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Tokyo Ravens Part 1 Limited Edition Anime Review

11 min read

Tokyo Ravens CoverJapanese mysticism thrives in Tokyo thanks to family’s tragic past that is now thrust into the present.

What They Say:
Harutora may seem like an ordinary guy, but he’s actually a descendent of an ancient and powerful clan of omyouji. Born without the family talent for magic, he’d always believed he was destined for a normal, boring existence. All that changed the day Natsume, a beautiful face from Harutora’s past, barged back into his life and forever altered the course of his future. When her sudden arrival leads to a violent and tragic encounter with a magical prodigy, Harutora agrees to fulfill a childhood vow by accompanying Natsume to the clandestine Onmyo Academy. Together, along with their incredible onmyouji classmates, they’ll attempt to survive life at a school where not even magic can get you out of your homework.

The Review:
The glorious action of this anime’s audio is transmitted via Dolby TrueHD in Japanese & English 2.0 for Blu-ray or Dolby Digital in Japanese and English Stereo 2.0 for the regular DVD. These recordings methods help to bring forth the comedy and struggles of a normal high schooler thrust into a not so normal world of demons. The echoes of a beast roaring or the flinging of insults really help to bring this series alive.

Although a majority of the series is depicted via traditional animation methods, for some reason, production company 8-Bit and director Takaomi Kansaki decided to use 3D shikigami for some of the exorcists. Although it may fit the story since such familiars are mostly man-made servants, these same characters are vulgar on the screen since they do not blend with the rest of the anime; anytime these monstrosities appear, they detract from the episode and cause the viewers’ eye to be immediately drawn to the area, since they so poorly resonate with the overall fluidity of the action.

If they were going to make these artificial assistants stand out, it would have been better to have used another method to depict them. 3D characters have been successfully used in other franchises (like Appleseed), but they did not get carried away with metallic shimmers so much that it draws away from the whole. While two different animation styles are being used, a synergism should have been reached instead of concentrating on one and neglecting the other.

Although the disk combination may be enclosed within a normal Blu-ray case, with this Limited Edition, Funimation ships the package within a black wraparound box plastered with the anime’s main characters. The choice of black with red text does help this set to stand out on the shelf, but only if the spine is facing outward; the Tokyo Ravens title emblazoned in red cannot be seen if it is displayed so that the disks can be accessed without flipping the box around.

Since the season is split into two sets, a white insert was used to reserve space within the box. This colour clashes with the all black scheme used in the collection. If Funimation wanted to keep this colour coordination, they could have matched the spacer with rest of the edition; as it stands now, it is a bit of an eyesore with a black first set and a white reserve for the second.

The continued scheme that was used on the case is also used on the disks. Vivid characters colours on a black background with a white menu selection helps to coordinate the overall feel of transition from disk to screen. It draws the eye from a dull static picture on the box to bright kinetics on a television monitor and eventually into the world of the animation.

The real bonus of this set are the Kon Explains it All! featurettes on the second disk. Although the commentaries from the English voice actors may give some insight into the recording of the dubbed version, they don’t add any substance to the real difficulties viewers will have with this anime: the terminology of Japanese mysticism. Unless someone is fluent in the background of the series, it can get confusing; these explanatory monologues help to delineate the language used within the series into Westernised terms that the average watcher can easily understand. Without these, watching the show can become a chore instead of a pleasure.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Onmyōji are specialists in magic and divination, but it was Yakou Tsuchimikado who created the modern version of the art during World War II; although he gained fame through his victories for Japan it was the Great Spiritual Disaster near the end of the war that he is most remembered. By this act, it brought the downfall for the country; however, his legacy still respected and many worship him believing that he will be reborn via the next head of the family. And so it begins again …

Harutora Tsuchimikado is your average high school student who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and doesn’t really care. He just wants to hang out with his friend Touji until summer break is over, but not if Hokuto can help it! She want him to become an onmyōji – a spirit seeker, but he has no skill for it and besides, someone else with more talent can do it. The only thing that matters is the festival tonight, fun is waiting.

Or that is what he thought until his cousin Natsume comes to visit. She is the current head of the household and a prodigy in the ways of spirits who wants him to keep his promise to be her protector. Of course, Harutora still doesn’t want anything to do with all of this magic and reneges, thinking that she is best suited for the family legacy. What can he do without being able to see anything?

But disaster strikes as the sadistic Suzuka Dairenji, one of the Divine Generals – the strongest of the onmyōji, arrives and mistakens Harutora for Natsume. She insists that he help her with the Taizen Fukun ritual, a rite that will bring back the dead. Of course, he has no idea what she is talking about and when Hokuto arrives and calls him by name, Suzuka’s anger enrages and she demands that he tell Natsume to meet her at the ceremonial altar. But, she leaves him with a parting gift – a passionate kiss, which makes Hokuto jealous and she storms off.

After Harutora tells Natsume of Suzuka’s plans, the true nature of the kiss comes to light – she had hidden a shikigami within to steal the Tsuchimikado heir’s powers. That was the final piece needed for the ritual and now it is a race against time to stop her before the spell can be completed. But, how can they do anything without her abilities? Hopefully, they can be restored at the main house.

However, the General has other plans as she battles her pursuers only involve the pair’s taxi which leaves Harutora to leave Natsume to find her way home while he tries to stop this sadist’s rampage. But, as he confronts the madness, Suzuka reveals that she must perform the ritual to bring back her big brother with herself as the sacrifice; the naive novice pleas stating that her sibling would not want that, for in doing so, she would be sentencing him to the same loneliness she is now suffering. In a fit of rage, she orders her familiar to strike him down – only to impale Hokuto instead.

