Anime Review: Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu

By Drew Hurley 10.04.2019

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Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu (UK Rating: 15)

Touken Ranbu's fandom has reached a fever pitch in Japan, standing alongside Fate and Kancolle, and garnering interest even in other countries around the world, despite the original game never leaving Asia. That game is a mobile title that sees players collect swords, in much the same way that players collect ships in Kancolle, meaning that the swords are actually bishi boys. Fitting considering the game is made by Nitocris and DMM, the same team that made Kancolle. The franchise has since become so much bigger than just a mobile game, with insane amounts of merchandise, some wonderful high-quality statues, always beloved Nendoroids, a stage show, a live action movie, and, now, an anime series that's reached the UK, coming courtesy of MVM as of 1st April - no fooling around!

This is actually the second of three anime adaptations of the franchise, and the team went a little strange with the releases. The original anime, Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru, was released in 2016, and a sequel to this series arrived in 2018 with Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru. That one-year gap between the two saw a completely separate story. While the show opens on feudal Japan, the real story is set in 2205. In the future, time travel has been created and a renegade force known as the Historical Revisionists are planning to alter the world by travelling back and changing history. To combat them, the Government of Time utilises a force known as Saniwa, a group able to incarnate the souls of objects.

Warriors have always had a strange habit; they liked to name their swords. Excalibur, Caliburn, Mjolnir, Caladbolg, Durendal. These names gave the weapons a soul, making them Tsukumogami, and the Saniwa were able to use this to transform the weapons into human characters. These Touken Danshi (Sword Men) are the only way to face off against the Historical Revisionists. The Government of Time has to be very careful, to try and not impact the world or the timeline, so using beings with the personalities of their owners. Easy to fit in with where they are sent. The Revisionists have no such care or limitation, and instead they freely send back huge amounts of forces known as the Time Retrograde Army, slaughtering and killing to get their way.


 
In this tale, five Touken Danshi are sent to 1863, a time when Gaijin were hated widely through Japan, with the Emperor sending out a decree to "Send back the Barbarians" after their borders were opened. The Retrograde Army has returned to this time to incite a war between Japan and other countries by butchering foreigners. To attempt to stop this, starring sword Izuminokami Kanesada leads a team of weapons any Japanese history buff would be familiar with, and while there won't be many of those in the audience for this Western release, there are plenty back home. They are a very big part of why the series exploded in popularity in the way it did. After all, characters like Nobunaga, the Shinsengumi, Miyamoto Musashi, and the like, have been done to death - reappearing in many stories and in many different forms over the years. This gave a chance for new characters to come to life, though, while still being linked to those legendary figures.

This first trip to the past is just the introduction to the show. The characters on the mission are the B team of the Saniwa. The A team of the most powerful swords get a chance to show why they are a cut above their counterparts. Then the B team heads back to other time periods to attempt to stop the Retrograde Army... although always to Feudal Japan; lucky for a series based around Samurai. It seems the Retrograde Army is determined to change the future by altering this time. There is a slight issue with the antagonists. The Retrograde Army is completely lacking in any real characters or personalities; just faceless monsters. This leads into the main issue with the series; not only is there a lack of an antagonist, there's a lack of an explanation. There's a force trying to change history, but why, and what are the motivations of the heroes? It may all be understandable to fans of the game, but not to the uninitiated.

This series was produced by the impressive ufotable, well known for its spectacular revival of the FATE series. While the art here doesn't quite live up to those, it is on high form. There are some stunning moments, though, where an enemy is struck down in a single stroke, where a simple conversation plays out on a bridge in the first rays of daylight and it looks absolutely beautiful. It helps that the character designs are so great; it's easy to see why the game was so popular with characters like this. The team at ufotable mixes in some 3D CGI, too - the bane of modern anime, yet here, more often than not, it works! It's mostly used for the monsters and skeletal demons of the Time Retrograde Army, but also in the environments for 3D battles where the camera rotates around the action, giving some impressive destructible landscapes and impressive water effects.

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Fans of Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu the game will get exactly what they want here - a chance to see the characters in a bigger way. Ultimately, though, while the premise seems to be giving the potential for countless interesting stories, the tales on hand here fail to really capture the audience. There's some toying with the swords meeting with their original masters, but there's little in the story to catch the attention. This is primarily a showcase for the battles, where ufotable does its best work. Outside of that, the rest of the show drags.

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