Studio: Liden Film Inc.
Director: Koichi Hatsumi
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
I have a fondness for gangster flicks. Back in my days of being a real film snob, I could not get enough of mafia movies, even if they all seem to slur together in retrospect, but I was that guy who could not shut about The Sopranos. I actually enjoyed The Godfather Part III, as ashamed as I am to admit that, and while I’m not the film buff I once was, that enjoyment of gangster media never quite died.
However, there seems to be a sore lack of anime pertaining to gangs, although the reason for that is obvious. Even as gang activity has declined significantly in Japan, that discomfort surrounding the topic remains. There’s some great games about the yakuza, although I wouldn’t consider them to be accurate representations of the fearsome crime syndicates they take their name from. I mean, maybe they do have all that free time for crane games and karaoke, but then what are my tax dollars going to them for?
I also have a deep-founded interest in time travel stories, particularly those seeking to change the future. There’s some fascinating story potential with exploring the concepts of different timelines, minute changes rippling in unexpected ways, and perhaps being unable to affect fate in some aspects. However, I got most of that out of my system when I reviewed Vivy. No, today I am discussing Tokyo Revengers, the time travel gangster genre piece that I’ve been getting a real kick out of the last few weeks.
It’s not as technically impressive as 86, as groundbreaking as To Your Eternity, or as moving as Those Snow White Notes, but it’s undeniably a part of my week I’ve grown to look forward to. So, what makes this weird mash-up of genres and premises work? I’m glad you asked, a hypothetical reason who asks me conveniently timed questions so I can segue into the next part of my review, let’s find out.
Tokyo Revengers begins with our ‘hero’, Takemichi Hanagaki, a washed-up 26-year-old who has accomplished nothing of note in his life, and correctly believes he peaked in middle school. He carries on a meager existence, moving from one failure to another, until one day he sees a newscast reporting that the Tokyo Manji Gang has been implicated in a truck attack that killed Takemichi’s middle school girlfriend Hinata, and her brother Naoto. Takemichi only vaguely remembers his time as an underling in the Tokyo Manji Gang, but he’s unexpectedly shaken by this news.
It’s implied that his sudden grief at Hinata’s death is linked to his attachment to the last good time in his life, rather than him being hung up on a girl he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Still, he’s in a funk for the better part of the day, and pushes it to the back of his mind, until an unknown assailant pushes him in front of a subway. Rather than dying, Takemichi wakes up twelve years prior, right before the painful beating that resulted in he and his friends being turned into the Tokyo Manji Gang’s drudges.
As soon as he gets ahold of things, though, he’s reunited with Hinata, and becomes overwhelmed with the possibility of preventing her death. He meets Naoto shortly after, and takes his chance to change the future by urging Naoto to protect his sister at all costs. After extracting a promise to do so from the boy, Takemichi returns to the present to find that Naoto heeded his advice, but failed regardless. Despite this, Naoto has dedicated his life to preparing for this, and with his help Takemichi will go back into the past and destroy the Tokyo Manji Gang from the inside out.
He learns a few things quickly: he can trigger a time jump by shaking hands with Naoto, and that he can only travel twelve years back to the day. With only this power, this underachiever has to cozy up with the teenagers who will become the most dangerous men in Japan in a few short years. It’s jut not clear if he’s up to the task.
Tokyo Revengers contains a similar character arc to Re:Zero’s Subaru. Takemichi is weak, unambitious, and cowardly; it’s how he has gotten through most of his life without making anything of himself. It isn’t until he gets his power and some encouragement from Naoto that he steels himself and jumps headfirst into his ordeal. The path to saving Hinata is littered with thugs twice his size with a penchant for beating their underlings with baseball bats. Quick reminder that this is a man who couldn’t hack it as a video store clerk, and he’s been tasked with infiltrating and dissecting the most prominent gang in Japan.
