What They Say:
The year is 1863, Japan is split between the pro-shogunate and anti-shogunate factions. In this chaotic time, the era of the swords is coming to a close. Horikawa Kunihiro has manifested as a Sword Warrior and is joined by Izuminokami Kanesada, a warrior who served under the same master as him. With a single goal in mind, the two rush through the mountains…
Sword Warriors are “Tsukumogami,” spirits and willpower that reside within a sword. These spirits are awakened by Saniwa to protect the world from the “Time Retrograde Army,” who were sent by historical revisionists from the future to alter history.
Along their journey, Kunihiro and Kanesada encounter fellow Sword Warriors Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki, Yagen Toushirou, Tonbokiri, and Tsurumaru Kuninaga. They band together and devote themselves to confronting and defeating the Time Retrograde Army. The fate of history lies in these heroes’ hands. What destinies await the blades have yet to be uncovered…
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with an English language dub, both of which are set with an uncompressed PCM format. The series works a lot of good action moments to it that leave you craving a 5.1 mix because of how the bass and some of the impact areas would make out greater for it. What we do get is a solid stereo mix that for the action has a good bit of impact throughout it and some great directionality as the swords fly and other elements play out. These naturally stand out the most other than the music aspects of the opening and closing sequences and it definitely serves to enhance the show. The dialogue side of the show is fairly straightforward where it has some decent placement from time to time and minor directionality outside of the action sequences and it has a good lived-in feeling that works well. Dialogue itself is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with distortions or dropouts during regular playback of either track.
Originally airing in 2017, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs in a four/four/five format. Animated by ufotable, the show has a very strong high-end look to it when it comes to the color design that enhances the details of the characters and settings. It’s may be a darker show in many places but it has such a rich design to it that it stands out beautifully when given the high definition treatment here and a high bit rate. With plenty of space with each disc, the end result is a crisp and clean look that delivers an exciting and immersive experience. The encoding is pretty much pristine and you get the sense that this is exactly what the animators had in front of them to work with, leaving you in a really great place here to simply enjoy the work.
The limited edition release for this series comes with a soft case that holds the two clear Blu-ray cases. The soft case is nicely done with some great visual material from the Japanese release with the primary characters looking great against the white background on the front while the back goes for just a little symbology. The wraparound provides the basic details of what’s included and how the discs themselves are put together. Within the case we get a really nice set of postcards in high-quality form as well as a full-color booklet with character breakdowns and an episode by episode guide. The two cases inside are nicely put together with the series case working a hinge that’s of great quality to keep everything in place while the other case has the soundtrack inside. Both cases go for a simple approach with the same visual of the sword through the circle, just with different colors, that gives it a kind of elegant illustrated design on both the front and back. The release may not be one that’s bursting with color and ways of drawing you in but it feels right for the show itself as it draws you in and provides lots of little details that the fans will like.
The extras for this release are pretty straightforward as we get the clean opening and closing sequences and a good range of the web previews produced for the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’ll admit, I didn’t go into Katsugeki Touken Ranbu without any prejudice against it. I had just seen the Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru series a few weeks prior that stems from the same game and it didn’t do much of anything for me in a positive way. It also had another factor working against in that I’m still exhausted from all the Shinsengumi related material that spawned out of Rurouni Kenshin’s popularity almost twenty years ago. We had a ton of that back in the day with so many interpretations and the like that it just killed pretty much all my interest in the period. What this series had going for it was that ufotable produced the animation for it and that it was actually trying to work some real story, whereas Hanamaru was just pure fluff.
The general premise is one that’s interesting in that we have a group of men coming from the year 2205 back to 1863 where they’re dealing with the Time Retrograde Army that’s coming back as well to change history for their own reasons. Now, why all of this is happening in 2205 is kind of left to the abstract with little really said about it, which is frustrating as it’s kind of critical to making it feel like it really fleshes things out, but we mostly work with the assumption that the characters we follow are on the right side of things and cheer for them as they slowly come back to the past in staggered form in order to protect history. They wear the garb of the day and keep interactions minimal with everyone else so as to not alter things but they also excel at the fighting style of the day with swords and physicality. The science fiction trappings aren’t just trappings entirely but you could remove these little bits and otherwise just add a new faction to familiar events of the period through this. But I do like the trappings as it gives it all a little more reason to exist.
Over the course of the show we get a few arcs with various Time Retrograde Army beings coming through to do some damage and find what they’re after and individually they’re pretty decent arcs that touch on the people of the day. What they want to focus on just a bit more than that though is the way that those that have come back to protect history handle the situation. Almost all that we deal with are pretty grounded and competent people doing the job that needs doing. But our introduction is through Horikawa, a young man who is definitely kind of enamored by some of those that have been doing this for a bit and also by the era. It’s no surprise that as the show goes on and the problems of protecting history become more apparent that Horikawa begins to feel really conflicted about the job of just protecting history and instead wanting to protect people, which would mean changing history. It’s not an unfamiliar concept to grapple with for time travel stories and Katsugeki Touken Ranbu handles it fairly well.
But with the kind of abstract opponents/plan in the mix and a team that Horikawa is working with kept mostly to just who they are in this period and avoiding making much of anything about where they’re from, it loses the chance to really be interesting by showcasing what they’re all dealing with. We get it at times from Horikawa as he begins to want to protect Hijikata more or the knowledge of saving Ryoma at one point ensures his death in a couple of weeks to keep history on track. Some of those that he’s working with illustrate the need for sticking to the plan and following through but it’s not cemented in an understanding of the future and the stakes there for it, which is unfortunate because tying past to their present would give it a lot more to work with. This also ends up undercutting most of those that come back because while they don’t truly take on personas from this 1863 time period they stick to the costuming of it and never really discuss their lives in 2205. Again, it’s all part of the plan to focus on what they’re facing off against and that section works well, with some beautiful and haunting animation, but it hollows out the characters no matter how much they try to give them something more through all the dialogue.
While there are aspects that really did frustrate me with the show as it basically cuts off one period in which it exists, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is definitely an intriguing property. It’s one that digs into the whole saving the past concept well with what this group does and their limitations in trying to do so but it doesn’t deliver engaging enough characters to fully bring it to life. It’s a beautifully animated series and it has actual storylines to it with familiar characters from the period that makes it accessible, so it didn’t bore me to tears like the Hanamaru series did. Aniplex USA’s release is pretty strong with it including a dub, the whole series, and some good extras in the package but I do wish they had bumped it up to a heavy chipboard box and maybe had some dub-centric extras included as well. Fans of the show will really like the end product result here though as it delivers a gorgeous show in high quality exactly as it should be seen and heard. And that’s what counts.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Web Previews
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: July 10th, 2018
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.