I have issues with Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu. I honestly have no idea how UFO Table managed to take such a fantastic premise partnered with stunning animation and make it so incredibly dry.
This is my first (and probably last) experience with the Touken Ranbu franchise. I have never played the game, nor seen the other anime adaption.
It didn’t take long to get the gist of it. The two dudes with unique designs were fighting baddies to prevent history from changing. Later on, you learn what time period they’re in and that they aren’t human, but famous weapons. And . . . that’s it.
Why are the baddies trying to change history? I don’t know. Why is Hijikata’s sword now a pretty man. I don’t know. What are those fox things? Still don’t know. What on earth do the baddies have to do to change history, since killing people, saving people, and burning cites to the ground apparently doesn’t change anything. Will anyone ever get a personality? Answer: not really. Will this plot ever get a direction? Answer: no.
I would’ve given this anime a stupid high score if it just got rid of it’s thin excuse for a plot and bland characters and just left the stunning back drops of historical Japan and beautiful nature scenes. UFO Table has never written a character I’ve cared for, but I always keep coming back for more blandness because of flashy fight scenes and beautiful backdrops (of which Katsugeki has plenty of).
The problem isn’t the animation (though, I still think UFO Table’s characters tend to look a bit plastic and lack facial emotions), it’s (almost) everything else.
Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki was easily the standout character of the main group. His genki personality helped lighten up an anime that otherwise took itself too seriously. His connection to Sakamoto Ryoma (of which I am a major fan), also helped. The episode where he helped Sakamoto survive the assassination attempt at the Teradaya Inn was easily the highlight of the series (but it only really hits you in the gut if you know Sakamoto was assassinated about a year later). The other characters were too briefly introduced (all of Unit 1), too angsty and inconsistent (Izuminokami Kanesada), or too bland (everyone else).
Izuminokami Kanesada was an especially frustrating character. Initially, he insisted that everyone “preserve history,” even if it meant letting someone die. Such a hardline approach would’ve made an interesting character. But he breaks his own rule in episode one, saving someone, and then proceeds to continue to take action that would change history (saving other people, talking to people, etc . . .) all of the while maintaining the angst level of a character that did stick to his rule. He also doesn’t seem to know the rules, telling the viewer that people are sent out in groups of two to stay under the radar, but that’s clearly untrue as far more than two people act as a group for other than the first few minutes of the series.
If the plot or world-building or even art or tone are interesting enough, it’s easy to overlook bland characters. But Katsugeki doesn’t offer up much.
The plot has no direction. The characters are given vague orders to “preserve history,” and they follow it. No one even takes any interesting action until the last few episodes and any drama about how to go about preserving history falls flat because people live and die without having any effect on the timeline whatsoever.
There’s also never an end goal, just beat up on random baddies until (for some unexplained reason) they give up on one time period and jump to another. Why they also just keep attacking Japan instead of a country that might mess history up even more like Rome or China, is also never explained.
There is also no explanation about the historical significance of the events the main characters are trying to protect. Thankfully, I knew who Katsu Kaishu, Saigo Takamori, and the others were, but if I hadn’t, I would’ve been even more lost about why the characters are protecting these people in the first place. Also, the episode featuring Sakamoto Ryoma packs a far more serious punch knowing he died about a year after the events in the episode took place - something the show hardly alludes too and not until the end.
The lack of character depth, world building, plot, and explanation about anything makes it rather clear that Katsugeki isn’t interested in telling a good story. All anime try to make money, but I’d appreciate it if they tried to do so by telling a solid story instead of promoting a video game and pretty-boy sword figures.