The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Meiji Tokyo Renka
How would you rate episode 1 of
Meiji Tokyo Renka ?
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How was the first episode?
Meiji Tokyo Renka slots neatly into this season's “by the books otome adaptation” folder, quickly introducing us to modern day teenager Mei Akazuki before tossing her back into the prewar Meiji era. There, she runs into a wide array of famous historical novelists and playwrights and officers, all of whom are dashingly handsome, and all of whom seem to take a particular interest in Mei. After bouncing from introduction to introduction at a fancy gala, Mei accidentally reveals to a supernatural inspector that she can see ghosts… but is protected by the surgeon-author Mori Ougai, who suddenly claims she's his fiance!?!
Yeah, the big plot beats of this premiere are not likely to surprise you. Otome game adaptations have a habit of rushing through their hot dude introductions, and “I was suddenly transported to a historical land of hunks” is also pretty common to the genre. So what helps Meiji Tokyo Renka stand out?
First off, it's a pretty good-looking production in all respects. The animation isn't the most fluid and the character designs are genre-default, but the direction throughout this episode felt purposeful and at times quite evocative. The show has generally solid layouts, good color design, and snappy pacing, meaning it's pleasant enough simply to spend time in its world.
Personally though, I found this episode's biggest strength by far to be its tongue-in-cheek comedy. Meiji Tokyo Renka is aware of its own adherence to genre conventions, but doesn't act on that with limp “oh my god, this is just like an otome game” gags - instead, it constantly undercuts the seriousness of its characters' affectations with its own flippant, energetic tone. Mori Ougai in particular is ridiculous, and the show knows he's ridiculous - though he plays the part of the gallant, overwhelming prince well enough, the show often tips him over into outright farce with lines like “BEHOLD! We will be arriving shortly,” or “Now, little squirrel, enjoy yourself to the forest.” And Mei, for her part, seems to find this behavior more baffling than romantic. As suitors throw themselves at her from every direction, Mei doggedly pursues her own goal - eating delicious roast beef.
All in all, Meiji Tokyo Renka's solid aesthetics and charming sense of humor help it stand out in a pretty crowded genre. The plot beats are probably too familiar and arbitrary for this one's appeal to reach outside genre enthusiasts, but if you're looking for an otome adaptation with a historical twist, Meiji Tokyo Renka offers a fine first episode.
Reverse harem shows fall pretty far outside of my area of interest, and my history nerd credentials are limited when it comes to art, so the odds of me jumping on board with a reverse harem series about Meiji-era artists weren't especially high. To Meiji Tokyo Renka's credit, though, this premiere managed to hold my interest despite the fact that I'm nowhere near its target demographic. That's largely due to its avoidance of common genre pitfalls: the main character actually has something resembling a personality, her potential suitors aren't overly obnoxious, and the visuals are good enough to get the job done. Score one for competent writing and production.
This premiere's most impressive feat is that it makes an obvious viewer-insert protagonist seem not just tolerable, but even vaguely compelling. Mei's “I hear dead people” backstory is handled fairly well, as the opening scenes present her social isolation with just enough of a sense of humor to keep the situation from descending into melodrama. Her reaction to the time travel situation is similarly well-balanced, finding a comfortable middle ground where she's believably confused yet still able to think and act for herself. Simply put, Mei sells the premise of an ordinary person caught in an extraordinary situation a little better than the average harem or reverse harem lead, and that's about all she needs to do at this point in the story.
The guys are less impressive at the moment, largely because they feel too confined to their archetypal roles. As with any show about historical figures, their quirks are probably more amusing if you know their real-world backstories, but between the forgettable character designs and the one-note personalities, I'm just not finding anything to latch onto with these dudes. As for the whole business of time travel and spirit-catching, it feels as though we haven't reached the meat of the story just yet. A lot will ultimately depend on what Mei's role in all this ends up being; hopefully she'll be an active participant in any future ghost-busting activities.
Barring any big twists, Meiji Tokyo Renka looks to be a decent if unremarkable option for genre aficionados and an easy skip for most other folks. If you're into this particular time period or are just looking for a reverse harem series where the heroine isn't a total blank slate, it's worth a look. Otherwise, you can move right along without any fear of missing the next big thing.
