• Masterpiece Review: Takeda - Plot, Writing and Characters by Caillagh

    Masterpiece Review: Takeda
    Plot, Writing and Characters
    by Caillagh

    The basic plot of Takeda is very straightforward. The Takeda conquer Japan. That's all there is…

    Except, obviously, that isn't all there is, otherwise it wouldn't have become a classic. Admittedly, the main plot really is almost that straightforward – and for me (although this is only a very personal opinion) the plot – though not necessarily the AAR as a whole – would have been better if the Takeda had not consistently trampled all over every clan they faced in battle. A few setbacks would have added some interest. However, for at least some styles of AAR it is inappropriate to tell the story of a defeat that never happened, or an obstacle to success that didn't exist. I suspect that, at least to begin with, Robin de Bodemloze intended Takeda to tell the story of what actually happened in his campaign. And in those circumstances, if you keep winning battles, that's the story you've committed yourself to tell. That being the case, it's only fair to make allowances when assessing the quality of the AAR.

    I should note in this respect that later in Takeda Robin moved away from following the events of the campaign. I believe this was a good decision, enabling Robin to tell a more interesting and better-paced story, as suggested by Ariovistus Maximus in his article Writing the Game. But by that stage of Robin's campaign, it was inevitably harder to make any defeat plausible, as the Takeda had already become an extremely powerful clan.

    The real interest in Takeda for me is outside the main plot. It's in the themes, and the subplots, and the characters, and in how the Takeda behave when they aren't winning battles. I suspect this was also true for Robin – at least to some extent – since (in the Takeda thread) he said he intended to focus on character development as a way of getting “away from the repetitiveness of battles”. Having said that it isn't the battles in Takeda that really interest me, I do think the battles are well-written – but I'll stop there, or I'll be encroaching on Alwyn's part of this review. Our job here is to consider some of the non-battle aspects of Takeda.

    On the whole, I would say that the writing of Takeda is well done. There is a clear overall structure – the gradual growth of Takeda power, leading to control of all of Japan, and there are some obvious subdivisions of the whole. For instance, Takeda Harunobu's change of name, and attitude, comes precisely half-way through the AAR, at the end of XXX: Of legacy and destiny. The grand sweep of the story is of a man (or perhaps two men) leading a clan to power for the honour of the clan, the good of Japan, and personal glory in varying amounts. And, of course, because Harunobu/Shingen believes it to be his destiny to face Uesugi Kenshin “in honourable battle” in order to decide who should rule Japan. Having said that, I would also say that Robin follows the recommendation made by Junius, in his article AAR writing tips that:
    Since episodes are going to be read individually with substantial gaps between them, it is important that each one can stand alone... There should be an introduction or setup, a main body and, most importantly, a conclusion of some kind. It is perfectly OK (and fun) to create cliff-hanger endings, which leave the reader desperate to learn the conclusion, but even these must still function as a valid ending to the arc of the episode.
    The story is told from the points of view of various of the characters of the AAR. When the story is being told from Nobushige's point of view, the narration is written in the first person; when anyone else is the point of view character, the narration is written in the third person. This is mostly a technical distinction – Robin tells us what the point of view character is thinking regardless of whether he's writing in the first or third person – but it gives a different feel to Nobushige's chapters, and encourages the reader to identify more with him than with anyone else.

    Robin chooses and uses words well. This is evident right from the beginning of Takeda, with phrases like:
    The Murakami charged in one mass of men and metal
    in Chapter II: Shinano, which uses alliteration well, in my view, to convey the way the Murakami are attacking almost as if they are a single solid object.

    It is obvious that Robin has a clear image in his mind of the surroundings – as well as the action – from his descriptions. Just one or two of my favourite examples:

    Chapter XIII: Fields of blood
    Wisps of dandelion floated through the air, dispersing from the scatter of flowers on the Miyagawa river banks. It almost seemed a pity we should resolve our fates here, as soon enough these picturesque scenes would become polluted with pools of blood, the foul stench of gore and the sound of hundreds of dying men.
    Chapter XXV: Over the river
    It was late in the afternoon when the dark mass of red emerged from over the horizon, and the setting sun painted the sky dreamy shades of purple and orange.
    Chapter XXXVII: Five thousand
    Their white armour shone brightly in the spring sunshine, resembling a white snake coiled upon the hills.
    There are also some very effective moments of portentousness, which really capture the weight and significance of the events around them:
    Chapter XIV: Into the abyss
    despite our fatigue, none of us preferred the long sleep of dead men
    Chapter XV: Now or never
    We would seize the day today, or allow it to be our last.
    Finally, and just because I can't bring myself to leave them out, some of Robin's similes are excellent. My two favourites are probably these:
    Chapter XLIV: The tiger and the dragon
    ...words flowed forth from his mouth like water tumbling over a high ledge...
    Chapter LII: The cost of victory
    ...tears streaming from her eyes like pearls on a broken necklace.
    Not everything is as good as these quotes, of course. How could it be, in a sixty-chapter AAR? There are some less than felicitous similes, and not all the description works perfectly. There are also one or two moments when a noticeably modern word or phrase manages to sneak past Robin's vigilant eye. Paradoxically, if Robin were less good at preserving the reader's immersion by using words that are not so obviously modern, these would be less noticeable. As it is, there really are only a couple, but they grabbed my attention as being so unlike the rest of the writing. It's a shame these weren't spotted and weeded out before publication, but it would be wrong to dwell on them. They are a very tiny part of Takeda. I think if I could ask Robin to change one thing about Takeda, though, it would be to add a glossary and a map of Japan showing all the places mentioned in the text. There are quite a few Japanese terms used throughout the AAR, and although it is possible to look up most of them (if not all of them) online, it is much simpler to have a glossary. The need for a map is, if anything, greater, since modern Japan does not necessarily use the same place-names as in the sixteenth century. (Provinces, for instance, are no longer the same as they were then.) It is likely that many of the people reading Takeda will have played Total War: Shogun 2, but not certain, and even those people who have played the game might find a map and glossary helpful at times.


