Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu
Episode 4

by Anne Lauenroth,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu ?

The Second Unit's first mission after coming together as a team takes them to Edo in the spring of 1868, straight into the Meiji Restoration. Five years have passed in history, but it's probably just been a few days for them. They arrive just when Edo Castle is about to be surrendered to the pro-Imperials under Saigō Takamori – peacefully according to history, less so if the Time Retrograde Army (TRA for short) gets their way.

While the show is getting lazier at exposition, with sentences like "Let's recap our current mission," or "Like I mentioned on our way to Edo, our mission is..." (spoken within seconds of one another, no less), the mechanics behind exactly how history has changed are still a mystery to me. Izuminokami (Kanesada) and his unit are tasked with making sure the meeting between Saigō and Katsu Kaishū takes place as recorded. Early on, Konnosuke confirms history still being on track. So far, so good. Then, without any visible interference by the TRA, someone who shouldn't be there according to future records cooks up a plot to change said future. It's only then that the TRA shows up to enable the plot already put in place by the people of the era to play out as planned. Given that, if no-one from the future showed up to either prevent or enable these variations to the script, history would appear to be a much more fluid affair than expected. It seems the TRA's mission isn't so much to change history themselves, but to nurture and support the alternative possibilities that always existed. For what goal, we can only guess.

History is also surprisingly flexible when it comes to ignoring certain events to raise the stakes. When Izunokami talks about the certainty of war (as opposed to the current peace) if they were to fail, it seems the fact that the Boshin War was still going on at that very moment was too minor to choose less dramatic wording.

Fortunately, the question of personal motive proves to be a recurring one. It's obviously among the more interesting conflicts the setting allows for, especially in cases where the necessary resolve for the swords to complete their mission might clash with the convictions of their original masters. Both Horikawa (Kunihiro) and Izuminokami are preoccupied with the question of what Hijikata died trying to protect, hoping to understand his resolve to inspire their own. But what did Hijikata want to protect at this point in time, when he chose to go down with the shogunate, after there was nothing left of it to protect besides the idea of an old order whose time was already over? For someone entrusted with protecting the future, there's no inspiration to be found in the actions of a man who chose to die with the past, making Yagen's approach to finding his own sense of resolve much more inspiring.

This week brings us a boss fight with a demon wielding an ōtachi – longer and older than the ever-present katana, and much more rare. As we're only in episode 4, Izuminokami's team settles for stalling instead of winning the fight against a superior enemy, which didn't just give us a dramatic you shall not pass get through moment but also works nicely to foreshadow future challenges without letting our heroes appear too overpowered too early on in the story. In the end, Tonbokiri and Horikawa's bravery isn't enough to let the other two get to the episode's true hero, Yagen, in time. What saves the day is once again conveniently timed intervention from above in the form of a new addition to the team. Even if fans are probably happy to see this character to be introduced next week, reinforcements popping up just when things are about to get hairy kills the tension, no matter how stylish his entrance was. His sword is definitely longer than a katana, and he's firmly established in the OP as our winter guy, who I falsely identified as Saniwa before.

Katsugeki's visuals continue to impress with interesting, lively shot compositions and lavish backgrounds that make me wish we would get a few more daylight scenes. Yagen's fight on the ship featured some particularly kinetic choreography, highlighting his unique style and mobility. The way he took the samurai's sword only to have it nicked immediately by his supernatural opponent's weapon was a small dynamic highlight.

Now that the full team has been assembled, it remains to be seen if the show will find enough to do with them to tell a story beyond these pretty but only partly connected events.

Rating: C+

Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Amazon's Anime Strike.

Anne is a translator and fiction addict who writes about anime at Floating Words and on Twitter.

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