The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
After all the various twists and genre splices Oda Nobunaga has been subjected to over the years, it's nice to see a series that just treats him as a person. Kochoki doesn't go for any reality-warping narrative gimmicks, and instead just uses a young Nobunaga (so young that he's still going by his childhood name in this episode) as a regular protagonist and develops him from there. Whether by design or by happy accident, that decision lends this premiere a more personal feel than many of the more outlandish imaginings of the historical figure. It also means this series has more work to do in order to stand out, but I'll take ordinary competence over messy spectacle in this particular case.
My biggest gripe with this episode is that it takes a while to get going. The early scenes don't make much of an impact, and they feel a little disconnected from one another. Despite the fact that these events are very close chronologically, there's not always a tangible link between them. In particular, Kippoushi's galloping run-in with a noble's daughter feels largely irrelevant to the main thread of his association with the young thieves. Sure, it all serves the common cause of showing us who he is as a person, but a more focused approach might have made this episode's first half a little more engaging. As it stands, it's a little too obvious that the series is running through a checklist of character introductions.
Eventually, though, the story starts to pick up steam. The more we see of Kippoushi's situation as the Oda heir, the clearer it becomes that he's the odd one out in his family. Not only does this provide a needed source of conflict, it also gives us an early hint that he's destined to shake up the established order of things. By the time we reach the episode's final scene, Kochoki manages to build up some legitimate dramatic tension, and Kippoushi is forced to assert himself as the protagonist of the story. There's nothing particularly unique going on here, but these story beats are presented well enough to make them worthwhile.
While the animation here is nothing special, I do appreciate the variety in the show's color palette; the bright colors of Kippoushi's clothing and the clean appearance of his family home stand in significant contrast to the duller and dingier look of the city's inhabitants. If you're a fan of historical fiction and you're up for a more grounded take on Oda Nobunaga, Kochoki is certainly worth a look, and it does enough things right that it might appeal to a wider audience as well. I'll be curious to see where this story goes from here.
Kochoki is a perfect example of how anime can take such diverse approaches to ostensibly similar material. Like Vinland Saga, this is an action-adventure story that focuses entirely on a specific era of history, specifically feudal Japan. More specifically, it's about the life and times of Oda Nobunaga, but it doesn't have any comedic or science-fiction gimmicks, nor does it seem like an adaptation of a Samurai Warriors-esque superpower beat 'em up. This first episode just gives us Oda Nobunaga as a young rapscallion, paving the path for the complex and exceedingly ambitious life he will soon embark on as he attempts to unite all of Japan under a single banner.
Yet unlike Vinland Saga, Kochoki doesn't seem too particular about faithfully recreating the time-period or the people when it doesn't suit the needs of entertaining its audience. This makes sense – the show's Japanese audience won't have the same sense of wonder for their own culture as they might for 11th-century Europe, and there've been so many anime and games set in the Sengoku Period that we certainly aren't starving for more period-accurate renditions of the tale. No, this version of Oda Nobunaga, who here goes by his childhood name of Kippoushi, is the model of a stylized anime hero. He's got amazing hair, incredibly colorful attire, and he's bound to the more simple and easy-to-digest morality of such a heroic figure. He goes to bat for his commoner friends even when his father discovers that they've all been joining Kippoushi in pilfering the warlord's relics, and the stare-down between our hero and his old man cements the younger Nobunaga's future as a bold and inspiring leader. This first episode follows all the predictable beats that come with the reluctant thief whose out to finish one last score, only for the powers that be to put all of it in jeopardy. While the average artwork and direction didn't do a lot to draw me in, I can't deny the appeal of a simple story that is effectively told.
It's like if someone made a George Washington epic starring Tom Holland, where he goes around changing history with his impeccable duds and perfect teeth, chopping down cherry trees and beating up Redcoats all the while. Is it even remotely true to the truth of history? Probably not, but it's pretty fun to watch all the same. I'm not enough of a Sengoku buff to be all in on such a retelling of the Oda Nobunaga story, but I can see this show becoming a reliably fun weekly check-in for fans of the material.
Oda Nobunaga has probably been the subject of more anime titles than any other figure in Japanese history, and deservedly so; while he may not have lived long enough to finish the job of uniting all of Japan, he certainly laid the groundwork for it to happen, and was an innovator in both military tactics and economic practices. He was also a notoriously colorful figure, with some ideas that may have been too radical for his own good. While most stories about him have focused on his adult years, this series (or at least the first episode, anyway) takes the highly unusual approach of examining his earlier years. That's what makes it a surprisingly fascinating view.
The first episode mostly focuses on events that happened in 1545, when Nobunaga was 12 years old. As near as I can determine, some of what is shown in this episode is being extrapolated from actual historical records, while in other places the story is fudging on details a lot. Among details that are probably accurate are that Kippoushi (later Nobunaga) was not well-liked by his mother, was fascinated with firearms from an early age, collected Western art, and hung around with youths well below his social status. The story is, however, fudging greatly on the appearance of Kitsuno, who would become Nogunaga's favorite concubine and the mother of three of his children. According to historical accounts, Nobunaga was struck by her beauty during their first encounter (as shown here), but that happened about a decade later. Kistuno is also shown here as being significantly older that Nobunaga, when in fact she was four years younger, and thus would have been only eight years old at this time. Seeing how the story will later make this jive with actual history could be interesting.
