The idea behind The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is a little odd. Yoshiharu is an ordinary teenager who is a big fan of a video game set in Japan’s history. One day he suddenly finds himself in the past, interacting with events with which he is familiar from his game (Nobunaga’s Ambition, which is apparently a real game). The series opens with Yoshiharu already in the past, and there is no explanation offered about why that happened. He has such a detailed knowledge about history, thanks to the game, that it can’t just be a coincidence that Yoshiharu happens to be the one person transported into the past, but we are just left to guess about that.
I didn’t mind that so much, because some kind of a technobabble explanation would have added little to the series, and the other possibility is of course that Yoshiharu is imagining or dreaming it all, perhaps in a coma or something, and that would have detracted from the main thrust of the drama, so sometimes it is actually better not to spell everything out. A bigger problem is the differences Yoshiharu immediately begins to spot. Almost everyone Yoshiharu meets has flipped genders, from what he knows of history. So the other main lead character, for example, is the very female Oda Nobuna (her partially exposed bra leaves us in no doubt), who is supposed to be a famous male daimyo (a sort of feudal lord) from Japanese history. Virtually all the main characters are female, and have real-life male equivalents from history. I suspect this series would mean a lot more to somebody who had played the game that Yoshiharu refers to, or has a deeper knowledge of Japanese history than I do.
Instead I was left wondering what the point was of the history gender flips, other than to basically create a very unusual kind of harem anime set in the past. Later in the series it is revealed that one of the main characters is hiding the fact that she is female, so she can become a ruler, so there is some attempt at a commentary on gender politics, which could have worked if it weren’t for the fact that nearly all the powerful figures Yoshiharu meets are female anyway, making a nonsense of the gender concealment story. The question is posed several times as to whether Yoshiharu is changing the course of history, and while he stresses about it quite a lot, in the end it seems like an odd concern, considering everyone is a different gender when he arrives so he is obviously not interacting with his own history.
So you need to switch off the part of your brain that is trying to make some kind of logical sense of this series. What does that leave us with? The representation of historical events is compelling and visually impressive, and there are some exciting twists and turns along the way, particularly when a couple of the main characters are apparently killed off partway through the season. There is a bit of magic going on for the viewers who enjoy a fantasy element, but never enough to derail the sense of danger posed to Yoshiharu and his new friends, living a frequently violent life. There is quite a bit of effective humour surrounding Yoshiharu’s status in the group, where he is spoken to as a lowlife, nicknamed “monkey”, while everyone soon realises he is really brave and clever and deserving of their respect, so there is an interesting contrast between his status and his worth, challenging attitudes towards high/low birth etc. The romance element develops naturally and at a sensible pace, and adds emotional depth to the later episodes in particular.
As for the main characters, there are far too many of them and several of them are too similar to each other. I never got as far as committing most of their names to memory, and found some of them hard to distinguish one from another. A few of them are walking tsundere tropes, and there are a couple of moe girls who look almost identical to each other, one of whom speaks with a lisp that is clearly supposed to be cutesy and you will either love her or find her irritating. There is quite a bit of fanservice, but it never really detracts from the main thrust of the story, which is unusual for a harem anime. Most importantly, the two main characters are both very watchable, with Yoshiharu proving to be a protagonist who earns his place in the group, and Oda Nobuna a worthy hero, whose femininity adds to, rather than detracts from, her strength as a leader who is about to change history and unite the whole country. That message comes across a little weakly to the viewer, but it’s a message worth exploring. The Ambition of Oda Nobuna offers us a glimpse into a world where gender is no barrier to achievement. Despite the show’s shortcomings in other areas, that’s something that’s well worth watching. RP