    There are several different themes to be found within the sixty chapters of Takeda, all of them worth discussing. These are, as you would expect from a writer as good as Robin, interwoven with each other and with the plot and subplots of the AAR. While I was reading, they didn't intrude or distract me from the plot, they just added to the atmosphere and the feeling that some ideas are very important to the Takeda. I've decided to focus on just one of them, as an example.

    One of the most obvious themes in Takeda is that of conflict between fathers and sons. Perhaps the clearest, and possibly the saddest, example of this is Harunobu himself, who, by the end of the AAR, has exiled both his father and his elder son. The (failed) rebellion and eventual exile of Yoshinobu can be traced at least as far back as Chapter XXV: Over the river, where we see Yoshinobu contradicting Harunobu in public – and being humiliated by his father in return. It is clear that Yoshinobu feels he has been treated as a child, and that his father will not even listen to his views. It should, perhaps, be less of a surprise to Harunobu than it is that Yoshinobu decides in the end to take dramatic action in an attempt to have his opinions count for something.

    Of course, Harunobu hears his father in a hallucination, and sees him in nightmares, and then takes those experiences very seriously indeed. Even though Harunobu claims that his father was just a way for his mind to show him his own inner demons, I think we can be sure that despite having ousted and exiled him, Harunobu still attaches a great deal of importance to the relationship he once had with his father – and this also seems to be true of Takanaga.

    As we have seen above, Takanaga's father, Yamadera Nobuaki is consistently seen to be both honourable and very loyal to the Takeda, in contrast to his son, who cares more for his own advancement than for the good of the clan he is sworn to serve. This is beautifully illustrated in what is probably my favourite chapter of Takeda: Chapter XIX: The Kanazawa letters. The difference between the way Takanaga talks about the way he feels he has been treated and about Nobushige, and Nobuaki's response, is a fine depiction of the characters of the two men and of the relationship between the two of them. Even after Takanaga has disgraced himself utterly, Nobuaki still hopes that the strength of their relationship will be enough to persuade his son to return to the Takeda – and it seems that it almost is, but Takanaga feels bound both by his new vows to the Kiso and by his feelings for and promises to “Akiko”. Once his father is dead, however, we are told that Takanaga feels his life no longer has any purpose. He still longs for revenge from the Takeda, now for his father's death as well as what he considers his bad treatment at their hands, but I think it is significant that as he dies, the person Takanaga most wants to see in the afterlife is his father, who he believes will be waiting for him.

    This, again, is almost repeated in Chapter XXXIX: Retribution, where we hear that Yoshida Kuninaga considers the actions of his son, Tamenaga – which have started a war with the Takeda – to be cowardly and idiotic. Tamenaga, however, seems to have rather less respect for his father than Takanaga had for his, accusing Kuninaga of daydreaming and wishful thinking. It rapidly becomes apparent that Tamenaga has no talent for strategy, and no interest in listening to advice from his father, and – unsurprisingly – the Hatano are defeated by the Takeda. And yet, even after Tamenaga has started a war that has led to the deaths of many of the Hatano, even after he has shown great disrespect to his father, and seems almost to have been prepared to kill him, Kuninaga apologises to Takeda Nobushige for his son's actions, and begs that he might be spared. In the end, this is not quite a repetition of the theme; this is a father who cares for his son despite realising his son's failings, but a son who cares nothing at all for his father. As such, it is an interesting variation on the previous examples.


    Most of Robin's characterisation is done quite subtly, interwoven with the events of Takeda. I would say that most of the time, the characterisation is done well; we are shown what people are like rather than just told. Indeed, where one character describes another, this is generally intended to show us the character of the person giving the description, not the person described. For instance, when Takanaga talks about Nobushige in Chapter XIX: The Kanazawa letters, his letter to his father describes Nobushige as jealous (of Takanaga), hypocritical, and a “walking bag of arrogance”. I don't think we are expected to take this as any more than Takanaga's (biased) personal view. This, in my view, is effective and impressive writing. To know what one character thinks of another is, I suspect, more than many AAR writers would even aim for!

    Minor characters have less depth, some of them being no more than a perfunctory sketch, but this is inevitable in many cases. I would say there is a range of levels to which characters are developed. For the most part, people who appear less often and speak less are less well developed as characters; people who appear more often and speak more are better developed. There are, of course, anomalies. For example, the boatman Takamasa speaks to in Chapter LX: Kagemusha has a surprisingly large amount of characterisation given to him for a man who appears once in the AAR and speaks only three sentences. To be fair, those three sentences are important ones, as they determine Takamasa's decision about what to do, but still, the content of those three sentences – necessary as it is – gives the boatman quite a lot of character. He is clearly aware of the difficulties any disobedience from him would attract. At the same time, he is obviously quite happy to give his true opinion to someone of higher status than himself, even if that opinion might sound like a criticism. Perhaps he only does this because Takamasa's demeanour convinces him it will have no ill-effects for the boatman on this occasion. Still, it seems that the boatman's respect for his social superiors is based on pragmatism rather than any belief they might be better than he is.

