By: Beata Garrett | @clearsummers
I’ve spent a few good months starting and stopping Tokyo Revengers, and recently decided to give it another go. I wanted to give it a fair shot but I refuse to continue watching after Episode 15. I don’t know whether it gets better or worse from there, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve seen enough.
Tokyo Revengers is one of the worst shounen animes I’ve seen with one of the most irritating protagonists of all time. Its misuse of time travel, and a cast of supporting characters so bland and indistinguishable that they’ve all meshed into one blob in my mind, have made the series–overall–unwatchable.
The anime follows Takemichi, a man who has many regrets about his youth, including his relationship with a girl named Hina. One day, he’s pushed in front of a train by a stranger and finds himself thrown back in time to his middle school days as a delinquent. He sees this as an opportunity to save the girl he loves and tries to prevent her death, getting mixed up in the politics of Tokyo gangs made-up of middle-schoolers, changing the course of many lives as a result.
The first thing that struck me about the show was how ridiculous the characters looked–a feeling that’s heightened by the serious approach it takes to its subpar plot. Next is the babyfaces of the characters that maybe could’ve worked to depict their youth and heighten the emotional turmoil they go through, but doesn’t because their adult selves are too similarly depicted. These are full-grown men with the visage of middle schoolers:
The youthful character designs are laughable when the show wants me to take their fights seriously and to actually think they’re cool. They also serve no purpose unlike Hunter x Hunter’s kids being designed so that the threats they face are heightened, and to showcase the tragedy of those children growing up too fast.
It’s easier to ignore the flaws in the fighting when you can cheer for characters with great designs; and, frankly, strong character designs can be vital in shounen, as they may make up for weak fight choreography or plot. Leading to my next point:
Lifeless Fight Choreography
Unfortunately, Tokyo Revengers doesn’t succeed in the fight choreography either. While the anime tries to make you feel like each fight will change the course of history—such as one character’s death leading to a ripple effect—the actual fights are incredibly boring. Even if Studio MAPPA were to reanimate it, it would remain boring because the beats themselves are so weak.
A good fight will have story beats within the action and force a character to change or grow in some way. It can reveal the essence of a character and demonstrate their unique way of thinking or aspects of their personality that makes the viewer root for them. As an example of why Tokyo Revengers’ fight choreography is bad, let’s look at the first big gang fight in Episode 7 that Takemichi is involved in. At this point, he’s become quasi-friends with Mikey and Draken, the leader and co-leader respectively of the powerful Tokyo Manji or Toman gang.
The gang meets up with the Moebius gang at a warehouse to duke it out, and Takemichi remembers that something about the fight lead to inter-gang friction, which lead to Draken’s death, which is what caused Mikey to “go bad.” This is linked to Hina’s death so he has to stop Draken’s death by making sure something about the fight doesn’t happen. This setup is fine because it’s a solid guess on Takemichi’s end and does make the viewer more invested in the fight.
During the fight, Takemichi decides to go after the leader of the opposing gang one-on-one and ends up getting beaten very badly. However, he won’t stop getting up because of plot armor (you know, the super power all protagonists seem to get) and earns the respect of the other members through this resilience.
This is sort of fine, but would be more powerful if it wasn’t something we see in every fight Takemichi is in. Not aided by the fact that, unlike other shounen protagonists, he doesn’t train himself to get stronger or more skilled, and doesn’t have the intelligence to solve the issues presented to him. He’s therefore stripped down to that one characteristic that many protagonists have and the rest of the action crumbles under it.
Ultimately, it’s a case of bad writing and worse direction. Most tropes aren’t inherently bad, and the “Heroic Resolve” trope can be utilized effectively to make a fight exciting—and not just in shounen.
The iconic hallway fight in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is a perfect example of how effective it can be. The protagonist of Oldboy, despite being beaten to a pulp, continues standing and fighting back against his opponents. This fight works because of the unusual length of the continuous shot, which was unique at the time. It also demonstrates the protagonist’s determination to continue his quest, and the toll it will take on him to make it through to the end. It’s brutal, and has pioneered many corridor fights in shows like Netflix’s Daredevil and video games like Sifu.
In comparison, while that fight in Tokyo Revengers has arguably more plot impact than the one in Oldboy, it’s less memorable and overall weaker. This is due to a few reasons:
- The fight is repetitive and has occurred in a similar manner before
- The fight reveals the same trait that we’ve already seen from Takemichi
- There’s no tension there because we know any injuries that Takemichi sustains will be gone when he returns to the present.
