How does Sengoku Basara differ from actual history, and why?
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SB attempts to be forceful with some comedic interlude, hinting at the supernatural of historic times (as opposed to other anime with more fantasy-based settings, here the more fanciful is probably the weather changes). What it does usually is hype up specific scenarios that likely happened in a much more mundane manner in historic times, which can be be interesting to see as even the films of Kurosawa somberly contrast the animated possibilities that fiction can weave. While it does, at times, seem over-the-top, they're sort of this implicit capability that is likely not reality, but while animated makes sense. On this point, it seems to at times either inflate characters to such unrealistic proportions that the result might not be as expected (which might be due to relying on an arc for episodes, where other anime like Inuyasha tend to go on at length and so it isn't a burst as such), or confine them to such little time that one wonders why they exist at all (as with Itsuki, as discussed later; note that this review will not have spoilers from the anime, as such, but will detail the historic parallel realities).
The battle of Okehazama was actually worse for Imagawa historically than depicted in the anime as his soldiers simply escaped, and it seems like, despite the episode showing more of other daimyo (Sanada and Date were not, apparently, present historically, whereas Maeda Toshiie was, but he's not introduced until the second season), in reality it was dominated more by Nobunaga (but only as a counterattack), whereas in the anime he seemed to appear out of nowhere; also, it omits the strategy involved behind a smaller army overcoming a larger one (partly involving the weather, which was animated).
The battle of Hitotoribashi was briefly alluded to, and yet still affects the character of Masamune, so much so there is a flashback which also indicates as to why Kojuro is so loyal - Nihonmatsu was a daimyo who was seemingly forgotten in SB, and yet it would have built up an understanding for Masamune especially since the second season has its focus on him. Also, Satake Yoshishige is mainly encountered in the games, despite virtually being non-existent in the anime, and yet could have been at least introduced in a flashback as he appears to have been a daimyo opposing the Date clan in this battle historically (even Itsuki, though, with her half a minute screen time in the main Basara series, has more time than the Satake, who in the game is depicted as clumsy, with no mention of their history with Masamune).
The battles of Anegawa and Nagashino (ep 5, 6) seem to be conflated perhaps; episode title references Nagashino, and yet Azai was not present historically, whereas he was in the anime, although he was at Anegawa where Asakura Yoshikage (briefly mentioned in the anime) also was - Nagashino also could not have had Shingen, as he had died two years previously in 1573 (but then the anime doesn't seem to care about dates and discrepancies at all), it did though have his son, who is totally excluded from the anime. It's mostly accurate when it came to Oda's distancing from Azai and his usage of arquebusiers, but Hideyoshi was notably absent in the anime, despite it being his 'debut' in history (introduced abruptly in the second season then); Shingen also seems to fight Tokugawa instead of the Asakura - Honda's actions were also seemingly artistic license (but then, so was the very fact he's somehow a mecha in 1570). These episodes also include, historically, events happening during the siege of Odani castle, but differ on most accounts.
Along with the style over substance approach to the animation itself, the narrative had issues with either over or under-emphasis of certain characters and concepts - Nene being one, seen only in flashbacks, much neglected in animation despite seemingly being Maeda's motivation for many venture, and yet historically the crucial narrative that the anime claims is so important (the only thing said really, and often repeated) did not occur at all, and so the matter of its inclusion in the anime should be questioned, because a longer, semi-coherent flashback wasn't available, so what was the point of it at all? It seemed to be there to indicate that Hideyoshi wanted strength, but later on he's shown to be not as ruthless as Oda, and so motives are questionable.
The anime tries to live up to the period's name by filling the story with as many battles as possible, but at times unnecessarily as historically there are seemingly no parallels, e.g. with the brief mention of the Hongan-ji situation, Hideyoshi feels like beating up the monks for some reason, despite meaning little in the anime as they've only been introduced thirty seconds previously, whereas historically it seems it may have only been Oda that tried to destroy the temple, with Hideyoshi later rewarding the abbot's son, Kennyo, for opposing Oda. There are some such politics in the series, but assuming constant battles entertaining, with history forsaken, creates monotony and inaccuracy...
There is also a slight issue with not connecting the different eras depicted in multiple seasons in SB, as Hideyoshi in the anime seems unconnected from Oda, despite being a retainer historically, whereas in the series the only comparison is between their lust for strength, seemingly with only varying levels of mercilessness, but the narrative itself would have made more sense if all of these threads were seamless, along with being more realistic - not that fantasy takes away from potential enjoyment, but in this case not connecting the seasons (Ishida could have been brought in sooner too) could have been more narratively potent.
The 1590 siege of Odawara is also another point in the anime where the difference with real life is conspicuous and strange - Hojo Ujimasa is a comedic old timer in the series, but not only survives despite weakness (unlike in history), but forms a pact with Ieyasu, which did not happen in real life - why, then, change so much for trivially so little reason? The siege is mentioned in the anime and enacted, and yet it's seemingly unrelated to anything in history, which makes one wonder why it's specified at all. Tadatsugu, Tokugawa's guardian, is also another mysterious discrepancy - died in 1596 historically, in the anime he's strangely located in 1600 Sekigahara (although he has, arguably, a most funny encounter with Sorin) - whereas Miyamoto Musashi, legendarily present in the battle, is absent in the anime (seen only in the first sequel).
Overall, despite there being in total nearly fifty episodes, characters still may have an issue connecting with viewers, perhaps even the two most concentrated on, Sanada and Date, because their values might be so remote (it is, after all, a warring period, but they could have been more relatable maybe if comedy was used more intensely, and with more variety than it was, and even then Date had virtually none). Other than those, characters suddenly appear and disappear with as much mystery at times - this might be entirely due to historic reasons (despite otherwise following it only slightly), and so people disappear as they did in real life, but they all grew up, and so if animators wanted to they could have used such material to make them more meaningful - kind of like in season 2, episode 3 when the Maeda fight, it seemed like the conflict was not as empty as most others, mainly due to flashbacks which resonated in the moment.
Similar to the games, the anime often seems to have invested more in how it looks, rather than substantial character development or a story that, like Inuyasha, forms a whole that connects the animation with what one perceives throughout - certainly, with nearly two hundred episodes the story is more spread out, but fifty is plenty too, and often even OVAs that consist of a few episodes can create a connection that lasts after they finished.
While in the games players can dedicate however much time to the personalities, in the anime there are, of course, variations, but some seemed like they could have made the anime more substantial if they were concentrated on more - Oichi and Sorin being the more obvious ones, respectively for more pathos (and as so a vehicle for reason to be imbued in conflicts, as happened just a bit), and for comedy to ease this journey of war - the series still had both of these elements, but proportionally they did not seem to be accorded sufficient time for the rest of the anime to make more of an impact than it did (although, obviously, it is ultimately subjective).
What could have also improved upon the essence of what Basara could have been (besides random craziness intertwined with a bit of history) is what it also attempted to do, but only a slight amount, and in a clichéd manner - is to comment on how history is itself made, and how minute factors often end up reverberating (Japan could have had centuries of an Oda shogunate, but events transpired that prevented that). What did happen in the anime is Ieyasu repeatedly claiming that bonds will solve all problems - and they could, in some sort of ideal world where everyone has honest intentions - when in reality, historically, Tokugawa seemed yet another opportunist, and did not appear to even be as idealistic, positive, or even as uncorrupted as the anime depicts him (all three 'unifiers' participated in unnecessary murder e.g.) - so much so it would almost be propaganda, especially if he was alive today and his personality obviously differed.
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