Kentarou ItouAi SatouYo TaichiKenjiro Tsuda
Also known as: Nobunagan
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: N
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Nobuhiro Kondo
Original creator: Masato Hisa
Actor: Shiori Muto, Ai Satou, Akeno Watanabe, Akira Ishida, Ayumu Murase, Chiwa Saito, Haruno Inoue, Kenjiro Tsuda, Koji Yusa, Makoto Yasumura, Mutsumi Tamura, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Nobuo Tobita, Sumire Uesaka, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Yuu Asakawa, Kenta Matsumoto, Kentarou Itou, Kyoko Narumi, Shouto Kashii, Tadanori Date, Takumi Watanabe, Yo Taichi, Yoshihisa Kawahara, Yukitoshi Kikuchi
Keywords: anime, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 13 episodes
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 22 June 2015
Totally batshit. I'm in awe. That said, it gets a bit dull for a while in the middle episodes, which you'd think would be impossible given what the show's about, but it ends strongly and the lead character's great.
Right. Let's explain the show's premise, shall we? (Rolls up sleeves.) Aliens are invading Earth, but a completely different alien has already been here for hundreds of years, harvesting what he calls "E-genes". He's a superintelligent rabbit, while the invaders he hates are nearly mindless giant bugs from a monster movie. They don't even have a name. Everyone calls them "Evolutionary Invasion Objects", due to their special power of evolving their way up the food chain, including in mid-battle.
Anyway, Mr Rabbit has helped us set up Defense Organization aGainst Outer Objects (DOGOO), who recruit "E-gene holders" to fight the bad aliens. This series is thus basically a 1950s Big Bug movie, starring Jack the Ripper, Mahatma Gandhi, Geronimo, Sir Isaac Newton and many more. Oh, and our heroine, Sio Ogura, is:
(a) a Japanese schoolgirl and cute military geek, and
(b) the reincarnation of Oda Nobunaga, who as it happens is DOGOO's one and only megalomaniac blood-drenched evil warlord. (Real guy. Historically important, but not nice.)
You don't need to know any more, surely? Go on, watch it.
The rest of my review will be technically a waste of words, since all right-thinking people will of course be watching this series regardless of what I say next. I might as well keep going out of habit, though.
To be serious, though, I was at times a bit disappointed. It's more focused on the SF Big Bug Battle than I'd expected and could instead, I think, have afforded to spend more time with the characters. DOGOO aren't really that likeable. They're doing a job. They're often nutcases, which is good, but not even particularly entertainingly. Gandhi and Newton are both sex pests off-duty, albeit in different ways. (In both cases that fits with the historical originals, albeit in Newton's case in a "no longer living a life of chastity" way, but it still makes them annoying as anime characters.) Galileo's quite cute, with her crush on Vidocq. Newton's superpower is perfect. Jack the Ripper is actually one of the more sensible team members and the show's thought up a Ripper theory to blow your mind, but still this is a supporting cast that somehow struggles to carry Ogura-free episodes. (Ep.6 is basically John Carpenter's The Thing, but also kind of boring.)
We don't even see much of the inner historical personas. Occasionally we see them with Ogura and, to a lesser extent, Jack the Ripper, but no one ever has any conflict with their inner celebrity. We don't get to know them. Ogura and Nobunaga don't argue, for instance, or even have conversations together. They're the same person. There is no "them". Nobunaga is Ogura's dark side and hence dormant most of the time, only waking up when there's blood in the wind.
The likeable characters are the girls. Ogura is awesome, being at once a meek schoolgirl with confidence issues and the warlord who initiated the conquest of all Japan during the Warring States Era. She's a genuine geek, gushing over all the military hardware she sees and asking tank drivers for autographs even though she's become one of the most famous people on the planet. She's full of enthusiasm. She's a loner at school, but in a cheerful, endearing way. I'm an Ogura fan and there's no problem here that couldn't have been solved by "more Ogura".
She also has a school friend, Asao, who she saves in the first episode. Asao had to push quite hard to get Ogura to let her get close, by the way. Theoretically Asao's a redundant character, a non-combatant who's stuck in Japan while most of the alien-busting action goes charging around the world, but she's also one of my favourite elements in the show. She doesn't have superpowers, which makes her bravery more meaningful. She talks to Ogura like an ordinary person, letting her relax back into being just another schoolgirl in a way the show needed to do more often. I also loved Asao's words of encouragement to that little girl on the train in ep.12. (You could choose to see lesbian subtext in the Asao-Ogura relationship, if you wanted, given that Ogura risks her life to protect this girl she barely knew and seems to be blushing every time they talk. I didn't see it that way, though. I think it's just Ogura reacting strongly to the novelty of having a close friend.)
Another problem is that the show doesn't have a villain. The Evolutionary Invasion Objects are just dumb monsters. There's considerable discussion in DOGOO when evidence arises to suggest that they have even basic animal-level intelligence. Our heroes might as well have been fighting natural disasters or rising sea levels. The monsters never speak or show a shred of personality. They just rampage. This is part of what makes the middle episodes less interesting, for me, although it has to be said that the monsters are indeed very good at their rampaging. They even show some level of tactical awareness, making DOGOO hard-pressed to stop the rampaging from going nuclear.
For me, the last five episodes were where the show caught fire again. Ep.9 is an Asao episode, always a good sign, after which the show finds a new level and manages to make the alien-busting cool. Our heroes go from alien-stompers to victims-in-waiting, basically, with the aliens having gained the upper hand and pulling out enough firepower and tactical nous to put the humans on the back foot. Instead of being character-based in a traditional way, the show becomes character-based through war against an enemy that's likely to annihilate the human race. Suddenly everything we'd seen previously becomes set-up for the tactics, twists and ruthlessness of the battle here, with even minor character details being enough to turn the tide of battle. Ogura and DOGOO belatedly realise that they've been underestimating Nobunaga, Ogura because she's too self-effacing and DOGOO because, fundamentally, they don't really know what they're doing. They're winging it. (There's only one person here with experience of alien invasion and he's a rabbit in a water tank.)
It should be noted, also, that the show's creators have done their homework, with some of the characters' quirks here being based on comparatively obscure historical details. Nobunaga was indeed into guns, for instance, even though that's traditionally not seen as a samurai thing. The show's choices of historical figures can be pleasingly offbeat, too, e.g. the 18th century Scottish surgeon, John Hunter. And then there's the Count of St. Germain...
I like the art too. A friend of mine at work disagrees, finding it cheap-looking and 1990s, but I found it vivid and fun. It's cartoonish, extreme and full of odd design choices, such as chiaroscuro, anti-realistic colouring effects and Ogura's gun firing shells that are bigger than her torso. (Big guns, small girl. This hinders her in her first battle, since the recoil is a bitch.)
In the abstract, I adore this show. Jack the Ripper teams up with Gandhi and a Japanese schoolgirl who's the reincarnation of Obu Nobunaga to fight invading aliens. How can anyone not admire that? In practice, alas, in places it falls a little short of what I might personally have hoped for, but there's still enough cool stuff here to make me a fan. Ogura brings the show alive, obviously. She's geekily lovable and the anime's not afraid to make her look goofy. ("The Girl Who Drools.") She's the audience identification figure and our emotional way into this military bug-bashing world... yet at the same time, as Nobunaga she's also scarier and more ruthless than Jack the Ripper. I want a Season Two and I want it now.