Drifters – 05

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This was a particularly shitty episode of Drifters – and I say that not due to a lack of quality (it remains consistently average most of the time), but due to the sheer amount of excrement used as a weapon against the Orte soldiers in the Elven Rebellion. The three samurai help the Elves train for the battle, then Toyohisa leads the fight, which is waged with arrows and blades covered in crap, and a well full of crap so wounds can’t be washed.

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In this regard, Nobunaga shows just how ruthless he can be, employing the very natural processes of life and death to his advantage, and rightfully expecting the Orte troops to crumble once they see the tactics being used against them.

However, Nobunaga also knows that Yoichi isn’t the biggest fan of such “dirty tricks”, nor that Toyohisa knows how to do anything other than compel others to fight and then fight himself. He proposes the storming of the lord’s castle, but it’s up to Nobunaga to formulate a plan to do so.

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The castle-storming (involving the elves disguised as troops returning…the Orte don’t seem that bright) leads us to a discovery that makes the enemy even more baldly despicable: not only did Orte abduct all of the female elves, but soldiers have been free to have their way with them in a filthy, hellish nightmare setting that make Toyohisa change his mind about accepting anyone’s surrender. If they’re going to act like beasts, he’s going to slaughter them like beasts.

The three amigos made some progress, but we may be starting to see cracks appearing between them even as their quest to conquer everything in sight is just beginning. And while this episode wasn’t marred by any other Drifters or Ends, showing us the dirty, smelly side of war was ultimately more gross than engrossing.

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Drifters – 04

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Drifters has its intense, ostensibly serious moments, but very often they are upturned by a sudden bout of comedy, such as when Easy, who is in the Dorridor to tease Murasaki, finds that he’s currently away from his desk.

Basically, Drifters is in on the joke, and it’s out to show you can have a story about famous historical figures going at each other for the sake of a world not their own without being as rigid as bamboo or dry as Fall leaves. You can have a little fun.

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I like how Oda Nobunaga, the ostensible leader of the Three Surly Samurai, decides to step aside and let Toyohisa be the commander who leads the Elves in their rebellion.

First, he respects Toyohisa’s ability and relative youth. Second, at his age he prefers to be the one who pulls the strings on the side. Third, and perhaps most silly, is that Toyohisa went and sat in the middle, between Nobunaga and Yoichi. And that’s where the leader sits.

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The narrative of a village of (surprisingly old) Elves who have never known freedom or war taking a stand against their masters isn’t all that interesting, but making the Three Samurai their “coaches” in this enterprise, and all their inherent bickering and bawdiness, is pretty entertaining, and helps the medicine go down, so to speak.

These are three guys who can back up their arrogance (and other typically undesirable personality traits); indeed, it makes sense they act and talk the way they do: They’re used to getting their way, and when they don’t, blood that isn’t their own usually spills.

Magician Olmine isn’t yet sure how these Drifters fit into the Octobrists’ larger struggle to save the world, but she knows they’re too human, and too quick to help the weak and downtrodden, to be Easy’s Ends.

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Drifters – 03

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As I mentioned last week, I don’t find the overarching conflict being fought between the Octobrists (with Drifters) and the Black King (with Ends) to be particularly coherent or compelling, but thankfully that doesn’t matter, because the Drifters and Ends themselves have been enough to carry the show along nicely.

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It was a shame we didn’t see any of our cranky Samurai trio until the very end (when they find the hapless Octobrist magician who’s been observing them), but that disappointment was quickly tempered with a bunch of new faces, or I should say old to very old faces.

While their leaders/facilitators (the Octobrists and Black King) aren’t that interesting, most of them are…and also pretty funny at times, keeping things from getting too stilted.

On the End (AKA “Offscouring”) side: A sadistic pyromanic Joan d’Arc who has clearly renounced God; the blizzard-summoning final surviving member of the doomed Romanov family, Anastasia; and Hijikata, the former vice commander of the “Shingensumi” special police squad who can summon the ghosts of his men to hack people down.

