I know this is ten years too late, but I am still going to do a review. That being said, where do I begin with this one?
I am a huge fan of the Sengoku BASARA series, not just for the video games, but also for the anime. The hidden historical details that are inserted throughout make it fun for those who know Sengoku Jidai history all too well. Despite this, I feel like the film fell flat, which is why I think Sengoku BASARA: Judge End was released three years later. This does not mean the movie is bad. I just think it missed the mark.
WARNING! Although the anime has been out for over ten years, I still have to put a spoiler alert for those who are just discovering this.
Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party was released in Japanese theaters on June 4, 2011. It was a big project that was supposed to end the anime series, which lasted two seasons. The story is simple: Ishida Mitsunari is on a quest to revenge his lord’s death all while Tokugawa Ieyasu wishes to end the wars that have plagued Japan. It all comes to a head at Sekigahara, where it turns into a melee to see who will become the one to unite Japan; AKA, the last one standing. Simple, right? Well…not really.
The biggest problem with the movie is that it wanted to keep the emotion of the video game it is based on (Sengoku BASARA 3, specifically for the film) while keeping the storyline of the anime thus far. It really does not work. Each BASARA game resets itself, meaning that the events in each game change with each installment. The game also contains separate storylines for each character, so the story in game is not truly set either. When it came to the anime, they took the characters from the game and inserted certain parts of their respective stories to create the main plot for the series. This worked fine for seasons one and two, but not so much for the film. Let me explain why.
The Anime Verses the Video Game
The first two seasons of the anime focus on the poster boys for the franchise: Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura. They are undeniably the good guys who the audience cheers for throughout the series. We know it’s going to work out for them in the end. In the first season, it is Masamune and Yukimura who defeat Oda Nobunaga and in the second season, it is Date Masamune who defeats Toyotomi Hideyoshi while Sanada Yukimura takes on Mōri Motonari. This lines up with the video games, as both Masamune and Yukimura are the stars of the games. Things change in 2010.
In 2010, Sengoku BASARA 3 is released (this game is known as Sengoku BASARA Samurai Heroes outside of Japan). While the first BASARA game focuses on the age of Nobunaga and the second on Hideyoshi, the third looks at the Sekigahara Campaign. Since Sekigahara is the main focus of the game, our poster boys for the past five years take a back seat for the new ones: Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu. In Sengoku BASARA 3, it is Tokugawa Ieyasu who kills Toyotomi Hideyoshi to stop him from leading Japan down a dark path. Mitsunari feels betrayed by Ieyasu and swears to defeat him. The rivalry works well between these two not only because historically they were rivals, but also because it is not a simple revenge story. The betrayal by Ieyasu adds a certain emotion that the film lacks.
Since season two ended with Masamune defeating Hideyoshi, Mitsunari is paired with Masamune for a rivalry. It is not a satisfying one though, because Mitsunari and Masamune were enemies from the start. There is no sting from betrayal, just a man who wants revenge. But why? Why does Mitsunari want revenge so badly? At least we get a better idea about Mitsunari’s motives for his revenge on Ieyasu in the video game, but in the film, Mitsunari’s thirst for vengeance borders on obsessive. We are only given one flashback to Mitsunari’s service under Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi speaks to Mitsunari directly, which makes Mitsunari feel seen by his lord, but we get nothing deeper than that. He is keen on killing Masamune while keeping Ieyasu in check, for he does not like the fact that Ieyasu is trying to unite the country. Which brings me to my next point: how is Ieyasu alive?
Major Continuity Error
Tokugawa Ieyasu’s first appearance in Sengoku BASARA was in the first game. He is depicted as a young samurai, giving a nod to his young age when he allied himself with Oda Nobunaga historically. This same render is used in the first season of the Sengoku BASARA anime. Almost mirroring history, Ieyasu has allied himself with Oda Nobunaga and after being betrayed by the Oda during their battle against the Takeda clan, Ieyasu is killed by Akechi Mitsuhide not long after. This seems to be the end of the Tokugawa except that Ieyasu miraculously reappears towards the end of the second season, serving under Hideyoshi.
This was extremely confusing since it was explicitly stated in the last season that Ieyasu was killed and implied that his right hand man, Honda Tadakatsu, was destroyed while fighting against Oda Nobunaga. While Tadakatsu can be explained (I mean, he is a robot in this series), Ieyasu’s sudden reappearance needed answers. Considering that Ieyasu is an integral part of the Sekigahara Campaign, I figured some explanation would be given in The Last Party.
