The Ambition of Oda Nobuna Episode 2: Loyalty During a Time of War

The first episode established the general tone of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, introducing the two key figures of Oda Nobuna (based upon the historical Nobunaga) and Sagara Yoshiharu as the latter suddenly finds himself in the hectic and dangerous Sengoku period; with the second episode, the series explores the important theme of social obligation and loyalty during a time of national crisis. The real-life Sengoku era was one of significant internal and interpersonal struggle, as the various daimyo fought for control of the country – Owari became a major participant when Nobunaga suddenly defeated the much larger Imagawa clan at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, demonstrating his tactical acumen and desire to assert himself on the national stage as a warrior and leader. Nobuna exhibits the same characteristics as her historical forebear, even displaying some of the more alarming trend towards villainy that distinguished Nobunaga in pop cultural depictions; she is willing to treat her own family as expendable in her pursuit for power if needed, as illustrated with her relationship with younger brother Nobukatsu. To provide some historical background, the real-life Nobukatsu also went by the name Nobuyuki – he was killed in 1557 when Nobunaga assaulted Suemori Castle, an event examined in this episode. The siege of Suemori (and the subsequent death of Nobukatsu) became a formative moment in Nobunaga’s life, as he revealed himself to be willing to murder his own brother in retaliation for his perceived insubordination; many depictions of the daimyo (such as Samurai Warriors) emphasize his duplicitous and villainous nature, presenting him as a monstrous person who would sacrifice his own family for the sake of autocratic control.

Oda Nobuna ostensibly begins with the same format, examining the difficult nature of maintaining fealty during warfare, as Nobuna shows the first signs of wickedness when figuring out how to approach her brother’s supposed disobedience – the episode begins with Yoshiharu reprimanding Nobukatsu for his lack of ambition regarding conquest, leading Nobukatsu to demand Yoshiharu’s head due to his insolence. This leads Nobuna to consider executing Yoshiharu for his behavior, however, she gives him the opportunity to instantly be promoted to general if he can produce a profit of 8,000 koku (approximately 5 bushels of rice) when provided with 3,000 initially. The enterprising Yoshiharu demonstrates his command of the market when he capitalizes on his knowledge of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series of video games – he applies his familiarity with the resource management sim to its real-life equivalent, obtaining a huge profit of gold through trading with merchants across Japan. This proves risky, however, as he has only seven days to return with the requested amount of rice, or he will be summarily executed by Nobuna; this challenge illustrates how Nobunaga exhibits some of the same behaviors of her real-life counterpart, as she displays a callous and insensitive nature that existed for some time. Nobukatsu provides an additional example, where Nobuna acted bizarrely at her father’s funeral – this refers to an anecdote where the real Nobunaga behaved similarly, throwing incense at the altar while present at the funeral for his father Nobuhide (who passed away in 1551). This emphasizes the delicate and strict nature of social obligations and responsibilities of Sengoku-era Japan – the daimyo and court of the time placed particular significance on rituals and social regulations, which Oda violated with his erratic and insulting behavior during the funeral. At a time of strict adherence to social cohesion, Nobunaga defied customs and expectations by acting in an unbecoming manner; this led to him being perceived as a dangerous and corrupt leader, someone willing to forfeit his own family if it meant establishing himself as a powerful leader; his appearance as an unethical and treacherous man in popular fiction serves as a metaphor for the dangers of being overly ambitious at the expense of social graces.

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna subverts this depiction by having Yoshiharu intervene – during the assault on Suemori Castle, he prevents Nobuna from executing Nobukatsu by restraining her hand and talking her out of her desire to kill her own brother. He saw in Nobuna the same trajectory towards regret and violence that he observed in the Nobunaga’s Ambition series, and wanted the young daimyo to avoid the same fate; he recognizes Nobuna’s capacity for good, and if she were to kill Nobukatsu now, she would put herself in an irreversible course towards conquest and death that would consume her family and peers (and ultimately herself, as the historical Nobunaga was betrayed by one of his retainers, Mitsuhide Akechi). By prohibiting her from following her namesake’s path and descending into chaos, Yoshiharu shows his desire for Nobuna to maintain her happier personality – she has the capacity to pursue her curiosity and learn about the world around her, rather than continue down the road to madness and anger that defined Nobunaga in pop culture, and Yoshiharu wants to foster that positivity. Since he comes from the modern day, Yoshiharu has knowledge of Nobunaga’s history, and he can use that to his advantage to prevent the same fate from repeating itself in Nobuna; his intervention helped in saving Nobukatsu from a tragic death at the hands of his sister, and he managed to convince Nobuna of the importance of kindness and forgiveness.

This episode illustrates the significance of extending kindness towards others around you, and not letting one’s anger cloud ones judgment – the 16th century in Japan had a lot of social obligations that daimyo were expected to observe, and Nobuna had difficulty navigating that social atmosphere as the young leader of Owari. She risked turning into a monster by compromising her ideals, and it took a time-displaced outsider to remind her of the importance of family and friends – she can forgive someone for their insolence, and allowing the moment to negatively affect her would have far-reaching consequences that she likely would not have been able to effectively handle. Yoshiharu had history to reflect on when observing Nobuna’s behavior, and he wants to avoid seeing the same fate manifest in the daimyo; Nobunaga, the historical namesake, ultimately died after his barbarous behavior overwhelmed him and his former allies, and Yoshiharu had the opportunity to prevent the same mistakes from happening with Nobuna, even if it means standing up to her and staying her hand. Through his intervention, he can alter history, letting Nobuna reflect on her actions and become a better person than the man Yoshiharu saw in his favorite video game – he may be an unrepentant pervert (especially around Katsuie), but he seemingly has enough integrity to interfere when he sees Nobuna about to make unfortunate mistakes that would lead to her death.

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