SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA is a wacky hodgepodge of pseudo-history, pop cultural references, and good old-fashioned Japanese weirdness.
When I first wrote about SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA in Anime Now! back in October 2016, the show had not yet started airing in earnest, and instead I focused on the staff behind it, its format, and the historical significance of the actual twelfth century Chojuugiga “animal scrolls.” Now that we have come to the end of a thirteen-episode cycle, we can go back and analyze some of the moments which stood out as wacky interpretations of the legendary stories of the sengoku era’s legendary figures.
These highlights mostly serve to exemplify the crazy character traits. But more than that, it is also interesting to see how the show takes cues from actual events recorded in the history books and puts its own spin on them. Each episode then closes out with a narration from Megumi Hayashibara about how “this may have happened, or may not have happened.” It therefore forces us to consider just how romanticized our understanding of history, especially the “sengoku” warring states period is, with all of the media readily available based on the ruthless character we know as Oda Nobunaga. Who is to say that he wasn’t a tiny mischievous bird, hanging out with Toyotomi Hideyoshi the monkey and Tokugawa Ieyasu the tanuki?
While visually, the series of shorts clearly borrows heavily from its namesake scrolls with its ink painting style, most amusing is the look of the characters themselves, once you understand their personalities. Oda Nobunaga is typically recognized as a merciless ruler attempting to consolidate power. But here, he is depicted as a small bird, which, in and of itself, is laughable, and yet the other characters still are deathly afraid of him and are cautious never to speak out of line in his presence, making the situation even funnier. This forms the basis for a lot of character humor, and the voice cast does a great job playing out one comedy routine after another.
In episode thirteen, Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi have a New Year’s party, as is tradition in Japan (often preceded by an “end of year” party). The setup is that the party features a curious activity. It is one of those games where a blindfolded participant has to feel around inside a box containing a certain object, and has to guess what it is. The audience, of course, can see the contents and usually reacts with disgust and amusement.
Nobunaga decides he will take advantage of the situation and trick Hideyoshi into touching the skulls of their defeated enemies. Hideyoshi gives him clues and hints, but he is still oblivious to the fact that he is stroking his dead foes. Meanwhile, Tokugawa and Akechi Mitsuhide look on in fear.
This is apparently based on the story that on New Year’s Day, 1574, Nobunaga held a banquet for the uma-mawari (“horse guards”) and showed them the lacquered skulls of his defeated enemies, the Azai clan. Many tales abound that Nobunaga enjoyed drinking sake from the skulls of his fallen rivals, and Megumi Hayashibara here points out that perhaps that night they drank and then were traumatized…
An excellent example of taking a historical anecdote and simply running with it to its farcical extreme is episode seven, “The Secret of the Sandals.” This is based on the story that one of the things that ranked Hideyoshi very highly in Nobunaga’s view was that in the winter, he would warm up Nobunaga’s sandals by keeping them under his clothes. The warmth of his body made the sandals very comfortable to wear when Nobunaga was stepping out, and so he was very impressed with his attentiveness. SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA flips this around by showing Hideyoshi, during the hot summertime, talking with the samurai general Shibata Katsuie, who is portrayed in the show as an enormous beast, resembling an oni (Japanese demon). Shibata cannot stand the heat and sweats profusely, but notices that Hideyoshi is keeping his cool somehow. Asked why, Hideyoshi reveals he is still keeping Nobunaga’s sandals close to his body, which now serve to absorb sweat. He invites Shibata to try it, which he does, but at that moment, Nobunaga steps out, ready for battle, and demands his sandals. Nervously, Shibata hands him the now-drenched sandals, and when Nobunaga remarks on the smelly and soggy feeling, Hideyoshi pulls out a fresh pair, once again elevating his stature in Nobunaga’s mind. As a punchline, Megumi Hayashibara’s narration points out how, perhaps, Hideyoshi used anyone as a stepping stone to receive praise from Nobunaga.
In episode ten, simply entitled “Treasure,” Nobunaga searches daimyo Matsunaga Hisahide’s castle for a certain artifact: a kettle known as the Kotenmyo Hiragumo. It is based on a famous Japanese historical legend that this strange kettle was coveted by Nobunaga after his attack on Matsunaga, but Matsunaga, foreseeing his own defeat, hid all of his treasures from him.
The episode is amusing because it takes the core of that story and replaces it with a parody of Lupin III, with each of the main characters representing a respective member of the Lupin gang.
After hang-gliding into the castle, it is revealed that Nobunaga is wearing Lupin’s jacket, shirt, and tie; Hideyoshi is dressed as Daisuke Jigen with the trademark hat and beard; and Tokugawa Ieyasu is Ishikawa Goemon. Nobunaga even talks like Lupin with all his mannerisms intact. They even make a “meta” joke questioning their clothes and Nobunaga’s speech.
After tripping the alarm, Matsunaga–whose portrayal as a giant spider is also an in-joke, because “hiragumo” means “flat/splayed spider”–threatens to blow the place up in an act of “If I can’t have it, no one can!”
The upshot of all of this is that, just like a typical Lupin adventure, the castle explodes and Matsunaga perishes with it–echoing what actually happened according to the legend: Matsunaga went down in history as the first Japanese person to have been “blown up.”
After it is revealed that Nobunaga escaped with the kettle, the samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide, in female bunny form, with a hairstyle resembling that of Fujiko Mine (Lupin’s on-again, off-again lady friend) suddenly enters the scene asking to see it… And you can imagine where things go from here!
Actually, several other stories, myths, and tales featuring Matsunaga’s sengoku exploits still entertain us today, such as the story of him apparently being the first person in Japan to have called for a cease-fire because of Christmas. I can’t wait for that episode of SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA!
As we can see from the examples here, SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA certainly inherits a lot of the tongue-in-cheek satirical humor from its twelfth-century namesake. Not only is it entertaining in its absolute weirdness, but it also reminds us that a lot of the stories and tales we spun of these larger-than-life warriors were already rather crazy. It would be great if the show could act as a gateway to spark interest in the historical records of the Japanese samurai, and the legends that are constantly retold today.
SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.