When we are first introduced to Tokugawa Ieyasu in The Last Party, it is after one of the battles at Kawanakajima where it is apparent that the Uesugi have lost and Takeda Shingen is ready to take Kenshin’s head. Ieyasu manages to stop them, asking for their assistance in the world that he is trying to create. While he leaves with their support, Ieyasu’s apparent death is never mentioned. In fact, they all act as if Ieyasu had been away for quite some time, including Yukimura, who openly mourned Ieyasu’s death back in the first season. I wish more could have been explained for Ieyasu’s sudden reappearance, but it will remain a huge continuity error within the series.
Tenkai, Hideaki, and other Pointless Characters
Since the film focuses on the Sekigahara Campaign, the major players of the battle and battles outside of Sekigahara get an appearance and unfortunately, this means that Kobayakawa Hideaki makes an appearance. To be brief, the only thing Hideaki is known for is his betrayal to the Eastern Army at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. That’s it. Regardless, Hideaki shows up as a pawn of Tenkai, a monk who is obviously Akechi Mitsuhide (another continuity error, for Mitsuhide burns alive at Honnōji in the first season…) who is also using Nobunaga’s sister, Oichi (who is basically part of the undead) to revive Nobunaga so that Mitsuhide can be the one to kill him this time. And Hideaki is none the wiser.
Ultimately, Hideaki is the one that brings everyone to Sekigahara, posing as Ieyasu. Once Ieyasu finds this out, he uses the opportunity to speak to the warlords of his dreams for peace and unification, hoping to end it without a fight, but once Masamune asks about the needless rampages that have been going on (part of Tenkai’s plan) and Mitsunari shows up, the whole crater is thrown into chaos. And yes, I said crater, but that is actually a pro (more on this later).
For some reason, Ōtani Yoshitsugu, a commander of the Western Army and a friend of Mitsunari’s, is also in on Tenkai’s plan. Perhaps it has to do with him wanting everyone else to suffer as much misfortune as he has, but it is just a guess. Despite being more of a major player in the Sekigahara Campaign and battle, Yoshitsugu has a very small part in the film, and in the end, his friendship with Mitsunari wins for he sacrifices himself to save Mitsunari from the Demon King’s wrath.
Lastly, we are introduced to Masamune’s uncle early on, Mogami Yoshiaki. While just a minor character in the video game, for some reason he is thrown into the film. Another pointless character. Historically, these men were important when it comes to the road to Sekigahara, but for the film, they seem out of place. The film does not come close to following true events, and they just seem like filler characters, rather than characters that advance the plot of the film. These characters could have been cut out and have been not been missed, and it would have also cut out the most “what is going on moment” in the entire movie: Oda Nobunaga returns.
The Problem with Oda Nobunaga
I love Oda Nobunaga. He was a great villain for the first season, mainly because Capcom took Nobunaga’s nickname of “Demon King” and kicked it up to eleven. Despite this, Oda Nobunaga does not belong in this film. Yes, in the video game, there is a side story for certain characters for them to take on the resurrected Oda at Honnōji, but this side story only really works for one specific character, and they do not get a mention at all in The Last Party: Saika Magoichi.
When Sengoku BASARA 3 came out, I was super confused as to why Saika Magoichi was a woman. Keep in mind, this is after playing Samurai Warriors where the character is a man. Capcom does not disappoint though, as the answer is revealed in Magoichi’s gray path. We learn her actual name is not really Magoichi, rather, the name is Sayaka. She took on the name of Magoichi, after her mentor, the original Saika Magoichi, was killed by Oda Nobunaga. Sayaka took the name Magoichi and became the leader of the Saika Renegades. This lines up with how the name Saika Magoichi has been viewed, since multiple men have been recorded with that as their name. When she learns that Nobunaga has been resurrected, she goes out to destroy him and to get her revenge for her master’s death.
Back to The Last Party, we do not see Saika Magoichi at all. Without Magoichi, it seems odd that they brought back Nobunaga in the first place. Yes, other characters face Nobunaga in the video game, but until the release of Sengoku BASARA 3: Utage, only Magoichi has specific cutscenes for facing the Demon King (Matsunaga Hisahide is the other, but only once he becomes playable in Utage).
