Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Imagine an alternate world where many of the most prominent male generals, shogun, and samurai of the Sengoku period of Japanese history were instead either cute girls or sexy women. Then imagine that something bizarre happened which catapulted numerous of those individuals into modern-day Japan (or in one case a space station overhead), where they each had to find their own way in the new era. One such individual, the “Sweet Little Devil” and veritable princess Oda Nobunaga, initially finds refuge with a convenience store clerk, but though she soon adapts, she also decides that she has no intention of staying in the modern era. A threat to burn down a temple draws out three animal-eared spirits who explain that there is a way for her to do it: she must collect the “secret treasures” of the other Warring States figures (glowing balls of light which are manifestations of their fierce dedications to their passions and which only special individuals ever obtain). Given that many of the Warring States figures are superhumanly powerful, that won't be easy, but Nobunaga is hardly one to back down from a challenge. She is far from the only one who finds her own personal circumstances to deal with in this new world, however; eventually more than two dozen other young ladies will get their turns, too.
Sengoku Collection was originally a mobile social networking game created by Konami in 2010 and operated through the Mobage portal. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the anime adaptation has only a thin overarching plot thread – i.e., Nobunaga's quest to gather the secret treasures – and instead expends the vast majority of its effort on highlighting its various characters either individually or in small groups. What does come as a surprise is the wide variety and quality of the individual stories. Whatever you might have expected from a series about Sengoku-era leaders recast as cute girls/sexy women and thrust into the modern era, this was probably not it.
While the bulk of the characters are from the Sengoku period, the series does not strictly limit itself to that time period. For instance, a trio of Shinsengumi (from the mid-1800s) pop up in one episode as the leaders and enforcers of a girls' school dorm, while scientist Gennai Hiraga (active in the mid-1700s) is featured in another and a couple of early Edo period-era figures appear in others. By far the biggest outlier is Liu Bei, one of the major figures from China's Three Kingdoms period – in other words, not only not Japanese but also more than 1,200 years before the Sengoku period.
The individual stories told run the gamut, from creepy haunted house exploration to crime dramas to murder-mystery to comedy to time travel to sci fi action to introspective character study to tactical warfare done on a day care level. Some of them are goofy and some of them are told completely straight. For instance, one relatively early episode features the Edo Period poet Matsuo Basho, who comes across a down-on-its-luck hole-in-the-wall restaurant and accompanying hotel and, through the use of haiku, helps reform both the setting and the people who hang out there, including the recalcitrant proprietress. Another focuses on Ieyasu Tokugawa as a cute girl who comes to admire an idol singer and so successfully strives to be one herself, only to discover that she is to be the replacement for the woman who inspired her. Sexy, full-figured Date Masamune becomes a deadly vigilante after being duped into helping out a drug smuggling operation. A silly tale centers around Toyotomi Hideyoshi's obsession with rice, while a more adult-leaning tale features Matsunaga Hisahide as a sexy con artist. And there are many more.
What makes these tales work, and makes them more than simple throwaway pieces, is that many of them show unexpected depths and dimensions. The Basho story pushes a little further and deals with one of the regulars at the restaurant, a transvestite, finally coming to terms with his mother as a result of some of the changes Basho helped set in motion and the proprietress finally coming to terms with why she won't play the piano anymore. A comedy episode featuring Yoshiteru Ashikaga (a shogun) and Sekishusai Yagyu (perhaps better-known as Munetoshi) pranking each other with spicy food takes an interesting twist when the roots of the pranking turn out to dwell in mutual admiration rather than distaste. Many other examples of this exist, too, and complete misses are rare. While the Basho and Liu Bei episodes are among the best, undoubtedly the crowning achievement of the series is the episode focusing on Yoshitsugu Otani (a samurai who was a follower of Hideyoshi Toyotomi), who is portrayed a quiet, bandaged-swathed girl who lives a pathetic life as a lonely factory worker until she strikes up a pen pal correspondence with an Angel who, we later learn, needed that connection every bit as desperately as Otani did. It is a poignant and ultimately heart-rending stand-alone tale well worthy of being checked out even if one takes a pass on the rest of the series. Some of the other episodes pander for moe appeal, but that one earns every ounce of it.