Freed from historical context, the story makes a decent tale about a young man who is not fully bound by tradition as he grows into his own. It shows him as a likable rascal who is a quick thinker and bold schemer, one who is loyal enough to his friends that he's willing to stand up to a father who intimidates him. That shades him towards being a more typical anime protagonist, but the historical context helps offset that. Technical merits are respectable but unexciting.
The episode's closer (which is presumably going to be the regular opener) suggests that this is eventually going to become a bishonen fest. The series will lose me if that happens, but as long as it sticks to the hard history then I may keep watching.
As far as “before they were famous” stories go, Kochoki, which deals with Oda Nobunaga's teenage years, looks like it's going to be interesting. That may simply be due to the fact that at this point anything not about the usual Oda Nobunaga schtick (his warlord period) feels like a nice change; whether he's being reincarnated as a girl, possessing someone, or running around with Joan of Arc, he's become such a well-used anime figure as to feel almost annoying. Shaking things up a bit feels like a good move.
This episode on its own is decently fun as well. Kippoushi, Nobunaga's childhood name, which he sheds at the end of the episode, is an earnest kid, determined to keep his promises and fascinated by Western goods. He's combined those two things in a partnership with three local orphans wherein they skim things off of shipments before they reach the warehouse, which both allows the peasants to eat and Kippoushi to keep a few of his favorite bits and pieces. He knows this is a dangerous game he's playing, and it's not that he's not scared, but more that he both enjoys the thrill and truly wants his friends to be able to live – and this is a way for him to help without directly giving them things, which might hurt at least Rokurou's pride. When he gets caught, he owns up to his friendship with the three orphans and manages to talk his father (who's set on killing at least the three kids) out of any deadly plans, before promptly collapsing like the child he is. It's a nice way to show us who Kippoushi is as a person without resorting to torturous narration, which I admit I was concerned about when the episode began.
The use of colors here is very nice, particularly with the bright kimono Kippoushi and his little brother Kanjuurou wear in contrast to the browns and greens of the town kids and dock workers. There's a bit of fanservice if you're into wiry boy bodies (and the elusive male nipple), and while it's probably more a product of the time in which this is set, it's kind of nice to see the male bodies on display instead of the female. There are likewise some good touches in the details of the animation, one of which is how Kippoushi's father hands the musket back to his retainer to be reloaded after he fires it; it's an historical touch that could easily have been eliminated but whose presence adds to grounding the show in the mid 1400s.
The episode's end and the preview make it clear that Kippoushi's journey to becoming Oda Nobunaga is making a jump ahead next week, with him going from young teen to mid-to-late teen very quickly. While I'll miss the earlier childhood of this episode, this may still make for an interesting look at a younger Nobunaga than we typically get to see.
There are so many Nobunaga-centric anime adaptations that I've at this point lost count of how many I've watched. I've seen old Nobunaga, young Nobunaga, mecha Nobunaga, and gun Nobunaga (from the extremely well-titled Nobunagun). I've seen Nobunaga as a magical girl, and Nobunaga as a mobage hero. I'd say there's a whole Nobunaga subgenre, but Nobunaga shows actually come in a variety of genres, and at this point, it's hard for any new Nobunaga to really differentiate itself. I was thus happily surprised to actually enjoy Kochoki's take on the famed warrior, which excelled by simply telling an engaging, well-executed story.
Kochoki introduces us to Nobunaga in his early adolescence, when he was still known as Kippoushi. Over the course of this episode, we learn he's actually working together with a group of street urchins to siphon goods from his father's merchant ships. Kippoushi attempts to keep his dealings secret from his noble family, but when his little brother gives the game away, he's forced to make tough choices about who he wants to be.
This premiere actually benefited heavily from its lack of any major gimmicks; in the absence of mecha or monsters, the thorny politics of Nobunaga's early life came into clear focus, and his own quick wit and daring were illustrated smartly through both his adventures with his friends and his negotiations with his family. The show's background art isn't particularly compelling, but its characters are relatively expressive, and this episode moved quickly through its narrative beats while effectively building up over half a dozen key characters. Virtually no time felt wasted here; the episode built conflicts and tension even as it introduced new role players, ultimately leading up to a dramatic confrontation between Kippoushi, his father, and his thieving friends.
That confrontation was easily the episode highlight, and pushed this episode from “solid but unexceptionable” to genuinely good. Both Kippoushi and his friends demonstrated great personal strength, and Kippoushi's tense negotiations with his father clearly illustrated the kind of daring and iron will you need to succeed as a leader and warrior. While I knew Kippoushi was safe, the potential deaths of his friends gave this sequence a genuine dramatic edge, and the resolution felt clever, true to character, and very satisfying.
On the whole, Kochoki's middling production values keep it from earning a strong recommendation, but this was a well-written episode that absolutely sold Nobunaga as a boy destined for greatness. I guess this well-worn subject still has some life in it yet.
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