I picked up Tokyo Ravens around the same time I was watching Blue Exorcist. I went looking on message boards attempting to read any recomendations and went for one whose name stood out to me. That anime was Tokyo Ravens which I picked just for the heck of it. Once I got caught up with the series I had to view each new episodes on a weekly bases. For a short time it would my go to show even if it was just to pass the time. Then the longer it went on the more it dragged getting to the finish line. Leading to a routine of weekly disappointments and cohesive disjointment of quality witnessing a decline in a showed I started off liking. Now that it’s over all I have to say is there’s a reason why Tokyo Ravens will continue to generally go unnoticed even among the anime community.
In some event known as the “Great Disaster,” Japan has been thrown into chaos by onmyouji (a kind of magician). Harutora Tsuchimikado was born into an onmyouji family, but he has no power whatsoever. He lived normally as a regular boy, but his estranged childhood friend Natsume Tsuchimikado suddenly appears to him one day. When they were younger, he made a promise long ago to become her shikigami (familiar/spirits protect and serve their master), and she is back to make him fulfill that promise! A battle between onmyouji is about to begin.
Good: Magical Battles
Tokyo Ravens seems to be limitless when it comes to specializing in visually interesting action scenes with some decent staging. Fights in the series are done with magical techniques based on the elements of nature (water, fire, earth, and what not) and occasionally some ugly looking CG creatures that stick out roughly against the hand drawn world. While I can’t explain in detail how it precisely works because of its complexity (that and I forgot what rules were not being changed consistently in each battle). One thing I can say for certain when it comes to showing off magical battles Tokyo Ravens deliver on that fronts with taunt atmosphere setting the mood immediately. High stakes are always felt due to how fatal every attack looks on screen. The only thing more difficult than surviving a magical attack is attempting to read your opponents moves and countering it. Like a standard fight scene if a competitor blocks his opponent attacks than he/she has a open window to do what he pleases in either doing a direct attack or countering his opponent move. In Tokyo Ravens that rings true to an extent as the characters ever so rarely physically hit each other having to rely on a series of spells to get out alive. Here a simple counter just doesn’t means your attack gets reverse, but can equal a mistake that can puts the odds in your opponent favor.
Seeing how combatants have different methods to fighting is part of the fun as you never know what they’re thinking or plan of strategy they are implementing. Resulting in unpredictable battles where the outcome is not exactly how you envisioned to have played out. However, the staging of them is not as enticing as the visuals that accompanied them. Despite having convoluted rules, Tokyo Ravens rarely has any moments where the battle choreography stand out. Like a card game, a majority of the fight consist on someone taking their turn, waiting, and then taking their turn. The whole waiting mechanic of these battles tends to leave opponents open for long duration of time. While it does seperate the ammature from the masters what it doesn’t do is provide a standoff feel to it like that of a western. When two combatants in Tokyo Ravens wait, and stand off against each other it become repetitive no matter how much goes into the combat situation. Still, compared to everything else the magical battles are reliable for pure entertainment from beginning to end. A rule that doesn’t apply for everything else.
Mixed: Too Many Characters
The first half of Tokyo Ravens does a decent job, if clumsy at times, developing the cast of characters. We get acquainted with the central three with Harutora, Natsume, and Touji taking most of the screen time. In its entirety it introduces new characters pacing itself to sufficiently develope these central three. As for the minor cast they rather serve as a means to move the plot. Kon, a mixture between a fox and a little girl who doesn’t have much used in battles nor gets any development from looking adorable (she’s not) until the end of the series. Kyouko is at the first the rival turned friend and then later a potential love interest. At first Kyouko inspite of being given a typical role starts out interesting even if her designed role is contrived. While she doesn’t do a whole lot of fighting she does contribute in helping to developed the characters. It’s only until when it reaches the end when the character is undone by being given a new unexplained power and a contrived conflict with Natsume that is easily resolved. Tenma is useless. A bit a cruel since he’s a plot device to create conflict in the middle of the series and by the end finally does something to serve the story on a positive level. However, nothing ever really comes out of Tenma throughout the show. Finally Suzuka is…just Suzuka. Yeah this character sucks. Simply put in the show she’s belongs an elite group that’s exclusive to 12 members, but never demonstrates why she got that position showing little expertise in combat and a lack of brains outside of school.