The fight is worsened by Takemichi being supplanted by another fighter. There’s no satisfaction in watching him win because someone stronger always steps in to lead him to victory, the opponent is simply unmemorable, and the lesson–to keep standing back up–is repeated too many times.
Weak Friendships and Emotionally Dead Storylines
Another issue with the Toman vs. Moebius fight that continues throughout the show are the weak arcs that connect to the overall mystery. They feel like boring video game quests more than anything else. Takemichi has to do A to get to B which will lead to C and presumably saves Hana. Rinse and repeat.
It’s a shame because time travel plot points can make for a convoluted narrative, but it can also provide fascinating insight into the piece of fiction’s themes and characters.
For example, the Netflix show Russian Doll is a time travel story in which two people are stuck repeating the same day. It works because the characters are forced to reflect on the issues they’ve ignored, like their inability to accept change or apathy towards life, to fix their timeline.
One of the through-lines in Russian Doll is a character’s inability to properly talk to his girlfriend, who has been unfaithful to him. It’s essential to the plot because it’s symptomatic of his fear of change and need for control. Until he talks to her and accepts why she doesn’t love him anymore, thereby showing that he’s willing to change and broaden his perspective, he can’t fix his timeline. In comparison to Tokyo Revengers’ use of time travel, there is no emotionally resonant storyline to latch onto even though it desperately needs one.
Some might argue that Takemichi fighting to save Hina is enough, but there’s no substance in their relationship as she’s there to be a damsel in distress. Even when she appears in the past, she’s just there to support Takemichi and remind him of how cute she is. (As a side note, it gets especially uncomfortable if you think about the dynamics of a grown man being in a younger body and romancing this young girl.)
Besides Hina, the show also tries to get you invested in Takemichi’s friendships with the Toman members, especially Mikey and Draken. The problem is that they’re one-note characters and their friendship with Takemichi still doesn’t feel fully developed in the 15 episodes I’ve seen. It’s clear that Draken and Mikey are friends with each other, but their friendship with Takemichi lacks that same depth.
They ended up feeling like plot devices more than actual characters to care about, which is made evident in Episode 10, wherein Draken is stabbed. Instead of being worried or curious about the effects Draken’s death would have on Mikey and thus the future, I was happy. Thank goodness, I thought. Please do the other characters too now, preferably the protagonist next.
Why It’s Not a Good Mystery
A mystery lies at the heart of Tokyo Revengers about the truth behind Hina’s death, which is Takemichi’s driving force. The show hints at a true mastermind who’s behind it all in Episode 6, and it’s revealed to be another gangster who joined Toman eventually named Kisaki. Kisaki has harbored a deep obsession for Hina since childhood and has caused her death in several timelines. (Oh, and pay in mind, he’s 13 years old at this transmigration to the past.)
It would be sinister if his methods weren’t so laughable as they consist of him killing her by crashing a truck into her like in the original timeline or with a car in, like, Episode 12.
Takemichi eventually recognizes Kisaki as the true antagonist, but he’s not strong or clever enough to take Kisaki down so I’m forced to sit through another fetch-quest that starts in Episode 14. This is especially grating because I’ve sat through three similar quests at this point.
When Takemichi goes back in time and finds out that Kisaki will be made a division captain, he punches Kisaki in front of everyone. He doesn’t even try to think of some plausible reason for why he hates him and has to re-earn Mikey’s trust by convincing a former division captain to return to Toman.
This was the stopping point for me because I knew Kisaki ultimately didn’t matter. He’s an antagonist who will function like all the other ones the anime has had so far, just on a broader scope. Takemichi didn’t get smarter or work on himself to get physically stronger when he decided to confront him, and I doubt he will in future arcs. Now that the mystery has been solved, the show has to rely on its characters and action to get viewers invested and neither have won me over.
Overall, I truly despise this show. I don’t understand what viewers could get from Tokyo Revengers that hasn’t been done better in other anime and other works of fiction. It’s burdened by bad writing, dull characters, and action that people typically make fun of shows like Naruto for. I declare this as a fan of the shounen genre, so this isn’t coming from someone who just hates the genre and doesn’t understand the necessity of its tropes. Some of my favorites include Hunter x Hunter, Yu Yu Hakusho, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Kuroko’s Basketball.
I have never seen a more lifeless shounen, and I wish I could time travel to get all the time I wasted on this show back.