Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Series Reviews > Sengoku Basara 2 Episode 1 – Physics is for the Weak

Sengoku Basara 2 Episode 1 – Physics is for the Weak

Sengoku Basara is an anime series based off a video game series of the same name. (The game series is marketed in America as Devil Kings.) Obstensibly, the game focuses on the Sengoku period, the century and half of constant war as various generals and regional warlord attempted to take control of all of Japan. The show focuses on the last decade of this period, however, as unification finally comes into view.

The original season focused on the efforts of daimyo (feudal lord) Masamune Date (above left) and Yukimura Sanada (above right), the retainer of daimyo Shingen Takeda, to stop Nobunaga Oda from uniting all of Japan under his iron boot. Forming an alliance with Kenshin Uesugi and just about every other still living daimyo, the group defeated and killed Oda and freed Japan to descend back into the chaos of civil war.

I have included links to Wikipedia because this is a fascinating period of history which has quite understandably inspired dozens of fictional works. I do not link to them because reading about these figures will help you to understand the show, for Basara exhibits the same concern for historical accuracy that it extends to the laws of physics: none whatsoever.

Nobunaga Oda was a card carrying member of the evil league of evil. He more or less said so every chance he got

In Sengoku Basara, Oda is moustache twirling villain who uses a human skull for a goblet and has a stormy vortex of clouds in the sky above him at all times. Date wields six katanas simultaneously and rides a horse equipped with handlebars and exhaust pipes. Yukimura dual-wields two-handed spears and, like Date, displays leaping abilities more akin to flight. Takeda rides standing on the backs of two horses, with which he has occasionally charged up walls.

The show’s roots as an hack and slash action game are not just acknowledged but openly celebrated. Named characters rip through hoards of mooks without the slightest impediment, while fights between “bosses” will lead to glowing battle auras (heroes in primary colors, villains in purple or green). Plot takes a back seat to ensuring the protagonists—the playable characters in the original game—are as cool and overpowered as possible.

Because the heroes mostly fight each other this episode, there's very little mook tossing, which is otherwise the show's favorite sport

Any pretense to historical accuracy is thrown out the window. People die in different places, ally with different people, and generally act in ways which have nothing to do with their historical personas. Anachronisms abound, particularly in Date’s use of English phrases and the depiction of his army. And of course the fighting abilities of the various figures, or occasionally if they even fought at all, is also completely fictitious.

And the plot of the first season, if you can call it that, was Oda winning constantly because he was good at betraying people, and then our heroes winning out at the end because they had sufficient fighting spirit. Okay, technically it was more complicated than that, but only somewhat. If I were to rewrite the history of the American Revolution as a comic book, with the founding fathers as the X-Men and King George III as Skeletor, that would approximate how this series treats its subject matter.

Date's army looks and acts like a classic biker gang, complete with 50s hairstyles

To be clear, I am not saying that Sengoku Basara is just a stupid show. There is nothing just about it. It is willfully, aggressively, gleefully stupid. This is a show about manly men doing manly deeds in manly ways, in as over-the-top a fashion as possible. And oddly enough, it manages to be sort of fun in the process—at least if you can get into the right mood. (Alcohol typically helps.)

As I alluded to above, the alliance to defeat Oda fell apart at his death, so the second season begins where the first ended: with Shingen and Uesugi preparing to face each other in glorious battle to the death while Yukimura attempts to keep keep Date from interrupting them by doing the same with him. But these are manly fights to the death between great and honorable rivals, so that makes it all good.

In with the new boss—not the same as the old boss

What is not good is the sudden arrival of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who along with Shigeharu Takenaka has surrounded all the combatants with his own massive army. Although the great unifiers of Japan are the villains in this series, he doesn’t come across as nearly as bad as Oda did, even if his character design (a 15 foot giant) and fighting style (apparently bare handed) are just as ridiculous. He’s trying to bring peace rather than destruction, so he offers a chance for them to surrender and become his vassals.

All the protagonists, however, are insistent on their own right to rule all of Japan, and have no intention of letting their honorable rivals be killed off by some interloper, either. With some careful coordination—and a fair amount of hand-waving from the writers—the encircled forces manage to break free of the trap, and make sure the show can’t end before it’s barely begun.

While this episode didn't defy the laws of physics quite as audaciously as last season typically did, we occasionally got things like Totoyomi deflecting arrows with the air pressure from the swing of his arm. Newton should be back to rolling in his grave in no time

The rest of the episode is about the various reactions to Toyotomi’s sudden appearance on the scene, which entails some (gasp!) actual planning and strategy about how to unite likely allies against him. There’s also some scenes where some of the secondary characters from last season discuss how their loyalties have now split into pro- and anti-Toyotomi camps, which provided far more dramatic tension than anything in the first season. This is only by degree, mind you, but I was surprised how well it played out.

Drama isn’t the only place where I thought this episode improved on last season. The season premiere focused almost completely on fights between named characters, so there’s minimal mook annihilation—which got tiring after a while—needed to pad the episode out. Some of the overused running gags from the first season get brought back, but not enough for me to get sick of them. That will probably change in the next episode or two, but it didn’t effect my enjoyment this time.

One running gag is Yukimura, for his earnest stupidity, getting beaten up by Shingen in ways that would kill ordinary men. He doesn't mind

Most surprisingly, I rather liked how the antagonist for the series is no longer chewing the scenery while proving how evil he is. Of course, that makes the designated protagonists far less sympathetic in comparison, for they too are warlords who have plunged the country into chaos for the sake of their own advancement. When various characters start to throw in their lot with Toyotomi for the good of the country, their reasoning actually makes sense.

It’s looking like Takenaka might wind up being the real villain of the season, as he seems to be doing most of Toyotomi’s dirty work and comes off with the sort of slimy, betray-you-as-soon-as-look-at-you vibe that overly ambitious underlings often have. Even so, he’s also not as openly evil as Oda was, which makes him a more appealing antagonist in my view. While the flat characters comprise one of Basara’s many “charms,” a few minor concessions to realism here and there don’t hurt.

The mask makes Takenaka look like he's up to something. Plus, he wears purple

Frankly, though, if you are watching this show for the plot or the characters or (God forbid) realism, you’ve missed the point. This is a mindless action show just as Devil Kings or Samurai Warriors are mindless action games. In terms of embodying the spirit of its source material, Basara does the finest job I’ve seen from an anime adaption of a video game. It’s trashy and brainless in both cases, but as far as mindless fun goes, there’s far worse out there.

This will likely not be a show for everyone. But, if you can get through the first two episodes of the first season and derive some enjoyment from it, then you can probably treat this show as fluffy entertainment, worthy for when you need to de-stress and perhaps kill some brain cells. Or you could just jump in at the second season and hope that it keeps up at the (only slightly) improved level of this episode. It won’t, but you can still hope.

Another group this show might not be for are people who care about feminism. Kasuga's character design here tells you all you need to know about this show's attitude toward women

You can watch this episode, and the entire first season, here.

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