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This week’s historical figures on the Drifter side include Scipio Africanus and Hannibal from Roman times, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Kanno Naoshi, a WWII fighter pilot with a wonderful penchant for cursing who just arrived. Kanno decides to side with the Drifters by gunning down the Black King’s dragons when he gets traumatic flashbacks to the bombing of Tokyo.

Both End and Drifter are essentially superheroes, as if passing into this new world has imbued them with superhuman/supernatural powers. As such, much like the Avengers, X-Men, or Jedi, they are front-line heavy hitters, capable of taking on entire armies by themselves. Once could also liken them to reusable tactical nukes.

One intriguing element is that Drifters and Ends are given roles and abilities surpassing even their great statures in normal world history. Some are bigger names than others, and all react to their situation in different ways. Kanno’s decision to take out the dragons was motivated by his experience in the previous world, just as Joan just wants to watch shit burn now, because that’s what happened to her.

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The Drifters at the besieged kingdom are safely evacuated to fight another day. But when Olmine explains to the three Samurai (who were left out of the fighting altogether this week) what the deal is, they react in appropriately amusing ways: Toyohisa is apathetic, Nobunaga is unconvinced, and Yoichi simply isn’t interested. But something tells me once they’re given an enemy to fight, they’ll reconsider their inaction. They’re just not catching the Octobrists at their best.

Drifters continues to be a wonderfully over-the-top action / adventure / comedy that has put a clever twist on the utilization of historical figures in anime. They’re neither too-faithful reproductions of the guys and gals in the books (which are themselves open to interpretation) nor completely unrelated.

It’s a surprisingly welcoming show that doesn’t demand we take its milieu any more seriously than the titular Drifters, but simply enjoy the ride.

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Drifters – 02

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The Gist: Shimazu saves the two elves who saved him, then goes to the elf village to burn the crops and kill all of the invading soliders. He, Nobunaga and Yoichi follow their warlike instincts, unaware they’re being watched by the Octobrists, to be used as soldiers themselves in a battle against an opposing army of “Ends” led by a woman named Easy.

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This episode serves up much of what our three main drifters seem to like most: fighting, bleeding, killing, and dominating others. Taking baby steps, Nobunaga decides to “claim” the elf village, and he and Yoichi are impressed with how quickly and viciously Shimizu pulls it off. There’s no one who presents any kind of challenge to any of these three warriors, but they’ll take what they can get. Blood is blood.

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And blood we get. The violence on display is intense, but nothing that needs pixelation, and in the case of the so-called knight in charge of the village burning, they mostly get what they deserve, with an extra super-samurai flourish to their deaths. Shimazu isn’t just fighting for fun, he’s also fighting for the elves, two of which saved him, and lets the reluctant townsfolk finish the wretched knight off. It’s the violent saying “have at it” to the non-violent, and the latter group acquiescing.

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I continue to enjoy how these three fighters (aged 50, 30, and 19) bounce off each other, and particularly how they seemed to have eased into roles: Nobunaga the cunning commander; Shimazu the front-line brawler, and Yoichi the stealthy ranger. No one is ordering anyone around, mind you, but the guys seem to be getting along and moving with a single purpose.

That may well be exactly what the man in the corridor of doors intended, as it seems he’s locked in some kind of time-transcending battle against a gothy woman who is able to turn the white hall black. Mr. Glasses is fighting with Drifters; the girl with something called “Ends.” Apparently, the survival of the world depends on this battle. I don’t really care about all that (at least not yet) but the three main lads are fun enough to watch banter and bludgeon that I may eventually care.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 14

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Since some French was spoken in this episode (albeit not much…and not well), I’ll use some as well: this episode lacked the particular je ne sais quoi of previous episodes that had held everything together and held my interest. This episode was kind of a mess, and rather boring even when it was supposed to be at its most exciting. I chalk this up to a combination of disappointment that the trip to space was postponed, and the fact Nobu’s latest Round Table adversaries are lame as hell.

