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Matt Kamen sees how fantasy matches reality

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings returns for a second season of deliriously ahistoric warfare, set in Japan’s Warring States period that led to the formation of the single country we know today.

The climactic end to Sengoku Basara’s first season saw competing heroes Sanada Yukimura and Date Masamune combining forces to defeat the evil warlord Oda Nobunaga. Oda has become a popular figure to demonise in Japanese media – he’s the arch-nemesis in video game developer Capcom’s Onimusha series, as well as Koei’s Samurai Warriors and Nobunaga’s Ambition lines. The anime series Yotoden casts him as a demon in human form, and he even popped up as the final boss in strategy spin-off Pokémon Conquest. With such a bad reputation, he must have been pure evil in real life, right?

Not quite. Born in 1534 and recorded as being a rambunctious, troublesome youth, Oda Nobunaga became the single figure arguably most responsible for the eventual unification of Japan. He achieved this through a mixture of manipulative politicking and keen battlefield tactics but his monstrous persona likely stems from some of the deplorable depths he stooped to in pursuit of power. Nobunaga killed his own brother, Nobuyuki, after he rebelled against his expansionist plans, and was ruthless in combat against enemies. One of his most impressive victories was at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560. Oda claimed victory over rival warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto’s 35,000-strong army with a mere 3,000 men of his own, thanks to misdirection and a sneak attack on the enemy camp. Oda died in June 1582 following the betrayal of his retainer, Akechi Mitsuhide, who forced him to commit ritual suicide, though he was avenged a month later by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Toyotomi himself turns up in Sengoku Basara, presented as a new opponent for Date and Sanada to overcome, a giant figure with an army and goals of his own. While the anime version views Oda as a chaotic figure whose ambitions were dangerously out of control, the historical figure was a loyal vassal and Oda’s eventual successor. After killing Akechi, Toyotomi insinuated himself further into the Oda family by backing the younger son, Hidenobu, as heir, before obliterating contesting forces lead by former Oda general Shibata Katsuie at the 1583 Battle of Shizugatake. This consolidated the majority of the Oda clan under Toyotomi’s own control, a cudgel he would use to continue Nobunaga’s unification plans. The real life Toyotomi was a slight, unimposing man, making his hulking frame in game and anime all the more unusual.

While Oda and Toyotomi are known as the first and second of the ‘Great Unifiers’ of Japan, it was the third, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who would ultimately be the one to succeed in bringing the country together. Despite emerging victorious from the notorious Battle of Sekigahara and founding the Shogunate that would rule the nation from 1600-1858, Tokugawa fares considerably less well in the anime. Appearing in the first season, his character arc ends with him assassinated by Akechi Mitsuhide – a far cry from achieving his glorious role in history.

With Sengoku Basara taking more than a few scenic diversions away from accuracy – as if half the cast wielding elemental superpowers weren’t inaccurate enough – anything goes in this battle for the fate of Japan. Find out who will reign supreme in the complete second season, on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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