The one thing anime fan tend to look for an anime series, is the storyline, the plot. I mean that what the medium is at the first place, it telling us a story, either focus on the event or the character. Either way, what hold a series together is the story. When a series lack of a plot, when it lack of direction, a lot might lose it interest in the series. But what if the series didn’t have a general plot, where we know the direction the series is taking, where we know what they character have to fight. What if the series was offering a plot based on the struggle of the characters regardless of the environment in each they live?
That is how I see the anime series of Touken Ranbu.
Touken Ranbu is card game played on computer, developed by Nitroplus and DDM Games, it feature anthropomorphic sword forged by renown japanese swordsmith.
Their human appearance was given to them by Saniwa (The Sage) and now their new duties is to protect History against the Time Retrograde Army formed by the History Revisionist and make sure History doesn’t get alterated. The game was adapted into two anime series, one produced by the studio Doga Kobo (Himouto! Umaru-chan, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun) called Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru and the second Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu produced by Ufotable (Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Fate/Zero). In Hanamaru we follow the daily life of the Toudan (Touken Danshi/Sword Boy) in the citadel. We are introduced to new sword(s) in each episode. In this series we have a glimpse of what is happening during the mission, but the mission is not the main focus of Hanamaru. To see them doing their duty of protecting the History, we have to watch the Katsugeki version. In this series the focus are the missions, their fights against the Time Retrograde Army, we barely see them in the citadel.
See like that, both seems great series, a funny Slice of Life, and an action oriented Fantasy and yes the series would be awesome if they weren’t missing an important element, the plot. We have a general storyline where we follow the sword fighting, we know their purpose and what they fight for, but we doesn’t have a main villain, we doesn’t know the mastermind behind the action of the Time Retrograde Army, who are the History Revisionist, and we don’t know the main reason why they are doing that. The only thing we know is that the boys have to fight this army to make sure the History flow doesn’t change and/or doesn’t get alterated.
I think this is what hurt the series the most, if both series, Hanamaru and Katsugeki, were given a proper plot the series would have probably be more successful, it would have more appeal.
This is what I was thinking until the second season of Hanamaru began.
After the beginning of the second season, I notice where the focus of both series was put on, the focus wasn’t on the event describe by the story, the focus was on the struggle the sword had to face when they were at the citadel or on mission. Protecting the History is just a background storyline giving them a goal, not the main point of Hanamaru or Katsugeki, the series are about the personal struggle the Swords Warrior have to face through the series.
The Will of Protect their Former Master
In the first season of Hanamaru (air from October 2016 to December 2016), we meet Yamatonokami Yasusada, a Uchigatana that belonged to Okita Souji, a member of the Shinsengumi. Although Yamatonokami know that his new duties are to protect the History, he couldn’t help but think about his beloved former master. The nightmare he does during the series is a recurring element. While in Yasusada deam, his former master get killed, in the reality Okita didn’t died during that raid, however he discover that he was affected by a deadly illness, tuberculosis. More than once Yamatonokami had that dream where he by Okita side, and this is why he wanted to help him during a mission where some of the swords were dispatched during the Ikedaya event.
By doing this, Yasusada risk his own existence, he is slowly disappearing from the Citadel, erased from picture and forgotten by the other Sword Warrior. However his partner, Okita’s second sword name Kiyomitsu Kashuu couldn’t let him change the course of history just like that, even if Kashuu also feel guilty for not being able to protect their master while he was the one Okita had with him at that time, he can’t let Yamatonokami change the History for the sake of their former master. Kashuu was the first sword to arrive in the citadel, he know better than anyone what are their new duties. Being the sword who was there for the longest and Yamatonokami partner, Kashuu had to stop him, even if deep inside he wanted to do the same.
Once the mission over, once the Sword warrior were back to the Citadel, Yamatonokami decide he had to become stronger, for his new master sake, but also to be a sword Okita would be proud of. When he comes back to the Citadel, a bit more than a years later, Yamatonokami is stronger and also found the reason why they have to protect History…but that will wait for the post conclusion.