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Honestly, I don’t know why the show bothered wasting names like Hannibal and Charlemagne on such hollow, silly, short-lived characters, who show up in a menacing cloud of frost with fangs bared, but it turned out to be all bluff and bluster. Once Caesar and Uesugi arrive, the battle is essentially over, and there wasn’t anything particularly memorable or satisfying about it. Ranmaru means well, but is too quick to believe Hannibal’s promise and gets abducted for her trouble.

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I’ll admit I thought it was pretty great that Ichihime picked up a spear and told Caesar if he wouldn’t go to the aid of her homeland, she would. Caesar had earlier gone against traditional role of an Eastern man by baking her a chocolate cake. She, in turn, goes against the traditional role of an Eastern woman, and reminds me that she’s one of the few reasons I’m still watching the show. If her role diminishes in the second half, someone else will be hard-pressed to pick up the slack, because Ichihime is The (Wo)man.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 13

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Halfway through The Fool, with a new alliance forged (and a new peace along with it), Nobu casts his gaze upward towards the stars, and upon King Arthur, the adversary he must defeat if he’s to follow through on his promise to unite heaven and earth. Thanks to more scienticious mumbo-jumbo by da Vinci (I conceded long ago that the show will allow him to do practically anything), Himiko’s flagship is souped-up for a trip to the Western Star.

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Considering the threat he posed earlier, right up to the time Nobu invited him for tea, it’s strange seeing Caesar on the same side as Nobu & Co., and I’m not quite ready to believe he has the East Star’s best interests at heart – in fact, I’m inclined to think he only really cares about himself, and will betray his allies as soon as he no longer needs them. I’m hoping the show proves me wrong. Meanwhile, Arthur, whose star is crumbling, isn’t your typical evil villain, even if his designs clash with our heroes’.

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This episode is dominated by preparation for the coming journey, but also serves as a vehicle for Mitsuhide and Ichihime to offer proper goodbyes that acknowledge their deep affection for each other. Da Vinci starts the prodding by having him draw a card (Ace of Swords reversed, signifying obstinance), while Hideyoshi completes it with plain talk. Mitsu and Ichihime’s solemn, graceful goodbye hits all the right notes.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 12

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Nobu’s plan has failed, his army is in tatters, and scores of his people are dead or maimed, but you’d never guess he was in trouble from his demeanor. We were also a bit surprised that Caesar, still sore over being outsmarted by Nobu in the past, agrees to any sort of truce. We’ll call it an act of deference to Nobu’s sheer grit and audacity. Not only that, but this week, for the first time, you get the feeling Caesar would prefer it if Nobu were an ally rather than a foe.

Almost as much as the tea ceremony itself, we enjoyed the preparation that went into it, particularly that of Nobu and of Ichihime, who insists on being the host. We’ve always really liked the serene strength of Ichihime’s presence, but we always had precious few scenes with her; this episode corrects that by giving her a nice little brother-sister moment at the waterfall, and having her play an unexpectedly crucial role far beyond her services as tea-maker (at which she excels, by the way).

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The show has perhaps been wise to keep her on the periphery, somewhat out of focus, much like Mitsuhide’s trio of kunoichi; these women feel like mysteries compared to the comparatively open books of Jeanne and Himiko. The truth of the matter is, Ichihime is just as bad-ass as her brother (if not moreso)…she’s just quieter and classier about it. And while she’s vowed to always stay by Nobu’s side and support him in all things, you get the feeling she does it because it’s what she wishes, not simply because she’s expected to.

That independent will is put on full display at the tea ceremony, which starts out normally enough, but when Nobu notices Caesar is uncomfortable sitting in the traditional manner, he relaxes the protocol, which relaxes Caesar. When things come down to brass tacks, Caesar wants the regalia in exchange for an end to hostilities and a military alliance. At this point we were thinking Nobu could answer either way and figure something out, but he decides to firmly refuse, while still insisting they stop fighting.

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This is because Nobu suspects that Caesar’s boss Arthur, whom Caesar claims to be a Savior King as Jeanne insists it’s Nobu—perhaps there really are two of them?—is a pragmatic sort who’d prefer a minimum of collateral damage in his quest for the Holy Grail (or, like whatever). Caesar agrees to a temporary alliance if he can have Ichihime…and everyone protests but her. Knowing what it would mean if Caesar kept his word, and warning him she’d kill him if he didn’t, she makes another choice for herself and accepts his terms.

