The Sword, The Confession, and the Betrayal

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode Review Title Image

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episodes 6 + 7 Review

I’m almost glad for these two episodes. Mostly, because as Ning says to Yin during episode 6, she’s more or less tired of hearing the same argument over and over.

Now Zhao makes no sense as a character. Okay, superficially he does but his whole desire for power from the people who destroyed his home doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Nor does his expecting that Yin is just going to go with him. And if he honestly thinks being friends with the Empress will keep him alive and in power he clearly hasn’t been paying all that much attention given quite clearly people fall out of power as quickly as they gain it.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 7 Zhao and Yin

But I’m getting this all out of order. The group of rebels Yin and Ning have hooked up with formally invite them to rebel and of course Ning is ready to go and Yin is a wet-blanket. This leads to a touching sisterly moment where Ning finally admits she lied to Yin about Zhao wanting to see her at the dance but Ning keeps to herself the whole part where apparently Yin is some reincarnated soul with a destiny – what can we say, sisters?

Almost immediately after this, they are rafting down a river to join up with some other rebels when Zhao’s squad of really creepy contraptions attacks them. The trio are reunited, end up taking a swim, and Yin and Zhao kind of have a heart to heart while in their undergarments sitting by a fire with Ning knocked out and recovering.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 7 Yin, Ning and Zhao

This is of course after we’ve seen Zhao making happy plans with the empress to build a grave for these two and the villagers for most of the two episodes. Now he’s insisting Yin come back with him because he has power and for some weird reason he doesn’t understand why she might object. Ning on the other hand, knows exactly what she’s always wanted and when Yin doesn’t take Zhao’s hand, Yin is right there and ready to go.

It is almost as if Yin cursed herself when she hugged Ning in episode 6 and said they would be together forever. She should just be happy it wasn’t actually a death flag she raised.

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Anyway, Xuan Yuan remains an interesting watch though it is riddled with issues. I can’t actually imagine this having a happy ending so I’m preparing to watch all the characters die tragically. If anyone ends up surviving that would just be a happy surprise at this point.

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Karandi James
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Katanagatari Series Review: A Story of a Strategist and Her Sword on the Fetch Quest of a Life-time.

Overview:

Togame is a self-proclaimed strategist and in order to gain favour with the shogunate, she seeks out the aid of an exiled warrior to help her collect 12 legendary swords. The warrior is long since dead but she does meet his children and recruits Yasuri Shichika, a swordsman without a sword, to help her on her quest.

Review:

On the surface, Katanagatari is as simple as it gets. There are 12 episodes and 12 swords so pretty much each episode is the story of Togame and Shichika travelling to a location, confronting the person with the sword, and eventually collecting the sword. However, despite the fairly simple plot structure, this show manages a number of interesting developments, and with its striking visuals and interesting characters manages to keep the story feeling fresh from start to finish (also throw in a healthy dash of truly awesome music that gives the show a fairly unique tone).

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I’ll actually get my major criticism of the show out of the way before I talk about all the reasons why you should stop reading this review and just go and watch the show. The biggest problem this anime has is that the villains for the most part are completely throw-away characters. The sword owners are all eccentric and interesting in their own ways (though we barely get to know most of them before the sword is collected and the characters have moved on), but there is also a troop of ninjas who have been hired to stop them and all of these characters have increasingly ridiculous outfits and abilities and really don’t add anything other than a few eccentric fights to a show that already has enough. Likewise, there’s a Princess plotting against Togame and while she’s needed for the final plot to work, for the majority of the run time she is an irritating distraction from the more interesting story that seems to be going on.

With that criticism out of the way, let’s get to everything that makes this show amazing.

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First and foremost, from the very opening scene this anime looks unique. I think it is quite beautiful in some ways and bizarre in others, but it was just such a visual pleasure to watch. The outfits, the hair, the trees and scenery were all just wonderful to look at and while there is always a rich array of colours on the screen it never quite crosses the line to becoming an eye-sore or a distraction in the way that shows like No Game No Life occasionally manage. The character eyes were probably the only part I didn’t really think were pretty to look at, but even then they were striking and memorable.

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Once you get past the look of the show, the fetch quest these characters are on to collect the 12 deviant swords is wonderful in its simplicity and yet each sword has such an individual feel that every fight and every sword collection is distinct. The swords are classed as deviant for a range of reasons, but essentially they come in all shapes and sizes (and one of them is clearly a pair of guns and not a sword at all). Their handlers are equally diverse and they all have their reasons for not letting go of their sword. They present an array of challenges for Shichika and Togame to overcome over the course of the series so while the basic arrive, find sword, fight for sword, gain sword pattern is followed almost pedantically you can’t help but want to see what the next location and sword will bring.

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The show also delights in teasing its audience. Whether it is with the dialogue as the characters discuss a catch phrase for the hero, that only gets delivered once with the appropriate context to support it but gets used numerous times to humorous effect, or with the plot simply deviating from what is expected while still ultimately returning to the path we expected but not in the way we expected, it keeps you guessing where it will go next. A masterful fight between Shichika and one of the deviant blade owners took place almost exclusively off-screen and we only heard about the fight at all in a discussion over dumplings at the end of the episode. The episode in question had spent almost the entire time showing us Shichika’s sister fighting off some ninjas who had decided to try and kidnap her, which was highly entertaining, character revealing about the sister, and set up a future development that Shichika would have to deal with.

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And that of course brings us to the characters. The best part of this show is the relationship that develops between Shichika and Togame. Given it begins in episode 1 with her boldly asking him to fall in love with her because otherwise she couldn’t trust him and Shichika basically agreeing because he’s a very simple person (at least in the beginning), the actual relationship developments between them are quite subtle at first but by the end you really do see how their journey together has changed both of them. Shichika also has a great moment with his sister, Nanami, midway along in the story that also pushes his growth as a character.

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Basically if you want a classic adventure story with some decent action sequences, a bit of humour, and some very off-the-wall characters thrown in, you will absolutely love Katanagatari. There’s a few moments that might break your heart but basically this is a fun ride from start to finish and a show which I will quite happily return to watch again and again. Just a heads up (because I didn’t get one), while there are only 12 episodes, these are 40 minutes episodes so it works out to be about the length of a standard 24 episode anime.

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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Series Review: Why Details Are Important

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

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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Karandi James.

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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 12 – Personal Crisis Trumps Greater Narrative

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?

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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Karandi James.

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

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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Karandi James.

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