What anime season these days would be complete without at least one reverse-harem series? Meiji Tokyo Renka fits that role quite well, with protagonist Mei being whisked away from her time into the past to encounter various bishonen. Like most such heroines, she's pretty much at the mercy of the charming guys who surround her. Naturally she also has some memory issues (though thankfully she isn't a full amnesiac) and a special ability that's already having some side effects before the episode ends. Her displacement into another time adds another layer to her fish-out-of-water situation.
As such fare goes, this first episode is executed pretty well. The potential love interests are all suitably dashing, Mei is attractive but unassuming enough to easily serve as an insert character, and it finds just the right balance of light humor and drama. Sadly, Mei doesn't show any signs of being as strong or interesting as standout heroines like Bailey Ton from Phantom in the Twilight; she doesn't establish much identity beyond being a loner who adores roast beef, but this series clearly isn't out to break any molds. It mostly just aspires to be basic reverse-harem fun, and there's nothing wrong with that. Technical merits aren't special but aren't bottom-of-the-barrel either.
At least the series is playing at one potentially intriguing angle. All of the bishonen introduced so far are important historical figures, but they're not Shinsengumi, samurai, or ninja for once. Except maybe for the mysterious magician, every one of them is an influential figure in Japanese art and literature during the Meiji Restoration (the turn of the twentieth century); for instance, Rintaro Mori (aka Ogai Mori) was both the youngest man ever to become a certified doctor in Japan and a key figure in revitalizing and modernizing Japanese literature, while Shunso Hishida was famous for cat paintings and developing innovations in Japanese art styles. Lafcadio Hearn (aka Yakumo Koizumi) was an American writer famous for collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, presumably getting added to work with the angle that Mei can see spirits They weren't all actually young men at the same time, but that's immaterial to the appeal of this concept. Prince Nicholas II of Russia visiting Japan is also an actual historical event, which would put the date of the story firmly as 1891. Given what happens to Nicholas on this trip (an assassination attempt that left him permanently scarred), I have to wonder if the series is going to work that scenario into the story.
In other words, there's at least some draw here for people who aren't enamored with otherwise standard reverse harem fare.
I'll admit that this kind of show is like catnip to me, not so much because of the reverse harem genre, but because it takes historical and literary figures and throws them together in a weird history/fantasy/romance mash-up. That Meiji Tokyo Renka also includes several of the authors present in Bungo Stray Dogs (Mori Ougai, Izumi Kyoka) makes this even more fun, as does the simply fact that it doesn't limit itself to authors – we also have an artist (Hishida Syunso), an actor (Otojiro Kawakami), a folklorist (Lafcadio Hearne), and, of course, Hajime Saito, here going under the name Goro Fujita. It's enough to make any history nerd either scream in horror or very happy.
The story itself is a blend of typical otome game adaptation and a few late-genre additions. Heroine Mei is still at this point largely confused and trying to figure out what's going on, which makes her less willing to stand up for herself than, for example, last year's Ton in Phantom in the Twilight. But she's also not a wilting lily, actively trying to figure out what's happened to her while attempting to fend off misunderstandings from too-enthused guys like Hearne and Kawakami. How she'll react to Mori's assertion that she's his fiancée remains to be seen, but considering that he saved her from Fujita's blade, she may be more willing to go along with him. Naturally each of the guys (barring Fujita) is instantly interested in Mei, each for their own reasons, although Lafcadio Hearne being thrilled that she's heard of him and his work is the most entertaining and a good nod to the recognition he was trying to attain as a foreign scholar.
Less good is the art, which feels very bland for this sort of show. While some attempt has been made at historical accuracy for the clothing, the character designs are painfully similar to almost any other show with hot color-coded guys, although I do like that Mei is fairly normal-looking and her school uniform isn't anything too ornate. The animation is serviceable at best, something you can really tell watching the kick-line of Mei's romantic options in the opening theme. (I do like the jazzy song, however.)
Basically this is very much an introductory episode, just interested in getting characters introduced and the story off the ground. The supernatural elements and Mei's isolation do set it apart to a degree, but it isn't likely to appeal to anyone not already fond of the genre. If you're a fan of history-based reverse harems, however, definitely check this out.
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