Once it passes episode 14 you get a barrage of new characters who motives are lost and made overly complicated. Taking away from the central story whenever it follows characters that sometimes won’t make another appearance in the series. The many characters in its cast is the series physical manifestation of filler. Once it strays off course the characters we do followed that do affect the plot have little to offer.
The heroes are also hypocritical instead of changing for the better start back at square one. Tokyo Ravens first major arc deals with Harutora and Natsume preventing Suzuka Dairenji resurrecting her brother which through an exchange of dialogue we learn resurrection is forbidden because it requires the sacrifice of a single life. Yet, when the heroes decides to use this same exact forbidden magic it justifies because Harutora is powerful. Defeating the whole purpose of the first major conflict presented regardless if the heroes reasonings was for someone he loved. Characters don’t grow significantly at least when it comes to Harutora and Natsume. These two are never made a couple in the series despite both knowing the other likes them. It’s a missed opportunity to standout among the dozens of anime that teases these kind of relationships, but that’s just one of many traits that prevent it from standing out.
Mixed: Story Progression
At first I wasn’t entirely sold on wanting to see Tokyo Ravens from first impressions in episode 1. It appeared to be just another romance anime with light fantasy elements, but was wrong to some degree. The romance angle was set up competently presenting two love interest for Harutora; one who’s he been great friends with for a long time and a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in years. This setup while very convenient to get the series moving presented an interesting conflict. It also ended in an unexpected note that could lead anyone curious enough to see what happened next. The first three episodes actually took me by surprised by the direction the series was going. Not only did the love triangle dissolve quickly (the character still appears in the intro even after she dies), but managed to create interesting characters put into unexpected situations who weren’t sure to how to handle them. These were characters that were easily relatable, having good intentions, and were compelling made it worth following.
The further Tokyo Ravens went on the more it began to grow and become comfortable with itself. Finding the right balance between goofing off and moving the story forward. Pacing itself just right that in the end even if the episode didn’t deliver something specific you wanted you knew for certain it was going to get there. When it came to delivering the main arcs they offered the best moments of the series. Sure it helped the series has some nicely drawn magical battles that keeps the excitement going. While those battle do impressed so did twists in the story that put earlier events into different perspectives. What we thought originally gives Harutora conflict on his feelings for the one he love more complexity debating nonstop if he does love the one he sets his heart out for is an illusion or reality to what he wants. Characters we followed were growing, their battle skills were growing, it was becoming more sophisticated, and the stakes grew higher. It knew how create an exciting set up, a story arc that valued the action as much as its characters, and did so executing everything it kept doing right.
Then comes the second half which is when everything started going downhill. I can’t say for certain what episode completely lost me, but I can tell you why it lost me as a viewer. For starter, it shot itself in the foot when it decided to introduced so many characters, organizations, groups, and history on a family or specific character. In the first half there’s a time when the explanations stop finally letting itself loose to tell stories either be comedic or centered around an important arc with emphasis on magical battles with significance to the story. In the second half the explanations never stopped to the point that it can take several episodes to finished explaining what is important to the plot in a previous episode. The longer it went on the more the episodes dragged taking its sweet time dedicating entire episodes to exposition only to end on a cliffhanger that could possibly lead to the next arc. Being disjointed as several episodes were either explaining too much not moving the plot or had too much action losing its characters and story. Rarely in the second half of Tokyo Ravens did it get its balanced right that it soon started effecting how the series progressed.
What was once an easy to follow sosphiscated story became convoluted and difficult to follow complicated mess. Character motivations that were once clear became lost under the talk of reincarnations, stopping terrorists, concealing true gender, coping with everyone knowing true gender, preventing magical disasters, who betrayed whom, what’s the real intention of a group of suspicious characters, what the where about of a family, the ever growing love interests for the protagonists to choose from, secret societies bend on using forbidden artes, and so many yet to be listed. All of those plot elements I’ve mention were either introduced in the second half or made more complicated. Everything it brought to the table resulted in the same repetitive format; several episodes where characters explain nonstop, followed by episode heavy on the action, once the climax of an arc ends it transitions roughly be it comedy center episode or immediately starting the next arc further adding confusion.