So why even bring Nobunaga back at all? Honestly, it is because he is the greatest antagonist in the series. Since both the video game and the anime follow the order of the Unifiers, obviously Nobunaga comes first. While Nobunaga makes the perfect villain, the others do not. This is the problem that comes up in the second season with Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi really isn’t much of a villain, but because we are supposed to be rooting for Masamune and Yukimura, Hideyoshi has to be vilified. It really doesn’t work because even historically, Hideyoshi was not a villain nor was he all that great either. Depending on how a clan did under the service of Hideyoshi, their views varied. The only people who most likely saw Hideyoshi as a villain were the Catholic missionaries, who he had an on and off again relationship with that did not end on great terms. And what about Ieyasu? As covered in my article on Ishida Mitsunari, it’s hard to make Ieyasu a villain, so Mitsunari becomes that for the film, or does he?
Due to the other things going on within the film, I would argue that Mitsunari is not the true villain of the story, especially when Oda comes to the scene. If they wanted to make Mitsunari the villain of the film, they should have kept the storyline simple and not make us want to go back and watch the first season of the series instead.
There are some positives to Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party. A lot of it is in the fine details, much how the series is as a whole. That’s what makes this series interesting to me because it makes me investigate more and find out some very interesting facts. This also allows me to pick up on things hidden details later on.
Yukimura, Motochika and Motonari: Historical Stand-ins
There are three people within the film who are not the correct people. Let me explain. For any Sengoku history buff, they know that both Chōsokabe Motochika and Mōri Motonari are both dead before the Battle of Sekigahara, and that Sanada Yukimura was a general for the Western Army who managed to keep Tokugawa Hidetada from coming to the main battle by stalling him at Udea Castle. In the film though, the are stand-ins for other people.
Starting with Yukimura, he is actually his brother, Sanada Nobuyuki. During the Sekigahara Campaign, the Sanada house was divided, allowing for the clan to survive after the dust had settled. The brothers also sided with their wives’ families: Yukimura’s wife was the daughter of Ōtani Yoshitsugu, who served the Western army, while Nobuyuki’s wife was the daughter of Honda Tadakatsu, who served the Eastern Army. While in Sengoku BASARA 3 Yukimura serves under Mitsunari, in the film, he is moved by Ieyasu’s speech to Shingen and Kenshin at Kawanakajima that he decides to help him, despite knowing that it will lead to the day when he will have to lay down his spears for good. To me, it seems like Yukimura is channeling his brother in some small way.
As stated before, historically, Chōsokabe Motochika and Mōri Motonari were not alive by the time Sekigahara takes place in 1600. This does not mean that they did not have descendants who partook in the battle. For them, while their appearance in the film is brief, they channel members of their family that were alive around the time of Sekigahara. For Motochika, it is Chōsokabe Morichika and for Motonari, it is Mōri Terumoto. Both Morichika and Terumoto served the Western Army, but despite fighting on the same side, the outcomes for both differed. Morichika lost the province of Tosa after Sekigahara, while Terumoto only saw a slight reduction of his lands.
The Severity of Sekigahara
One aspect I liked about the Sengoku BASARA anime as a whole was the Date clan. You have Date Masamune at the head of the clan, Katakura Kōjurō as second in command, and then you have his retainers and soldiers. They act as one big family throughout the entire series, and it is because of this dynamic that we get some serious moments from the show and film. In The Last Party, Masamune heads out on his own to see who has been attacking the neighboring lands, only to find that it is just Mitsunari wanting his head. While Masamune manages to escape, he does not escape unharmed. Masamune recovers, but is upset that fled his fight with Mitsunari. Kōjurō sees things differently. He explains that Masamune was thinking about the people of Ōshu, and retreated to not only save his life, but the lives of the people who depend on him. Kōjurō also stated that while he was not happy that Masamune went to face the enemy alone, he did manage to protect their lands from destruction.
Masamune’s retainers take it one step further. Before the Date and Takeda Armies depart for Sekigahara, his retainers present a neck guard that they made with permission from Kōjurō. They beg Masamune to not be mad and accept the gift. Masamune does not know what to make of it at first until Kōjurō reminds him that his life is the life of everyone in Ōshu. This moment, while small, is a powerful moment, for this was the reality for most daimyō during the Sengoku Jidai. Many times, when a daimyō was defeated, that usually was the end of the clan, however, there are few exceptions. Yet, Sekigahara was the end all be all. Those who lost at Sekigahara were either executed, exiled or saw a reduction or complete loss of their domains. This moment that faced Masamune was a very real moment for daimyō who participated in this campaign.
