2021 Anime Review

Tokyo Revengers: There’s Power in Nostalgia

Since the Golden Age of delinquent manga back in the 90s and early 2000s, we’ve seen all manner of approaches to the subgenre, from school comedies and gritty brawler dramas to inspirational sports stories and self-aware parodies. Tokyo Revengers promises not only a resurgence of the subgenre in the modern age, but also experimentation with a flashy time-travel gimmick that lends the turf wars and internal politicking an Erased-like urgency. While I’ve given the manga a try as well, this review is focused on the anime adaptation that began airing in the spring season of this year.

Takemichi Hanagaki is a bit of a loser, having peaked in his middle school days and not having much to show for at the ripe age of 26. To make things worse, his first love has also recently died in a freak accident involving one of Tokyo’s most fearsome gangs. Following an untimely collision with a train, Takemichi wakes up as a middle schooler once again, and discovers that he has been blessed with the ability to switch between the two timelines at will. His goal: steer fate in a new direction by preventing Hinata Tachibana’s death and maybe making something of himself along the way.

Both the anime and manga are hot titles at the moment, and it’s not difficult to see why. As a shounen, Tokyo Revengers has the broad appeal of an action-heavy story complemented by a sizable cast of larger-than-life characters. Almost anything noteworthy that happens happens in the past timeline, which is all about inter-gang warfare and Takemichi’s progress as a newly-inducted member of the Tokyo Manji Gang. These story arcs can be fun and there are plenty of fights scattered throughout if you’re into that kind of thing (though they’re not exactly the most detailed or pretty to look at; go in expecting pure adrenaline and hype).

The real heart of the series is Takemichi’s budding relationship with Mikey and Draken. This pair of elite-ranking members (Mikey is the leader of the gang as a whole) is easily the strongest part of the entire story and whenever they’re on screen, you’re pretty much guaranteed a cool moment or a touching emotional beat. Both characters are quite well-written by shounen standards: they’re powerful and intimidating, and yet also caring and empathetic with those they are close to. Seeing Takemichi warm up to the two and start to uncover the layers of their personalities is great and it makes the first arc quite a strong start.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism around Takemichi’s character and his role as protagonist, but I didn’t mind him too much. He can be likened to someone like Deku from Boku no Hero Academia, who can also be quite whiny and impotent, but shines in his idealistic sense of humanity. In my opinion, Takemichi is a necessary evil in the grand scheme of things, as a naive figure and innocent window into the quite brutal and inhuman events of the story.

Where everything falls apart for me is in the overall structure of the narrative, as well as the pacing. The time-travel gimmick is, just as it sounds, a gimmick. I don’t think it really adds anything to the story and on the contrary, detracts from some of the stronger elements. At first, it does provide a little boost in momentum and lends an otherwise juvenile premise weight and consequence and that’s all well and good, but once you get immersed in Takemichi’s delinquent days, it becomes very difficult to care about the time-travelling murder mystery anymore.

As I mentioned, Mikey, Draken and the gang politics are the best part of the show, and that doesn’t really leave any room for the present timeline to have any appeal. It doesn’t help that every arc so far brings with it a butterfly effect-esque reset that sees Takemichi once again having to stop a new death in its tracks. The whole premise collapsed for me once I realized that I simply didn’t care about what would happen in the present timeline and both solution and problem always felt too contrived to be believable. On top of that, time-travel stuff always comes with all kinds of plot holes and gaps in logic so I can’t help but feel that this whole layer of the story is just an unnecessary vestige that we could’ve done without. Start things off from Takemichi’s middle school days and give him motivation to save Tachibana and become a Touman player without any of the sci-fi nonsense and this is a much better story.

Tokyo Revengers had a lot of potential as a key title in the renaissance of delinquent anime/manga, but I think the eye-catching premise ends up being its own greatest enemy. Nothing about this show is particularly unique or well-done, visually or narratively, but it’s still going to end up as one of the year’s biggest shounen titles and is nonetheless entertaining in a silly, derivative way. I can pick out a few elements that I think are really strong, but as a whole, it just doesn’t come together to form anything special and going from one arc to the next, my interest definitely waned.

Rating: 6 out of 10.


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