Monday, July 7, 2014

Anime Review: Tokyo Ravens

Given how far behind I fell with my reviews, I've opted to just start over this week following my regular schedule and not exhaust myself trying to catch back up (since the spring anime season just ended I didn't have any reviews I could pop up instead last week but I think I'm set for now!)

As I've said about half my reviews lately, this one must seem like it's coming out of left field to people who read my season round-UP posts, spring was  an odd season for me in more ways than one. I actually did completely drop this show last winter but was a bit bored and checked back in on a discussion thread got it every now and then (since no blog I followed had kept up with it, the problem with only following people with the same tastes) when I noticed a friend with similar tastes to mine was still watching and once it was done asked if it had been worth it. They said that they had been meh on the show when they started but it had ended up being one if their favorites and that's exactly what I needed to hear and then jumped back in right where I left off. 

Tokyo Ravens

Harutora, despite coming from a family of illustrious onmyoji, has no intention of becoming one himself and given that he can't even see magic or spirits no one is needling him about his choice except for a cute friend of his. But things change and he soon finds himself moving to Tokyo to fulfill an old promise he made with a cousin to become her shikigami and both of them enter a world where the spirits may be dangerous but the people around them have even more dangerous agendas.

Normally in that opening paragraph I explain how I found a show but since this is a really unusual case for me I wanted to talk more about that in the actual review. This show is based off of a series of light novels (it covers the first 9 which make up their own larger arc) and when I was figuring out what fall shows to watch I came across the manga adaption and tried that out. I really liked the manga and blitzed through as many chapters as I could find but this did mean that the anime came off feeling a bit flat by comparison (probably because they're adapting an entire book every two to four episodes which means you really have to compress the story). Once the anime got past that part the story grabbed me again but not as strongly, and then the return of a character from the very first arc (Suzuka) made me just toss up my hands and drop the show since it just wasn't fun seeing her constantly mess with everything. Of course this means that the very next episode had a character go "hey can you knock this off and help us out with the fact that one of out friends is getting attacked every three episodes now and we don't know by who?" "Well, it could be these guys...." And it certainly felt like the show became more enjoyable once that character dynamic was changed up and both the larger and smaller plots started making more progress. 

There is one other reason I might have enjoyed the second half of the show more than the first half, I marathoned it and I'm realizing that I really do prefer that for some shows and, since this one was already spilt up into mini-arcs based on the novels, that also helped the pacing here for sure. Plus, the farther you get into the story the less exposition it has because holy cow, all three versions of this story suffer from having way too much exposition and the author feels the need to reintroduce every character and every idea every time there's a new arc/book and I remember that driving me up the wall when I first watched the show. That is a major flaw for the show, it doesn't understand that a lot of it's world-building details just aren't that useful or interesting and yet it doesn't spend a lot of time on character-building details. I was surprised at how much I liked the extended main cast by the end of the show, they actually had gone through some rather nice growth, but they still felt a bit flat. Plus, one more detail that didn't work for me is how the series as a whole had some trouble with pacing. Not in the actual arcs, again I can understand having trouble with compressing the books as much as they did (and this is another problem I've noticed while checking out the novels), but it's really hard to get a grasp on the passage of time and I was amazed to see that the series actually covers over a year since it never felt like it and there weren't any visual cues either. I can't even recall the last time I had this particular problem with a show, usually they have at least a few filler shots of scenery to provide that context but it was all absent here!

One random note, this came to me when I was looking around and saw someone mentioning that while they liked both Irregular At Magic High School and this show they preferred this show and that got me thinking at how this show does mostly avert the "our protagonist is the most gifted, special person in the show for not-very-real-reasons." Harutora spends more or less the entire show being not the least clever or talented character but certainly not the best and the brightest ever, my exact thoughts were "a bit like a harem lead character except he's actually nice". I liked how Natsume was always clearly more experienced than he was, everyone calls "him" (actually a girl) a genius but yet no one ever implies she got their through talent and no hard work, and how when it came down to it their entire group of friends have to work together to themselves out of their latest predicament. Plus, the series starts off with Harutora and Natsume in a situation where they are vastly overpowered and "win" through a bit of distraction and sheer determination and while that's not exactly a theme in the show but the story makes it clear that even as strong as they get their are so many adults who are even better than they are. And that's something a lot of shonen stories have trouble with, I remember that's one thing I used to like about Soul Eater and when the story moved away from that I felt like the entire thing suffered. This does change up towards the end of the story but, given that it was heavily foreshadowed from the very beginning I was okay with it (and apparently an entire year had passed so it would have been awkward if our characters weren't any better at onmyoudo than when they started!).

In the end, this wasn't a particularly good or stand out show, I imagine in just a few seasons I'll have almost forgotten about it unless it gets another season. But, repeated info-dumps aside, the show isn't bad either and was perfect to marathon and busy myself with for a few days. Funimation has licensed the show so it's streaming both on their site and on hulu for anyone interested in checking it out and if you just want a "popcorn flick" of magic, barely-angsty-teenagers, and fighting then this fits the criteria pretty well!   

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