Friday’s Feature: What Went Wrong with Katsugeki Touken Ranbu?

When you have a show based on a game that you’ve never played you already know that there are going to be some parts of the show that you are just never going to get. They’ll be references or nods to the game and the fans and that is fine. You also don’t expect a plot that makes a flawless transition from game, where there is some level of interaction with a player, to anime, where the viewer is far more passive in their engagement with the story. That said, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu was a show that was being talked up prior to the summer season beginning. It was always going to be be compared to Hanamaru, the earlier adaptation that took a different direction and I dropped one episode in, but it was still seen by a lot of people in the community as the adaptation that would be superior.

We’re now a fair way in and to be honest this show has become a chore to watch. The good looking characters with cardboard personalities are all pretty forgettable save that they have different weapons and fighting styles and the audience still has been given zero reason to invest in any of the events occurring in the story. While there might be a bit more of a draw for people who have played the games as some of the missing pieces might be there, that doesn’t make this any better as an anime. So while I’m wondering whether I will watch the next episode or not I thought I’d consider everything that is actually stopping me from enjoying watching this show.

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01. They are protecting history so the future doesn’t get changed. That seems like a fantastic motive really. Save the future. Only, other than the citadel where the swords all hang out with their master in between missions (or where they sit around and either heal or brood between missions) the audience has no clue what this future they are saving looks like or even if it is worth saving. For all we know the master is actually part of a totalitarian regime that is using personified swords to ensure the freedom fighters can’t undo their rigid control over the society. I don’t actually think that is likely, but the show has given me nothing to actually convince me I should be invested in saving this ‘future’. I don’t even know what it looks like.

More importantly, the swords themselves come from Japan’s past. They have no invested reason in saving a future they aren’t actually a part of other than their master told them to. What good does it do a sword for a future to change or not change? While yes it might be tragic even for a personified sword to see an innocent person cut down in front of them, how is that any more tragic than cutting their way through the enemy? Yet they seem to have no problem with that.

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02. Who is the enemy? Yep, I know this should be obvious. They are fighting the Time Retrograde Army. They tell us this a lot. That’s great. Who are they? What is their motive? Other than changing history, what are they actually trying to accomplish? Where or when do they even come from? None of this has been addressed. Not through the main characters, not through narration, and certainly not through characterisation of the villains because they literally have none.

Instead we get shadowy monsters/warrior that appear, cause havoc, and then our good looking swords get to work slicing and dicing in some very cool action sequences but none of this involves actually making us care about either the protagonists or the villains in this story. Even the one villain that was apparently someone one of the sword guys knew and seemed to be creating members of the Time Retrograde Army didn’t get any kind of an explanation

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03. So outside of not buying the protagonists’ motivation (because it hasn’t been fully explained nor have the consequences of failing), and not really buying the enemy as all that much of a problem (again, because no one has managed to really explain why it is a problem), we come to the characters themselves. We started with the second unit and met each of the characters. They even did a nice little round the circle introduction for us. Other than their name, their weapon, and perhaps one defining personality trait, the audience still has no clue about these characters. They are an outline or a shell of a cast but there is an incredible absence of actually rich characterisation. If the plot were compelling enough you could overlook this but we’ve already established that their overall mission may as well be ‘save the cheerleader’ for all the difference it would make to the audience at this point.

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04. Then we have pacing issues. The early episodes in this series essentially went through a pattern of something ominous early in the episode, lots of sitting around and talking, followed by sudden spurt of action. Which means that for the majority of the episode, if you aren’t into the characters, nothing is happening. What is worse is that their conversations are very repetitive. Are we really preserving history? Seriously, how many characters are going to ask that or something similar and how many times will someone reply that they just need to complete their mission or that they are succeeding because their master said so?

Overall, there’s just no compelling reason to keep watching this show. Even if they do try  to give someone some actual motivation and even if there is some big fight between the swords and the army, what reason has the show given the audience to care at this point? Great music, cool visuals and fight sequences just aren’t enough in the absence of a compelling story or characters.

What are your thoughts on this anime?


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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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11 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: What Went Wrong with Katsugeki Touken Ranbu?

  1. (I apologise in advance for the long comment…)

    I’m kinda like AJ – I played the game on an on/off basis for about a year before giving up. I understand your gripes with the “hollowness” of Katsugeki, since I realised at about ep 3 any characterisation beyond “sword angst” and “we’re going to not screw up history!” was not going to happen (which irks my critical side).

    I’m tackling Hanamaru alongside Katsugeki, and I view Hanamaru ver.s of Kanesada and Horikawa as having slightly more characterisation than Katsugeki’s, even though Hanamaru characterisations align slightly more with what fans believe the swords to be like.

    The missing component you seek is the historical part of swords’ backstories – if the name of some historical figure you don’t know shows up, that’s probably backstory. Then again, if you were watching this anime as part of the target demographic in its native land, you’d kind of be expected to know certain things, like sword names, from the get-go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least it’s pretty. Even with the odd characters popping off the background moments, it is very pretty. And someone has spent a lot of time animating water in most episodes.
      I just wish some of that time had gone in to plot or characters.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Everytime a sword asks if they are saving the future, take a drink. Everytime one character or another looks into the distance, take a drink. Everytime an enemy you don’t know the name of gets cut down, drink until you pass out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone who actually plays the game, albeit nowhere near as much as most of the people I know, it never occured to be how weird and boring pretty much everything in the anime might be to someone unfamiliar with the game.

    But even having played it, my answers to all your complaints can be summarised with a shrug of the shoulders. I mean, the gameplay literally amounts to continuously clicking as you watch your precious sword boys take out the bad guys.

    Liked by 1 person

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