OP: 「ヒカリ断ツ雨」 (Hikari Tatsu Ame) by 斉藤壮馬 (Saito Soma)
I’ve never played Touken Ranbu, and don’t intend to. I didn’t even watch that Touken Ranbu Hanamaru thing, so I can’t bring much knowledge about the popular franchise going into Kagetsuki Touken Ranbu. This ‘introducing shows I know nothing about’ thing seems to happen to me a lot, but videogame adaptations, especially those of the wallet-draining mobile phenomena, are a pet topic of mine and even the most uninspired of them make for interesting case studies (here’s looking at you, Kantai Collection). I also think that a perspective like mine is important, because I’m sure there are viewers who are wondering if they can jump into a show about an established franchise, especially for videogame adaptations where they often have to skip over a lot of material. Fans of Touken Ranbu will probably already watch Katsugeki even without my input, and it’s the uninitiated who need a more representative voice.
So, for those of us just browsing the pilots of Summer 2017, why watch Touken Ranbu? Well, obviously it’s a pretty show. This is a ufotable production so crisp action is almost guaranteed. I get the impression that Touken Ranbu knows that is its main appeal and thus jumps straight into it, only pausing once in a while to dump some exposition on the new guy (Enoki Junya) who, conveniently for uninformed viewers, constantly needs to be reminded about the nature of his organisation and his mission. I don’t mind that, for the exposition is not done poorly, and the emphasis in an action really should be on the action, so by all means equip us quickly with the necessary context then get back to the slicing and the the dicing. Take full advantage of the in media res opening—the second act is the juicy action part, and we can dwell on the details of the first act introductions at some later point.
But there does need to be a first act at some point, and Touken Ranbu needs to avoid overreaching before they address it. Right now, in the first episode, I may be willing to follow along with the conflict (because shiny!) but I am far from emotionally invested in it. The villains are simply just shadowy nothings without character or motivation, with no purpose other than to have something for the heroes to fight. And the heroes are simply People With Swords (or whatever), with no purpose other than to fight the villains. At some point those holes will need to be filled, and until then when someone takes a moment to doubt themselves or beat their chests about the tragedy of not being able to intervene in history (undercut immediately by the one little girl who wins the Passing Hero Lottery), I’m not going to care all that much. Your personal inner struggles are just too distant when I don’t know who you are. Characterisation first, drama second.
This is the part where game knowledge would probably be useful, so that I would already have an impression of these character and can dive straight into whatever drama they wish to partake in. Or, perhaps, just an appreciation of medieval Japanese weapons is enough; I’m under the impression that most of the pretty boys are based on some famous sword or another, and a good deal of work was put into this anime to make the weapons look authentic. If you know the history of those, that’s probably a good chunk of characterisation there already. It’d probably also help to know some Japanese history. Touken Ranbu is not a period piece by any means (the talking fox/dog thing with the iPad probably gives that away) but when the time police jump to an era and you can recognise the black ships and feel smart about it.
So yeah, even if don’t care about the game, as long as you have some peripheral interests—in Japanese swords, or history—then I think you’re good to go for Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu. I can’t anticipate what depth it intends to have (if any), but it looks like it’ll be a solid action series, at least. Pretty men fighting in pretty ways should be some entertainment already, and the rest can be a bonus.