    Having said that I think much of the characterisation is done well, I would say there are exceptions to this. Baba Nobufusa, for instance, is only described as being one of the Takeda's finest generals right up to Chapter XL: No return, in which we are suddenly told that he's a “mountain of a man”. We never really learn anything else about him, although he is mentioned quite frequently, and his size and prowess in battle are mentioned as often as he is from Chapter XL onwards.

    The style of writing used for Takeda in general is rather detached; sometimes almost clinical – like a psychiatrist commenting on the thoughts and behaviour of the characters without ever being emotionally involved himself. Presumably this was a deliberate choice by Robin – perhaps intended to evoke the distance in time between the reader and the events of Takeda, but for me, it is not always entirely successful. Everything is considered so very calmly, even when the characters themselves are not calm, and I found that made it harder for me to feel any real concern for the characters. Other people's preferences will, of course, differ – I am sure some people will appreciate the slightly dreamlike detachment far more than I did – and the style is certainly maintained consistently and well throughout the AAR.

    I'm not so sure that there is very much in the way of character development – in the sense of a character changing during the progress of the story – for anyone in Takeda. Since the characters where I would expect to see change will all be discussed individually later in this review, I intend to consider this point in more detail there, however.

    I found it difficult to separate the sub-plots of this AAR from the characterisation – so much of the characterisation just fits naturally within the development of the sub-plots that it seems both unnatural and pointless to divide the two things and talk about them in separate sections of a review. I consider this to be one of Takeda's strengths. Not because I think all AARs should work this way, but because I like the way that we learn about the people in Takeda by watching what they do and what they say. With this in mind, I propose to consider sub-plots and characterisation together for some of the major characters.

    Nobushige – the narrator

    The obvious person to discuss first is Nobushige, since – as mentioned above – he is the closest thing Takeda has to a narrator who is also a character, as he is the only character whose chapters are written in the first person.

    Nobushige's is the story of the whole clan, since the fortune and honour of the clan are his whole focus in life. It is also the story of an individual man; a powerful man who has to deal with underlings, a man who has a difficult brother, a man who falls in love unexpectedly but wholeheartedly, a man who feels he has to choose between love and duty, and chooses duty every time.

    Nobushige is the brother of Harunobu (who later becomes Shingen), the daimyo of the Takeda. He is dedicated to the clan, its fortunes, and its honour. In some ways, very little happens to Nobushige – his position as a very senior clan member is never threatened, his loyalty to his brother and to his clan is never doubted, he seems almost just to remain the same while conquests and alliances happen around him. But in other ways, more happens to Nobushige than to anyone else: he has to deal with an over-confident (and later actively rebellious) underling, he almost dies in battle (on at least three occasions), he falls in love with a maid and eventually marries her, he foils a plot to assassinate his brother, he carries out a war of revenge when the woman he loves is hurt, he nurtures and promotes a not-so-rebellious underling, he becomes ill (perhaps fatally) – and, of course, by the end of the AAR he has sacrificed himself for what he perceives as the honour of the Takeda. This is nicely foreshadowed right at the beginning of the AAR, in Chapter I: First blood, when Nobushige says:
    I, Takeda Nobushige, am the brother of our daimyo. Father had intimated that I assume that position instead, but what is past is gone now. Harunobu had been a good daimyo and a caring brother to Nobukado and myself. The fortunes of our clan were more important now, and serving it would be my greatest honour, in life or glorious death.
    This is beautifully mirrored at the end of the Epilogue: Sakura, where Nobushige says:
    I, Takeda Nobushige, was the brother of our daimyo. Father had intimated that I assume that position instead, but what is past is gone now. Harunobu had been a good daimyo and a caring brother to Nobukado and myself, as well as a legendary leader of the famed Takeda army. Compared to the minutiae of which brother would be daimyo, the fortunes of our clan were ultimately more important. To have served it was my greatest honour, in life and in glorious death.
    As I was reading Takeda, I wasn't sure whether the lack of apparent development in Nobushige's character was a strength or a weakness. I think perhaps it's both. One the one hand, Nobushige is the first-person narrator of the story. As such, it may be easier for a reader to identify with him if he does not change too greatly. On the other hand, so much happens to Nobushige that it is hard to imagine a person who would not be changed by his experiences.

    There is at least one part of Takeda where Nobushige is obviously affected by the events around him, however. When Masako – the woman Nobushige loves and will eventually marry – is injured by an assassin sent to kill Nobushige, Nobushige starts a war to eradicate the clan who sent the assassin. Despite having a reputation for being more of a thinker than his brother, Nobushige's only motivation for this is a desire for revenge – a desire he justifies to himself as being something he's doing for Masako, even though he knows she would be horrified at the revenge he chooses to take. This is interesting, but I was slightly disappointed that no more was made of it. Nobushige knows Masako wouldn't approve of his behaviour, and carries on anyway. Masako hears what he has done, and objects – quite politely – but there is no real sense that they argued about it, or that Nobushige ever realises he wants revenge for himself rather than on Masako's behalf. The description of Nobushige's attitude to and relationship with Masako in general seems to me to be a little too detached. As mentioned above, this style of writing is not only used for Nobushige, but since Nobushige's chapters are written in the first person, his character is the one where it has the most effect for me. No doubt other people will disagree about this, but personally I would have preferred to feel that Nobushige's calm objectivity might occasionally slip – at the very least when he's angry enough to start a war for the sake of revenge.

