Understanding Stupidity: Starring Oda Nobunaga

Hello everyone.  This will have some minor spoilers for the series involved, Nobunaga the Fool and Nobunagun, but it will largely be talking about the nature of shows that are totally stupid and how some shows capitalize on their stupidity while others fail because of it.

Both Nobunagun and Nobunaga the Fool aired at the same time.  Both took the idea of using historical figures of note from both East and West as characters, both involved a lot of action and both of course featured some variation of Oda Nobunaga.  So why is it that I loved one and thought the other was thoroughly mediocre despite all these similarities?  The short answer is that one understood how stupid it was and was ok with that, while the other had no idea how stupid it was and tried to be taken seriously.  Let’s start with the worse of the two.

Nobunaga the Fool is set in some scifi universe where the West and East are actually separated into two nearby planets.  Both planets have the same energy source, called the Dragon’s Veins or Dragon’s Pulse.  In this story the West has better mechas and is more united than the East, but its Dragon’s Veins have run dry so to speak.  They turn their eyes toward the East and the conflict begins.  But not before a few important people like Da Vinci and Joan of Arc join the East first.  Each side also has special mechas that can only be controlled by people with Regalias, which bestow the mechas with special armor, weapons and abilities.  There is also some prophecy at play which centers around Nobunaga.  If that little plot synopsis sounded a bit ridiculous to you, then well done you can read the atmosphere better than whoever came up with it.  Now let’s compare this to Nobunagun.

Nobunagun is set in present day Earth and follows a Japanese high school student who happens to be a military otaku.  This student goes to Thailand on a school trip but the trip is cut short as a huge monster emerges from the sea.  The monster takes no damage from conventional weapons but suddenly a man wearing a weird suit appears.  His right hand is giant red knife and he laughs at the monster before splitting it open.  Soon after the man is wounded by the smaller monsters hiding within the big one and Shio, the aforementioned high school girl picks up the strange ball the man was carrying in a last ditch effort to save her only friend who is about to get eaten.  Power surges through her and before she understands what’s going on a huge, like stupidly huge, machine gun covers her arm and a foreign battle fury descends upon her.  After the smoke clears it is explained to Shio that she just fought Evolutionary Invasion Objects, aliens that evolve stupidly fast, are immune to normal weapons and want to consume the world.  Standing in their way is Dogoo a mysterious para-military organization made of E-gene holders, people with a strong connection to notable historical figures of the past, who can summon special weapons to defeat the aliens.  Shio is one such a person…  You can tell right away how stupid and ridiculous Nobunagun is, but hopefully you can tell by the way I’ve described how comfortable it is with its own stupidity.

The issue is not that these series are stupid, stupid can be incredibly entertaining and some of my favorite shows, like Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann are undoubtedly stupid.  The issue is that Nobunagun understands its stupid and decided to try and make something out of it.  By comparison, Nobunaga the Fool struggles so hard to be taken seriously that it falls apart.  Nobunaga the Fool attempts to be some grand space drama, trying in vain to inherit the glory of an epic simply because of all the big names attached to it.  Basically what Nobunaga the Fool is trying to do is take a page from Fate Zero, showing us a clash of legendary figures to fire us all up.  The only problem is that Nobunaga the Fool doesn’t understand why Fate Zero works and why it can’t possibly work in the same way.  Fate Zero’s battles are epic in nature not just because they look gorgeous, but because they feature figures from epics fighting the same way they do in the epics written about them.  If Saber had fought with a gun, well there goes the charm of King Arthur.  This scenario only hits the particular nerve it does with such potency because it looks like we are watching legends fight one another in all their past glory.  In Nobunaga the Fool however, the fights are futuristic mecha battles that are warped by the magical items called Regalia.  It looks nothing like a fight from legend and so it can’t strike that particular nerve.  But Nobunaga the Fool insists on following this path anyway.  It tries so desperately to make a serious and poignant narrative of itself when really it could never have been anything but.  The mash up of legendary historical figures and scifi tech will never give off the feel of an epic, the scenario is simply too absurd to be taken seriously.  Which is where Nobunagun comes in.

Nobunagun knows it’s stupid and revels in that fact.  It understands that its premise is inherently ridiculous and runs full speed ahead.  You can see it in every detail.  The art style focuses less on realism and more looking bombastic.  Funnily enough you can even see the problems of Nobunaga the Fool from the art alone.  The character designs and color palettes used are utterly stupid, I mean Da Vinci has blue hair and walks around with some giant brass instrument while using tarot cards to goad people to action.  Yet despite a design that is filled to the brim with stupid and ridiculous, he’s drawn in a realistic manner.  This true of basically all of Nobunaga the Fool’s characters, they look like edgy scifi characters in their outfits and color schemes but are drawn as though they were real and should be taken seriously.  My guess is the creator was trying to build a sense of grandeur by making everyone look exotic and imposing… but they just look so dumb.  Keep in mind I actually like the weird color schemes, but they are not be taken seriously.  On the subject of art, Nobunagun’s art seems to reflect that its aware of its stupidity.  During normal scenes the color scheme is made of normal colors, silver and green-black are the extremes during these scenes.  But in action scenes, the color scheme shifts dramatically, there’s tons of vibrant, contrasting colors and the environments look otherworldly.  It looks almost garish and I love it.  The ridiculous actions of the characters and nature of the show are conveyed best when the world around them looks and feels equally ridiculous.  Then there is the story.

Nobunaga the Fool’s story is a confused mess of magical prophecy and space drama.  It’s pacing is miserable, the story is never all that clear and the show does its best to distract you with big flashy mecha battles make sure you don’t look to closely at the all the things it gets wrong.  Nobunagun by comparison, is simple story that can summed up in the phrase, “Kill aliens, save humanity, and lets have fun doing it.”  Nobunaga the Fool tries to use mysterious turns of fate via Da Vinci’s tarot cards, romantic drama and grand speeches and schemes to drive itself forward.  Nobunagun moves forward in insane battles where the heroes throw themselves at the enemy with shameless abandon smiling like madmen as they go, slowly uncovering more clues about the monsters they face while beating the shit out of them.  Nobunaga the Fool wants to wow us, Nobunagun wants us to have a good time, and I for one care far more about having a good time than being wowed.

To sum it all up, Nobunaga the Fool is a show that is stupid at heart but tries desperately to bury the stupid under the trappings of space drama or scifi epic.  Nobunagun, on the other hand, is show that loves being stupid and sees no shame in dialing the stupid factor  up to 11.  Because Nobunagun is unconcerned by its stupidity it has the breathing room to make something fun and memorable.  Meanwhile Nobunaga the Fool tries so hard to hide its stupidity that it gets buried beneath all the superficial crap it surrounds itself with and dies of suffocation.  So be stupid and have fun with it, it works out better for everyone that way.  Hopefully you guys enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

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