The tarot Jeanne draws this week is “The Fool”, and she immediately thinks of Nobu, especially when he loosens protocol at the ceremony. But the real “Fool” turns out to be Ichihime. Freedom, nonconformity, innocence, purity, cheer, possibility, imagination, and genius: these are all qualities she embodies more than anyone else at that juncture. She has become the wild card that could shape the fate of both worlds as much as Nobu, if not more. And after being so cold to her earlier, Mitsuhide seems particularly troubled by her choice. Sorry dude; you had your chance!

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nobunaga the Fool – 11

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The Death card: we knew it had to be drawn at some point, and we knew it would mean big changes; it rarely represents a literal, physical death. After last week’s humiliation, Caesar’s anger and desire to put Nobu in his place are great. He stops sitting on his hands and brings all of his power to bear on Owari.

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Beset on all sides by attackers, it’s a destroy-the-head-and-the-body-will-die strategy, with Nobu, Ranmaru and Hideyoshi having to work together with Himiko in the sky to negate Caesar’s big attack and take him out. Everything hinges on a smooth execution, and it seems like they’re well under way to that.

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Then, out of the blue, Caesar refuses to accept defeat and asks for more power, and the Star of the East grants it to him. He unleashes a new, more powerful weapon that puts Nobu & Co.’s backs against the crumbling walls of Owari. Ranmaru deflects the attack, but right into the evacuee settlement, killing a great deal of the Oda clan’s people.

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This is obviously a setback, nay, a huge catastrophe, but as we’re nearly to The Fool’s halfway point, it wasn’t unexpected. Seemingly no one near the guy should expect an easy (or long) life. But when Caesar halts his attack and asks Oda to surrender, Oda doesn’t sweat the massive civilian casualties, as Jeanne does. Instead, he invites Caesar to a tea party to settle the score.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Nobunaga the Fool – 10

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In response to the Shingen-Uesugi alliance, the Oda clan has been forging alliances of its own with neighboring clans and amassing an ever larger opposing force. This is actually what Uesugi wanted all along, since he/she is kinda insane and think a war’s worth having unless it’s as big and violent as it can possibly be.

The consequences of such a cruel, overindulgent way of thinking will be hardest felt by the masses of peasants living under the lords, as it always is. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s family suffered due to the costs of war the Oda waged years before, and starvation claimed his little sister. Learning Nobu’s clan is responsible for that makes us (along with Ranmaru) see Hideyoshi in a whole new light.

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Meanwhile, the Knights of the Round Table, old softies that they are, decide to reward Caesar’s continued failures with delivery of new sets of giant war armor at Takamagahara, a base high in the clouds where trade between East and West takes place. When Mitsu learns about this, he and da Vinci devise a bold plan to steal the armor, employing infiltration, decoys, sabotage, electronic warfare, swordplay, and archery, and Caesar fails again.

Virtually everyone lends a hand in the elaborate operation, and it’s all very entertaining, if tactically silly (par for the course with this show). Hideyoshi is paired with Ranmaru, he confides in him/her (rather out of the blue) that he’ll kill Nobu himself if he shows weakness. Nobu saves Hideyoshi’s life even knowing this possibility, probably because if he ever was truly weak, he thinks he’d deserve the cutting down Hideyoshi promises.

Yes, when you’re Oda Nobunaga, your even your friends threaten to kill you to keep you on your toes!

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Nobunaga the Fool – 09

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Jeanne wants to stand beside Nobunaga the Savior King and protect him, but that means she needs a giant war armor. Happily, da Vinci just happens to build Orleans out of spare parts in what seems like no time at all, proving he truly was the MacGyver of his age. The only problem is, Jeanne can’t seem to get the damn regalia activated.

