Thursday, January 29, 2015

In Which Mary Has Feelings About Nobunaga Concerto And Japanese History

Hey guys. I just watched a jdrama that destroyed my life. Okay, that is a hyperbole but I did watch something that appealed to many of my interests that was really, really good and it broke me.

Contrary to the picture, this does not take place on a train. THERE ARE NO TRAINS! THE BANNER IS A LIE!
The jdrama is called Nobunaga Concerto. It is based on a manga which was made into an anime. And now they have a drama of it. I have only watched the jdrama and didn't hear about the other two. To be honest, the only reason why I decided to give the drama a go because two of my favorite actors, Shun Oguri and Kou Shibasaki, were in it. Otherwise, I would have been inclined to say it sounded too gimmicky and skipped it.

I kinda made this face tbh

That's the thing, this drama could have been a gimmick. But it wasn't. It was a well crafted story paying homage to Japanese History which excellent character development and so much heart.

So what was is this drama about? Well, it starts off simply enough with your Typical Japanese High School Student (tm!) named Saburo who is on a class trip to this historical place in which people dress in old timey clothes. He hits his head and wakes up in the Sengoku Period (1467-1603). A man who looks exactly like him rides up and asks him to switch places. Thinking it is some sort of event at the historical town, he agrees. Saburo soon realizes he had just switched places with Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan's unifiers. He now has to conduct stately affairs, dodge assassination attempts, go do battle, and find a way to stay alive in a place that could put Westeros to shame in terms of violence. Hilarity Ensues (and oh does it).

Yeah, that is the Moonwalk

The plot is not entirely original. It has been done before. The Fish Out of Water plot is one for the ages. Two look-a-likes switching places have been done in A Tale of Two Cities, the Prince and the Pauper, and the Parent Trap. Time Travelers going back into history and influencing events has also been done. Mark Twain wrote a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. And it is the premise of most Doctor Who episodes. It is not the plot which makes this story so good.

After all that storyline gave us this (although this movie was awesome when I was like 13)

It is the choices made by the writers, directors, and actors. For the most part, Sengoku Era Japan is played straight. Seriously, you take Saburo out of the picture and the show almost plays like A Game of Thrones episode. It is filled with people trying to one up each other in courtly power whether through political maneuvering, assassinations, or battles. And don't get too attached to any one character because the death count is pretty high. That is what I think is the show's strength in that it stays rooted in the source material. However, Nobunaga Concerto is a comedy but the comedy is firmly planted on Saburo's reaction to the events around him and everyone's reaction to him. It could have gone down a slapstick, outrageous humor route but it didn't.

Presented without context

I kind of feel that Nobunaga Concerto has what I like to call John Hughes Humor. It is a comedy but it is not afraid to be serious and talk about deep issues. It is not afraid to have emotion. It is not afraid to have heart. And it is those serious moments of heart is where the show is truly at its best.

The writers of Nobunaga Concerto were not afraid to let their characters grow and develop, even those based on historical figures. It is always so tempting for people to see larger than life historical figures as these stagnant people who were always the greatness as history tells us they were. That is not the case with this drama. You see the real Nobunaga struggle with jealousy as Saburo really makes positive changes in Owari -- the Oda domain. You see Ieyasu Tokugawa as a cry-baby womanizer. It makes them human. Additionally, the female characters who history tells us so little about have their own character arcs where they are given agency as they even try to survive in such a tough world.

Each of the main characters are forced to make tough choices and struggle with themselves and I found myself watching because I wanted to know what they would choose. Of course Saburo battles between his 21st century ideals and survival. Nobunaga's wife, Kichou struggles between loneliness and pushing away everyone due to fear of rejection. Tsuneoki, Nobunaga's childhood friend, struggles constantly between samurai ideals and personal loyalty. Oichi, Nobunaga's sister, struggles between her love of her brother and her love of her husband. Her husband, Azai Nagamasa, struggles between a budding friendship with Saburo and his duties as a first born son. And what ends up happening to many of them is just heartbreaking.

