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September 13, 2013

Why Anime is Amazing: Because Hideyoshi

YouTube is a very dangerous place.

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago when you could load up a video -- a song, or maybe an out-of context clop -- and be done with it.  But recently, it seems like every time I load up the site (which is often, given that I listen to video game music when writing), I end up getting sidetracked by the “recommended for you” cache that inevitably pops up.  It’s like a measure designed specifically to make sure my time gets wasted.  It’s either that or ensuring that I fall prey to the siren song of nostalgia.

One of the things that happened to catch my eye one day was a song from Sengoku Basara.  I’ve always had a fondness for the franchise -- for obvious reasons -- and Samurai Heroes helped secure that fondness thanks to its great soundtrack.  But thanks to the anime tie-in and YouTube’s dark magic sorting algorithm, “This is a Fight to Change the World” ended up getting recommended.  I’ll do you a solid and offer up a courtesy link…along with an assertion.

As it stands, the character that song belongs to -- one Hideyoshi Toyotomi -- is my favorite anime villain.

Let me back up a little bit and offer a primer on the video game/anime franchise, Sengoku Basara.  Step one: take a slew of historical figures from feudal Japan.  Step two: give them hyper-stylized reimaginings that make a good 90% of the cast heartthrobs and 100% of the cast capable of causing nuclear explosions with sheer hot-bloodedness.  Step three: make them fight.  Step four: pepper it all with Engrish.

That’s really all there is to it in a nutshell.  Oh sure, the theme of loyalty is there, and it IS something that’s perceivable and appreciable by yours truly, but even I can’t kid myself…too much.  This is a show that’s about over-the-top action and samurai bromance.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wait with bated breaths for the day when some noble soul decides to take the Founding Fathers and turn them into hyper-kinetic defenders of the universe.  Until then, SB will do more than suffice.

If I had to guess, there are about four characters that casual observers of the franchise know of.  Eyepatch-brandishing Masamune is one of them, thanks to the whirlwind of memes surrounding him.  Yukimura’s in second place, thanks to also sparking a meme and being the rival du jour.  Honda Tadakatsu is essentially a Gundam, so nobody’s going to miss him.  And amongst all of them, there’s the series’ main villain of sorts: a repurposed and ridiculously-evil Nobunaga.  In the anime, this guy’s sitting atop a throne of skulls, drinks out of a skull, turns the sky into a swirling nexus of nightmares, and has this as his theme song.

Also, he says this.  Although I wonder if I should be giving credit to the character or famed voice actor Norio Wakamoto for that one. 

SB is one of the very few anime series I’ve ever finished watching via sites like Funimation’s YT channel or Crunchyroll (and even then it was just the first season, though to be fair I was only two episodes away from finishing the second before dropping it because reasons).  And while I know and acknowledge the series has its flaws -- the anime and the games they leapt from -- I’ll gladly admit that I had plenty of fun with both, the anime in particular for giving a new perspective on characters I’d largely combo’d into oblivion.  But if there’s one area where I absolutely have to call out the anime, it’s a surprisingly glaring fault.  See, for all the impact and bluster and clout Nobunaga has, in the first season he doesn’t do much of anything.  He just looks menacing and gloats a lot.  I don’t think he even fights until the last two episodes of the first season, and he’s given the boot out of the series thanks to Masamune and Yukimura tag-teaming him.  Sure, it’s possible that I’ve forgotten the other stuff he did in the show -- it’s been a while since I’ve seen it -- but in terms of leaving a lasting impression Nobunaga comes up short.  And in a show where characters pack the force of tornadoes and warheads in the average sword swing, the last thing you want your hyped-up, uber-evil main villain to be is forgettable.

But where Nobunaga fails, Hideyoshi succeeds -- and with great gusto.   Here’s a highlight wheel…which unfortunately happens to run his theme into the ground, but it’s worth it.  Possibly.

Hideyoshi is the purest spectacle in a series built on spectacle; he’s an absolute force of nature that is almost unrivaled throughout the series.  And yet there’s a level of -- for lack of a better word -- practicality that gives him a lot more credibility as a force of nature.  Okay, sure, Masamune and the rest can make hundred-foot vertical leaps and sling around Reppukens that almost inevitably create bunker-busting blasts, but Hideyoshi doesn’t need fancy pyrotechnics.  Hideyoshi just has to rely on his raw power…and I wonder if he’s even using his power in the first place.  Let’s recap what he can do with his fists alone: he can stop a hail of arrows, upend solid rock, punch a hole in the clouds to reveal the sunlight, push back a whole damn ocean, and slam two infamous battle-hardened warlords through whatever structure they call home.  Just with his fists.  And that’s setting aside his ability to shrug off a nuclear blast, nearly tip over a pirate ship just by stomping on it, and inexplicably changing size from one shot to the next.  Seriously, it’s like that gag from The Simpsons where Paul Bunyan can suddenly go toe-to-toe with Rodan.      