    Harunobu/Shingen (and Kagetora/Kenshin) – the leaders

    Takeda Harunobu (who later takes the name Shingen), the Takeda daimyo, is the first named character mentioned in this AAR. He is undoubtedly a central figure – really, the central figure, around whom everything else revolves. He is, as you would expect, mentioned frequently, even when he is not actually present in a chapter. However, as with Nobushige, I was slightly surprised, given the events of Harunobu's story, at how little he seems to change between the beginning and end of the AAR. It is interesting to notice that, out of all the characters in Takeda, we probably hear other people's views of Harunobu more than we hear other people's views of anyone else. I think it's fair to say that most people share an opinion of him – rash but a fine general – although there are one or two interesting moments where we see an opponent underestimate him, as in Chapter XXV: Over the river, where we hear Hisatake Tomohisa's thoughts:
    Harunobu, how is it that for all of your tactical genius you’ve marched your men into a battle on two fronts against a foe twice as numerous? Soon you will meet the fate you so richly deserve…
    Harunobu (as I will call him from now on) is referred to, even as a boy in the Prologue: That boy Harunobu, as assured and proud – and it also seems that he is a reasonably competent leader of his people, as the conditions his people live in are noted as good. We are – not unexpectedly, for an AAR based on a Total War game – warned that although times have been peaceful recently, war is expected in the near future…

    Chapter I: First blood tells us that Harunobu's younger brother, Nobushige, had been their father's first choice to succeed him as daimyo. Since Nobushige isn't daimyo, this would seem to give him more than sufficient reason for resenting his elder brother. However, as mentioned above, this hasn't happened – Nobushige is utterly, incorruptibly loyal without even the smallest hint of reservation. He never does anything that would harm the clan or his brother. In some ways, this is a shame. Sibling rivalry is common in fiction because it's common in real life. It would have made Nobushige a more interesting – perhaps even more convincing – character if he had felt at least a little ambivalent towards his brother now and then. So it's almost a relief that Harunobu does have a bit of a problem with Nobushige. Harunobu is said to be less of a tactical thinker than his brother, more inclined to go to battle just for the glory of it. This leads to disagreements between the brothers, such as that in Chapter VI: New friends. Harunobu does not seem to like being contradicted, at least by Nobushige. However, once Harunobu is convinced that Nobushige is right, he accepts Nobushige's advice with no objections. We are even told (in Chapter VII: Echigo)that Harunobu admires the way Nobushige presents his arguments in favour of an alliance to Uesugi Kagetora – although we are also told that admiration from Harunobu is a rare thing. In short, Harunobu's slight dislike, and jealousy, of Nobushige is almost invisible almost all the time. It only really becomes important once, in Chapter XVI: Brotherhood, when Obu Toramasa uses Harunobu's fear that Nobushige might become the more highly regarded of the two brothers to persuade Harunobu not to send Nobushige any (urgently needed) reinforcements.

    However, it seems that Harunobu's jealousy of other people, and his need to be better in some way than everyone else, affect his military decisions. It is strongly suggested (at the end of Chapter IV: Onward) that he wants to be considered greater than his father, and it is not unreasonable to assume that one of his reasons for attacking Takayama castle was to prove himself to his generals – and maybe himself – rather than purely because it was militarily wise.

    It is, perhaps, worth noting that Harunobu's jealousy of others does not seem to have developed into any kind of paranoia – or even any sort of reasonable fear for his own safety. When Nobushige informs Harunobu that there seems to be a plot to assassinate him, Harunobu merely chuckles at Nobushige's concern. (Chapter XXVIII: Trepidation.)

    Perhaps the most exciting parts of Harunobu's story happen right in the middle of Takeda. In Chapter XXVIII: Trepidation, when the Takeda have taken Inazawa castle, Harunobu hears a voice he knows; the voice of his father, who tells him, essentially, to stop seeing his brothers as potential challengers for the position of daimyo, and instead to understand that they support Harunobu and only wish to serve the Takeda clan. This is unexpected, since Harunobu ousted his father years earlier, and in fact, it is obvious from the chapter that Harunobu's father is not actually present. After several further dramatic encounters with his father in nightmares, in which Harunobu believes his father has killed him in a duel, Harunobu decides to do as his father asks and give up his rivalry with his brothers. He also decides to adopt a life dedicated to the Buddha, and a new name – Shingen. Coincidentally – or not – as he changes his own name, Harunobu learns that Uesugi Kagetora has also changed his name, to Kenshin.

    Harunobu's hallucination and nightmare are well-described and very effective. I was particularly impressed by the duel in Harunobu's nightmare. I would, I think, have liked to see a greater transformation in Harunobu's life after he dedicated himself to the Buddha. No doubt it is at least partly the result of Robin's choice of a somewhat detached style of writing, but really very little changes after Harunobu becomes Shingen. There are, of course, no further references to his jealousy of Nobushige – but that rarely had much effect on Harunobu's behaviour anyway. We never saw any evidence of the luxuries that we are told Harunobu will find it hard to give up, so we do not see that change. And, although Harunobu is more happy to share the glory of battle after his name-change, it does not seem that he has entirely given up his desire for this. This is particularly apparent in the way he pursues a battle with the Uesugi, which he considers to be his destiny.