So far, its themes are early in the works and not sufficiently developed, although Takemichi has already had to tank three beatings worthy of a hospitalization, and it wasn’t until the second that he finally toughened up and tackled his problems. He’s learning that there is more to succeeding here than being the strongest guy around. It’s simple things like courage, growing a spine, and a bit of discretion. The discretion is where he suffers the most, as he’s managed to endear himself to Mikey, one of the future leaders of the TMG. Mikey enjoys Takemichi’s defiant attitude, but is poised to put him in the ground should Takemichi stray closer to threat than entertainment.
I also enjoy that Hinata is not a passive figure in the story, even though the story quite literally revolves around her having to be rescued. I got the vibe that she’d be a simple damsel in distress when her sole purpose in the first episode was first to die, and then give Takemichi a good pep talk. However, when she believes that Mikey and Draken are bullying Takemichi, she steps in and confronts them. She might have misread the situation, but she demonstrates the strength of her character, and gives Takemichi an important opportunity to prove that Mikey wasn’t wrong in admiring his fighting spirit.
Tokyo Revengers is the rare series I like but have more complaints than praise towards its visuals. The character designs are often good, the Tokyo Manji Gang members are impressive, but there’s just some of the worst designs I’ve seen in a relatively mainstream anime. Anime has never been good at representing advanced age other than gray hair and a single line by the eyes to depict wrinkles, but this is a new low. 14-year-old Takemichi looks older than 26-year-old, and I don’t think that Naoto has aged a single day in the past 12 years.
Hinata’s design is so blatantly unappealing, too. I’m not looking for crazy colors or weird outfits; it’s a fairly grounded story and that doesn’t track. I’m certainly not looking for fan service from this show, but it isn’t a matter of finding the design attractive, but rather aesthetically pleasing. Objectively ugly characters can still be well designed, and they kind of have to be in anime. It’s just that she is such a well-written and important character, it’s just kind of disappointing that she looks like a DeviantArt OC circa 2008.
That’s not to say the design is bad across the board; Mikey, Draken, and everyone in Takemichi’s circle of friends are smartly put together. Somehow the three most important characters get the blandest artwork outside of the background characters. I even like Takemichi’s 14-year-old self, and that’s good as it is where he spends most of his time. It just takes me out of the story whenever I look at his adult self and see a child, and vice versa.
Other than that, the show is well made, though that’s typical from Liden Film. I quite enjoy the music, and I think they’re going to have many chances to play with the conventions of the gangster genre musically. It’s not all rock and hip hop tracks, though, there’s some really lovely music to accompany the series’ most powerful moments. I don’t think I’d have been moved by Mikey’s monologue where he declares his intent to unite delinquents under a single banner if the music accompanying it were not excellently composed and performed. Tokyo Revengers has every appearance of a well-made and aesthetically pleasing anime, but it is held back by a few crucial design choices that detracts from the smart calls it made.
Tokyo Revengers is a fun and satisfying drama with a fair amount of action and heart, and I might rate it better if it were not in a season with so many shows that aren’t just good, but exceptional. The story is serviceable, even if they haven’t explained why shaking hands with Naoto equals time travel. The characters are well-written and engaging, and the presentation is at least adequate. It’s just that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a passably good anime.
That used to not be an issue. My ‘Tests of Time’ series revolves around whether or not a classic anime is actually good, or if it was held to a lower standard because anime was uniformly just worse. Tokyo Revengers would be a good or even great anime if it aired ten or fifteen years ago; it is satisfactory if you go in with meager expectations, but it’s not even the best time travel anime this season.
I’m going to continue watching Tokyo Revengers, as I think it has the potential to be much better than my initial impressions, but it just isn’t the same caliber as its seasonal competition, and hasn’t struck me the way others have. With that in mind, Tokyo Revengers has earned an Entertaining Fine, and tentative commitment to watch it in its entirety. I rarely drop a seasonal show unless it becomes reprehensibly boring or simply reprehensible, so if you want to see how my opinion of the show evolves from here, check e out on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, and follow the Otaku Exhibition for the last few reviews this season. Until next time, thanks for reading.