WARNING!: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Samurai Warriors, the anime, came about for the tenth anniversary of the Koei franchise by the same name. Released in 2014, this thirteen episode anime show is supposed to follow the Sanada brothers story that players can play in the game Samurai Warriors 4, the game the anime is based off of. It starts off with the Siege of Odawara Castle and ends with the Summer Siege of Ōsaka, with the thirteenth episode acting as a prequel to the events that would follow. So honestly, watching episode thirteen first then moving on to the actual episodes would make the most sense.
Because there is a lot to unpack in these longer anime series, I will go through and point out the things I found interesting with an overall review on the series at the end.
Episode 1: United Under the Cherry Tree
The first episode begins with the final days of the Odawara Campaign, with the Toyotomi generals surrounding the castle in hopes of wearing them down to the point where they will be able to take on the Hōjō. Sanada Yukimura ends up charging into Odawara and takes on Hōjō Ujiyasu. He manages to defeat him and the Hōjō surrender. After the battle, Ishida Mitsunari, who was the commander for this battle, apologizes to Toyotomi Hideyoshi because he knowns that he did not convey his plan of waiting until the enemy began running out of supplies to attack to the rest of the generals, which caused problems. Yet, Hideyoshi says something that almost shocked me: “People will say what they will about you without any thought, but I understand you.” Samurai Warriors is known for having a more positive spin on Mitsunari than most historians of the past and present have ever had, but is there something to this line? Should we start looking at Hideyoshi more to understand Mitsunari’s actions leading up to Sekigahara if this is the case? I found this to be very intriguing.
As a side note as well, while the Odawara Campaign did start in March 1590, it actually ended in August the same year, so the sakura blossoms would not have been around at this time.
Episode 2: Separation at Inubushi
We jump from 1590 to 1598 in a matter of minutes, for the next episode begins with the death of Hideyoshi. At his death bed, he tells both Mitsunari and Ieyasu that he wants them to work together to keep the peace until his son, Hideyori, is of age. Almost immediately after Hideyoshi’s death, tensions come to the forefront. Yukimura feels bad for Mitsunari, whose cold exterior makes him come across as uncaring of Hideyoshi’s passing, but Yukimura notices that he clenches his fist so hard that he starts to bleed. But just because Ieyasu is crying buckets at Hideyoshi’s bedside doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything up his sleeve. After this, tensions rise between the Uesugi and Tokugawa because of the Uesugi making preparations in Aizu. Ieyasu also makes Sanada Nobuyuki come to a meeting where many Toyotomi generals have met to announce that he has declared war on the Uesugi. Both Sanada brothers end up serving the opposite sides during the Sekigahara Campaign. While this is historically true, the reason why is a lot different. In the anime, they both have experienced the same trauma, which has fueled both of them: the fall of the Takeda clan. Historically, they were just kids when the Takeda fell but they are stand ins for Sanada Masayuki, their father who did serve the Takeda clan. It is obvious that the Battle of Nagashino is the traumatic event the brought the Takeda to destruction and neither Nobuyuki and Yukimura want to see that happen to the Toyotomi. Nobuyuki is more realistic about things, while Yukimura believes that the Toyotomi can still be saved from the same fate the befell the Takeda. Unfortunately, both brothers believe in their causes and Nobuyuki joins the East while Yukimura joins the West.
During this episode, Hideyoshi asks both Mitsunari and Ieyasu to take care of the Toyotomi clan until Hideyori becomes of age. It is obvious that this becomes distorted for both men believe that only they alone can protect the Toyotomi. This is seen at the meeting with Kanetsugu, where Mitsunari points this out to Ieyasu. It is an interesting way to portray the Sekigahara Campaign without getting into the politics. A lot of the problems that arose during this time can trace their origins back to the Korean Campaigns. Unfortunately, since the games do not cover these campaigns, there has to be something else that causes problems between the generals. A misunderstanding is the best way to go about creating conflict without diving into the complicated politics of the age.