There is also a struggle when it comes to fashion sense

I watched this drama and ate it all up. It ended on a "cliffhanger" (I put that in quotations because if you know your history, you know what happens next) as I guess there is a movie set to come out at the end of the year wrapping it all up. I eagerly wanted to see what happened next and I was constantly surprised. I came to realize, though, had I brushed up on my Japanese History, all the twists I thought were twists would not have been twists to begin with.

I'm a huge history geek. I love historical dramas. And I am a huge fan of alternate history. It is one of my things. My friends can attest I usually win Timeline. However, to be honest, I'm not THAT familiar with the Sengoku Period. I know a lot more about the rise of the Meiji Era and 20th Century Japanese History than the Warring States. I took a class in Japanese History in college and we did cover the Sengoku Period but as I remember, we didn't spend that much time on it. I remember reading about Toyotomi Hideyoshi and thought he seemed pretty interesting. A peasant that became a daimyo. I have a totally different perspective of Hideyoshi after watching this drama and reading more about him. I've come to the conclusion that if Hideyoshi were in Game of Thrones, this is who he'd be.

This will be my last Game of Thrones reference, I promise!
Seriously, though, how big of a dick do you have to be to ban the system of social mobility, one that you benefited from, once you made it to the top? I get it. It is pragmatic, but still.

Anyways, last night on night shift after my work was done, I decided to brush up on my Sengoku Period history. And this is where I realized just how clever the writer of Nobunaga Concerto was. So many aspects that I thought were artistic licenses turned out to be true. For instance, Nobunaga was known to be a bit of a fool. He was called the Fool of Owari. All around people thought him kind of odd. He wore strange clothes and often hung out with people of lower station than himself. He also was incredibly fascinated by the Europeans and wore western clothes at times. These were all things Saburo definitely did... not saying Oda Nobunaga was a time traveler from 2014 but it was kind of ingenious when you think about it.

Yep, totally a time traveler
So, as I mentioned before, Ieyasu Tokugawa is portrayed as a cry-baby womanizer. I thought this was purely for humor. And artistic license. I mean, it is hilarious and adorable to see Tokugawa talk to the women in Saburo's porno mag and get all giddy about it. But while the porno mag is definitely an exaggeration, the rest of it isn't.

Just look at the adorbs pervert

Tokugawa was regarded as soft-hearted and weak when he was young. Then, he suddenly changed, changed to the point that there was a conspiracy theory going around that Tokugawa had switched places with someone. Nobunaga Concerto deals with this when Saburo meets Tokugawa for the first time, he recognized his name. Saburo says that Tokugawa will be most famous one day. And from there Tokugawa begins to believe in himself and becomes stronger.

As for the womanizing, wikipedia lists almost a dozen named concubines and then just puts "others". They list almost 20 legitimate children and then "others". So yes, Tokugawa's womanizing and love of women is well known.

Another part, I was surprised to learn that was true was the circumstances regarding Azai Nagamasa's death. I really liked Nagamasa in Nobunaga Concerto. I was doing the shipping thing between him and Saburo but not for them to kiss but more like, "BE FRIENDS! I WANT YOU TO BE FRIENDS!"

He had such a deep admiration for Saburo and absolutely loved Oichi. And he was a pretty understanding sort of fellow. At the climax of the show, Saburo is forced to go to war with the Azai clan. He didn't want it. Nagamasa didn't want it but he felt he had to honor his father and tradition. As the castle is burning down, Nagamasa tells Oichi to take their daughters and go back to her brother. I'm watching this thinking this must be watered down. A political marriage, if I was Oichi, I would run back home too and I bet there was pressure for her to go down with the castle. But no, that's not true. Nagamasa handed Oichi and his daughters off to the Oda clan before he committed seppuku. And he did have a lot of respect for Nobunaga. The part of Saburo (Nobunaga) being there for it, probably artistic license. But the fact that Nagamasa ensured that his wife and children went back home to her family -- his family's enemy in the siege -- is kind of amazing. Also, that scene, destroyed me. So many tears. Why can't we be friends playing in the background.

I'm not saying Nobunaga Concerto is historically accurate all around but it was historically accurate in areas that surprised me. Obviously they did take artistic licenses. It is about a time traveler for god's sake. But there were many events depicted that actually happened.

