Posted by Lenlo on 29 September 2017 with categories: Anime Reviews, Finished Series: Action, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu, Reviews by Lenlo

Every Anime season we the viewers are shown a number of adaptations, often made after Light or Visual Novels. It’s an already written story with an established base, a smart business decision. In recent years studios have also begun pulling from the Video Game market for their shows. Pieces like the Idolmaster series, Kantai Collection and Akibas Trip. I bring this up not because this is a new event, but because the anime I want to talk about today, Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu, is one such anime.

Ranbu is based off of the online video game Touken Ranbu, along the same lines as Kantai Collection. It focuses on a group of warriors who are the human personification of famous weapons, sent back in time. Their task? To protect history from the forces of the Time Retrograde Army, who seek to change history for an unknown reason. Ranbu focuses in on the 2nd Unit, newly minted and formed from a group who have never worked together before. Together they will face the hordes of the Retrograde Army and defend the past from the future!

Let’s jump in.

Animation/Art

One of Ranbu’s strong points is its art and digital effects. Produced by Ufotable, of course it’s going to look good. Almost every scene has a few frames you could turn into a background, or bits you could rewatch for the animation. A lot of this is augmented by Ufotable’s digital effects team of course, using 3D programs to simulate collapsing buildings and water effects. This is not to say there aren’t low points however. Some episodes have long, drawn out scenes of characters talking in a circle with no interesting back or foreground animation. Character expression, outside the faces, is kept to a minimum.

The net effect however is positive and I label Ranbu one of the better looking anime of the season, even if its not Ufotable’s best work.

Direction

Next let’s talk about the direction. Every camera shot or angle is used almost exclusively for the Rule of Cool. They try to do a number of 3D tracking shots, rotating around a character or traveling with the movement in a fight. For the most part these work. They have issues and aren’t perfect, but they don’t detract from the experience at all. The real issue with directing comes when it’s trying to be emotional. When trying to do a story based emotional moment, Ranbu has a habit of always having the character looking downcast, shadows over their face, with the camera pressed right up to them. It’s a ham-fisted method of telling us something emotional is occurring. There are some shots interspersed that work quite well, though for the sake of not spoiling you I won’t detail them.

All in all, I would give Ranbu a passing grade with direction. Nothing special, but it didn’t hurt the performance.

Setting

This is where we start to see some cracks in Ranbu’s otherwise above average shell. The setting and idea itself is rather interesting, I have a fondness for time-travel series. Especially ones that deal with the consequences of meddling in the past. The swords turned into living warriors bit is confusing and never truly explained, but as they are sent to the same era as their old wielders, it makes for some of the best character moments in the anime, so I will let it pass. The problem comes when Ranbu itself starts disregarding it’s own rules about the world. In the very first episode Kane, one of our two leads, states that they cannot alter history even if it means saving an innocent. Yet moments later, Kane wades into a burning building to save a child who would have died and casually comments that if it changes history, he will just come back and finish the job. It destroys any consequences of being a time travel story!

Story

As for the story itself, it’s acceptable, but not necessarily good. It focuses on our two leads Kane and Horikawa, who were both wielded by Hijikata, the leader of the Shinsengumi during its fall. Their new master Saniwa places Kane in charge of the 2nd Unit and they are sent to different times to stop the Retrograde army, a faceless group of zombie time samurai with absolutely no character to them. On these missions we see them grapple with the effects of their war against the Retrograde and their own feelings toward history. As the series goes on rather than scaling up the conflict, it becomes more and more character focused. At least until the final episode where everything is cranked up to 11 and throws the story out of the window.

I am going to have to spoil the ending here, as there are some egregious errors Ranbu makes during it. Go to the next section on Characters if you want to avoid it.

Ranbu’s ending is both good and bad. It tries to move into a small character story focused on Kane and Horikawa, as the latter tries to save their original wielder Hijikata from his battlefield death. It works well at the start, clearly outlining the motivations and reasons what they are doing. The characters are placed on a collision course. When it comes time to resolve the conflict however, Horikawa’s convictions disappear. He spent 3 years, refusing to go back to the future and just waiting in real time, putting this plan together. Kane comes in, destroys it, and he has no issues with it! He just gives up! The entire end plot is thrown away in favor of a 12 vs 1000 Retrograde final fight. It’s a pretty fight, but disappointing story wise.

Characters

Finally, let’s talk about the characters. Most of them have a single defining trait, making them caricatures more than characters. There are only 3 characters worth our time in Ranbu, those being Mutsunokami, Kanesada and Horikawa. Each of them have episodes dedicated to them, why they fight and how they view history. They get the most fleshed out over the season. This is acceptable, as Ranbu has far too many characters and only 13 episodes to do anything with them. But aside from Mutsunokami, the characters themselves just aren’t interesting. Aside from a single twist near the ending, which was done well, you know what these characters are going to do every time. They are predictable.

To close, if what you want is a pretty, well animated action series, it’s hard to go wrong with Ranbu. It’s not long, it has just enough story to give events meaning and it’s filled to the brim with sword fights. If however you are looking for something meatier, with more story, you probably will not enjoy Ranbu. The series doesn’t follow the rules it puts down and wraps up plot for the sake of action.

 

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