Some group want to change history and the characters we follow want to stop them. And the characters we follow happen to be the spirit of swords brought to life by a sage from the future who can sense time distortions.
I kind of covered a lot of my issues with this show in my feature a few weeks ago where I asked what went wrong with Katsugeki Touken Ranbu?
I stand by that question now that the series has ended. Because, it seems like this show has what it needs to be truly great and yet what we have instead is a shallow dive into a story the audience never actually gets to experience and characters who really don’t progress beyond a name, a fighting style, and a single note personality. It is telling that after 13 episodes of this I’m still not actually sure of all the character names and had to resort to looking them up and even then when looking at a character list it took me a moment to remember what some of the characters had even done in the show.
Part of this is definitely because this is a game adaptation and there is certainly some expectation from the anime that viewers are at least passingly familiar with these characters already. But I haven’t played the game and even if I had, source material does not excuse sloppy characterisation (or none as the case may be) in the anime. The same might be true for the lack of plot development but again, even if the answers can be found elsewhere, that doesn’t make watching the anime any better.
Basically what is lacking from this anime are the details. We don’t know anything about any of the characters other than these two (Horikawa and Kanesada) used to work together serving the same master who died. That’s the one character plot that is developed and kind of resolved by the last episode. Still, given neither one of those characters has any personality beyond loyal to their master and mopey as they question their purpose, it isn’t exactly a draw to the show nor when we finally get the end of this sub-plot does it provide satisfaction. The heroes of this story are trying to stop events from changing so it is more or less obvious what the end of this story will be.
The other characters we get the names of and occasional references to their former lives and masters, but none of this information goes anywhere or leads to anything. It barely connects to the overall plot with the exception Mutsunokami when we meet his former master. And what is the overall plot?
Well, just in case we forget the swords mention it every other breath. They are going to protect history. They’ll stop history from changing. Why history is being targeted and by whom is something apparently the audience doesn’t need to know. I mean, yes, we are told the Time Retrograde Army are responsible, but who are they? No names, no discernible characters, no motive other than change history. No idea how many there are so basically they just spawn as many as they want in each occasion going so ridiculous as to have 1000 of them show up in the final episode only to do nothing but charge blindly forward and be mowed down by a significantly smaller force that previously struggled with groups of 10 or 20. Minor plot issue but whatever.
It seems like this anime wanted to focus on Horikawa but didn’t want to leave out the other characters. So instead of getting a focused story revolving around Horikawa growing into his role in the second unit we kind of flit all over the place as we introduce a late addition to the second unit, then the entire first unit, and the we’ll finally get back to Horikawa but by that stage we haven’t really grown attached to him because he practically disappeared mid-season.
However, this anime looks amazing and the sound is pretty impressive. Even when there is no tension to be found in a battle, if you close your eyes and just listen, it sounds super dramatic. But even mundane sounds like the leaves, the characters walking, gusts of wind, it all just very impressively done. If only even some of that attention to detail had gone into characters or plot (and I don’t mean the overdone character designs, I mean their personalities).
While this show isn’t by any means unwatchable, there’s just not a lot of point. You won’t learn anything about the overall conflict or what the end game for either side might be. You won’t learn all that much about the characters and what you do learn could have been covered in about two episodes. Visually impressive fight sequences aside, there’s just not enough reason to bother with this show.
If you watched Katsugeki Touken Ranbu, I’d love to know your thoughts so please leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.
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