drifters

Who was Oda Nobunaga?

There are plenty of references in Japanese pop culture to Oda Nobunaga.  He has been immortalized in films, novels, manga, games, and several anime.  The most recent incarnation of Oda Nobunaga in anime has been in Drifters which has seen a more brutal approach to his character.  In Drifters we see an almost maniacal man, hell bent on destroying the current world and fulfilling his dream of unifying a nation.  One of the most unique iterations of Oda Nobunaga, though, has to be the character Oda Nobuna in The Ambition of Oda Nobuna.  In this historical comedy, Oda Nobunaga is depicted as a teenage girl who is befriend by the protagonist Yoshiharu Sagara.  Sagara is a modern-day young man who finds himself thrown back in time to an alternate reality version of the Sengoku period where all the main historical figures have been replaced by high school aged girls.

So who exactly was Oda Nobunaga and why is he considered an important person in Japanese history?  Oda Nobunaga was a Daimyō in 16th century Japan and one of the “Three Unifiers” along with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.  Nobunaga started a campaign that would ultimately unify Japan as a singular nation.  He is also noted for the introduction of firearms into his military forces.  Eventually his success would be cut short by the betrayal of his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide.

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Shimazu Toyohisa

Who is Shimazu Toyohisa?  Many people had that question when they tuned into Drifters, an anime put out this winter by NBC Universal Entertainment Japan that puts various characters throughout history into a fantasy world.  Some of these characters are pretty well known such as Nobunaga, Hannibal, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid.  However Shimazu Toyohisa, the main protagonist, may not be a known name to many watchers in the West.  He was born in 1570 and at 17 years old fought in the Kyūshū Campaign as Toyotomi Hideyoshi sought to unite Japan at the end of the Sengoku period.  It was 13 years later, however, that we are introduced to Toyohisa in the anime.

The Battle of Sekigahara was the final battle in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s struggle to unite Japan.  You may remember in the anime how Oda Nobunaga was very interested in what happened to Tokugawa Ieyasu and that is because he carried on Oda Nobunaga’s plan of Japanese unification after he was killed.  The Battle of Sekigahara was the final clash the bring Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate.  It was during this battle that our main character dies.  The Shimazu clan was actually fighting against Tokugawa Ieyasu.  Toyohisa sacrificed himself to ensure Yoshihiro, the 19th head of the clan, survived.  Yoshihiro and the Shimazu clan maintained their land and power during the Tokugawa Shogunate and actually grew it, becoming one of the most powerful clans in Japan.