For anyone who’s played even five minutes of the long-running Koei title Dynasty Warriors, the concepts driving the Capcom franchise Sengoku Basara won’t be all that alien. Basically, they’re what’s quaintly titled a ‘crowd fighting game’. If body count stats are your thing, if you like watching that ticker go up too fast to count, it’s the game for you. Games of this kind I’ve found involve a lot of dramatic posturing, a lot of powering up, and more cannon fodder for your fancy mass murdering moves than you could ever hope to ask for. It’s organised chaos, and the anime of the same name is definitely keeping up the tradition.
Loosely set in the Warring States (Sengoku) period of Japanese history, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings is mostly just an excuse for lots and lots of fighting, which makes sense considering it’s a fighting game spin-off. Most of the characters, sporting laughable costumes in the fine tradition of Japanese fighting games, are vaguely recognisable historical figures (Date Masamune actually did wear a helmet with a crescent on it and only had one eye – he’d lost the use of it in a childhood illness. Rumor has it he gouged it out after someone suggested an enemy might try and take it from him; although another rumor has it that he had his retainer Koujiro Katakura do it for him) and most of the battles are vaguely historical moments.
The gist of the story, in the unlikely event that you actually care about a story, is that Oda Nobunaga is making a play for power in a vacuum created by – well, if it’s too complicated for the series to explain, it’s definitely too complicated for me to summarise – and the rest of the happily infighting clans around the country really don’t like the idea that he might actually, oh, I don’t know, unify Japan and stop the constant fighting. But this is Sengoku Basara world, where all the clan lords and many of their lieutenants have supernatural fighting abilities and aren’t afraid to use them (and really, it’s a wonder there’s anything left of Japan to fight over), Nobunaga is the ultimate evil, drinking sake out of the skulls of the fallen, eyes glowing red, dispatching evil remorseless minions and generally being a really sucky in-law; the works.
And that’s basically it. Nobunaga = bad. Everyone else = upset Nobunaga is trying to harsh on their fun. If it wasn’t so completely kooky and ridiculous, if every second word out of the resident cool guy’s mouth didn’t make you want to snicker, if the ninja chick did less mooning over her weird girly-boy boss and almost falling out of her non-existent outfit and more actual ninja-ing, or if the Tiger of Kai and Yukimura Sanada (who has sadly been reduced to what amounts to a feudal himbo) didn’t have some weird kind of bro-hey relationship going on, it’d be completely impossible to take this show seriously.
Wait, did I say seriously? This show is anything but, and it’s hard to tell whether it was originally meant that way. It’s one saving grace is that it is somewhat crazy. It’s this loose, sketchy and completely over the top approach to history that in fact makes it actually watchable. Comedy and angst are dispensed with equal prejudice. Characters are colourful and many – so many that it would be a bit of a challenge following who was who if not for those aforementioned silly costumes. The first response to any new encounter by pretty much every character is joyful violence -most of the motivations in this show, no matter what anyone says about fighting for a peaceful world, seems to be to beat the crap out of whoever they meet, for whatever reason.
Actually, now I think about it, maybe it’s more historically accurate than I thought.
Anyway, the point is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Sure, there’s a vague moral to the story the same way there’s a vague level of historical accuracy, but I’d advise you not to skip your real history lessons just yet. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings isn’t interested in your education. Far from it. As entertainment however, it definitely gets a good grade.