The series ending is rushed taking a toll on the over crowded cast and mess of a complicated story. Without spoiling the events of the series simply put the series wasn’t sure whether or not to kill protagonist Harutora. It’s this fear that leaves many questions on the series ending that’ll never get answers. This wouldn’t be a problem if what came before it made it easier to accept the ending, but it leaves several storylines unanswered and the conclusion of the story only closes a small fraction of the story it set out to tell.
If it weren’t for the magical battles the whole technical aspects of the series would have failed severely. As oppose to magical battles which complement the animators to create complex visuals the non action scenes are the very definition of the word simplistic. Nothing about the character designs is memorable nor are the plain looking backgrounds very lively. Not a single thing presented in the world of Tokyo Ravens makes it stand out from a design perspective. As for the fantasy elements they’re mostly made prominent with the usage of magic in battles. However, the usage of familiar is limited in screen time as the character once master their skills used their familiar less and less. The strange usage of CGI will take time to get accustomed to, but the CGI never blends into with the rest of series aesthetics. The 3D models aren’t as smoothly animated with some ugly color choices making the CG stick out severely. Some of the designs are mecha-esque whose mechanical design contrasted poorly against the organic creatures. This issues is fixed later on as the series uses less CG the more it progresses. Animation won’t impress, but is always consistent in middle ground quality. It might look bland, but it’s never a distracting issue.
Bad: Forgettable Music
I could leave this area blank with the simple bullet point above, but that wouldn’t justify my position on the music. There’s no better place to start than with the opening and closing themes of the series. Getting it out of the way the ending theme ‘Kimi ga Emu Yugure’ by Yoshino Nanjo is a slow moving acoustic guitar song with overly sappy lyrics that’s forgettable. ‘Break a spell’ is about determination for a new truth undone by auto tuning instruments and the singer which eliminates authenticity on three ends. Now up first opening theme ‘X-encounter’ by Maon Kurosaki is average. The song did grow on me with it techno beats and lyrics that basically said spread your wings complemented with the events of the show. It didn’t reveal anything major about the plot rather metaphors the endeavor of a bird unable to fly similar to the show’s heroes who have difficulty fighting with little experience and knowledge.
The songs are in Japanese so why bother analyzing the lyrics if I have to read what they mean? Well if I didn’t I would have given a free pass to ‘Outgrow’ by Gero which repeats the same Ravens gimmick. Unlike the techno ‘X-encounter’ whose rhythm basically force singer Maon Kurosaki to composition her lyrics awkwardly. ‘Outgrow’ sounds more natural by comparison. With it combination of alternative rock and techno the song is a collection of loud instruments with no specific arrangement to clutter the ear waves. While it doesn’t strain the ears it doesn’t have anything noteworthy that warranted it to replaced ‘X-encounters’. Basically all that is said in the song is they’ll be better days as a flock of birds capable to change the destination. However, it also discuss the flock desired to be independent despite our heroes needing to be saved by a more powerful force either be a spell, person, and plot convenience. Contradicting events that occur in the show. It forces itself to use the Ravens metaphor for a song that has ‘Blow up the dark’ and ‘Just keep the faith’ for lyrics it becomes lost in what exactly it’s trying to say.
The rest of the music offered variety without a single one of the track being memorable. The score is directionless at times and hard to get a grasp on. Most of the relaxing cues seems to be piano and guitar playing for little or no reason. Providing a warmth and soothing feeling that makes you feel at ease. Take it outside of the series and it doesn’t work the same way sounding like hundreds of other soothing tracks. Without lyrics to these tracks you’ll be constantly be thinking “I’ve heard this before” and never put your finger on where exactly you heard it. Says allot when the original produced music is outdone by artists whose songs weren’t specifically created for the show.
Tokyo Ravens never convinces it was destined to be great, but it was a show that was easy to get into and like. However, the longer it went on more of what made it worth seeing disappeared into the background creating more problems instead of fixings the issues it had. Disjointed in quality and disappointing the further it goes. Ending on a contrived whim that leaves you dissatisfied where you end up.
Rating: 5/10 – Tokyo Ravens only offers half a show worth seeing. Ending up in a complicated mess of a show with no closure to many of it loose threads.