Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Title: Katsugeki/Toukan Ranbu
Anime Studio: Ufotable
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Action / Fantasy
Released: April 1st, 2019
Extras: Textless OP & ED, Episode previews, Trailers
The year is 1863, Japan is split between the pro-shogunate and anti-shogunate factions. In this chaotic time, the era of the swords is coming to a close. Horikawa Kunihiro has manifested as a Sword Warrior and is joined by Izuminokami Kanesada, a warrior who served under the same master as him. Sword Warriors are “Tsukumogami”, spirits and willpower that reside within a sword. These spirits are awakened by Saniwa to protect the world from the “Time Retrograde Army” who were sent by historical revisionists from the future to alter history.
Touken Ranbu is a popular free-to-play web browser collectible card game in Japan. Since release, it has spawned a musical, a feature film, and three anime series. Perhaps the best known anime adaption is this, Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu. Now, anime based on video games can be a little hit and miss. That this is based on an internet card game may even leave you expecting it to be grasping in terms of story content. In this case though, it’s surprisingly deeper than you’d expect.
Sure, when we start getting the introductions for the ensemble cast, we are essentially given a mass of standard tropes. The food lover, the stoic, the rookie and so on are all present and accounted for. As we march towards the end of the series though, the story takes on a couple of interesting topics. First, there’s the discussion as to whether the characters, being human representations of famous weapons from Japanese history, are capable of having dreams and goals beyond their battle-laden existence. It may not be dealt with in depth, but its presence is welcome in the narrative.
More interesting though is the better dealt with arc about time travel leaving you opportunities to save those you’ve lost. It’s here, when the moral ethics of altering history to prevent the loss of good people starts seeping in, that the show changes from a simple fun one to a story that has the potential to suck you in. It should be noted, however, that with only thirteen episodes, most of the cast do not evolve beyond their main traits. As a result, those most important to the story arc we get are given a little more screen time to develop, while the rest only really wander into view when needed. In a way, this is okay though, as it’s certainly better than trying to force everyone to grow in such a short timespan.
Outside the story, there’s plenty to enjoy. From a design standpoint, everything is what you’d expect. The heroes fit the bishōnen mold, and Konnosuke is an undeniably cute, merchandisable animal sidekick. The animation though is a cut above what you may expect, with the action in particular standing out to the point that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Wit Studio piece. The only time this doesn’t ring true is during the odd moments of mixed CG and traditional animation, where the muted tones of the CG feel out of place against the traditional animated elements’ vibrancy.
Hideyuki Fukusawa deals with the musical score, and does a fantastic job of creating the feel of an epic fantasy game. That makes sense though given that his previous credits include the games Chaos Legion, Monster Frontier and Street Fighter IV. The voice cast is decent, but it’s only really Robbie Draymond’s run as Izuminokami Kanesada that stands out.
So, at its worst, Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu is a fun series with decent animation and sound, but little substance. At its best, it’s all of the above but with an interesting story arc to guide it. It never really drags, but doesn’t always grab your undivided attention. As such, I give it an admirable 3.75 out of 5.