by Grant Jones,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 3.7
How would you rate episode 2 of
Community score: 3.8
How would you rate episode 3 of
Community score: 3.9
We've got a pretty exciting set up right from the jump. Kurima Raizo is hired by his clan to kill his father-in-law for betrayal. But once the job is finished, he gets betrayed, and his clan attempts to assassinate him. Raizo falls in with another group hired by his deceased father-in-law in case of his death and finds out his father-in-law had stumbled upon their corrupt plans to work alongside the British Empire and the opium trade. Raizo and crew move in to set things right, and they do, but Raizo's fiancé dies by suicide before he returns.
As far as first episodes go, this one has quite the hook. Sure, the assassin being targeted for assassination after the job is done is not the most original plot point in the world. But the delivery is very effective. The wrinkle of Raizo feeling guilty over slaying his father-in-law adds that extra layer of emotional anguish and regret while simultaneously amping up the corrupt evil of his (former) clan. Combine that with the gut punch of his fiancé's tragic death at the end, and it's easy to root for Raizo, as he thought he was doing the difficult-but-correct action but ultimately was being used by cartoonishly evil villains. The extra texture of the daimyo being fine with imperial domination so long as he got to be the governor was a nice touch too.
The entire premise of the Revengers is just terrific stuff. I've got a soft spot for these stories where highly-trained professionals use their skill sets to help the less fortunate. There's a Robin Hood-type vibe, but it's less about the monetary compensation and more about achieving justice that would typically be outside the means of the injured parties. This second episode focuses on getting justice for a woman tricked into debt and then sold into prostitution; it was grim but cathartic.
I also appreciate Usui's approach to the morality of it. He does not waste much time trying to justify what the Revengers do or dive too deep into the ins and outs of whether it is moral. Usui tells Raizo to come along and see the plight of the people making the requests, and the reality of the injustices they have faced will convince him. It's excellent stuff, and the action-packed ending is so deeply gratifying.
The visuals are really appealing. All of the character designs for most of the supporting cast are relatively grounded and historical-looking, but the design work for the main cast is superb. Raizo and all of the Revengers have exciting looks without being so over-the-top that they seem out of place. Their weapons are outrageous – diamond-studded kite strings and sticky American-cheese-colored suffocation cloths – and there was a lot of glorious, gory detail to how they worked. Character movements were fluid, and backgrounds had a relatively high level of detail, with some interesting set pieces (I particularly liked the sequence of Raizo jumping off the cliff).
Gen Urobuchi writes the series, and while I'm not a 100% mark for everything he works on, I like his work a lot (more hits than misses, in my experience). It definitely looks like we have a hit on our hands here. I've got to hand it to the creative team on this one because the second episode managed to take an already strong hook and improve on it tenfold.
The biggest strengths of episode three are the world-building and tone setting. The crew journeys to Nagasaki and confronts some of the seedier underbellies. Here the opium trade and the various conflicts that arise from it are in full swing. Beneath the waving imperial flags are drug deals, broken promises, and dejected souls. The entire hillside overlooking the city is full of impoverished slums, where people have been pushed to the fringes of society. We see how even the magistrates and officials who supposedly maintain order are using the poorest and most vulnerable to play petty games with the lives of others as their bargaining chips. The stark contrast between the city's lavish interiors and the outskirts' abject squalor is brought into full focus for us. The moment with Murakami surrounded by desperate people who resemble the living dead is one of the more haunting images of the entire episode.
Speaking of which, Murakami is an amazing character. A giant pirate doctor who wields a massive bow that makes his shirt explode from the exertion of firing it? Incredible. Marvelous. And the way the getaway boat in episode two basically got deleted from the water by a single bolt was equal parts amazing and hilarious. This show is 100% one to watch this season.
The actual fight/mission is a bit less exciting. It's got a few good interactions between Soji and Raizo – I particularly enjoy how Soji actively does not want Raizo to foul up things for him. It makes for a fun team dynamic. But the actual moments of combat are mostly them doing stealth kills against inept goons, which is fine but nothing you haven't seen before. Raizo stabbing the one goon through the wall behind Soji was a great moment, though, and Soji using his cards as throwing weapons is a great touch.
Overall, still very strong and one of my favorite seasonal shows in a long time.
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