Touken Ranbu Anime – Blessing, or Just Plain Bad?

[Meta context: First published on September 5th 2017, this post is a deeper response to Karandi’s Katsugeki Touken Ranbu posts (one is linked in the post itself, the other is this one). This post has been edited slightly for consistency – note MagicConan14 has played the Touken Ranbu game before. You can find the original version of the MagicConan14 post on Tumblr here.]

What makes Touken Ranbu, of all the things that could be adapted into a great anime, fall flat on its face and what makes it great?

(Discusses the online game, Katsugeki and Hanamaru, but it’s spoiler-free.)

(I’d originally planned to do a post on Katsugeki from a player’s perspective of the game, but that kept falling through. However, once I responded to this post by Karandi, I realised I had lots to say – I was just approaching it wrong.)

Touken Ranbu (henceforth TR). One of the bigger crazes the fujoshi fanbase of recent years has lapped up. Regardless of whether you think any of its anime are any good, what’s so good about it and what’s so bad about it?

The Good

TR’s a browser-based game, so people know what their favourite bishies look like on a screen. There was a starting movie introduced in 2016 which played out like a 2.5D manga or a vomic, and the only step after that was…an anime.

TR also has an extremely huge fanbase who can dish out lots of money for their favourite bishie. There’s enough precedent on the TR wiki to support this, including stage plays, sword restoration fundraising efforts and even youkan (a sweet jelly-like block).

Furthermore, TR’s centred around fighting an enemy, which due to the fact the enemies don’t require any characterisation at all, could be argued to be one of the easiest genres to get right storytelling-wise – just present new enemies and problems all the time, make sure you’ve got enough suspense and characterisation and voila!

The Bad

The aforementioned characterisation becomes scarce the more you watch of Katsugeki. Why? It could be the staff is trying to squeeze the most out of battle scenes (which could also be argued to contribute to the somewhat rocky pacing, but I digress). It could be that they’re trying to give each of the Katsugeki teams enough spotlight to please fans of each of the 12 swords.

However, I have two potential reasons why this could be the case:

1) The inherent problem with TR is that the game is a journey unique to every player, so naturally people get attached to their favourite and strongest swords. This leads me to my next reason…

2)  The staff are pandering to the fans and their delicate characterisation of the swords.

The Fans

Fan characterisations tend to differ slightly from the actual characterisation – compare, say, the worried and cautious Horikawa of Katsugeki to the one in Hanamaru that follows his “Kane-san” around like a lost puppy. Even in medium-sized fandoms, side characters can get an awful amount of love, and the path of TR means that all swords introduced must get some base level of characterisation. However, trying to build on too many characters in one anime can make things seem somewhat crowded, as seen in Hanamaru. (The first season of Hanamaru doesn’t have every sword in TR, mind you, although it has most of the ones that were introduced at the time of s1.)

Both Hanamaru and Katsugeki are made for fans, who are expected to be familiar with the history, terminology and so on found in the game and in the swords’ backstories. This creates its own set of problems for the prospective Western fans, since there is a large entry barrier for those who want to be involved but don’t live in Japan and/or comprehend Japanese and/or like Japanese history.

Well, Hanamaru’s going to continue coming for another season (slated for winter 2018) because the higher-ups have declared it to be so, but for now, TR fans can rest easy knowing they don’t have one anime to talk about, but two.

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