Katsugeki TOUKEN RANBU – Anime Preview
Synopsis: 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. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Katsugeki Touken Ranbu boasts Ufotable’s unmistakable and epic art style. It’s vibrant, colorful and a real treat for the eyes, far and away the series greatest asset.
Linny: While one can clearly detect the use of CGI in the episode, the art quality and bright colours stop it from feeling like a cheap or ugly production. In fact, the anime looks a lot like a video game making it feel faithful to its game roots, even going so far as to use a video game text screen style approach for its next episode preview.
Tom: Unlike Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru, Katsugeki takes a more narrow approach to introducing us to its world. We focus primarily on two characters, Kunihiro and Kanesada. Kunihiro is the classic ‘newbie’ still starry-eyed and naive as to the battle they’re fighting. Kanesada is the more experience veteran tasked with guiding Kunihiro during his first missions. This narrow focus, and limited characters, feels a much friendlier way to dive into the story. While the episode does eventually hammer the viewer with a bunch of additional characters, it feels less overwhelming and more a tease of what’s to come.
Linny: It’s not a huge surprise if Kunihiro and Kanesada come off as a bit generic or cliche to some, given their humble and simple game origins. However, in the show’s defence, it still manages to make them feel likeable enough so long as you pick up the episode knowing its roots. In fact, if you were to compare the first episode with other video game adaptations, Katsugeki is likely to shine much brighter.
Tom: Katsugeki takes its story far more seriously here than Hanamaru ever did, and if it’s hitting seemingly familiar beats, and the enemies’ designs look reminiscent that’s probably because the entire thing is reminding you of Kantai Collection. That’s unsurprising as Touken Ranbu is produced by the same developer as Kantai, and is generally considered a gender swap of the game. But even if Touken Ranbu is taking pages from Kantai’s own anime adaptation, it works here and feels far more interesting and worth paying attention to than Hanamaru ever did. The series isn’t afraid to get a bit dark either, as was Kantai, quickly introducing the greater implications and moral quandaries of fighting through the timeline and defending history, even if it means letting bad things happen.
Linny: While the first episode doesn’t waste much time and throws us right in from the start, it does an otherwise decent job of balancing exposition with action. Very rarely in the first episode do you feel like you’re being made to sit through unnecessary or clunky world building. The information doling segments are spaced out between fight sequences, making this feel like a promising start for a video game adaptation, a genre notorious for doing either one massive exposition dump or none at all, expecting viewers to be extremely familiar with the game it’s based on.
Tom: Despite what I said above, there’s a sour point in this episode for me. For all the grand talk and heart-rending realization for Kunihiro that you can’t simply save everyone you want in the past, the episode then has his mentor, Kanesada save a little girl from the fire with, what appears to be, zero consequence. While a moment clearly designed to pull back on the darker portrayal of Kanesada’s character and show him as a more caring individual, it undermines the weight of the previous scene and damages what could’ve been a more powerful talking point for the series.
Linny: As someone who has never had any interest in nor played the Touken Ranbu game, I had and continue to have a somewhat low interest in Katsugeki but I will admit that as video game adaptations go, it is definitely one of the better ones. The art is top notch and the story is doled out in a decent manner and pace and may make Katsugeki one of the best adaptations of its origin game.
Tom: Overall, quibbles aside, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is a marked improvement over Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru. It feels deeper, more visual impressive, and immediately more engaging. We’d sidestepped the series after Hanamaru, but that appears to be a big mistake, as Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is a far stronger, more generally appealing outing than its predecessor.
Katsugeki TOUKEN RANBU is available for streaming via Crunchyroll