    This drama is swiftly followed by another major event in Harunobu's story – the result of ignoring Nobushige's report of a planned assassination. This spans three chapters, running from the last section of Chapter XXXI: Storm clouds to the end of Chapter XXXIII: Dark of the night. It turns out, of course, that Nobushige was right to believe someone was plotting to assassinate Harunobu. It also turns out that the person plotting was Harunobu's elder son, Yoshinobu, in what almost becomes a repetition of Harunobu taking control of the clan from his own father. This time, however, Harunobu defeats Yoshinobu and exiles him. Harunobu seems surprised not only that his son is rebelling against him, but also that his son is disillusioned by all the fighting the Takeda have been involved in over the past decade. This rather suggests that Harunobu has not been paying attention to much his son has said to him since Chapter XXV: Over the river. It seems the visions of his father came a little too late to save all of Harunobu's family relationships.

    Although the Uesugi appear a few times in the early chapters of Takeda – always with Kagetora described as honourable – the first real sign of potential future disagreement with them appears in Chapter XI: An old friend, when the Uesugi decide not to renew the military access agreement they had with the Takeda. This causes some immediate problems for the Takeda, as they were relying on access through Uesugi lands in order to move to and from their territory in Sagami. It is probably more significant, though, as a deliberate indication by Robin that he intends – or at least expects – the Uesugi to be the real rivals of the Takeda.

    After this, the Kenshin subplot is not developed further until Chapter XL: No return, when rumours start circulating that the Takeda are plotting against the shogun or even the emperor. The question of whether the Uesugi will believe the rumours – and which side the Uesugi will take if they have to choose between shogun and Takeda – starts to become important. By the end of the chapter we have been shown that Kenshin is wise enough not to believe rumours, well-informed enough to know that when the Takeda fought the shogun's men, it was because the shogun's men attacked, and honourable enough not to break his alliance with the Takeda for defending themselves, even against the shogun.

    Chapter XLIV: The tiger and the dragon shows us more of Kenshin's view of what is honourable. To begin with, he is clearly concerned that the Takeda might have brought the wrath of the shogun on themselves by killing the shogun's advisor. Shingen, (following Nobushige's advice) persuades Kenshin that the Takeda have not behaved dishonourably because they were merely defending their own castle. Somehow, despite all his behaviour in the preceding forty-three chapters, Shingen also manages to convince Kenshin that the only reason the Takeda are currently engaged in any fighting at all is that everyone else keeps declaring war on them. It becomes apparent that Shingen and Kenshin share the idea that their destiny is to fight each other, and that this is somehow the most honourable thing they can do and the only way of ensuring peace in Japan. I find it difficult to see how either of them could have believed such a peace would last much beyond the death of the eventual ruler of Japan, though, and I am not entirely convinced by the Shingen and Kenshin's protestations that they are only doing this for the good of Japan. Perhaps I'm not supposed to be convinced – maybe the idea is that they are deceiving themselves, and this is just an excuse for doing what they want to do.

    And at last we reach the final fight between the Takeda and the Uesugi. Thanks to Robin's insistence right from the beginning of the AAR on the famed superiority of the Uesugi Kuruma Gakari formation, there is still some tension – a possibility that the Takeda might lose this one last battle. This is undermined somewhat by the account we are given of Kenshin in Chapter LV: Calm, where it is obvious that Kenshin does not expect to win – or survive – the battle. Still, I didn't feel the outcome was quite certain. The battle is a long one, both in terms of the number of days it lasts, and in terms of the number of chapters dealing with it, but it is the climax of the whole story, so that is entirely reasonable. Without wishing to interfere with Alwyn's part of this review, I do want to say that I thought this battle was written both effectively and clearly. I occasionally find with long descriptions of battles that they become confusing, and I run into difficulties working out who is where, but I had no trouble at all with this battle.

    It is apparent all the way through the battle, and the discussions of tactics, that both Harunobu and Kenshin are determined to face each other personally. They see each other, I think, as a test as well as a destiny; the one who wins their duel will be shown to be the more worthy. I suspect this might be part of the reason Harunobu didn't want Nobushige to impersonate him on the battlefield.

    Masako and “Akiko” - “the girls”

    There are really only two female characters in Takeda who are more than purely background characters – Masako, who becomes Nobushige's wife, and the woman Takanaga thinks of as “Akiko”.

    Masako first appears in Chapter XIV: Into the abyss, where we are told her father sold her to Nobushige as a maid. We immediately learn that Nobushige is “grateful for her company at times”, although he doesn't really need a maid. Still, he is very concerned with behaving appropriately toward her – not showing any pain when she dresses his injured shoulder, for instance. He also never hesitates to treat her requests – such as the one that he should not follow Takanaga to Kanazawa – harshly enough to upset her. He seems to regret upsetting her afterwards, but his manner towards her does not change as a result.

    I did wonder, as I read the earlier sections with Masako in them, whether she was really behaving appropriately herself. Would it have been acceptable for a maid to beg her master not to go to a battle until he had recovered from an injury? Would it have been proper for her to insist that she should be the servant who tidied Nobushige's apartment? Without knowing far more than I do about the tiny details of life in high-status households in sixteenth-century Japan, it is impossible for me to say. However, Nobushige seems to allow her behaviour without considering it rude or unseemly, so for the purposes of Takeda, I think we must assume that it is permissible.