As she lays dying, Harutora discovers that Hokuto was not as she appeared to be, but instead a shikigami. While the magic fades, she tries to apologise for the deception and begs for him to become an onmyōji; but before he can reply, her form disappears, leaving the lone paper talisman and only memories. He now knows what he must do and the only one who can help is Natsume. With deliberate speed, Harutora tells his cousin that he will now fulfill his promise and become her protector so that they can stop Suzuka.

After a chaotic battle, they finally engage the desperate girl but not before she can complete the spell; something has gone wrong and her brother is now possessed by a demon, struggling to claim his prize – Suzuka. With one last burst of strength, Harutora frees himself and Natsume so that she may cleanse the spirit and finally bring the ritual to an end. In the aftermath, the disgraced onmyōji begs to be put out of her misery, but our hero stays his hand and offers to help bury her brother instead.

With summer break over, both Touji and Harutora have come to Tokyo to join Natsume at Onmyo Academy, but is this the same girl they knew? As the head of the Tsuchimikado, Natsume must appear in public as a boy while dealing with others outside the family; but this tradition will cause more problems as the series progresses, often with comical results.

As their first year comes to an end, the practical exam is decided to be a controlled spiritual cleansing. But, the terrorist group Twin Horn Syndicate decides to interfere and turn this into another Spiritual Disaster; however, as the ceremony progresses and becomes contaminated by additional miasma, Touji begins to show the results of his exposure from the previous one two years ago – he becoming a half-oni. While he continues to loose control, the Divine General Reiji Kagami (aka Ogre Eater) inserts himself into fiasco and in his arrogance, helps the poison to evolve into a demon; being too proud to admit defeat, the General continues to argue with the group and allows the newly formed ogre to escape.

After taking his friend to the school for treatment, Harutora tries to help to contain the rapidly evolving monster but even with the help of Natsume and the newly arrived Divine General Zenjirou Kogure, they find hard to even damage it. But, when it seems that the orge will escape the containment zone, Touji arrives with his powers now under control which allows the team to purify the demon. As they try to make sense of the confusion, a mysterious figure named Doman appears, lamenting that he was not in time to see their victory and take a sample of the oni.

Six months later, a new school semester begins and the Academy welcomes new students. The trio argue amongst themselves during the ceremony until the freshman’s representative is presented; she looks familiar … but it can’t be her! Doubts arise until she speaks and greets Harutora – much too the amazement of the student body. A shiver runs down his spine as he recognises the sadistic grin of Sazuka, the same General that he and Natsume defeated last year! She has been sent to the school as punishment for using forbidden magics and abusing her title, much to the friends’ chagrin.

How can things get any worse … until Natsume remembers that she is one of the few to know her true identity; a girl staying in the boys’ dormitory will raise questions that she and Harutora are not willing to answer. Of course, her silence will come at a price and it is one that they do not want to pay – to be at her beck and call, no matter the reason. But they have no choice if they want her help for the problems yet to come: the Twin Horn Syndicate will not leave the descendant of Yakou unless he is under their power. But, who is it and how does he fit into their plans?

In Summary:

Tokyo Ravens is a glimpse into the school life of upcoming onmyōji and the tribulations they face while trying to master their powers and the consequences that come with such abilities. While the story is worthwhile and moving, the underlying theme of redemption is what makes this series one to stand out from the genre. All of the protagonists are raised on traditional Japanese values that honour outweighs all else, whether it be that of family or personal.

Harutora and Natsume both struggle with the obligation of family: one tries to ignore the value of the family name while the other is weighed down by the cost of that title. The Tsuchimikado name is one that both know has a commiment that they both must cherish; while he tries to ignore it at the cost of perhaps being cursed, she has had to bear the burden at the cost of friends. A balance must be struck if they are to share the weight equally and perhaps the value of that duty.

Touji was touched by the previous Spiritual Disaster and is only now understanding the full consequences of that disaster. He had been undergoing treatments to try to stem the growing powers inside him, thinking that they were a curse, but now he sees that he can use them to help his companions. Before he was tempted to succumb to the violence his other half forced to the surface, beating Horutora every time he saw his face, thinking he was pitying his fate. But now, he knows that he was mistaken and that he only wanted to help his friend. Now that he has learned to control the ogre, Touji will fight those who try to bring about another Disaster all while repaying the kindness shown to him.

Lastly Suzuka tried to used forbidden magic to bring her brother back to life. She did not care how many had to suffer or how much she would have to sacrifice just to see him again. The insanity of loss and false hope eclipsed what must be lost to gain a brief glimpse of happiness. When Harutora and Natsume showed her her mistake after her defeat, the punishment was to go back to the Academy and relearn what she lost – compassion. Although she will not admit that she needs their help, Suzuka is slowly learning that she cannot do everything by herself; her pride may get in the way, but maybe she can learn to trust someone besides herself?

If you can overlook the flaws, the series itself is building into an enjoyable escapade into the world of Japanese mysticism. While the average Western viewer may not fully understand the core of the show if they are building from a sense of magic based on dragons and fantasy novels, if they can stay with it until the end, they may come away with an understanding that will establish itself into love of the genre.

Now that the establishment of the characters is out of the way, perhaps now we can get on with the story? They have been developed into interesting foils, so let see what the Twin Horn Syndicate can throw at them or will someone else slink out of the shadows?

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, Kon Explains it All, Episode Commentary (5, 12), Textless Opening and Closing, Video Commentary, Trailers

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player connected by HDMI

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