Anyways, after a very rambly entry, I really like this drama. I would even recommend it for people who are not into Japanese Dramas. It is fun, heart-wrenching, and historical all at once. It is also just beautifully done. I could go on and on about the good choices made by the crew on how it was presented, framed, filmed, and acted but I think you need to see for yourself.

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Been A While!

So the holidays caused me to fall off the planet. I had to prepare my apartment for visiting relatives, buy gifts, go to social gatherings, and oh yes, work. During this down time I realized *gasp* people actually reads my entries but it took me a while to actually settle to write up something.

First off, I feel awful that I fell off the bandwagon when it came up to writing up the sessions of my game. It actually concluded in three sessions and I just fell so far behind I couldn't get motivated to catch up. And it is a real shame because I wished I kept a record of my past games so I could remember them better. So here I go.

As a quick summary, the thumb drive that Shirin gave Ash turned out to reveal the identity of Experiment 0001 -- her missing mother. She used to work as a scientist but found out the plan and afflicted herself with the admittedly buggy serum. Just as that happened, Alan turned them all in by revealing their position.

Everyone was caught and sent to prison, except Alan who became buddy-buddy with Tatiana Selnik and Devlin McGowan after his father's promotion to Dr. Zanjani's position. While he was enjoying new found popularity, everyone else sat in prison trying to figure their way out. Eventually, Brock figured it out using his illusion abilities and Mateo's quickness and Joss's technoempathy. They escaped with a small army of would be experiments.

They retreated into the desert and regrouped within a cave. Finally, they decided to head back to find Ash's mother. They managed to convince some of those who escaped with them to go back with them so they had their own private militia.

Brock, Joss, and Ash and gang didn't get very far when they ran into androids created by Keiko Miyazawa, the matriarch of one of the six families. The androids scanned mutants and mimicked their abilities. Eventually, the team took them down and continued on their way. They hijacked a bus using Brock's illusions so they didn't look like a bunch of teenagers and were soon on their way.

Meanwhile, Alan's new friends and new family standing got him to see things he couldn't see before. They shocked him and he grew a conscience. He also found a couple of the other Galileo kids who felt the same way and they sought to go to the CEOs house to get some real dirt. Alan's new group ran into his old group. They came to a shaky understanding and Alan knew where Ash's mother was.

After a battle at the CEO house which ended with shrinking the CEO (using one of their army's abilities), they headed to the Miyazawa's place. First, they ran into Keiko's son Ren who tried to use his empathy ability to scare them away. Brock did some quick thinking and conjured an illusion of his mother and the group continued on.

Keiko, using a remote control, controlled Ash's mother -- who was half-human and half-machine. The group did battle, using their strengths in their abilities that they spent the entire game learning through trial and error. They managed to free Ash's mother who in turn crushed Keiko's brain with her mind.

As the group left the Miyazawa residence, Ash clinging to her mother, the town burning as mutant teens rebelled against the company's forces. Ash looked up at her mother and asks her innocently, "Mom, can you make me fishsticks?"

Admittedly, I felt iffy at first when I ended the last session but the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how solid it was. Everyone had their own character arc and it was clear by the end they were not the same people they were at the beginning. Joss learned responsibility, Ash learned reality, Alan learned authority is not always right, and Brock learned to take things seriously for once.

I feel I did my job as a GM because of that. I provided the scenarios and the world and the NPCs and they reacted accordingly and it was their actions that allowed them to grow as characters. Overall, I felt it was a solid origin story.

Now, I'm taking a break from GMing. I am playing in a Dungeon World game which sometimes alternates with a Torchbearer. I am also planning to join a One Ring campaign.

I do want to go back to GMing eventually. A friend gave me Big Eyes, Small Mouth Third Edition for Christmas and I love that system so much. Cortex is interesting but BESM is my system. It is the one I am most comfortable with.

This is why I plan to run it as soon as one of these other campaigns run their course. And I want to run a game set in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe. And it will be a Cold War/Atom Punk style set after the events in Legend of Korra -- an alternate ending of course to the actual series. Basically, imagine if Kuvira won but couldn't get to the United Republic of Nations. And now, the Earth Empire is behind an Iron Curtain so to speak.

I will probably write more about this in future entries. My source document is already over 20 pages.

Hopefully, I will get back to writing in this for 2015.