Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Series Review: Why Details Are Important

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Overview:

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.

Review:

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 13: History Was Saved, Though Why That Matters Is Still a Mystery

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Review:

And they met with their old master, defeated the thousand enemies, watched their master die, and then they went on a next mission. The End.

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Alright, that probably isn’t fair to the show. They actually did manage to make the two swords reuniting with their master fairly emotive in the end, which was a fair effort given how little I care about these characters.

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And they also managed to make the final battle truly beautiful, though this show has always been pretty and the fight sequences have been its strength all along. What bothers me is that suddenly the master can use all his strength to send all the swords to the same time period. Really? Just having him collapse doesn’t change the fact that this breaks a pre-established rule and kind of a point of tension in that only so many of them could be sent. More importantly, enemies that used to be good for extended fight sequences are now cut through like they are made of butter. For all the spectacle, there is no tension in this sequence.

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But the story has ended and everyone is back together and continuing on to protect history from… I still don’t even know. This show has never once cared to explain the motive of the enemy so I really don’t see why I should care.

A disappointing ending to an anime that never managed a story half as good as its visuals. I’ll get around to reviewing this later but I’m just going to point out that telling me the movie version is coming at the end of this episode is counter productive. After sitting through this series the last thing I want is more of this story.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 12 – Personal Crisis Trumps Greater Narrative

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Review:

There were a few moments where I was watching this episode and felt bitterly disappointed that this show still has an episode to go. It isn’t that the action this week wasn’t pretty, they are still getting that part right, but the story is just not working at all.

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The master shows up and they discuss Horikawa and come up with some ultra-noble reason he’s actually going to attempt to change history and then, without actually worrying about the other guys in the second unit (apparently we should never have cared about them( they just jump in history to the final battle of Hijikata.

The Time Retrograde Army are there, but don’t worry because instead of half the second unit needing to desperately battle, we’ll just call for the first unit, who the audience barely know or care about from the anime, and they’ll just overpower the enemy in a flashy fight sequence before vowing to hold them off. Okay, if they aren’t a threat and they aren’t actually stopping the main plot, why as an audience member should I care that they exist?

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So basically it comes down to the main sword we’ve been following through the various existential crises this season going to his former master’s house and there, shockingly, is Horikawa (given he didn’t jump through time I guess he lived through however many years passed between the former time period and this one). That’s where we end and I guess it is supposed to be dramatic but this show really hasn’t done enough to make me care about any of these conflicts or the characters facing them.

Next week is the end.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 11: Teen Sword Drama?

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Review:

This episode is really dramatic. In case you don’t pick that up because fo the actual characters or performances, the music is sure not going to let you forget it. It just screams drama for almost the entire final third of the episode. Possibly if I was more invested in these characters it may have actually worked nicely but to be honest I was kind of just waiting to see if they’d actually fight or not.

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Kunihiro has disappeared after seeing his former master last week and we’re going to spend a lot of time this week rehashing the conversations about loyalty, preserving history and we’ll intersperse those with flashbacks of their former master.

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As soon as he said this, it was kind of obvious where this plot line was going. He almost pushed Kunihiro into the role and I guess that kind of solves the problem of the series finding a villain we care about before the end. Why give us any information about the actual enemy or the ramifications of their actions when we can focus instead on internal squabbles within this second unit?

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On the other hand, Kunihiro gave us the first actual bit of drama where the argument was clear and the consequences obvious. Though, that won’t do the plot any good if he gets himself cut down because then we’re just going to have to watch the swords sitting around all depressed again. So I guess now I’m curious as to whether they are setting him up as an antagonist, or if this really is just a minor drama point to lead us back into yet more conversations about loyalty. And of course, I already know that I’ll end up watching more because even a tiny bit of curiosity is usually enough to keep me watching something even when it isn’t good.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 10: Protect the Future… Except the Bits We Don’t Like

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Review:

I wondered if one of the our bishonen sword boys would actually start to wonder about whether they could change the future (just a little bit) rather than protect it. And hey, three of them are now in the era where their masters are and the masters are on opposite sides. So protecting one means allowing the other to fail and ultimately not achieve whatever grand dream they were trying to achieve with their life. Still, considering it is an obvious conflict to raise in the series, they stretch it out with a lot of nothing happening in the middle of the episode.

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They patrol, watch, observe, search, and talk. So much talk and so many repetitive conversations. I actually don’t mind shows driven by dialogue, but here is seems like the characters speak sometimes just because there is nothing else for them to be doing.

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By the time we get to the brief action sequences for the episode you almost kind of wish the plum tree fell on the guy if for no other reason than at least that would be something different. Early this season I said the 2nd Unit needed a better plan than wait around react. Well, let’s now apply that same criticism to their enemy. They need a better plan.


