The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Tokyo Revengers ?
What is this?
Watching the news, Takemichi Hanagaki learns that his girlfriend from way back in middle school, Hinata Tachibana, has died. The only girlfriend he ever had was just killed by a villainous group known as the Tokyo Manji Gang. He lives in a crappy apartment with thin walls, and his six-years-younger boss treats him like an idiot. At the height of his rock-bottom life, he suddenly time-leaps twelve years back to his middle school days. To save Hinata, and change the life he spent running away, hopeless part-timer Takemichi must aim for the top of Kanto's most sinister delinquent gang. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
I'm of two minds on Tokyo Revengers. On one hand, I really do love delinquent anime – it's an aesthetic I've always found fascinating and one that's predictably fallen out of vogue since its heyday in the 80s and 90s. So having a new one is a pretty cool treat in 2021. On the other, I'm almost always wary of these kinds of time-leap stories. There are just so many of these that wallow in nostalgia for childhood or teenage years that I find alienating and boring. I do remember what it was like to be a teenager, and while not paying utility bills was nice, most of the experience absolutely sucked ass and I wouldn't wish reliving it on my worst enemy.
Thankfully Revengers seems to agree. When some twist of time sends Takemichi back to his 8th grade days, he spends a good chunk of the episode realizing that being a teenager is bullshit. Most evidently he recognizes with hindsight that his friends – him included – were all painfully pretentious idiots playing at being delinquents with zero ability to back it up. The number of mortified grimaces he produces this episode is just delightful, and probably would have sold me on this series on its own. Then Takemichi and his buddies get their asses royally kicked by actual gang members, and he realizes not only how in over their heads they all were, but that this mistake and his reaction to it were the turning point that sent him spiraling through life unable to commit to anything. And that's where the pathos of Revengers finally grabbed me.
That said, I do still have some hangups. Mainly the conceit that Takemichi's goal is to save his middle school girlfriend from dying in the future. For one, it reminds me a whole lot of ERASED and I can only pray Revengers doesn't fall flat on its ass the way that show did. More pertinently, Hinata is the only female presence in the show so far, and relegating her immediately to a damsel before we even see her face is pretty sucky. There's some hope in the fact that Takemichi's first time-leap ends up saving her brother, Naota, so there's at least a chance she'll get to become a character on par with everyone else in the OP.
Those worries aside, this is still a strong opener, and it leaves me largely positive for what's to come. The high concept and unique setting make it stand out in an already busy season, and with any luck there'll be a resonant story to go with it.
There's absolutely nothing original about the concept behind Tokyo Revengers. A loser adult with no career and a disappointing social and romantic life gets a chance to do things over from a more formative age, saving a girl from his past in the process? Okay, maybe that last part is only ERASED, but do-over stories are probably the second most popular kind of reincarnation-based series.
That's what we have here. Takemichi Hanagaki's life is a mess, in a way that will probably be pretty relatable to a lot of adults watching: his apartment is tiny with paper-thin walls and demanding neighbors, his retail-job manager is younger than him but yells at him all the time, and he has no friends or romantic prospects. The only girl he ever loved, his middle school girlfriend Hinata, was just on the news as the victim of gang violence along with her younger brother. When he gets pushed in front of a train, he wakes up twelve years earlier, when he was a delinquent in the second year of middle school.
However, there are a few things that set Tokyo Revengers apart. It always seems, with second-chance shows, that the main characters have crystal-clear memories of their life back at the point of reincarnation. Not so with Takemichi. He sees himself in the mirror and his first reaction isn't that he's gone back, or a determination to change things; it's that he looks ridiculous. As he talks with his friends, his memories of this moment in his life are hazy at best. They refer to his cousin's gang, and his main memory is of that cousin being a petty bully. It's a much more believable approach than him constantly going, “Ah, I remember this.”
It's a good sign of strong character writing that carries through the whole episode. One of the best moments of the episode is when he goes to see his girlfriend Hinata after getting his ass kicked. It's only a brief scene, but it communicates so much about their relationship and her personality that it becomes abundantly clear why he loved her so much. I am concerned that Hinata, who is so caring and strong-willed, will end up as more of an object to be rescued than an actual character with agency, especially with the end-of-episode twist, but I'm willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt to start with.
Tokyo Revengers is a solid reminder that execution trumps originality, and that strong characters bolster even the weakest of premises. Even if delinquent gang action isn't your bag, you should consider giving it a try.
