- Genre : Action, Drama, Historical, Time, Action
- Episodes: 13
- Studio: ufotable
To mere mortals, time may seem like a steady unyielding stream, flowing eternally from the past to the future. But to those who know better, it’s a chaotic whirlpool that spins back on itself and splashes all over the place. If you’re not careful, the whole thing is liable to fall apart. Kind of like this analogy. The Time Retrograde Army has been pulling all the stops to disturb the flow of history but thankfully, the loyal Swords of the second unit are here to stand in their way. No matter *when* a disturbance comes up, they rush to the frontlines to take the enemies down while the unsuspecting humans go about their destinies. But all wars have casualties and the loyalties of even the most faithful soldiers can be tested when they need to choose between their old Master and their new one.
Did that description make any sense? Touken Ranbu is kind of a weird series guys. It’s a bit all over the place. I did my best!
I watched Touken Ranbu Hanamaru last year and was very pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure what I expected at the time but it certainly wasn’t a cute slice of Life comedy with mild fanservice and nonsense humour. Essentially a Moe show for those who like chiselled abs. It was way more fun than it had any right to be and I quickly added Katsugeki to my watch list for when I was in the mood for another lighthearted pretty boy fest.
From the very first scene, I thought to myself, well this looks different. Good but different yet also familiar. As the opening credits came up I instantly realized what I what I was seeing as the name “ufotable” came up on the screen. I have been watching A Lot of ufotable lately. Sure I saw fate back in the day but in the past few months, I have been making my way through all the Garden of Sinners movies as well as my weekly Demon Slayer viewings with Crow. I can now say that the studio has a pretty distinctive visual style AND certain storytelling preferences. Just one look at Katsugeki Touken Ranbu was enough to see that it was indeed a ufotable anime. Which makes sense considering the studio’s frequent collaborations with Nitro+. Ranbu is based on a mobile game by Nitro in case you didn’t know.
My instant follow-up thought was: is Hanamaru also ufotable? It looked really different. Man, I can’t wait to see ufotable’s take on cute boys doing cute things! That is so out of the studio’s usual fare!.. for the record they did not produce Hanamaru, that was Doga Kobo. Something that becomes obvious in retrospect.
The studio has some undeniable strengths and certain weaknesses. The visual style is blunt, striking, with saturated colours and fantastic use of light and shadows. Whether it’s to your personal tastes or not, the look is clearly polished. Likewise, animation is often impressive and ufotable has some of the best CG integration in the business. Katsugeki is no exception with frequent CG which is in general perfectly melded to the animation. To me, it went just a bit overboard in the last episodes and ended up clashing with the rest of the show but otherwise, it was good.
On the flipside, I have not been as impressed with the audio mastery of the studio. In this series the soundtrack is uninspired and at times overbearing. As for the voice acting…. I’ve heard some of these actors before so I know they can act but it just didn’t work here. The delivery was all over the place making it seem like characters standing next to each other were reacting to completely different situations and there was a clear lack of chemistry.
The most disappointing production aspect for me was the lack of the non-verbal storytelling I’ve been so impressed with in the other ufotable works I mentioned above. There is some blunt use of light to set up the mood but otherwise, I didn’t notice anything worth writing about. And I think this may be in part because of the narrative itself.
Like I mentioned, Touken Ranbu is based on a nitro+ mobile game. Last time I checked there was only a Japanese version out so I haven’t had a chance to try it out. From what I understand it’s a sort of digital card collecting game mixed with a little dog fighting. You get random sword cards which each have specific stats, group them together in “units” and send them out to battle *stuff*. There’s also some situational lore where the swords are famous historical weapons, having belonged to famous historical warriors and the battles are based on real life events. I don’t know much beyond that. This is because every video I’ve found explaining or reviewing the game have all been extremely confusing. Seems like it’s one of those games with dozens of mechanics that add up to more or less the same thing and an extremely complex backstory which sounds kind of deep but is never developed enough for you to really understand it. It’s just flavouring for a CCG.
Why did I just waste a paragraph on that? It’s because I need you to understand how thin the source material is. To fix that Hanamaru Touken Ranbu took the sword characters and kept their in game designs but treated the lore much like the game does, as a bit of background info. The actual show was a completely unrelated imagining of the cute hijinks the swords get up to when they are not fighting and had little to do with the actual game. In fact, the only obvious remnant of the game origins was the choice of never showing “the master” onscreen, who represents the player character not actually in the game. It became a pretty fun running gag. Oh, an in case it isn’t clear, those guys ARE the swords. They get personified as good lookin’ dudes!
I was really looking forward to seeing how ufotable would handle a Moe show. Demon Slayer is so far the most light-hearted series I have seen from them and it’s still a brutal tale of loss and revenge filled with blood and death. How would the studio shift to a fluffy comedy?
The answer is, they wouldn’t. Aside from both being Touken Ranbu, Hanamaru and Katsugeki are completely different shows. A fact made clear in the first episode with a very visible master that turned out to be a blank nondescript young man.
Katsugeki feels much more loyal to the game (although I can’t tell for sure) and many moments felt like illustrations of game mechanics. The story stays firmly “only lore”, concentrating all the action on those reenactments of historical battles as the second unit tries to stop retrograde soldiers from changing history. If what I just wrote sounds a bit hard to follow then you’re right on track.
To me, this change was detrimental to the series. Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is watchable but every narrative element feels threadbare and underdeveloped. And by this I mean not only the actual storyline but also the characters and settings. Everything is just sort of surface level. If I was more familiar with the game or maybe more up on my classical Japanese martial history, I probably would have appreciated the series more, but as it is, it was just a “pretty meh” for me. I mean the series was pretty but I was kinda bored.
Good thing I could count on Yager and his sexy sexy voice for distraction!
Favorite character: Yager (I think it’s the voice…I’m not sure…The hotpants don’t hurt)
“Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.”
Suggested drink: A Sword in the Darkness
- Every time Izuminokami and Mutsunokami argue – take a sip
- Every time history has changed – take a sip
- Every time an innocent bystander gets killed – take a sad sip
- Every time Konosuke (the little fox) acts as a smartphone – awwww
- Every time there’s a blood splatter – get some water
- Every time anyone says Shinsegumi – take a sip
- Every time Kunihiro says “Kane-san” – take a sip
- Every time we see retrograde soldiers – gasp
- Every time anyone talks straight at the camera- take a sip
- Every time there’s a massacre – have a snack
- Every time there’ a fire – fan yourself
- Every time we hear about the “first” or “second” unite – stretch