Yamatonokami Yasusada wasn’t the only one in this situation, other Touken Danshi was also struggle, divided by their love of their new master and the loyalty they had for the former one
Dealing with the Past
Izuminokami Kanesada and Horikawa Kunihiro were two sword belonging to the Vice-Commander of the Shinsengumi, Hijitaka Toshizo, both sword were also together, fighting side-by-side wielded by the skilled hand of Hijitaka. The only moment where they stop being together, was when Hijitaka died. The day before the Vice-Commander sent Izuminokami back to his family and kept Horikawa with him for his last fight, therefore Kanesada wasn’t by the side of his master when the latter pushed his last breath. I don’t know for you, but this must be one of the worst feeling in the world to not being able to protect the one who care about. Due to that Izuminokami, like Yamatonokami and Kiyomitsu, felt guilty for what happen. This guilt, Horikawa Kunihiro felt it and wanted to change it. While Horikawa do care about his new master, he loyalty to his former master and Kanesada was stronger and knowing his partner felt guilty about the tragic end of Hijitaka, he knew what he had to do, interfere with History. Horikawa defected from the second unit in order to follow Hijitaka around until his final day. What he wanted was to make sure Izuminokami stay by their former master side until the very last moment, however his plan didn’t work. This is probably cause he underestimated how Hijitaka cared about his men. You see Hijitaka asked a young man to bring back Izuminokami to his family household, not cause he didn’t want to have his precious sword with him, but because he didn’t want the young man to died in a battle, battle the former Vice-Commander of the Shinsengumi knew he would lose, in other word if Horikawa had succeed to make sure Izuminokami stay by Hijitaka side, the young man would have lost his life, however the former Vice-Commander already made up his mind, which save the young man life.
Of course we are not sure if Hijitaka would have met the same end if Izuminokami would have stay by his side, but we can suppose the young man would have died and the last day of the one that was the Vice-Commander of the renowned of the special police force wouldn’t have made it through the era until now.
Izuminokami Kanesada wouldn’t have any regrets, but the History text box wouldn’t have probably not be written the same way.
Not all the sword deal with their past the same way, if Izuminokami had a bittersweet encounter with his former master, an other sword from the same unit has happy to meet his former master again, however he knew he couldn’t change the fate of the latter and he was in peace with that. Mustunokami knew it wasn’t right to change the course of History and he knew what his new duties were. He was just happy to have be able to see him once again.
Hijitaka precious sword, Izuminokami Kanesada probably found some strength in the attitude Mutsunokami had when he encounter his former master.
The journey of finding strength is a recurring theme when we look through the episode of either the Hanamaru version of the Touken Ranbu or the Katsugeki version. Becoming stronger is the reason why Yamatonokami left in the first season of Hanamaru and it’s was only the resolution the other sword of Okita Souji had made.
Becoming Stronger a Month at the Time
Kashuu Kiyomitsu was like Yamatonokami Yasusada the Uchigatana of Okita Souji who was intstrutor in the special police of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. It was Kashuu that Okita took with him during the Ikedaya Inn event, he was the one by Okita side when the later fall due to his illness
Kashuu and Yamatonokami was both Okita’s dear swords, as Sword Warrior they really worked well together. When Yamatonokami left for his journey, Kashuu felt alone at first, almost every day had a moment reminding him of Yamatonokami.
Kiyomitsu was the first sword arriving to the Citadel, he waited for a long time for Yasusada to come and join him, but now he was once alone again and felt lonely even if he never really admitted. He was wondering when his partner will come back and he didn’t knew what to do in the meantime until Saniwa (the new sword’s master) decide that he will take care of the new sword arriving in the Citadel, which he did. Each time a new sword was summoned to the Citadel, Kashuu was making a tour with them, showing them everything around even if that was meaning going climbing in the mountain and avoiding lumbers throw down a waterfall.
However even if he was pleased to serve his new master, Kashuu was worried, he was wondering why Saniwa wasn’t dispatching him in mission anymore, despite the fact he was training hard every day, he was scared to be abandoned like he was before. He was wondering what was his worth if he was no use to their master. However the reason why Saniwa decide to not dispatch him anymore and to make him responsible of the new sword was because he was stronger than the other, not necessarily as a swordsman, but also as a leader. Saniwa decide to dispatch the other sword instead of Kashuu until they catch up on him.
Knowing this Kashuu was relieve, he knew the master will not discard him and he knew he cared about him. He didn’t have to struggle against his fear to be abandoned, he knew it wouldn’t happen.
All the swords living the Citadel have their own background story, each have their own fear and struggle coming from their old life. Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru and Katsugeki might not have a storyline to make cohesive series, but each sword have its own story and I think this what old the show together. And when we think about it, they do have a goal, one goal. Protecting History, protecting it’s event to make sure no one forgot about it, no one forgot about what happen and who was there when it happen. Just imagine the chaos that would happen if people could change the course of History as they please.
While fighting against themselves, against their fear, while overcoming their struggle, those sword are protecting the memories for their former master.
The Touken Ranbu anime franchise might the have the conventional plot and story development other action/fantasy series or slice of life have, however it surely carry a story, a story tell by its characters, character who have to find their own to become better.
~ Thank you for reading ~