    In Chapter XVII: The cover of darkness we first come across the other one – the first being Nobushige – of Masako's abiding passions. She wants there to be peace, and doesn't understand why the fighting has to continue. From this point on, she asks Nobushige many times why the Takeda have to continue fighting, and Nobushige gives many different answers. To my mind, none of them are entirely satisfactory. When, in Chapter LIII: Darkness, Nobushige says that after fifteen years he finally has the answer:
    As long as Harunobu and I stood we would take our fight to the ends of this earth. We would fight for the prosperity of our clan for as long as we could raise a blade.
    it seems to me to be rather less convincing than some of his earlier answers. We do not know whether Masako ever hears this particular reason, but Nobushige's general failure to produce a plausible reason for fighting seems to worry Masako surprisingly little, considering that she is obviously very keen that there should be peace. Even when it is clear she isn't convinced by Nobushige's answers, she almost always accepts them quietly.

    Interestingly, Nobushige, in Chapter XVIII: Once and for all, says that he finds Masako's annoyance at his conversations with her about war “amusing”. He doesn't say why he is amused, but it seems a slightly odd reaction for a man who is supposed to be falling in love with Masako. Being amused at her point of view would surely be more likely for a man who thought of her as a “silly little maidservant” than for a man who is in the process of falling in love with her. Indeed, given Nobushige's view of Masako, and the restrained way he thinks he has to behave towards her, I was rather surprised when she put her arms around him in Chapter XXVII: A game of shadows. He certainly didn't seem to have given her any encouragement.

    In fact, their relationship seems slightly odd to me even after that point. Nobushige seems always to refer to Masako as “the girl” whenever he doesn't use her name, even after they're married. This is rather impersonal; even if we assume Nobushige is thinking of Masako as a piece of property – I don't know whether that might have been the case for a wife in that time and place – he doesn't appear to be thinking of her as his property. I think it would have been a more convincing relationship if Nobushige had begun by thinking of Masako as “the girl”, and, as the relationship developed, had moved on to thinking of her as “my girl”, or “my love” and eventually “my wife”.

    I really like the idea of Nobushige, a man surrounded by war and chaos, unexpectedly finding a stable and happy relationship for himself in the midst of all the conflict, and I think this works quite well, giving Nobushige something to fight for, and also providing something of a contrast to the military parts of his life. Sadly, though, I think Masako herself is underused. She could have been a much more interesting character if she had challenged Nobushige more effectively about his reasons for fighting, rather than simply accepting whatever answer he gives her each time. If she had done that, her sacrifice when she throws herself in front of the assassin to save Nobushige would have been more effective, as it would have been a conscious choice to save the man she loved and respected even though she disagreed with him, rather than the action of a woman who will never directly contradict the man she clearly worships.

    The woman known as “Akiko” is a somewhat different proposition – although she, too, is driven by obsession. In her case, however, the obsession in question is revenge, and she will do whatever she can to get it. When we first meet her, in Chapter XLVI: For old times, she is already the mistress of Kiso Yoshiyasu, but she seems happy also to seduce Takanaga and become his mistress to further her plans. (We are told she is ordered to seduce Takanaga by Yoshiyasu, but it is clear that she is quite happy to use Takanaga, Yoshiyasu, and anyone else who happens to be around if it helps her to get the revenge she wants.)

    Unfortunately, “Akiko” is only present briefly in the AAR, so Robin does not have chance to provide her with a great deal of depth of character, and she does remain a little sketchy – a sultry seductress using her body to betray – and ultimately destroy – the men she is sleeping with. It is difficult to see how her subplot could have been extended, so I entirely understand the limited nature of her appearance, but it would have been nice if it had been possible to see a little more of her story. Both as an interesting and dynamic character in her own right, and as a counterpoint to Masako, the other female character in Takeda, she would have been worth reading about.

    Takanaga and Takamasa – the opposites

    I think it's appropriate to consider Takanaga and Takamasa together. They are both men in positions as subordinates of Nobushige (although Takamasa starts out in a much more junior position than Takanaga). However, they have different backgrounds, are treated differently by Nobushige, and respond differently to Nobushige's treatment of them. In some ways, Takamasa's story is almost the story of what could have happened to Takanaga, if Takanaga and Nobushige had both been slightly different people.

    Takanaga appears first. He is the same age as Nobushige, and is the son of Yamadera Nobuaki, the head of the Yamadera clan, who previously commanded the Takeda cavalry. Takanaga fought well at Odawara, was promoted, and was one of the commanders of the Takeda army at the siege of Mishima castle. It is clear that a great deal is expected of Takanaga – when he is introduced in Chapter X: End of an era we are told:
    Somewhere underneath the youthful exuberance was a seasoned warrior, we were told, and so we hoped.
    indicating that even then, Takanaga's future as a commander for the Takeda was being considered. However, we are told only a few lines later that Takanaga was “visibly shaken” by the killing of so many men, and that Nobushige thinks Takanaga has a lot to learn before being given sole command of an army.

    Still in Chapter X, Takanaga recommends continuing to fight at a time when Nobushige considers this foolhardy. Harunobu takes Takanaga's advice and ignores Nobushige's. Not only is Harunobu behaving foolishly (in Nobushige's opinion); he prefers the army's newest commander, someone from outside the family, to his own brother. Instead of blaming Harunobu for his decision, however, Nobushige – maybe out of loyalty to his brother – chooses to blame Takanaga, and it would seem that this is the moment when Nobushige's great dislike of Takanaga crystallises.