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

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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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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 9: Another Mission

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Review:

I’m not really sure why I’m still watching this show. We’re back to the second unit this week and they travel back and then find out what their mission is (why they aren’t told before departure still confuses me), come up with a kind of plan that of course goes wrong because they just assume things will go their way, and then they fight their way to victory. Great. Just remind me again what the significance of this fight is or why the guy you saved matters or even what the Time Retrograde Army are after other than changing history and maybe we’ll have a plot rather than events.

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It isn’t entirely bad though. This episode sees the group fighting again and the fight sequences in this show are gorgeous. We also get something close to a character moment with one of the group which was kind of nice but ultimately didn’t amount to anything.

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Part of me still wants to know what the overall story here is supposed to be about and the rest of me is kind of bored with watching these random skirmishes where nothing about the bigger picture is explained. Guess that means I’m going to keep watching.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episodes 7+ 8: Why Are We Supposed To Care?

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Review Episode 7:

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu has a problem. After 6 episodes, what they have is a mostly pretty show with some great fight sequences and some pretty good music with shallow characters and a plot that still hasn’t bothered to explain why any of the characters actually care about any of the things they are doing. To make matters worse, this week we get some really interesting visuals for the villain that for the most part don’t blend in with the rest of the show (a problem I had with some of the dragons in Zestiria as well) and don’t blend with each other. How the villain looks early in the episode to how it looks during the final fight sequence just isn’t the same.

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And yet, none of this is as bad as the fact that episode 7 focusses entirely on the First Unit. A group of swords we met kind of during the previous episode but we don’t actually care about them because they just got dropped into the story, we don’t really know who they are or how they work together or any of their motives, and yet they are plunged into a battle and the show acts like we are supposed to be caring about what happens to them. I was still trying to learn to care about the Second Unit and they are a lot more interesting than this group.

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Admittedly, if you are watching this show for the fights, the second half of this show brings a spectacular one, but it really isn’t enough. Both the characters and the plot of this show need some serious work if we are expected to take this seriously.

Review Episode 8:

Right, I am going to have to rewatch the end of this at some point. I actually seriously zoned out and other than some general angst all the swords seem to be having about the true meaning of protecting history and brooding captain of second unit trying to get over being broody, I kind of missed the rest (if anything) of what was going on.

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It doesn’t help that this episode jumps between the first unit feeding the poor and downtrodden as essentially a way to salve their conscious about the lives they couldn’t save, even knowing it is a mostly pointless gesture, and the second unit sitting around and talking. No fight sequences in a show that has really only been saved by the excellent action sequences means this is a seriously dull viewing experience, unless you happen to like cool visual effects on water in which case have fun with the pause button.

Touken8aThis one, much like Chronos Ruler, just seems to be doing everything possible to make me not care about it. I’d say I was going to drop it but at this stage of the season that is fairly unlikely regardless of how boring I’m finding it. Still, I dropped Interviews with Monster Girls late in the season for much the same reason, I just didn’t care.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 6: Learn to Take The Win

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Review Episode 6:

So far I’ve enjoyed the fight sequences in this series and not a lot else and then along comes episode 6 where we have no fighting going on as the swords have returned to the citadel to have their wounds treated and deal with their issues after the last mission. Despite being reassured that history hadn’t changed they are all brooding on things during this episode which actually makes you wonder what the advantage is of having living swords fighting in the first place if they are as prone to emotional damage as a standard person.

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We also get to meet members of the first unit who are apparently about to set out on a mission for next week. I wonder if that means we won’t see any of the characters that I still haven’t really connected with or whether the second unit will end up getting involved.

The other thing we see this episode are more of the little fox things but to be honest their role could kind of be filled by a smartphone so I haven’t really paid attention to them as characters.

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All and all, these guys really should pick a fight with someone, anyone, just to keep this from getting too dull.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episodes 4 + 5: These Guys Seriously Need An Actual Strategy

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Review Episode 4:

You know, it sounds like a great plan for protecting time and all, but apparently anthropomorphized swords aren’t particularly good at strategy. After the last arc where they kind of knew the time and place of an attack and they more or less just waited around until it was mostly too late to stop it, at the start of this arc where they know the time and place they mostly just wait around until it is almost too late to stop it. Genius.

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We get more of the silent, surly boy sword this time and I’ll admit, I like his fighting style so I could happily watch more of him, but he gets hurt toward the end of the episode while the others flail about trying to regroup after utterly failing to realise where the danger was going to come from.

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Of course we end on a flashy arrival by another time traveller so I guess we’ll see what happens next, next week.

Review Episode 5:

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See, the enemy actually has a contingency plan and while they didn’t succeed at their overall objective, they certainly made a mess of the city by the end of this so you would assume there would be some fall out in the future. Meanwhile, the show attempts to bring some tragedy to the table but unfortunately that would require me to have made some kind of emotional connection with the character they chose to throw under the emotional bus and to have not have seen it coming from the minute they realised he wasn’t trying to get past them on the bridge.

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Oh well. Once again, some spectacular fight sequences to watch and some pretty good music.


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