Sekigahara, A Bloodbath
Despite it not being one hundred percent accurate, The Last Party actually uses some good symbolism when depicting the Battle of Sekigahara. In the film, Sekigahara is a large crater in the middle of what looks like a desert. Of course this is not what Sekigahara looks like but its symbolism is much deeper. At Sekigahara, all the clans in Japan came together to fight for control of the country. Despite having commanders on both sides, clans fought for themselves, turning the battle into a large scale melee. This is what happens in the film. Mōri Motonari comes on the scene and announces that the only way Japan will know peace is if there is a fight to the death. In other words, the last man standing rules the country, and they had until sunset. Sekigahara was basically that. Whichever side was still standing in the end became the next person to take the title of shōgun. This led to an insane kill count. By the end of the battle, the death toll has been estimated as high as 42,000 (both sides included in total). In the film, Sekigahara being a crater is fitting: the mixing of armies as they come together to fight for control of Japan.
Nods to Sengoku BASARA 3
As stated before, the film is supposed to focus on the events that take place during Sengoku BASARA 3. While I have pointed out that it kinda fails to do so, there are some nice game inserts that only people who have played the game would have picked up on.
To start, after the long narration at the beginning of the film, we a given a scene that has the sun rising over Eastern Japan, and a purple moon rising over Western Japan, until they meet in the middle for an eclipse that shines a beam down onto the location of Sekigahara. This exact scene is taken from the game before the character you play as fights at Sekigahara. I have always liked this because it shows the East and the West meeting at the battlefield where it will all be decided.
Next are specific actions from characters in the film that are the same attacks they use in the video game, most notably for Ishida Mitsunari, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. For Mitsunari, the most notable are the special moves of “Decapitation” (shown in the beginning when he decapitates a soldier of Mogami Yoshiaki’s) and “Veneration” (shown above, at Sekigahara while facing Masamune). For Ieyasu, the special moves are “Heaven’s Thrust” (shown when fighting Nobunaga, a punch that will send out a power ray of light) and “Sun Rock Crush” (again, also shown while fighting the Demon King alongside Keiji, a punch into the ground).
Oda Nobunaga has a lot more going on here. While yes, the ghostly figure above him is part of the nod to the games, the fact that they defeat him only to rise up to fight our heroes again, is also a nod to Sengoku BASARA 3. When facing Nobunaga in the game, you cannot get to him right away. Instead, you have to take over as many posts as you can. If you do not get to certain ones in time, the enemies are killed, yes, but they have sacrificed themselves for Nobunaga, giving him another life. If you fail to get to any of them before this happens, you are looking at a long battle with Nobunaga, for he will have to be defeated about seven times total.
We get nods to the video game’s opening video, minus T.M.Revolution’s “Naked Arms” (although we are given “Flags” and “The Party Must Go On” from the same artist). Mitsunari and Ieyasu’s ending fight takes a lot from the opening video and even Ieyasu’s battlecry at Sekigahara comes from the same video.
Last, but not least, while Keiji reads the bogus letter that is addressed to Masamune from Ieyasu, we see some familiar faces in the background. These characters where known as the Area Warlords, non-playable characters that had control over certain domains. They are Amago Haruhisa, Anegakōji Yoritsuna, Nanbu Harumasa, Satake Yoshishige and Utsunomiya Hirotsuna. While we do not see them for the rest of the film, it is a nice nod to the characters who players only fight in the game as filler stages.
Ending with one of the last moments in the film, I found this last moment before the end very somber. There is no history tied to it, but it goes back to my point about Mitsunari being a very misunderstood figure in the Sengoku BASARA franchise. After their fight with Oda Nobunaga, the main characters in the film end up laying in open. As they go around, each talk to specific people (Masamune to Yukimura, Yukimura to Ieyasu), it comes to Mitsunari who meets Maeda Keiji, an old friend of Hideyoshi’s, for the first time. He asks the vagabond if he could one day tell him about the Hideyoshi he never knew. It is a somber moment towards the end of the film, but it shows a softer side to Mitsunari, at least in the series. It also shows that Mitsunari is not the true villain of the film, but in the end, is there one? The film does not give us a resolution, ending with Mitsunari fighting Ieyasu, and Yukimura fighting Masamune.
Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party is not a bad film. It tries its best to work with the material it was given from the newest installment in the franchise while trying to maintain the story that was developed when it became an anime. If they were trying to sell me on purchasing the game, they didn’t need to. Playing the game is what brought me to the anime in the first place. I just feel like there were some things that needed to be cleared up for it left me asking a lot of questions when I first watched the film. If you are a BASARA fan, then watch it, but all honesty, Judge End is definitely the better Sengoku BASARA 3 anime adaptation to watch.