Another nice touch is how the characterizations and circumstances often either covertly or overtly work in known traits of the characters being portrayed. Otani, for instance, is swathed in bandages because the actual historical figure reputedly suffered from a major illness that might have been leprosy or an advanced stage of syphilis. Basho, by comparison, really did wander across the land and really was well-known for his haiku, while Yoshimoto Imagawa has ample reason to fear Nobunaga since her historical counterpart was ambushed and killed by his forces in one of Nobunaga's most legendary victories. (That was the one where he went on the offensive and won despite being outnumbered 25,000 to 3,000.) Sugitani Zenjubo really was a sniper-type Koga ninja who really did try to assassinate the historical Nobunaga with an arquebus. Other characterizations are far more facetious, probably to the point of caricature for those who have biographical-level knowledge on the characters in question.
The overall plotting, contrarily, offers far less. Nobunaga's quest is more a convenience for her and the animal-eared girls to keep popping up than anything, and while there is some drama with her and Mitsuhide Akechi (Nobunaga's historical loyal-follower-turned-betrayer), neither it nor the business with the secret treasures ultimately leads to a complete resolution. A couple of the earlier stories do get follow-ups, as Ieyasu reappears in a second feature episode later in the series (in addition to regular background cameos) and Date pops up a couple of other times in stories related to other characters her historical counterpart were associated with. There is a bit of a “meta” reaction to the presence of the Generals as well, as one episode features a reality TV show examining if they're really a public safety threat and another involves an Anti-Warring State Generals task force. Overall, though, the strength of the series is far more in the individual stories.
It certainly is not in the artistry. Brains Base hardly has a sterling reputation for its production of anime aesthetics, but many episodes – especially the first one – look like not much effort was put into them at all. This does improve somewhat over the course of the series, and artistic style points do vary quite a bit; 14 each storyboarders and episode directors are listed, as are 16 animation directors, which certainly accounts for some distinct visual differences from episode to episode. One entire episode looks like the backgrounds may have been sketched with colored pencils; in several others faint patterns of flowers or (in the haunted house episode) skulls are overlaid onto the backgrounds, and given that their exact nature varies from episode to episode, they are presumably related to the characters featured. Character designs are either moe cutesy for the younger-looking characters or full-figured and sexy for the more mature-looking ones, with elaborate and (mostly) tastefully figure-flattering outfits being the norm; Yoshimoto's, contrarily, is just ridiculous. Despite the plethora of girls/women, actual fan service is sparse and tame beyond the very (and in a couple of cases uncomfortably) racy eyecatches. The animation is actually better, as the movements of the characters do not have the same clunkiness to them that the look of them does.
Contrary to the visuals, the music production is guided by a single individual: Tomoki Kikuya, whose other major credits include the scores for the Squid Girl, Cat Planet Cuties, and Hidamari Sketch franchises. The sound is still widely-varied to support the vast array of different styles and themes, with only a few themes being frequently repeated. Depending on the episode, one might hear different speeds and intensities of jazz, a wide assortment of electronica, piano numbers, or even orchestration. Occasional pop-flavored insert songs are also used beyond the idol-singer episodes. One episode (the one focused on Otani) even almost entirely passes without any background music, and the morose tone of that episode is all the more effective for it. Both the original opener and the original closer are replaced, and the cast of characters featured is updated, for the second half, with the jazzy first closer “Unlucky Girl!” being particularly catchy. Japanese voice work is competent but, with rare exceptions, nothing exciting.
Right Stuf's release of the series, via their Lucky Penny label, does include all 26 episodes spread across five DVDs, which are stuffed into a regular-sized DVD case. Neither an English dub nor a Blu-Ray version is available. Extras are limited to clean openers and closers. Still, given that the full series can be obtained for an MSRP of a mere $49.99 – in other words, less than what many 12 episode subtitled-only series can be obtained for – it's a bargain deal.
Sengoku Collection is a series very easy to dismiss on first impression, and it suffers badly both from its artistic quality and from its first episode easily being its weakest one. Its stories have the capacity to pleasantly surprise even those who are not Japanese history buffs, however.
NOTE: The Story grade below should be taken more as an average value than a consistent episode-to-episode score.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : C-
Music : B+
+ Quality writing in several episodes, especially Four Leaves, Refined Bard, and Sunshine Ruler; good use of musical score.
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