During Japan’s Sengoku period, when warring factions clashed in a struggle to rule all of Japan, three warlords emerge as the most likely contenders for the throne. The hot-blooded Sanada Yukimura and the cool-and-cunning Date Masamune, nominally rivals, find themselves drawn together to defeat the cruel and powerful Oda Nobunaga.
The bare outlines of Sengoku Basara suggest a History Illustrated production, and the major milestones of the plot do correspond to actual historical events. But the show itself is a wild, stylized, over-the-top exercise in visual and dramatic excess, as outlandish as the Capcom video game series that spawned it.
Based on Capcom’s video game franchise of the same name, two 13-episode seasons of the TV anime aired in 2009 and 2010, with a third feature-length production (Sengoku Basara: The Last Party) released in 2011 as a concluding installment.
Game Vs. Anime:
Capcom’s video game franchise of the same name first appeared in 2005, and spawned some six different iterations, with versions also released in English-speaking territories. The anime uses the characters and situations from the games, but expanded on and revised as befitting a full-blown anime series.
How to Watch:
Samurai, historical, adventure, comedy, action
- Production I.G
Season 1: April 1, – June 17, 2009 (Japan)
Season 2: July 11 – September 26, 2010 (Japan)
Movie: June 4, 2011
T for teens
Imagine if World War II had been fought with Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Mussolini and Hirohito all piloting giant robots and slugging it out with lightsabers. A similar demented level of liberty is taken with Japanese martial history in Sengoku Basara, wherein 16th-century samurai duke it out via jetpacks, robot armor and wielding three swords in each fist.
The last years of the 16th century were part of Japan’s Sengoku period, a time when the country was split into a number of different warring factions, all vying for total control. This period has been the subject of any number of romanticized fictions in Japan—from novels to TV shows, and including manga and anime. Sengoku Basara uses as its source material a series of Capcom video games that also draw on the period, and with the same variety of unhinged inspiration.
Much of the plot of Sengoku Basara revolves around the struggles between three major figures drawn from the period: Sanada Yukimura, a shirtless hothead with a gargantuan lance in the employ of Takeda Shingen (color: red); Date Masamune, a calculating, one-eyed tactician who swings six swords at once (color: blue); and Oda Nobunaga (color: um, dark), the cold-blooded “Demon King” whose utter ruthlessness inspires even mutual enemies—such as Masamune and Yukimura—to join forces against him.
Such banding-together doesn’t happen right away, of course. At first Yukimura and Masamune are drawn to clash against each other, even while they’re also embroiled in struggles against the likes of Uesugi Kenshin. Kenshin (no relation to that Kenshin) has at his beck and call warriors of his own, such as the gorgeous and deadly female ninja Kasuga. But as the full measure of Nobunaga’s plans become clear, they realize they must pool their strengths, and unleash progressively more powerful attacks and cunning stratagems against their common enemy.
Unlike most previous dramatizations of this period or its events, no attempt is made to make the goings-on true to life or period detail. But the results are so much outlandish fun, you won’t mind one bit. Yukimura’s rock-and-roll attitude first brings to mind not a samurai warrior, but rather the brash young-turk attitude of a high-school gang leader or yakuza foot-soldier—although his fire-and-brimstone attitude is nothing compared to his own master Shingen, whose backslap can blow a man through walls. Masamune’s horse sports decorations that bring to mind the outlandish, oversized exhaust pipes of Tokyo street racers—to say nothing of his in-English exclamation to his men, “Get your guns on!”
The show isn’t entirely style over substance, either. It’s been written and directed with a strong sense of drama: at first everyone just seems like a flashy caricature, but give them time and they reveal unexpected depths of character and avenues of sympathy. A knowledge of Japanese history isn’t required, either—the show explains itself in detail as it goes along—but it helps to have an affinity for the period … or at least an appetite for the kind of combat where the sheer force of will between two men is by itself enough to unleash a mushroom cloud and level a plain. It’s that kind of show.