Sorry for being absent lately, I’ve been busy with various things (like university! Oh boy. Buying time management skills plz.), but I’m still here. I’m pretty far behind on a lot of animes, but one that I caught up on and finished recently (read: one two three four weeks ago and I got distracted from writing this since then) was Sengoku Basara 2. Now I didn’t watch the first Sengoku Basara, so I don’t really have a good point of reference for the second season, but I have to say that from the way everyone was describing Sengoku Basara, it sounded like one of those shows where I could just watch the burly men go at it. Someone either lied to me, or the creators decided to do something totally different with Sengoku Basara 2.
When I started watching, I was expecting to see one of the shows that extol the “macho man” stereotype. I mean it’s a reasonable assumption to make. Episode 1 was the epitome of what I really expected to see. Huge fights, people going all crazy gar… Something like DBZ. The louder you scream, the stronger you get, you know.
And then starting in episode 2, the plot changes. The incredibly over-the-top fighting takes a back seat to the personal struggles of the characters. As the story advances, we begin to lose sight of the overplayed action scenes save for a few moments, and we zoom in on the true focus of the story – the people of the Sengoku Era.
And once we get a closer look at these people, some of the strongest men to ever come to power in Japanese history, we see just how truly vulnerable they are. On the outside, we see them as people with the power to literally create explosions that kill hundreds of normal troops at once. Yet we soon see how even they, the supposed heroes of the show, can’t accomplish anything without the help of others. What is Date Masamune without Katakura? What is Toshiie without Matsu? What is Hideyoshi without empathy?
The ultimate answer that Sengoku Basara gives us, is that even the strongest of men are nothing without family. It’s a concept that you definitely wouldn’t expect to see in an anime like Sengoku Basara, but it’s there, and it’s strong. How can we characterize the relationship between Sanada and Takeda as anything but brotherhood? The entire series is, in part, a bildungsroman of Sanada as he learns that he’s consistently viewed Takeda as his idol. A goal that he aims to achieve someday. But in taking that view, he loses his own sense of self. It’s vitally important that he encounters Oichi early on in his journey, because she is a reflection of himself. Someone constantly living in the shadow of his or her master. What identity does she carry as her own? None. Just as she is trapped by her past, so is Sanada trapped by his total dependence on Takeda. But by the end of the show, Sanada is no longer trapped in this swirling vortex of doubt. Takeda is more than just an idol. He’s a comrade. A brother. Someone who you can converse with on an eye-to-eye level and play with (i.e. shouting each other’s names while fighting).
Compare that to someone like Hideyoshi, who, although extremely strong and gar at times, ultimately lost to Date because he didn’t have any family driving him. He lost the battle because he let go of all of his emotions for the sake of power. Hideyoshi feels more like an Ookami in that he uses force and a gruff exterior to hide the weakness inside. The fact that he seemed extremely gar during the show was offset by the sense that we consistently got that he seemed to lack something that everyone else had. With the loss of Nene, he’s really just a shell of a man.
Even his relationship with Hanbei is nothing on the level of the relationship between Kojuurou and Masamune. Although Hideyoshi says during multiple points in the show that he “needs” Hanbei, there isn’t really the sense of camaraderie that you get as compared to the relationship between the other major relationships in the series. In fact, when you compare it to the extremely overplayed relationships between Kenshin and Kasuga or Shingen and Yukimura, it pales by comparison. We never really saw any real chemistry between them other than master and servant. And in the end, the two warlords who were killed were the two without any real relationships – Mouri Motonari and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
It’s almost incredible just how contrary this view is in regard to the traditional American view. We thrived on the concept of the “superhero”, the man who we rely on in our time of need, and the truly GAR man. Superman, Wolverine, Captain America, Spiderman… All these characters are extremely independent and are more or less the epitome of GAR. But that’s not the case in Sengoku Basara. In this anime, GARness is only half of the story. Behind every gar, there’s a person behind it. A force driving that manliness.
No matter how I looked at it, Sengoku Basara ended up defying the typical manly stereotype. And this wasn’t really unexpected. Japanese society in and of itself is heavily based on the family, and by extension, relationships. But then again, that’s a really conservative message, and one that shouldn’t be unexpected from Japan. This sort of “manly” stereotype is extremely niche in animation, even though Japan itself has been trending towards a Westernization in their society. In fact, you can even view Sengoku Basara as a backlash against too much “manliness”. The series urges the viewers to look into that single man. Why does he fight? No, it’s not because he’s trying to grab the girls, not because he’s trying to be impressive, not because he’s trying to fit in, but because he has something to protect, and something that he loves.