    From there up to Chapter XIII: Fields of blood, Takanaga seems to behave almost as a model soldier. Nobushige finds nothing to complain about except that he doesn't like Takanaga. He places Takanaga in command of the cavalry and four companies of yari at the battle against the Ikko Ikki, despite the fact that he is still worried about Takanaga's previous recklessness. Takanaga does initially make a mistake, not realising that there are spearmen behind the archers he attacks with his cavalry, but after that, his command of the cavalry goes well – and Nobushige himself also makes a mistake during this battle.

    Where everything goes wrong for Takanaga is in the aftermath of this fight. Nobushige is wounded and unconscious, and Takanaga sees a chance to impress his superiors and gain glory for himself by taking the army to besiege Kanazawa castle. This is in contravention of Nobushige's previous orders, so Takanaga not only has to defy Nobushige to do this, he also has to lie and say that Nobushige gave the order for the attack. Naturally, Nobushige is not remotely impressed by this.

    From this point on, although Takanaga fights well in several battles, there is really no hope of Nobushige ever approving of him, and Takanaga spends most of his time stationed at Kanazawa, as guardian for Echizen and Kaga. We are told that he does this well, although it is obvious he feels he is being held back by missing out on opportunities to take part in battles. However, as his father is respected (for good reason) by the Takeda council, Takanaga is later – in Chapter XLI: Decisions –given another chance to join Nobushige's army and to fight.

    By contrast, Takamasa springs out of nowhere in Chapter XXXV: Snow. He is younger than Nobushige, and the son of a jizamurai, which I understand to be a lord of a small feudal territory, so he is well-born, but does not have the high status of a samurai. Nobody expects him to command anything at all, and it is a surprise to Nobushige when Takamasa kills a Hatano general in battle. Whenever Takamasa does something well, therefore, he is credited with that success. Takanaga has to work harder for people to be impressed by his abilities; everyone assumes he ought to be good at fighting and command, so when he does anything well, they just treat that as normal. Of course, Takanaga, as the son of Yamadera Nobuaki, has had many advantages Takamasa did not, so at least some of these higher expectations are entirely reasonable.

    Like Takanaga, Takamasa is promoted early on in our acquaintance with him – this time, however, to be part of Nobushige's bodyguard rather than directly to a position of command. Instead of wanting to command his own army and have status and glory for himself, Takamasa's focus is always on his loyalty to Nobushige and to the Takeda clan, even to the extent of getting into a fight when he thinks an ashigaru is showing a lack of respect for Nobushige. Takamasa is said to have been “shaken” after his first battle as one of Nobushige's bodyguard, but his alertness in battle and grasp of what needs to be done seem to be exemplary at all times. Of course, he is not given command so early in his service to Nobushige as Takanaga was, which limits his opportunity to make large tactical mistakes until later on.

    Eventually, in Chapter XLI: Decisions Takanaga and Takamasa meet. Takamasa is sent to Kanazawa to deliver orders to Takanaga. Those orders require Takanaga to travel to Osaka with the garrison of Kanazawa castle and to join the Takeda's western army there. Takamasa is to travel with them. This, however, does not happen. Takanaga decides that instead, he will knock Takamasa out and leave him under a tree so that there will be nobody to contradict Takanaga's version of the orders he has been given. He then takes the Kanazawa garrison and attacks the Sakai at Obama castle, destroying Nobushige's chances of persuading the Wakasa Takeda (by bribing them with both gold and Wakasa itself) to take Wakasa from the Sakai and then to be loyal to the Takeda.

    Takanaga's attack is successful, but starts a war with the Takaoka, who had previously not been hostile towards the Takeda.

    Here, and again in Chapter XLIII: The last straw, Takanaga wastes his opportunity to be reinstated as a trusted member of the Takeda clan by disobeying orders. He is clearly not good at seeing the likely consequences of his actions – in this case, imprisonment.

    At this point, the depth of the deficiencies in Takanaga's character is revealed. Anyone would want to get out of a dungeon cell. Few people, however, would murder an old friend in order to escape. Takanaga does. He then allies himself with the Kiso, enemies of the Takeda, partly because he is seduced by a woman who reminds him of a childhood friend, and partly because he is seduced by the idea of commanding an army, particularly an army he can use to revenge himself on Takeda Nobushige.

    When battle comes, in Chapter XLVII: A father’s loveand Chapter XLVIII: Homeward, Takanaga has to watch as his father commits seppuku in shame at the behaviour of his son. In his grief, he then watches the Kiso losing the battle against the Takeda, and finally he discovers that the woman who seduced him was not the woman he thought she was. She never cared for him, and was only using him to further her plan to ruin the Kiso. Having lost everything, Takanaga dies as the castle burns, illustrating nicely that loyalty and honour are the way to success in this AAR. At least, they are if your loyalty is to the Takeda…

    Meanwhile, Takamasa continues to be loyal, responsible and competent. He is rewarded for this by being given command of sixty of the Akazonae cavalry – a significant but well-deserved promotion. Takamasa acquits himself well, both in battles against the Chosokabe and Takaoka, and in the great final battle between the Takeda and the Uesugi. In the end, Takamasa is depicted as being the most loyal of all Nobushige's soldiers – loyal, in fact, to the point where even his disobedience to Nobushige is described as a higher form of loyalty, in almost perfect contrast to the repeated disloyalties of Takanaga.

    It is possible that Takanaga's subplot is the most exciting of all the subplots in this AAR. Certainly, it had me gripped. I will admit that although it is very difficult to see how such an insubordinate character could have been restored to the good graces of the Takeda, I did feel a slight twinge at the death of such a good source of drama, conflict and subplots!

