Katsugeki Touken Ranbu – First Impressions

An adaptation of the video game developed by Nitroplus, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is the quintessential badass anime premiere of the Summer season.

Produced by Ufotable and directed by Toshiyuki Shirai (Fate/Zero), the anime takes place in 1863. “As the tumultuous samurai era is coming to an end, Japan is split between the pro-shogunate and anti-shogunate factions. The fate of the world is threatened as an army of historical revisionists are sent from the future to alter the course of history. In order to bring these forces down and protect the real history, two sword warriors, spirits who are swords brought to life by Saniwa (sage), rush to Edo. The polite and thoughtful Horikawa Kunihiro and the short tempered yet skillful Izuminokami Kanesada, who served the same master, confront the invading army along with a lively gang of other warriors including Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki, Yagen Toushirou, Tombokiri, and Tsurumaru Kuninaga.” (Source: Aniplex USA)

The animation is by far going to be the very best this season, no arguments. It’s exquisitely breathtaking with his fluid and masterful action sequences, dripping in scarlet splatters and shimmering samurai swords. When the implementation of computer graphics is done correctly and intricately, the result should be everything that Katsugeki Touken Ranbu exhibits. I was in awe for the first two episodes. While I’m not entirely what I was expecting, that sure as hell wasn’t it.

While I am rather infatuated and blown away with the animation quality, I still can’t say that it’s brilliantly perfect. In some of the sequences, the hand-drawn nature of the characters create a significant clash with the CG backdrops. It’s terribly jarring and out-of-place in those moments, almost cringe-worthy in particular areas. It’s reminiscent of scenes where anime characters are placed in real-life photographic environments; not as disconcerting or atrocious as this, but pretty damn close to it. Luckily it happens infrequently enough to where it doesn’t impair the watching experience too much.

The story, while initially a bit disorienting, seems to have a very fascinating premise to it. Political intrigue is a major factor to the plot. We also have fantasy elements with dark, shadowy creatures who are hell-bent on destruction, and samurai who seem to be the reincarnated spirits of old warriors’ swords. There’s a futuristic vibe as well. There’s this adorable little cat-creature who can bring up the technology of the future such as the internet and some kind of database to frequently check on the state of Japan’s history. The motive of the enemy seems to be to alter the future by changing some major political points in Japan’s history. While our warriors fight this mysterious enemy, they must protect the existing timeline as it is. It all sounds a bit confusing, and it can be… still is, to be honest, I mean we’ve only had two episodes. Nonetheless, I’m eagerly intrigued and hoping that as we get more and more episodes, things will start to become more clear, pending a smooth execution of course.

All of the characters consist of good looking men, who have unique and superfluous talents with their weapons. They all have wonderful smiles, buff physiques, and individualistic humour that’s unique to a very specific kinds of personas, or common male tropes in anime. Not a problem in and of itself, however, it gave me quite a strong otome (dating sim) vibe. The original game is from the collector card genre, so I honestly don’t know how to feel about this. Personally, I don’t mind it so much thus far, but I can see it being a deterrent for male watchers. Aside from the action and the blood, there is little appeal otherwise.

Overall, the show isn’t a masterpiece, but all of the action and blood has hooked my interest for sure. Usually shows like this tend to be overly-ambitious and fall horribly short with its implementation. Even though I am excited, I probably won’t get my hopes up too much. If you’re in the market for an action-heavy, samurai anime series, then you should check this out. Regardless of the eye-candy, it may satisfy that thirst for high-octane badassery.

You can watch Katsugeki Touken Ranbu on both CrunchyRoll (Saturdays at 10am) & Anime Strike.