Episode 3: Storm at Ueda
The Sekigahara Campaign is in full swing, with Date Masamune attacking the Uesugi in the north. This is mainly a side story for this episode, for the real focus is on Yukimura who is at Ueda Castle. Tokugawa Hidetada, the third son of Ieyasu, is in charge of bringing his force, along with more supplies and canons, to the Sekigahara battlefield. Instead, he cannot but help himself when they reach Ueda Castle and he orders for his men to attack. While they do so, Nobuyuki, who unfortunately is stuck with Hidetada, tries to remind Hidetada of the mission at hand. Hidetada brushes this off, saying that Nobuyuki is only trying to protect his brother. While I could not find anything about if Hidetada historically distrusted the Sanada clan, it is not a far stretch to say so, especially since the family was not united during this campaign. It is possible that the Sanada clan might not have been trusted because of their divide, but could anyone trust anyone back then?
Episode 4: Sunset at Sekigahara
In this episode, the Siege at Ueda Castle continues and the Battle of Sekigahara is coming to a close. There are a few points in this episode that I wanted to bring up. First, I could not find anything about Nobuyuki being present at Ueda. While he did serve the Eastern Army, I could not find anything about the brothers facing off against one another. Then, there is the acknowledgement that Ieyasu knew in advance that Kobayakawa Hideaki would betray the Western Army at Sekigahara, but because they were hesitant, Ieyasu doubted if they actually would. Unfortunately for the Western Army, he did. Lastly, in both the game and in the anime, there seems to have been a friendship between Ōtani Yoshitsugu and Tōdō Takatora. Again, I really cannot find anything that shows that there was such a relationship, but it is possible since Takatora did serve Hideyoshi for a time.
This episode is a sad one, for it ends with Mitsunari being killed at Sekigahara and Nobuyuki returns to Ueda to inform Yukimura that the Western Army has lost.
Episode 5: Where Life Shall Go
While this episode does flash forward a bit, the next couple of episodes show what life was like for the people who fought for the Western Army at Sekigahara. Ieyasu talks to Honda Tadakatsu about how difficult it is going to be to maintain peace in a world that has known only war. Tadakatsu, who is a born warrior, is perplexed by this, knowing that he is one of those men who will find it difficult to give up the warrior life. Meanwhile, the fate of the Uesugi clan and Yukimura hang in the balance. Ieyasu becomes shōgun, making former Toyotomi generals like Katō Kiyomasa and Fukushima Masanori feeling betrayed, for they believed that Ieyasu was trying to keep the Toyotomi household from collapsing. This is a very interesting take on the matter. Usually, historians have said that it was because of Ieyasu’s ambition to rule the land himself. I have not heard an argument saying that he was trying to save the Toyotomi.
Episode 6: Prison of the Heart
It is this episode that we learn that the Uesugi have had to surrender their lands and move to another province and a reduction in koku while Yukimura is sent into exile. It is interesting to note the peoples’ feelings at the village where Yukimura is staying. It seems that they have been able to escape the war, but they do not feel at peace with armed guards walking around because of Yukimura’s presence there. I wonder if this was actually the case. Yukimura, unfortunately, does not act like himself, for he feels like a caged animal. He does put his own life at risk to save a young village girl who has came down with a high fever and he manages to make it to the foot of the mountain where the doctor resides to save her. This just only increases the amount of security around Yukimura and he becomes homebound, not even allowed to go outside.
The side story in this episode focuses on Kiyomasa and Masanori as they learned that Ieyasu has stepped down from the title of shōgun, but he has now made his son, Hidetada, the next shōgun. They fell betrayed by Ieyasu but their complaints are heard by Takatora, who has never trusted them to begin with. Again, this is pretty funny considering that Takatora has changed lords like most people change clothes.
Episode 7: Crimson Blade
I will finally bring up a character that has gotten some attention during the anime series, mainly known for being a hot head: Ii Naomasa. Before this episode, we last see Naomasa fighting against Shima Sakon, who he manages to kill but not before he could land a devastating wound on Naomasa. Naomasa has been laid up this whole time and he is appalled the learn that Yukimura was not executed, believing that he is still a danger to the peace that has now come across the land as long as he remains alive. Finally taking matters into his own hands, he goes to visit Yukimura at Mount Kudo and challenges him to a duel.
Yukimura, at this point, has sworn that he will never wield his spear again and refuses. While they are arguing, reports come from the village saying that it is on fire, set by the infamous Fūma Kotarō. Yukimura tries to save the villagers and uses himself as a human shield, but after a few blows and when the situation starts looking bleaker, Naomasa throws him his spear and tells him to fight. He’s a warrior and that’s what he was born to do. While Yukimura fights and defeats Fūma, Naomasa, whose wound has gotten the better of him, dies at the foot of a tree. Not long after this, Yukimura escapes his exile at Mount Kudo.
