Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is ufotable’s latest show and as one can expect from them, it’s a treat to the eyes.
Remember Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru from fall last year? That was the lighthearted comedy one; here is the more violent, serious version. It’s based on a browser game (like Kantai Collection) and features anthropomorphic swords (similar to the ships being cute girls in KanColle).
The first episode does a good job explaining the plot and some stuff about the world here. The sword men are time travelers under Saniwa. They are tasked with the protection of history by stopping the Time Retrograde Army. These Retrograde folks are also capable of time travel, and they go back in time to try and kill someone important enough to change history. They’re kind of like dead people and may or may not have a human form, as is seen with the first beings Izuminokami fights in this episode and the one he fights at the castle later on. The show is heavily based on real life events in Japanese history, but that shouldn’t be too much of a hurdle in enjoying whatever story they throw at us.
The episode mainly focuses on two swords, Izuminokami and Horikawa, as they take on a mission in 1863. Their missions are difficult and their directions are vague. They’re sent to a big city where there are at least 84 potential targets for the Retrograde Army. Anyone can be attacked and they don’t even know how much time they have because of the vague orders they get.
One interesting thing here is that these sword dudes cannot mess with the events themselves. They have to act in such a way that they don’t end up changing history themselves. If there’s a fire somewhere and if it’s part of history, they can’t do anything because they risk changing history. What if they end up saving someone who was supposed to die and then that person ends up having a major impact on things around them and changes a lot of things? They can’t move recklessly or even based on their sense of justice here, as it can be dangerous.
Horikawa wanted to do something about a fire but Izuminokami stops him because it’s too risky. But a few moments later we end up seeing Izumi saving a little girl from the fire because who cares: little girls shouldn’t die just like that. They had another option here too; show someone die in that fire and neither of the sword boys saving them. It would have added to the kind of things these swords have to face in their line of work. Saving the little girl though, shows that these swords aren’t heartless and they do have this desire to save people and aren’t in this only because of orders from their master.
They have yet to explain which time period they’re all from because on one hand we have swords, and on the other hand we have a weird creature who is like a search engine with video recording capabilities.
When it comes to the animation here, it’s no surprise that everything looks brilliant. Ufotable is always consistent with their visuals; even back in 2005 their Futakoi Alternative looked consistently good with even bursts of amazing animation. Ufotable is really good with their action scenes, hand to hand or sword fighting scenes to be more specific because they tend to go overboard at times with their laser beams or other effects (as in Tales of Zestiria the X) and even go for CGI effects which end up looking kind of weird at times. Their effects end up filling the whole screen with colors and you have no idea what’s going on, or even who is behind the attack.
Their fight scenes are a completely different story though. Their use of CGI backgrounds is amazing as the 2-D characters and the 3-D backgrounds feel in the same universe. They abundantly have rotation scenes where the camera moves around the characters as they fight or even during chase scenes like we see right in the beginning of this episode. When the swords strike against each other, the camera shakes and the screen blurs for a split second to create impact frames, unlike many other studios which tend to have those shockwaves going out from the point of impact.
When two swords clash we see sparks flying everywhere which looks great mainly because of the bright color. There is an abundance of neon blue and red colors emanating from the swinging blades as they cut through the air; blue is for the good guys and red for the bad guys. Ufotable’s smears for blades are usually a distinct color rather than the whole blade being a smear as it moves. The choreography is also pretty neat which is distinctly visible when Mitsunokami and Izuminokami are fighting back to back with the camera moving around them. The movements are smooth and there are some slow motion shots here which they’ve been using quite a lot since God Eater, though they toned it down a bit now.
Ufotable generally has one kind of color scheme nowadays for dark environments where there is a general blue tinge to the surroundings. This was also seen in their Fate/Stay Night UBW and Fate/Zero. They got away from that style with God Eater which also had vastly different outlines compared to their other shows, but Tales of Zestiria the X had the same blue tinge in most of their dark parts.
The backgrounds here are good overall. Ufotable has already shown what they’re capable of when it comes to backgrounds with their Tales of Zestiria, and this show employs more or less the same style.
Their post-processing makes everything blend in perfectly and give things that distinct Ufotable look seen in every show of theirs.
Ufotable has tried out something different here: each of the sword boys has a different character designer to give the effect such games have. In games with an abundance of collectible characters, you sometimes see different character designers for the different characters. They went for the same feel here but, apart from some minor differences, we can’t say if they’ve successfully replicated that style.
Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is probably going to end up being the best animated show this season because of Ufotable. But story-wise, we’re not sure what direction it’ll take. Will it only focus on past events and how the sword boys save history from changing or will it soon somewhat focus on the sword boys and some issues they might have? They can focus on the owners of these swords and how they felt about them; these boys are famous anthropomorphic swords who belonged to some well known historical figures. The characters themselves don’t feel different as they’re all the standard kind of guys you would find in female oriented shows with an abundance of Y chromosomes.
Ufotable really has this show in the bag with the animation part, but as far as other parts go, we’re not sure yet. However, this should be a visual treat at least.
The show has started out with some brilliant animation. Watch the shiny highlights below:
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