Nobu is as tactful and patient as he is modest, offering Jeanne no comfort for her struggles. As for Himiko, she’s caught on that “Ranmaru” is a potential rival in the fight for her betrothed’s heart. Then there’s the matter of Uesugi Kenshin deciding to ally with the Caesar-led Takeda clan, despite not liking the guy. This sends Nobu’s advisors and subjects alike into a panic. Some even bring up the prospect of simply surrendering.

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Jeanne’s tarot draw is The Moon, reversed: to advance without hesitation. Jeanne removes the hesitation by vowing not just to protect the Savior King, but all of heaven and earth he’s destined to rule. With her way of thinking shifted and her power unlocked, Nobu meets with his advisors and da Vinci has him mic’d up as he gives one of his uber-motivational speeches. Seriously, if we heard all that blaring from “speakers” we never knew existed, we’d totally turn around and head back home.

In addition to Nobu rallying the troops and Jeanne finding her groove, the episode gives us a little more of a glimpse into Mitsuhide’s tortured existence, as he awakes from nightmares about Nobukatsu, his arm wavers as he reaches for his demon mask again (to deal with more treasonous advisors), and he dismisses Ichihime’s advances. Caesar is still around and has powerful new allies, but at least they don’t like him. Also, Himiko tells Jeanne she considers her a rival for Nobu’s heart, but she doesn’t intend to lose. Unfortunately, Nobu ignores her the entire episode.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Nobunaga the Fool – 08

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This week Jeanne/Ranmaru draws “Ace of Wands” signifying the start of a “great journey of dreams and ideals” on which the wand serves both as a weapon, a guide, and a beacon. After seeing a vision of what might come to pass (Nobunaga getting skewered dead by Caesar), drawing this card places the ball squarely in Ranmaru’s hands, and she’s forced to act to change Nobu’s fate. She does so, and Nobu becomes the wand in the card, serving those three purposes. But ultimately it only happens because, Ranmaru steps off of the sideline and does something, for which we’re relieved and intrigued.

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This episode is also all about the regalia. We also knew they were important in the grand scheme of things, but da Vinci further underlines their value: whomever controls and masters them, controls the world. Since that’s Nobu’s goal in a nutshell, his next move after defeating Shingen is clear as crystal: get back the wind regalia Caesar stole. His advisers look ready to bristle at his call to table the investigation of Nobukatsu’s murder, but Himiko makes a surprise appearance—frail but alive and kicking—to support her husband’s call to look outward and move forward. This inspires Ranmaru to a degree, and she’s inspired further when she sees Ichihime’s inner strength, her unswerving faith in her brother, and her plea for Ranmaru to also have faith.

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It’s a good time to be behind Nobunaga, who has changed after fighting and defeating an honorable and worthy adversary in Lord Shingen, but also after almost losing Himiko. He is quicker to acknowledge not only her existence, but her contribution to his rise as his partner. It’s not lovey-dovey as Himiko would probably like, but it’s a start. He is also far more receptive to alternative opinions on how they should go about defeating Caesar. He’s a crafty Western bastard after all; even Nobu admits force won’t be enough. Nobunaga plenty strong on his own, but taking full advantage of the efforts of everyone around him—Himiko, Mitsuhide, da Vinci, Monkey, and Ranmaru—he augments his strength exponentially, and with it his odds of victory.

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Caesar still bears the look and aura of a formidable warrior and legitimate challenge to Nobu, but only for a time. He starts to look considerably less invincible when he learns that wwah-wwah, he can’t actually use the wind regalia he stole; it was entrusted by its former master to Nobu, and only Nobu will it answer. Caesar doesn’t expect that setback, nor does he prepare for the possibility Nobu will employ Western-style trickery in the battle. But his most egregious oversight was Ranmaru (though who can blame him considering how little she’s done in the last few episodes). She jumps into the middle of battle just as her vision is about to come true, and changes the future by activating the regalia of purity she’s been wearing all along but only recently realized its import. She’s decided henceforth to put her life on the line to support him.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nobunaga the Fool – 07

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The twin shocks of the serious wounding of Himiko (who seems to be alive for the time being, if barely) and the news that Nobukatsu has been killed shake Nobu out of his pity party. Now, whether his advisors like it or not, he’s their last hope at surviving the coming onslaught against Takeda. However, Nobu doesn’t immediately lash out in rage. After hearing his counselors debate the next step, he makes the decision to meet with Shingen and ask him face to face if he sent the assassins.