Man, I love it when a show can surprise me in a good way. After a few minutes of Tokyo Revengers' premiere, I wasn't sure of what to think of it. A depressed, lonely, and self-deprecating 25-year-old gets pushed in front of a train and ends up reincarnated as his would-be-delinquent teenaged self from twelve years prior? Okay, sure, that's a familiar enough take, the idea that you'd get to do it all differently if only you could go back knowing what you know as an adult. I definitely appreciated that Tokyo Revengers stuck with having its hero relive his regular life, and not get dropped into the body of a perverted baby from another world or something, but I still wasn't sold on either the story itself, or Takemichi as a hero.
It didn't take long for Tokyo Revengers to win me over, though, starting with Takemichi's appropriately gobsmacked response to his situation. He immediately realizes how lame he and his friends were, trying to act and dress all tough as they attempted to play at being a real gang. His cousin, who he thought was a big deal at the time, is really nothing more than a lackey to the real delinquents in town, the Manji Gang. When Takemichi's crew start jonesing for a fight, his fully grown brain can't help but freak out at the utter stupidity of the whole act. I mean, you get punched the wrong way just one time, and you're freaking dead, pal. Takemichi's had enough of dying for one day, thank you very much.
I was also wary about the romance angle, especially since it seemed like such an afterthought. We learn about how Takemichi's middle-school girlfriend, Hinata, died as a bystander of the Manji Gang's fighting in 2017, but Takemichi barely seemed to care. The show once again pleasantly surprised me by working that apathy into the writing and acknowledging how much it spoke to Takemichi's sad state that he couldn't even remember what his only girlfriend ever looked like by the time she died. Only now, by getting to appreciate her as the caring person that she was back when his younger self took Hinata for granted, does Takemichi realize everything he's let slip away from him as time has gone by.
If the show had gone for the straightforward route of having Takemichi just start his life over, I might still have had problems with it, because it could never not be weird to have the fully grown Takemichi courting his thirteen-year-old ex. I much prefer the direction the show actually takes, where Takemichi encounters Hinata's little brother, Naoto, and manages to convince him of the whole time leap scenario which ends up saving Naoto's life when Takemichi wakes up in his present day body in 2017.
Takemichi was able to save Naoto, you see, but Hinata is still dead, so the two will have to work together to change time even more until she is safe. Now that's a premise I can get behind! I wish that Tokyo Revengers had a little more polish, visually speaking, but with a hero I can root for and a time-hopping adventure that promised plenty of twists and turns, I'm more than happy to give the show's middling visuals a pass (for now, at least).
Tokyo Revengers didn't really grab me until the last few minutes. That's when we get to the heart of the story – that, despite having traveled back in time after he was hit by a train, Takemichi was only able to save one of the Tachibana siblings, and it wasn't his girlfriend Hinata. This sets up the story to take an ERASED-like tack, potentially sending Takemichi back in time again and again to save Hinata and possibly his other friends from middle school.
Unfortunately, getting there feels like a bit of a slog. Not entirely, though, because there's still a healthy amount of trying to figure out what's going on and putting all of the pieces together. (This episode gave me the mystery I wanted from Pretty Boys Detective Club.) This requires remembering what the TV said at the beginning of the episode, specifically which gang war caused Hinata's death at the less-than-tender hands of Truck-kun. Could the Tokyo Manji Gang also be behind Takemichi's fall onto the tracks? It seems possible, because when he goes back in time to 2005, the year he was in the eighth grade (middle school year two), we learn that he and his buddies weren't the badasses they thought they were and picked a fight with the wrong ninth graders. Since those ninth graders went on to become the feared entity known as the Tokyo Manji Gang, and since Takemichi specifically moved away after graduating middle school to get away from them, that feels like a real possibility.
And if it isn't them specifically, it could very well be one of his old friends, resentful that Takemichi escaped lifelong thughood.
This raises some interesting possibilities for who else Takemichi might save or lose in his attempts to prevent Hinata's death. How would things have been different if he hadn't let his friends go to the meetup that got them in the gang's sights? Can he go back and prevent that, too? Naoto, Hinata's younger brother, is now a police officer after having met with Takemichi in an altered past, so he may be in the position to really map out Takemichi's trips to the past – assuming, of course, that he can go back to precisely when he wants to. Will he have to die each time? Right now I'm guessing yes, but that comes with a whole set of issues on its own. However this pans out, it is not going to be easy – at least not for Takemichi.
While the character designs are a little off-putting (and tread dangerously close to Escaflowne noses in profile) and the rest of the visuals are just okay, this could be a show to keep an eye on. Depending on how it plays its cards, it could be an interesting exploration of what might have been – and what it takes to get there.
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