Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu Episode 10
by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu ?
When Saniwa orders the Second Unit to stay in Bakumatsu Japan even after they've successfully completed their original mission, I first thought the almost all-knowing master sensed that some of his Tōken Danshi needed some time to process their roles and responsibilities. Forcing them to face the emotional aftermath of protecting the big history picture at the cost of accepting the need to sacrifice some of their former masters seemed like a brutal, but possibly necessary way to do this. As it turns out, they simply haven't defeated all of the remaining TRA yet (and history has the nasty tendency to become more unpredictable with every interference). This doesn't really change anything for our heroes. No matter what Saniwa does or doesn't anticipate, when the episode begins with Horikawa questioning his loyalties and contemplating the what ifs of history before we even catch the first glimpse of the Shinsengumi, internal strife is pretty much a given.
In all his conflicting loyalties, the responsibility of defending Ryōma ultimately falls to Horikawa (who doesn't rule out the reformer's death as an option at this point). But the one to encounter their former Shinsengumi master is Izuminokami, and we immediately see why he wanted to spare himself this pain. Even though Horikawa's inner conflict is the episode's focal point, every conversation between Hijikata's two swords leads up to Izuminokami's emotional reaction, well-shot and set up just like Mutsunokami's meeting with Ryōma. No matter how much their encounter affects him, Izuminokami had found his resolve before he saw Hijikata, and even if his current loyalties force him to leave his former master to despair and death, he never wavers (cue dramatic music). He is a leader, after all, just like his beloved master was.
Since Izuminokami can't fight Hijikata directly to demonstrate his resolve, Katsugeki's writers send him an ōtachi for compensation. Nothing like a good boss fight to free the mind of troublesome human feelings! It's also the only fight we see more than a quick sword thrust of in an episode animated more economically than what we've grown accustomed to, where the rest of the action consists mostly of running around in medium shots and close-ups. But with things finally building momentum in the plot and character departments, it's easy to get over some (temporary, I hope) loss of visual flashiness.
Having grown past the differences of their roles in history, both Mutsunokami and Izuminokami try to honor their old masters by focusing on the personality traits they valued most in the people who wielded them. For Mutsunokami, it's Ryōma's life-affirming attitude in the face of death. If Ryōma can fool around with little kids and appreciate the beauty of the plum blossoms even if just leaving his hideout puts him in mortal danger, then Mutsunokami can cherish their encounter as a fond memory without any bitterness. Izuminokami, on the other hand, is honoring Hijikata's memory by trying to act as unflinchingly loyal as the Shinsengumi's vice-commander lived and died, personal feelings and attachments be damned. With that said, Horikawa's conflict – and the fact that he walks away from his unit at the end – could lead to some devastating fallout if Izuminokami truly intends to practice – and demand – Hijikata's interpretation of loyalty (which, in real life, included forcing an old friend to commit seppuku when he wanted to leave the Shinsengumi).
With the entire episode revolving around the memory of a character we only see in passing, it's worthwhile to look at his historical counterpart to speculate what Hijikata himself would have to say about his old swords' actions. After all, he was the kind of man who would rather die in battle for a cause he knew to be long lost instead of considering compromise, because staying loyal to an already overthrown system was more important than his own survival. A man like that might not even approve of being saved by someone betraying their current master, at a point in time where Hijikata himself still fully believed in his fight and drew both pride and a sense of identity from it.
While episode 10's execution lacked the finesse of last week, this is still the show I signed up for.
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