Again, because it is an anime, it’s not going to be one hundred percent correct, but it is true that Naomasa did succumb to his wounds that he received at Sekigahara, but it was in 1602 when he passed. Considering that Hidetada was made shōgun in 1605, the timeline is way ahead of his death, but the whole anime has been in fast forward.
Episode 8: Way of No Return
Not much of note happens here. We are introduced to Maeda Keiji and the talks for peace are still ongoing. Kiyomasa and Masanori go back to the Toyotomi after fighting against Date Masamune while Yukimura fights off against Takatora.
Episode 9: Winds of Ōsaka
In this episode, Ieyasu and Hideyori meet face to face and Ieyasu begins to realize how much of a threat Hideyori could be for he begins to have flashbacks to his father. Unfortunately, this is when it is decided that there will be another war. Yukimura speaks up about how the south wall will most likely be their attack point since it is the weakest side and they proceed to construct the Sanada Maru to defend the castle. Nobuyuki, once again, stands on the opposing side, grappling with a difficult decision to make. Again, not much of note.
Episode 10: The Peerless Fortress
A lot of the Siege of Ōsaka, which is the focus of this episode, is a complete work of fiction. Unfortunately, Keiji and Kiyomasa were already dead before the siege began in 1614, and Masanori is not listed as a participant for the any of the sieges at Ōsaka despite passing in 1619. What is true is that the cannon fire caused awful devastation on the castle, which resulted in a truce.
Episode 11: Castle of Solitude
In the second to the last episode, we begin seeing the final steps that are taken to finish the wars once and for all. Nobuyuki comes to the realization that he has to be the one to kill his brother. The truce is broken, for the Tokugawa Army leaves the castle nearly defenseless. And Nene, Hideyoshi’s wife, comes to Ieyasu, telling him to end the wars. It has obviously pained her seeing her husband’s clan being torn apart from distrust and betrayal, something that she would have witnessed historically, for Nene did not pass away until 1624.
Episode 12: Mightiest Warrior of Japan
Unfortunately, the series does follow history and this last episode is the end of Yukimura. The Summer Siege of Ōsaka begins and Yukimura realizes that the only way for this land to know peace is to kill Ieyasu. He is stopped by Tadakatsu, who wants one last fight (again, Tadakatsu historically passed in 1610), and Kunoichi, Yukimura’s loyal ninja, is almost killed by a gunner hiding in the bushes, but a piece of Mitsunari’s headdress stopped the bullet. He leaves an unconscious Kunoichi with Tadakatsu and charges on to face Ieyasu. Nobuyuki stops him and they fight for a time. Realizing his situation, Yukimura charges into the enemy army and is killed right in front of Nobuyuki. Perhaps Yukimura understood his brother’s intention and spared him the heartache of having to kill him, so he lets the Tokugawa Army do that instead. The land is at peace and the Sanada family; Nobuyuki, Ina and Kunoichi, stand and admire the cherry blossoms at Ueda in honor of Yukimura.
Extra (Episode 13): Samurai Warriors: Legend of the Sanada
This episode is basically a prequel to the rest of the series. It starts at Nagashino with the Sanada brothers facing off against Nobunaga. After that, it jumps right to Takeda Katsuyori’s death and the fall of the Takeda. After the Sanada establish their lands at Ueda, Yukimura is sent as a hostage to the Uesugi (which, historically, he was not, but there was a Sanada hostage with the Uesugi to form an alliance with them) but while Yukimura is there, he learns that Ueda Castle is under attack by Ieyasu. Yukimura dashes off, something a hostage should not do, to aid his brother. However, this brings the Uesugi and the Toyotomi into the battle, resulting in a defeat for the Tokugawa. It sets the tone for the rest of the series despite being the last episode. It also makes me wonder if this was the basis for Spirit of Sanada, which would be the next game in the Samurai Warriors franchise.
I would highly recommend this anime. If you are a fan of Sengoku BASARA, then you will like this. It is more focused on history, but not so much that it becomes a documentary. It is still a fun little series that tells the story of one of the greatest warriors that Japan ever had and fans of the series will enjoy it. It also is fun to compare and contrast the two different franchises, for they both have something unique they bring to the table. The only complaint I have about the series is that it feels like it moves too fast at times, but this is only a minor one considering all they have put into thirteen episodes. 5 out of 5 stars: will highly recommend.