Anime Review: Samurai Warriors

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First of all, I am very pleased to announce that Wagakki Band will be performing at Anime Expo 2015. And if you’re wondering why I’m mentioning that in an anime review, that’s because the fusion rock band made their debut in the anime industry by providing both the opening and closing songs for this series! You bet I’m excited for them to come to AX 2015!

Now that general announcements are out of the way…

We turn back to the Sengoku period once more: a time when Japan experienced its bloodiest civil war, and the rise of warlords like Nobunaga Oda, Kenshin Uesugi, and Shingen Takeda came into power. But this time, we are going back to the latter half of the Sengoku period, where the next generation picks up, right before Japan’s unification during the Edo period. And while history lovers know that Ieyasu Tokugawa ultimately wins out, our attention will be focused on the last of the great warriors of that time: Yukimura Sanada!

Hidetada TokugawaNow let’s be real for a minute. Samurai Warriors (Sengoku Musō) isn’t so much based on the history as it is based on the video game. Yes, there are plenty of historical events that get highlighted, from as early as the rise of Hideyoshi Toyotomi all the way up to the end at the siege of Osaka. But Samurai Warriors is also a video game franchise, and the character designs and abilities of all the unique warriors throughout the series are based on them.

If this were true to history, the armors wouldn’t be so flashy, and everyone would be wearing helmets to battle. Some of the characters would not even be present at all the battles, and most of them would have died very anticlimactic deaths, rather than overly dramatic ones. And don’t even get me started on the “One-Eyed Dragon” Masamune Date’s brightly colored pistol!

Masamune Date

That’s definitely influenced by the video game!

But aside from the over-dramatizations and unique character designs, this series does stay somewhat true to history when it comes to events and tactical explanations. For example, the narration for the Battle of Sekigahara was very accurate in terms of how both the Tokugawa and Toyotomi armies were situated. Granted of course, the result contained a dramatic ending to the life of Mitsunari Ishida, but I can let that slide because this is anime. Besides, Ishida had a very anticlimactic death, historically speaking.

We can’t really take much away from the historical accuracy or the influence from the video game from this series, as neither one is represented all that well in the series. But even so, I liked it because of the drama behind one of Japan’s most tragic periods, as it captures all the feelings that came about that whole time period, despite its focus on the latter half. The display of these feelings comes out very well not so much from the story, but from the visuals of the series.

Ueda Castle

Yukimura looks back tragically at the Sanada stronghold, Ueda Castle, now in ruin.

The sharp divide between all the different armies of that time had very little in common in terms of ideology, hence why the Sengoku period had lasted more than half a century! But while the political arrangements were always contested, the feelings of strife and suffering had been the same for everyone. And the only real way to show that for these men was to fight it out to the death. That was the most honorable way to die as a warrior.

And of all the warriors of the time, none could be compared to Yukimura Sanada.

Yukimura Sanada

Yukimura leads his men into battle!

It may not be so obvious, but Yukimura Sanada is actually on the losing side of history. Said to have been two different people historically, Yukimura had served under both the Takeda and Toyotomi clans during the Sengoku period, while his own brother Nobuyuki went on to serve the Tokugawa clan. But even so, Yukimura is considered a hero in Japanese legend, almost to an impossibly superhuman level, because he always fought valiantly for what he believed in, and not because he somehow gave into the powers that would end up being victorious.

While there are several speculations as to why Yukimura is revered, I think what’s most important about Yukimura is that many of us want to cheer for the rebel, the underdog, or whatever you want to call the guy that isn’t expected to win. It’s human nature! For the following Edo period to even continue to honor Yukimura, and even to this day, is a testament to the Japanese sense of solidarity for all the warriors of the Sengoku period: both its winners and its losers!

Nobuyuki Sanada

Very true, Nobuyuki.

For me, history is not something to be studied necessarily to learn just how the people of the past did things. Rather, the combination of history, philosophy, and the dramatizations behind it all become part of our narrative in a lively way.

There are plenty of historical events and references found in Samurai Warriors, but I would like to highlight the influence of the women in Samurai Warriors. And while the historicity of them is still just as questionable as other events, I believe their actions and feelings reflect a lot of the values they had then as we do now.

Ina

Like most other women in the Sengoku period, it’s not certain whether Ina was also a samurai. She may very well have been one, as there is evidence that women were also given such statuses, and given that she was the daughter of the powerful Tadatsugu Honda. But regardless, her faithfulness to her husband Nobuyuki Sanada shows how deep political influences were for the warrior class of the time.

Kunoichi and Tsukimaru

Kunoichi and her flying squirrel partner Tsukimaru are obviously cute installations to the Samurai Warriors series, as “kunoichi” is literally the word for female ninjas; and Tsukimaru is… well… just like her. However, Kunoichi’s role as Yukimura’s love interest provides some relief to this series that has to do a lot with men killing each other. I guess.

Nene

Nene was Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s primary wife and continued to live on after him during the Sengoku period. Even though she had many female rivals for her husband’s affection, as harems were very much common in those days, she also worked as his political confidante, and even carried out many diplomatic arrangements for him. Dramatizations also suggest that Nene was an influential kunoichi in her own right, as she is seen here delivering smoke bombs on a hang glider. However, there seems to be no doubt that she was considered a warrior of her time.

Kai

Kai had witnessed many tragedies during the Sengoku period, having been part of the defeated Hōjō and Toyotomi clans throughout her life. But while it was common practice for women and servants to die along with their warlord masters, Kai is often revered for challenging that stigma.

In the aftermath of the siege of Osaka, Kai is said to have taken many of the women and children from the fallen castle, helping them escape from an otherwise untimely death. It is said that Kai then devoted the rest of her life as a nun. Whether or not that’s true, we can say that there is more worth in living than simply ending life at the very moment of tragedy.

For Samurai Warriors, history isn’t so accurate as it is very much alive today. But let’s not forget: this is also a work of fiction, and a lot of artistic liberties happened along the way. And so to end this review, I think it’s most appropriate that I briefly mention the super-deformed spin-off series Sengoku Musō Highschool. Why end it there? Because every episode ended with this brief short after the credits. You, too, should get in a habit of staying after the credits for these things. They’re laugh-out-loud funny!

Highschool

Amen, Kai!

So if you’re looking for an anime that’s all about the drama of the Sengoku period and don’t mind historical simplifications here and there, watch Samurai Warriors. And if you’re not too much into the story, perhaps check it out for the incredible visuals for it!

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