I guess I should append my description of Hideyoshi’s power.  It’s a bit more practical, sure, in that it doesn’t rely as much on flash as other characters.  But more importantly, there’s a level of sincerity to his tool set.  This man’s power is well beyond superhuman, but the way he uses it stands in stark contrast to the six-sword style of Masamune or the mobile suit waiting in the wings.  Hideyoshi will just punch and kick you to get what he wants (i.e. your corpse), and that’s something a lot more understandable to us normal-types.  It’s scaled-up, sure, but it’s still perceivable.  It’s the power of a man taken to extremes, showing what can happen with surreal dedication and focus.  In their universe, at least -- but from our side of the screen, Hideyoshi’s unreal-realism strikes truer, and inspires more awe than anything else in the series.  Bar none.  Special attacks?  Nah, man.  You just gonna get punched.

It goes without saying that compared to Nobunaga, Hideyoshi gets the job done by himself, to the point where he pretty much doesn’t need an army (but that won’t stop him from amassing one anyway, just for fun).  As a result, his presence is significantly more pronounced.  Nobunaga was a threat in the sense that he was a guy you didn’t want to mess with.  Hideyoshi is a threat in the sense that he immediately wrecks Masamune’s day, and continues to do so over the course of the season.  Nobunaga is the sort of villain you want to avoid.  Hideyoshi is the sort of villain that’ll walk towards you, tell you that you suck for even thinking about opposing him, and then punch you so hard that your whole state will collapse.

“Blunt force trauma” seems to be the guy’s M.O. for everything he does, so even if my memory of the series is a bit hazy it’s safe to say that there’s not much in the way of depth or subtlety to this guy.  And normally, that would be a detriment to the character as a whole.  Normally.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned frim SB -- and life in general -- it’s that sometimes villains don’t need to be super-complex psychological studies with intricate backstories and rollercoaster character arcs.  Hideyoshi just wants one thing: to unite Japan under his rule.  And guess what?  That’s exactly what he goes for.  No frills.  No excess.  He’ll just stomp all over anyone that gets in his way.  Simple, but effective.  He’s got a backstory, sure, but what’s important -- as it should be -- is Hideyoshi marching all over the place, living in the moment to fulfill his ambitions.

And indeed, “ambitious” is about all there is to this character.  Well, no, that’s not entirely true; in some instances it seems fitting to call him “stoic”, but then he’ll do something like roar across the battlefield about the weakness of his opponent’s ideals.  Or just yell in general.  He’s very confident in his power (and rightly so), very direct, and fully convinced that he is in the right, with every reason and justification for taking Japan as his own.  It’s that combination of elements that makes for a truly terrifying villain -- one that mixes an unfathomable level of strength with dedication bordering on the psychotic.  The intent here, anime or otherwise, SB or otherwise, is to have him inspire a reaction in the audience. Given my own experiences -- and how the man in action left me reeling in shock -- I’d say something has gone remarkably well with this character.  A simple character, but so direct your sternum will crack if you so much as look at a picture of him.

But that won’t stop me.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually got a book on the subject.  I picked up a bargain-priced copy of Samurai Leaders: From the Tenth to the Ninteenth Century a while back on a whim (because I am a nerd, obviously), even before I’d ever thought to look into SB.  There’s some good info in there, as you’d expect, but one of the things that’s really interesting -- and something that’s worth sharing -- is the information on the REAL hideyoshi.  You can consider this an extremely quick summation/generalization, but here’s the thrust of the man’s place in history:  from what I can gather, Hideyoshi was the good guy.  No, it’s more than that.  Hideyoshi WON.

I’m serious.  Word for word, pulled straight from the book: “Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a daimyo in the Sengoku era, who fostered the process of unification begun by Oda Nobunaga and effectively brought peace to Japan after more than a century of civil war.”  And that’s not all.  Hideyoshi was the son of a peasant farmer, eventually became a sandal-bearer for Nobunaga, rose to the ranks to become Nobunaga’s trusted ally and helped him make important tactical decisions, spearheaded a 200-day siege, ordered the construction of Osaka Castle, ordered the confiscation of swords from everyone except samurai to stop revolts, and tried to take control of Korea…multiple times.  And that’s not even all he did.  Apparently he wanted to take over China.  All of it, presumably. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that SB isn’t exactly the gold standard for accuracy on the Sengoku era.  But then again, maybe that’s not so bad.  It’s hard for me to know exactly what sort of impact the real Hideyoshi had on Japanese history based on one book and a few glances at Wikipedia, but I’d like to think that even if the anime (and Capcom) put him in the role of the villain -- for a given definition of villain -- they wanted to make him as grandiose as possible.  Awe-inspiring.  Cool.

And I’d say they succeeded, in a way that anime can do with aplomb.  By going for absolute balls-out insanity.

So yeah.  Hideyoshi?  Pretty cool guy.  Not exactly the deepest character, but certainly one of the most memorable I’ve ever met.  At least when it comes to the anime; Koei’s version of the character is less than flattering, if you ask me.

Then again, I suppose it could be worse.  I bet there are some less-than savory guys named Hideyoshi out there in the fictional unive-

...Why?   Just...


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