So here we are again, at anime’s take on the Sengoku period. Now I have covered this historic period extensively as it relates to anime, some adaptations better than others, granted. But this time, the series uses the classical art form of chojyugiga to tell the tale.
Now I’m not exactly an art history buff, but chojyu giga is a Japanese art that was printed on scrolls depicting humans as animal caricatures. The art began around the 12th and 13th centuries, but you may find an artisan today who still makes them. Chojyu giga may not be manga as we know it today, but its style has influenced manga in a lot of ways. The very attachment to anthropomorphism of regular human beings (albeit political figures for the purposes of this series) is one of the more obvious examples to me.
Chojyu giga are considered masterpieces of Japanese culture today, so they must be revered in high regard. But if this anime is any indication of how these works of art are to be treated, they are far from being an art style for the elite noble classes. On the contrary, the ones shown here are satirical political cartoons.
Sengoku Chojyu Giga is an animated short series about our favorite figures from the Sengoku period, depicted as animal caricatures in the chojyu giga style like you’ve never seen them before. But since I’ve already seen some of these guys in Japanese pop culture as women, Pokemon masters, mechanized suits of armor, and time travelers from the modern era, this doesn’t surprise me.
But when other mediums of the sengoku period treat it as one big dramatization of Japan’s greatest period of a civil war, the purpose of this one is to make fun of it as much as possible!
By no means are these scenes regarded as absolute truth in any way. The very fact that we are seeing a tiger Takeda or a tanuki Tokugawa is already silly as it is (although I guess a monkey Toyotomi is almost too obvious). However, each moment in this series is based on actual events that happened during the sengoku period, but are given an alternative treatment to show us how things could have happened, hence why it is called satire.
Although the style of this animation is inspired by chojyu giga, the stories and script are written for a contemporary audience. The very fact that an English “thank you” is evidence enough for me to know that the dialogue is certainly not from medieval Japanese.
But even though the series is written for a contemporary audience, the visuals and overall tone of the series does capture the feel of the traditional art. Anime may have an unfortunate reputation of looking flat compared to their American counterparts, but flatness works for a series that is supposed to be drawn on a scroll! And if you don’t think that the animators had a sense of humor about their original medium, then check out this gag in reference to a panel boundary!
See that grey line down the middle of the screen, stamped together by the markings in red? That’s where a scroll “page” would end and another one began. In this sketch (hehe… “sketch”), Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Mitsuhide Akechi are supposed to be in two separate places, when they try to walk towards this mysterious boundary. Not realizing that it is the end of their panel, they accidentally bump into each other, thereby swapping bodies, because of course they would! I won’t give away the punchline of the story, but rest assured, this story definitely shows that the directors were well aware of their literal and figurative boundaries, and made excellent use of them for some hilarious visual comedy, regardless of whether or not you understand the Japanese language!
Of course, not all of the jokes presented here are things you can just pick up without knowing anything. A good Japanese joke in general is multi-layered, filled with references and entire histories behind its repetition and complex humor, where even common scenes have inside jokes attached to them. If you aren’t too familiar with Japanese history or anime for that matter, you will probably get lost early on.
It may be highly intelligent humor, but if you know at least some of the basics of Japanese history and comedy, things can get really wild!
These scenes may come from the Sengoku period, but the jokes and segments from each episode also have relevance to today’s political climate. One of the episodes featured two spies who were asked to convince the enemy warlord to surrender during this warring states period.
While I don’t think it’s too important to remember who these figures are or why they were depicted as trying to distract the enemy through dance, it does point out a common tactic used in propaganda even today. The illusion that giving in and letting someone else take care of the bigger matters at hand is one common way of convincing the masses to forget about political matters and go on with their merry lives. But when everyone else is getting comfortable, it is important to meet these matters with skepticism, and act responsibly on alert.
I find this very moment to be strikingly relevant to the rise in populism as we see it pan out across the globe, as more and more people are becoming more easily convinced to surrender, rather than take some form of action to resist, when they can. So now more than ever, it is up to us if we choose to act out or speak out our concerns when it seems like it would be much easier to surrender.
But political views and propaganda aside, Sengoku Chojyu Giga is still an anime that loves history by making fun of it as much as possible. And to that end, no view or perspective is left unscathed!
So to end this review, I will be talking about my favorite caricature of the bunch. And given that anime loves and hates him so much, I’ll have to go with the bird himself, Nobunaga Oda. He’s idealistic, he’s got a short fuse, and everyone knows he and Ranmaru spend a lot of time together doing who-knows-what! But if you ever come across this bird-brain, never get on his bad side… or he WILL cut you!
So if you are a lover of anime and Japanese history, and are just waiting for the opportunity to make fun of it in the cleverest of ways, check out Sengoku Chojyu Giga!