sengoku era indeed, and it's usually not deeply investigated as it's connected to another character, usually dismissed as a moron, shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki.
Once Nobunaga put Yoshiaki back in Kyoto as the legitimate shogun, before the things got sour between the two, Yoshiaki worked quite hard to keep the land peaceful. To do so, he tried to solve peacefully the increasing tension between the more prominent daimyo of the time, supporting the collaborative relationships among the most "touchy" clans.
To do so, he used Nobunaga and his most beloved Asakura Yoshikage to promote diplomatic relationships between the Takeda, the Hojo and the Uesugi, and used Shingen to pacify Nobunaga and Kennyo.

Nobunaga started his correspondence with Ashikaga around 1565, discussing the matter of giving Ashikaga "back" his seat as shogun in Kyoto as a mean to stop the wars the scorched the lands of Japan.
It's mentioned that at first Ashikaga was keener on Kenshin as a supporter, but the continuous battles with his neighbour Shingen proved to keep him busy on the most important time, making him lose momento.
"Momento" which was caught by Nobunaga, who suddenly proved his worth as "saviour of the nation" by capturing Mino in 1567, entering the stage of "proper daimyo".

It's on the June of the same year that Nobunaga would start a serie of diplomatic marriages with the Takeda.
On 1565 Katsuyori, Shingen's heir, would take the daughter of a certain Toyama Naokado as his bride. Naokado was a vassal of Nobunaga, and his daughter was adopted by Nobunaga as his niece, thus making her an important pawn for diplomatic business.
Unfortunately the woman would die on 1567 due to childbirth. She would leave behind the unlucky son of Katsuyori, Nobukatsu, and a chance for another marriage, another unlucky one.
In 1567, in fact, the hand of the young Matsuhime was offered to Nobutada, both of them children fiancee. The marriage will never get to happen, though, because the relationship between Nobunaga and Shingen would turn inevitably sour on 1572-- But let's get in order.

The "march on Kyoto" that would grant the seat as shogun to Yoshiaki would happen in 1568.
With the mediation of Yoshiaki, Nobunaga would start a deep correspondence with the Uesugi clan via Naoe Kanetsugu around 1569.

So, one can assume that the situation among these great powers was relatively peaceful, at least 'til 1671, when the relationship between Yoshiaki and Nobunaga would break permanently: the two of them faced their first crisis on 1569, probably because in those days Nobunaga's attacked the Kitabatake clan of Ise without Yoshiaki's consent.
Around 1571 Shingen would show some intolerance to Nobunaga's methods related to the infamous Siege of Mount Hiei, where Nobunaga erased the warrior monks of Enryaku-ji.
As we said, on 1572 Shingen would break his peaceful relationship with Nobunaga.
Kenshin would last a few longer, even after Shingen's death on 1573, 'til 1576, joining the third Anti-Nobunaga Alliance.

In the end it may be a mere matter of math: Shingen was Nobunaga's enemy from 1572 to 1573 (1 year, compared to the 7 as allies), while Kenshin from 1576 to 1578 (2 years, compared to the 6 as allies)-- Probably they were stuck to the role of "mortal enemies" of Nobunaga because they died as such..?

To illustrate this post I picked two beautiful prints coming from the collection "Tsuki Hyakushi" (月百姿, "One-hundred Aspects of the Moon") by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi; for once I gave up on the belligerant portraits coming from the theme of the Battles of Kawanakajima to focus on something more suggestive and revealing of the poetic nature of the two daimyo.
The first print is dedicated to Shingen (1886), as he stares at the moon behind Mount Fuji, across Suruga bay. The poem on the cartouche translates as "On the coast at Kiyomi, even the sky bars the way - the moon is blocked by the Mio pine groves".
The print dedicated to Kenshin (1890) shows the warlord while composing a poem as he looks at geese flying under the moonlight on the eve of the battle of Sadogashima. The poem on the cartouche reveals "Frost fills the camp and the autumn air is still - lines of returning geese cross the moon of the third hour."
To know (and see!) more about the "Tsuki Hyakushi" and its protagonists, I urge you to visit this useful webpage.