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ddThe Ambition of Oda Nobuna is an alternative history anime series originally broadcast in Japan in 2012, a fun light-hearted show that has a melodramatic edge and lots of battle sequences.
Yoshiharu Sagara is a Japanese high school student who somehow ends up in the middle of battle during the Sengoku Period where his life is saved by Nobuna Oda, a teenage warrior woman who plans to unite Japan under her banner. The beautiful Nobuna makes Yoshiharu one of her retainers and renames him Monkey. Using his knowledge of history Monkey plans to aid Nobuna and her court in its quest, first uniting their province before heading to Kyoto. But will the teenager’s presence affect the future?
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna bares a lot of similarities to another anime series, Battle Girls: Time Paradox: both series feature teenage protagonists who somehow end up travelling to an alternative version of Feudal Japan and they end up helping a woman who dreams of uniting and ruling Japan. They use their knowledge of the future to achieve this and both series give some Japanese historical figures a sex change, as well as using the anime stables of slapstick comedy, sex comedy and melodrama. “Battle Girls” was an entertaining if slightly faulted series (read Entertainment Fuse’s review here to find out more), The Ambition of Oda Nobuna was a more consistent beast, keeping its style of comedy throughout its run, even in the more serious episodes while ensuring there is a good portion of action in the mix. Some like episode six and nine end on a triumph note that would make you want to scream ‘yeah!’
While there are some thematic and structural similarities between “Battle Girls” and The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, there are differences as well. The main character in “Battle Girls” was a ditzy and a fairly dumb 14-year-old girl, Monkey is smarter, slightly older and more competent, rising up the ranks to be one of Nobuna’s top generals. “Battle Girls” was a more smaller scale quest with a band of warrior women going around Japan to find the Crimson Armor, while The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is an epic tale with big armies as Nobuna goes around Japan and has to make political manoeuvres as much as military ones. Yet both Nobuna and Oda Nobunaga from “Battle Girls” (both are based on the real Oda Nobunaga) are underestimated to be foolish brutes but are actually charismatic leaders who even their rivals are drawn to their cause.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is a rom-com with Monkey and Nobuna having a will-they-won’t-they relationship which results in sex comedy and the melodrama. Nobuna is quick to anger, beating Monkey at any given opportunity (because spousal abuse is always funny) and easily becomes a green eyed monster when she sees Monkey being interested in or complimenting another woman. The pair are drawn together, fighting their urges, are fraught with emotion when they fear the other is lost in battle or have to face an impossible decision, such as in Episode 2 “Intrigue in the House of Oda”. Their potential relationship is established early on as Nobuna is conflicted by her love for Monkey, with the boy being able to convince her when she is in doubt while continuing to give mixed signals.
Sexual comedy does not solely come from the antics between Monkey and Nobuna, Monkey also has misfortunes with other ladies. He suffers embarrassment when he runs into Nobuna’s top general, Katsuie Shibata and Louise the Portuguese nun whose huge breast have mastered perpetual motion. A gag that Monkey is on the receiving end a couple of times is when he is promised access to the fairest maidens in the land which turn out to be young girls. Though Monkey is the focus of sexual comedy, other characters do have sexual jokes, such as one where a male character has to pretend he is female to fulfill a political marriage.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is not just sex comedy, it is a series that uses physical and verbal comedy. An example being episode 8 which two of Nobuna’s vassals enter into a cooking contest, a light hearted diversion from all the political and military power plays. A running gag in the series is Goemon the little ninja speaks with a lisp and because of it she struggles to say big words. In Japanese the joke is lost in translation so it is a case where you may as well watch the show in English (or whatever your native language is).
The series has great animation, keeping to the high standard that most anime shows are known for. It is bright and grand, filled with detail whether it for land and cityscales to the streets and buildings of Feudal Japan. It was a series trying to emulate classic Japanese epics like Ran with its setting and scale and does with great success. CGI is used to help show the size of the armies on the battlefield, being used for banners as they blow in the wind. However when it comes to the battle sequences the animation is much more static, using mostly still images with slight movements such as a musket firing, looking more like a motion comic. The best action comes in the form of smaller skirmishes between the leading characters and in episode 11 as a small section of an army acts a delaying force in a fighting retreat.
One of the questions that is never answered in the show is how does Yoshiharu get back in time in the first place? He just lands in the middle of a battle and there is no explanation. At least with “Battle Girls” they give a reason how Hideyoshi travels back to an alternative past. Also near the end of the series there are adult male characters who state they find Goemon’s lisp sexy, which is really creepy considering the little ninja is about 10-years-old. One of the men says ‘give me small and cute over big and sexy any day’, a phase should make your skin crawl.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is a genuinely funny series in both English and Japanese due to its physical and romantic humor that also has a strong dramatic element because of the relationship between Monkey and Nobuna. The series balances its tone between its light-hearted approach with its drama and melodrama while also having a helping of action.