While the idea of historic prodigies genetically inhabiting the bodies of our protagonists presents a unique plot, the structure of Nobunagun, one of the new series I’ve been following this season, is not new. The first episode confuses us with significant, but as of yet unexplained plot points, while trying to overwhelm the audience with big action scenes. Episode two only takes a few minutes to wrap up the commotion from the opening, spending the bulk of the episode exploring the protagonist’s conflicted decision about whether or not to become a heroine.
Sound familiar? If you’ve been watching anime long enough, it should be. It’s pretty much the exact same structure as Evangelion and similar to a number of other series. It’s also perhaps not all that different from a number of superhero films, particularly those that are origin stories.
I don’t mind rehashed storylines – after all, that’s what most anime is – but I wish the decision would have had some more weight to it. Shio doesn’t really seem to have anything going for her, and she really enjoyed becoming (or inhabiting, or being inhabited by?) Nobunagun, so for the audience, there doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict here. As for Asao, she’s supposed to function as the guiding light toward the ultimate decision, but I didn’t find her works particularly deep or impactful. I guess there’s not really much to say, after all.
What I do like, though, about Shio’s choice was that it was a choice. She made the conscious decision, after much thought and advice, to fight for humanity.
Compare that to Evangelion, where Shinji’s decision is less a choice and more a response to emotion. Worried about Rei, pressured by Gendo and Misato, and overwhelmed by all that was occurring, Shinji screams out that he’ll pilot the Eva, with resignation being his tone rather than determination. Note that throughout the series from that point forward, Shinji struggles with his decision, often backpedaling and making little gestures of rebellion against doing that he felt resigned to do.
Emotional responses that lead to big commitments can be troublesome for us, too. In Christian life, thousands come to Christ each year as they get caught up in the spirit (Holy or otherwise) and commit their entire lives to Christ, sometimes saying vocally that they would be willing to die for his sake. Check back a couple of years later, and many of these Christians are only by a thread hanging on to their spiritual lives. An emotional response led to a decision that had no foundation to stand upon – a seed planted on poor soil, if you will (13:1-23&version=NIV">Matthew 13:1-23).
Looking back toward Shio, we ultimately don’t know what this decision will cost her – she’s still making it without much information. But her decision, at the least, has some structure to it. It is both a response and a choice, based both in her innermost feelings and in thought. And tepid as this episode may have been, it perhaps makes for a nice lesson in how we might make life-changing decisions – thoughtfully, carefully, and at the hospital in consultation with a trusted friend.