    Overall, I found Takeda gripping and well-written. Of course, there are things I believe Robin could have done better, and things I would have preferred to be done a different way (even though I know other people would disagree with me), but Takanaga and Takamasa dragged me along with them through the story and Robin's writing – particularly his descriptions – gave me a clear image of what was happening and kept me interested.

    There is a great deal in Takeda that I haven't considered in this article, I know. Some of that will be covered in the other section (or sections) of this review, but it is inevitable that some parts of such a large and accomplished AAR will simply be left out of a review like this. For this reason, I would urge anyone who has not already read Takeda to do so. It is a long AAR, but it is well worth the effort!


    Thank you for reading! Sadly, the images have disappeared from Takeda in the Writers' Study. If you would like to read a PDF edition of Takeda, you can download it from here (link). This PDF edition contains all of the chapters and many (but not all) of the images. It does not include comments from readers. This PDF edition was put together by Caillagh and is being made available by kind permission of Robin de Bodemloze.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Lugotorix's Avatar
      Lugotorix -
      I should follow under the example of this master- I'll be reading the AAR in full as well as both your analysis'
    1. Robin de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Robin de Bodemloze -
      I've read this with interest more than once. I'd held off replying until now, but thought I should, and offer some thoughts - first as a token of appreciation to yourself and the team for a series of magnanimous reviews, and secondly because I thought it might interest you - along with readers...including perhaps some old friends. At no point is this meant to be a critique or critism of the critique.

      Ahh...where to begin...

      My biggest regret about Takeda was as you'd mentioned, that I'd simply steamrolled Japan without much in the way of resistance. It was the way my campaign had unfolded, and I'd not given that much thought until it was arguably too late. But as you mentioned some set-backs along the way would have make for more interesting reading. The "detached" style of writing you mentioned was largely intentional, or at least the "default" style that I write in, but point taken on the lack of emotion at times.

      I'll focus on some of the characters, since I think that's the most interesting part of the discussion. In some of these cases (particularly the two girls) an understanding of Akira Kurosawa would help.

      Nobushige - the simplest explanation for why there is little change in the persona of our narrator/protagonist, is that it's ultimately a representation of me personally. While Takeda is not a biopic of any sort (there are parallels between various characters and people I know in the real world) it was written during a period of time when I was more introspective than average. I also wanted to create a consistent perspective from which most of the story was told - but perhaps this robbed the story of some drama.

      Masako - the criticism on her wasted potential is ironic, given the number of times Kurosawa's women have been accused of the same. Masako, in the way I thought of her, was essentially a mirror for Nobushige's (my...) thoughts. I was also keen to stick to contemporary social norms, when women (particularly those of modest standing) were still largely accessories of their men - and avoid inserting any 21st century social commentary. In some cases I wanted to portray Masako's conflict between expressing her ideas, and her loyalty to her lover and master, and in doing so highlight the occasions when she did do something in spite of herself (e.g. hug Nobushige from behind). But perhaps that wasn't always apparent.

      Akiko - I wish I'd thought of that arc of the story before I did! Entirely inspired by Kurosawa's Ran (for those who don't know what I'm talking about, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEsPqJOKmiQ).

      Takanaga and Takamasa - I'm pleased that you spotted the parallels. At the outset I had intended for Takamasa to simply be a foil for Takanga - to highlight how out of the ordinary the latter's behaviour was (the same could be said of his father). But after a while (and through reading Heiro's AAR) the Takamasa character evolved into something that was much more than his original design. A case of unintended consequences, to some extent. Naoe Kanetsugu was basically Kenshin's Takamasa - but that came too late in the story for me to do much.
    1. Hitai de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Hitai de Bodemloze -
      Quote Originally Posted by Robin de Bodemloze View Post
      ...and through reading Hitai's AAR...
    1. Caillagh de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Caillagh de Bodemloze -
      I'm impressed you managed to read through it even once, Robin - it kind of turned out bigger than I thought it would...

      Thank you for your comments, which are much more gracious than I deserve, and fascinating to read.

      I don't think you should regret steamrolling Japan too much. I know I said a few setbacks would have been more interesting - and I think that's true, because I think it's generally true, for any story - but you were playing a game, not just writing a story. If you keep losing, the story and the game both stop. And the world would be poorer without Takeda in it, so it's a good thing you didn't lose too often! I think the tension between needing to keep winning (till the end of the story) and needing to write something interesting is one of the challenges of AAR writing - and one of the things that makes it fun. And I think you solved the problem by paying attention to things other than just the battles. There was plenty of conflict in the Takanaga arc that had nothing to do with battles, after all.

      I'm intrigued to discover that you intended Masako to be a mirror for Nobushige's thoughts. I think I thought of her as just a little bit too much of her own person for me to easily spot her function as a mirror. I'm sure that's my fault, and I should have thought of her being there as a device for examining Nobushige's character rather than as a person in her own right - but, as you say, she does do her own thing now and then. I think some of my confusion sprang from the combination of those two elements of her existence.

      Anyway, despite my criticisms of all your hard work, you should know that I really did enjoy reading Takeda. The Shingen bits, the Masako bits, the Takanaga bits, all of it. It's a great AAR.

      Oh, and let me say here that your screenshots are fantastic. (The only reason I didn't comment on them in the review is because they aren't visible in the thread any more.)