Although I’ve been an anime fan for most of my life and more than the last 40 years, I’ve been having problems finding good shows of late because, honestly, Japan doesn’t produce things for me anymore. My real love of anime started with Mobile Suit Gundam and the years that followed were awash with hard science fiction and giant robots. Today, that genre is largely dead and most of the sci-fi they make is just an excuse for fan service and other nonsense.
Once in a while though, I see a sci-fi series go by that seems like it might be worth a look and this time out, it’s Nobunagun. Here’s my take on it.
When Earth is invaded by fast-evolving aliens and conventional weapons can’t combat the threat, the supranational DOGOO organization turns to the few humans who can manipulate E-Genes, the powers and abilities of some of history’s most notable people. Shio Ogura, a young Japanese girl, finds herself in the middle of a battle while visiting Taiwan with her class. Shio is introverted with few friends, she’s fascinated with the machines of war, but when her only friend Asao gets injured, she leaps to her aid and finds that she can wield the massive power of Oda Nobunaga, which manifests as a huge machine gun at the end of her right arm.
I’ll admit, I didn’t have high expectations going in. This was a show described as similar to Gatchaman Crowds, which I reviewed previously. However, even though it does have some pacing issues and some faintly off-color humor, this was actually a really enjoyable series. The variety of historical personages that they draw from is somewhat impressive, by the end of the series we’ve met close to 20 and they’re not all fighters, in fact, the majority of them have non-combat skills, like Gandhi’s pushing hands or Vidocq’s ability to reason, which is actually refreshing. Most series of this type have virtually all warriors and no meaningful support staff that gets focused on. All of the characters matter in the final all-out battle against the EIOs and their powers are used in unusual and unexpected ways.
The problem with being such a short series, as so many are these days, is that they really don’t have the time to spend on the story and there are plenty of dropped plot threads along the way. For instance, we’re introduced to Saint-Germain, the assistant to the DOGOO commander, who we see in one episode doesn’t age but we’re never told why. The alien Kyubey, whose planet was destroyed by the EIOs, who came to save Earth from the menace, doesn’t get much, if any backstory either. In the final battle, we’re supposed to believe that the aliens are attacking Earth in multiple locations to keep DOGOO away from their real objective but we see virtually none of it, just a couple of quick stills that really don’t give us the impression of an organization fighting for the continued existence of Earth. Perhaps worst of all, they laid the groundwork for the e-gene holders to be able to transform without having to possess an AU ball, Shio even did it in her battle in Japan, yet it was never brought up again. In the final battle, where Shio was wrapped up in the tentacles of the alien battleship and she turned off the AU ball, I thought she was getting ready to open fire on her own but she didn’t. Why bother putting the concept in the series at all when it’s not really going to get used? I think this could have been better served by having a 26 episode series instead.
This may be especially true in the under-examined concept of the e-genes and their effects on the personalities of the holders. We know that the holders’ personalities changed because of their use of the e-genes. Newton becomes hyper-sexualized. Vidocq becomes hyper-analytical and non-emotional. We just don’t see enough of this in the series though. Shio starts off considering all of her teammates odd, and they certainly are, but as the show goes on and Oda Nobunaga has an effect on her own personality, they all seem less strange to her.
The animation was decent, certainly there was a lot of attention paid to the color palette and everything in the series felt right in comparison to the story. The writing is tight and there’s an appropriate amount of comedy inserted at the right places. I thought it was particularly fun that one of DOGOO’s carriers was called the Clayton Forrester, after the mad scientist on MST3K.
There isn’t a heavy time commitment for this show and it’s certainly worth watching. There’s a lot of action, a lot of laughs and, unfortunately, a bit of fanservice, but that’s what we have to deal with in the modern anime world. Go see it, you’ll have a good time!