All the while, Mitsu sits there, concealing the knowledge that it was he who killed Nobukatsu, clearing the way for Nobu to take unchallenged leadership of the clan. The episode begins with Mitsu remembering the day his father committed seppuku, and it’s possible that Mitsu will one day have to do the same, but as long as his life serves Nobunaga, he doesn’t really matter how it ends. Jeanne, meanwhile, has decided to stay by Nobu’s side for the time being, accompanying him to Takeda’s main camp.

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The bawdy encounter between Nobu Lord Shingen is a pleasure to watch, with Nobu satisfied Shingen is telling the truth that he did not send assassins, and Shingen impressed at Nobu’s cajones for even showing up. To Jeanne’s dismay, however, their cordial talk turns into a duel, not because of any slight enacted upon the other, but for the simple fact that neither can sully their reputation by avoiding a fight with the other. They want to fight each other, as do Shingen’s men. A fight is what they get, and a glorious one, at that.

It’s hella fun to watch these two dyed-in-the-wool warriors whaling on each other in their regalia-infused war armors, reveling in every moment of it. It is here where Shingen is revealed as an honorable foe, one who will abide by the laws of the duel, keep his men on the sidelines, fight Nobu one-on-one, and admit defeat and the loss of his two regalia (fire and wind) when Nobu bests him. Caesar proves far less principled, stabbing his business partner Shingen in the back and snatching the wind regalia, and then framing Nobu for the act, enraging Takeda’s army. Nobu still comes away with the fire regalia, but a Roman thorn remains in his side.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nobunaga the Fool – 06

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In the aftermath of Lord Nobuhide’s death, the Oda clan is embroiled in doubt, uncertainty, and disunity that threatens to tear it apart. Nobu is taking it particularly badly, and only makes his detractors hate him more when he shows up to the funeral late and improperly attired and makes a mess of the place. He doesn’t so much as utter a word to Jeanne, which for her is the last straw. She packs her horse and prepares to set off.

Nobukatsu’s supporters continue to scheme against his older brother, leading the younger to consider acquiescing to their demand that he take over as clan leader for the time being. But with enemy clans no doubt preparing more assaults, he simply isn’t the kind of leader the clan needs. The fact that he allows himself to be manipulated by his subordinates and his desire for peace is proof of that. With things the way they are, peace means surrender and subjugation.

While troubled after the disastrous results of holding Nobu back from battle, Mitsuhide still knows he can’t allow that to happen. Nobu is AWOL during a crucial transitional period, but even if he were present, there isn’t enough time to allow everyone to come to “understand” him.

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Like Nobukatsu’s detractors, Jeanne is simply sick and tired of trying to figure him out; but as da Vinci elegantly puts it, their inability to observe him objectively keeps them from understanding him. Just because he’s a rude, impulsive asshole doesn’t mean he’s not the Savior King Jeanne seeks.

Himiko doesn’t seem to mind him ignoring her, because it’s enough for her fate to be tied to someone with so much potential. Like her, Ichihime, Mitsuhide, Hideyoshi, and da Vinci are all willing to give Nobu the benefit of the doubt, and are certain that no matter what happens, he’s the one to keep an eye on and remain beside. But if he is the lion in the “Strength” card, his betrothed Himiko is the woman supporting it with her own kind of strength.

Prior to this episode we would never have believed Mitsuhide would turn a sniper rifle on Nobukatsu, but the case is coldly but convincingly made. Just as shocking was Himiko’s demise, but it’s her strength, devotion, and love that saves Nobu’s life, so it wasn’t in vain. Nobu appears just as shocked by her action, and the only word he utters this week is “Himiko.” And it’s probably no accident that Jeanne was drawn to where Nobu was just as that tragic scene unfolded.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)