Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu
Episode 5

by Anne Lauenroth,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Katsugeki! Tōken Ranbu ?

Having only just joined the second unit after his flashy entrance, Tsurumaru gets to partake in his new comrades' last Bakumatsu fight – a sea battle against a backdrop of photorealistic water that only sometimes clashes with the 2D designs – before being called back to the Citadel after our heroes... failed? Huh. Color me interested.

The episode's first half was plagued by the characters' tendency to constantly restate the obvious, with Izuminokami being the biggest offender. Yes, we can see that Tsurumaru arrived; we've already been introduced. Yes, that means the new time distortion was (obviously) not caused by the TRA. Yes, everybody still remembers your mission. Would you please focus on doing your job instead of explaining it to us? If I was feeling generous, I'd entertain the idea of the swords using these almost mantra-like repetitions of their goals to get accustomed to thinking and feeling like humans, which could turn the cringe-worthy practice into something exciting, but the show isn't hinting at anything that complex.

Things instantly get better when the second battleship shows up, completely reshuffling our prior stakes and expectations. Things also fall apart in spectacular fashion when it becomes evident that the TRA aren't a bunch of mindless zombies, but capable of outsmarting Saniwa and his army through surprising coordination, superior resources, and no qualms about using anachronistic techniques. (Admittedly, that's not really surprising for a group that seeks to alter the course of history.) This is also the source of the swords' ultimate failure; "They want to change history" isn't just insufficient to create a compelling villain, it's also not enough information to beat a group whose reasons the heroes clearly don't understand, leading to a lot of moral outrage in response to the enemy's methods that doesn't actually help the good guys win. When it dawns on Yagen, Tonbokiri, and the others that something's fishy about all this, it's too late to prevent Edo from going up in flames, no doubt changing the course of history beyond what the Historical Restraining Force can contain.

While the swords succeeded at protecting the all-important meeting, that event's whole point was to ensure a victimless surrender of the castle and government. With the capital burning to the ground just after that meeting's conclusion, a peaceful transition seems to be up in the air at best. For now, we can only guess if history was changed beyond claiming countless casualties, as the second unit gets recalled to the Citadel, two members are left gravely injured, and one is possibly broken/dead.

So far, Katsugeki's soundtrack has been solid but pretty standard action fantasy fare, which was already put to very effective use this week in Tonbokiri's fight with the ōtachi against the gorgeously rendered backdrop of burning Edo. But when a choral tune replaced Kalafina's ED to weep for our failed (and possibly fallen) heroes as they were recalled into the sky from a world they were unable to protect, the series displayed its best use of music yet. This episode's last few minutes almost bring this episode into B territory, but it's still too little too late.

So where do we go from here? From the post-credits scene, it looks like the next mission will shift the focus to a different unit. Given the source material's fanbase and abundance of characters, such a move is understandable, but it's terribly counterproductive to satisfying story progression. Since the show wasn't too concerned with taking its characters to emotionally interesting places, I'm not terribly disappointed to be meeting a new team, with new lovely character designs in a new era offering new awesome backgrounds (and maybe even the possibility of a few daytime fights in a color palette not completely drenched in blue). 1565 puts us into the Sengoku era, between the Battle of Okehazama and Nobunaga's march on Kyoto, right in the middle of his meteoric rise. Still, if we are switching teams, I hope next week's Citadel episode will be able to provide some closure beyond revealing Tonbokiri's fate. Even the slice-of-lifey Hanamaru was able to sneak in enough growth for its quasi-protagonist Yamatonokami to bring his story to a satisfying conclusion in a series with less plot focus.

On the bright side, Mutsunokami got to steer a battleship. At least his trip to Bakumatsu Edo wasn't for nothing.

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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