Sengoku Basara 2 – Where’s the TRUE GAR?

What I expected.

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.

What I got.

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?

A man who dies alone… unloved.

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.

… Or the reverse…

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.

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15 Comments

  1. Posted October 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I can see a compelling argument made for having those kinds of societal bonds that tie individuals together into a solid whole, but sometimes… just sometimes, you do need that exceptional hero to come down and save those in dire need. There’s a time and place for either model to thrive, and since my interests lie in the direction of economics as of late, I’d say Japan’s situation requires a superman to jumpstart it up rather than a reliance upon committee decisions. That, and a tolerance for creative destruction, but I doubt Sengoku Basara addresses that.

    • Posted October 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      I’m assuming you mean Japan’s economic woes? I don’t think Sengoku Basara’s message necessarily extends beyond just social ones, though even still, I don’t think it’s pushing for a group of heroes more so than one hero with a solid family life and circle of friends.

  2. InstantNoodles
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Wow, quite a deep analysis for a show that was supposedly to be mostly silly fun, historical parodies, and fanservice for girls.

    Could the strong emphasis on teamwork power be also due to the Sengoku setting? I’ve started watching some historical Japanese dramas because of Sengoku Basara, just to see a closer to life depiction of the cartoon warlords, and noticed very strong family/clan/retainer to lord and vice versa emphasis all over.

    • Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      I would partially agree. The Sengoku Era certainly lent itself to the strengthening of relationships in general, like Kenshin’s famous rivalry with Shingen, but I think Sengoku Basara extends that further into the realm of familial relationships. They don’t need to be necessarily blood related, but I’d characterize the relationship between Shingen and Sanada as more than just friends.

      It’s also interesting to note the changes that they made in terms of the history to get their point across. For example, Sanada Yukimura was never an apprentice of Shingen. In fact, he grew into an adult after Shingen died. But the creators chose to place him there for a reason.
      Another example would be Hideyoshi. They changed a lot about him, especially the whole “Nene” thing, which never existed. They even said that Hideyoshi conscripted soldiers when I’m pretty sure that wasn’t true. The changes they made gives Hideyoshi a very cold and impersonal feeling that’s completely distinct from any other “good guy” in Sengoku Basara.

      I think that one could really write a long, lengthy post on the differences between the actual Sengoku Era and Sengoku Basara, but that’s far, far, far too much work for me. :P

      • InstantNoodles
        Posted October 20, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Ah poor Yukimura, never to have known Shingen well. At least his grandfather served the man.
        I realized the changes made to Hideyoshi were huge after some reading, but a nice contrast to every other fictional depiction of him. And poor Nene, we never saw your face.

        It would be fun for someone to do a write up, but it will probably take a month at least. :D

        • Posted October 21, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Concerning the sheer amount of information about the Basara era and the extent to which the Sengoku Basara team changed the fact into fiction… Oh God too much >.<

  3. Posted October 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    The first season of Sengoku Basara was crazier, since Nobunaga was over-the-top and cartoonish. (‘sup, just using this skull as a goblet yo)

    I had put this show on-hold since I lost interest, but I’ll pick it up again. Thanks for this post.

    As for TRUE GAR, I remember this post. The video has been taken down already, but I think the writeup (and my own comment there) could provide you a good idea of what it’s about.

    • Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Ok, so it was just a season 2 thing.

      And that definition of “true gar” that you linked is interesting because the way I interpreted it, gar essentially means manliness on the level of making you feel like a woman. Or at least that’s how I’ve always seen it used. I never really associated it with anything moral, but that’s an interesting consideration to make…

  4. Zi Densetsu
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    “Strength without reason is just reckless violence.”

    • Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Yet there could be many different sources for strength as well.

  5. Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Sengoku Basara season 1 was way better in terms of what you would expect for over-the-top manliness, but in S2 too, like you pointed out, it had deep undertones that people seemed to miss. I particularly liked how the plot played out, but ultimately the ending was too weak for my liking though it did underscore the importance of interdependence.

    Though I hardly call Takeda and Sanada’s relationship comradeship, because Sanada still perceives Takeda as his “father” and “master”, just closer than he was to Takeda last time when he merely idolized him.

    Hope the movie will still return to the over-the-top stuff though, next year.

  6. Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I think the ending itself was probably the best that they could have done, given that the focus of Sengoku Basara seems to be on 1 vs 1 fights. There were some really strange loose ends that they could have tied up though.

    And that’s definitely a valid distinction to make. The reason why I perceived it as comradeship is because Sanada’s ultimate lesson is to stand by Shingen, which I interpreted as a sign of comradeship, but for Sanada himself, he probably still views Shingen as his mentor.

    I wonder if I should go back and watch season 1… Is it worth it? :3

  7. Posted October 22, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Well, yes, there’s loose ends in Sengoku Basara 2, but that’s because 3 is already written. Remember, this is a series based off of games that are loosely tied to the historical Sengoku period. Historically, Ieyasu comes to power after Hideyoshi, which means he will be the threat in season 3. He was that guy with the mech soldier who’s in this season for all of 3 minutes.

    As far as this post goes, it pretty much nailed the series on the head. I went into it expecting more of the same from season 1, but I didn’t get that. Instead, I got a much more story driven series. It left me both disappointed and pleased at the same time, for entirely different reasons.

    • Posted October 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Right yeah, I remember seeing some advertisements for Sengoku Basara 3, though I think SB2 showed that the adapters are willing to do more than translate that simple hack and slash game over to an anime. It’s something that I was pleasantly surprised by, and I think that they pulled it off pretty well, despite that introducing some questionable pacing in there. I just hope that they’ll get even better at this in SB3.

  8. spades
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Season 1 was far more action/manly orientated, there was however to a lesser extent still a good deal of plot growth.

    A plot point that is brought to fruition in Season 2, but is almost negligible is without the exposition of season 1 is the value of human life. Shigen brings the point up to Yukimura when he kills a soldier and said soldier’s brother attacks completely out of grief.

    Yukimura is shaken up by it but soon brought back by Shigen who lets him know that those that he fights are equally as human as he is, but never to forget that he must strive for the ambitions that he holds dear.

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