I write this with extremely mixed feelings.
Below the jump: Spoiler-free review. Lots of praise. And some rants.
On the one hand, I’m incredibly happy that Nobunaga Concerto was a part of my summer. In my Midseason Review I called it the happy surprise of the season, and this was certainly the case. It’s an intelligent work of historical fiction, well-researched and faithful to the spirit (and many of the facts) about the Sengoku (Warring States) period while still offering its own unique spin on the oft-told tale of Oda Nobunaga and his conquest of Japan.
Saburo is a compelling and charismatic main character, funny and sympathetic while still seeming somewhat alien, and Miyano Mamoru brings him to life with a nuance that proves once again he’s one of the premiere male voice talents in the anime industry. And while the side characters have limited screen time, NobuCon still infuses many of them with distinct personalities and memorable traits. I couldn’t always remember their names, but I knew who they were and what they’d done before, and I was surprised to discover that I was concerned when they rode to battle (and full of The Feels when some of them fell).
The series also managed to include a natural, quiet romance; a female character with agency in a period where high-born women had very little; and even a… well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say the series uses it’s “time travel” aspect to bring a surprisingly diverse cast to a story set in medieval Japan. Point being, NobuCon was a well-written story with well-written characters, a historical fiction that understood history was as much about the big battles as it is about the little exchanges between people, and I’d love to read more of the manga.
In terms of anime production, this adaptation is smartly and stylishly directed and composed, with a great soundtrack (including an ending theme that grew on me almost as much as the series itself did) and a careful, balanced use of short scenes depicting both the historical events and the quieter, private moments, allowing us to understand the character dynamics and the big picture as well. The series also understands war in a way few anime do: The fight sequences are brief and unglamorous, violent but not excessively so, and depict the chaotic, brutal nature of the battles its characters are fighting.
The anime covers a ridiculous amount of time and plot in the span of 10 episodes, and there are moments when it feels rushed and the significance of certain events can get lost if you’re not a Japanese history buff (the breakneck Episode 9 is a shining example of this). But honestly, given that I’m not a Sengoku period expert (Heian and Meiji are more my strengths), none of this should make any sense to me, and the vast majority of it does. Most of the time the series feels fast-paced but not rushed, and despite the deluge of names and places the central story remains coherent, even if the details get a bit muddled along the way.
While I’d rather the anime had been able to take its time, what it managed to do with what it had is impressive in its own right. In short, this is a good series with the potential to be a great one.
And that’s what pisses me off so much.
Because on the other hand, this is the kind of show that deserves at least two cour, and possibly longer than that. It deserves to be able to spend time with these characters more, flesh them out more, allow us to follow them over the course of a couple seasons instead of 10 episodes. And even though the team managed to tell a large chunk of story in those episodes, the sense at the end of the series is that we’ve still barely scratched the surface. What we end up with is a teaser for the manga, more or less – and I’m none too confident that we’ll ever see a U.S. release for this one.
And, okay, I know in the current anime market a show like this probably doesn’t sell well. It’s a historical fiction that (time travel notwithstanding) is actually faithful to history, it’s completely void of fanservice, and while it’s male characters are fairly attractive it doesn’t have enough bromantic elements to attract the fujoshi crowd. Honestly I should probably just be happy that the series got 10 episodes at all.
But how many more people might have given NobuCon a chance if some idiot hadn’t decided to animate it in horrible, clunky CG? I know several people who ignored this show entirely because of the animation, and only tried it after others (self included) recommended it. I’m not saying a traditionally 2D animated NobuCon would have garnered a massive following, because it probably wouldn’t have. But it might have at least had a fighting chance.
Nobunaga Concerto surprised and delighted me and continued to do so for the entire summer season. While other shows stumbled or simply sleep-walked towards the finish line, NobuCon never lost sight of itself as it endeared me to its characters, fleshed out its world and story, and each week inched its way higher up my watch list. So while I’m left with a lot of frustration about what we WON’T be getting, I’m doing my best to be grateful for what we DID get. If nothing else, if this all-too-short anime hadn’t existed, I may never have known about the great manga that inspired it. So that’s something to be happy about, at least.
Series Review: B+