Series Review - Tokyo Revengers (Season 1)
Probably the most popular new series to comes out of 2021, Liden Films’ adaptation of Tokyo Revengers took the Spring and Summer anime seasons by storm.
Based off the manga by Ken Wakui, Tokyo Revengers takes the violence of gang anime like Baccano! and mixes it with the time travel mystery elements of Erased. The series follows lifelong screwup Takemichi Hanagaki, who, upon realizing he has the ability to travel back to his past self, attempts to change the past to save his former lover, Hinata Tachibana from dying in the present. To do so, he must confront the mistakes of his past, as a member of the seemingly infamous Tokyo Manji Gang (Toman). In the process he finds himself entangled in the lives of the gang’s upper echelon, including its leader, Manjiro “Mikey“ Sano and his second in command, Ken “Draken“ Ryuguji.
If you’ve seen Erased, the source of tension and use of fantastical time travel is about the same. However, most people aren’t watching this series for the time travel gimmick; they’re watching for the intricate writing and compelling characters.
Takemichi truly is the “Crybaby Hero,“ acting as the most emotional character of the show, who has quite a bit in common with Re:Zero’s Subaru Natsuki. He’s a hopeless wimp that threw away his life and turned into a nobody. At the beginning of the series, despite his desire to save Hinata, he has no attributes that will help him accomplish that. He isn’t strong, possesses no fighting skill and is far from charismatic.
However, what Takemichi has is character growth. While he still has room to develop in the second season, Takemichi comes a long way in the span of 24 episodes. Seeing him start come into his own as a member of Toman and building friendships with characters like Mikey and Draken is incredibly satisfying. The moment he gains their respect is a pivotal moment in the direction of Tokyo Revengers’ story.
Mikey is arguably the most popular character in Tokyo Revengers. Who doesn’t love a chaotic neutral? The leader of Toman, Mikey a fun-loving kid who enjoys living life, until that enjoyment is threatened by others; then he turns into a one-man army that is out for blood. Mikey is fiercely royal to his friends, but can hold a heavy grudge against those that have wronged him.
To contrast, Draken is no-nonsense strongman who acts as Mikey’s conscious. Draken is not just his right-hand man, but his closest friend as well. If Mikey is nearby, Draken typically isn’t too far behind him. If you thought Mikey was tough enough alone, then the combination of him and Draken is truly frightening. While he won’t ever let it show, Draken cares deeply about those closest to him, and would kill anyone responsible for bringing harm to them.
Hinata provides most of the series’ heart, with her not only being the primary motivation for Takemichi, but also the person who most wants to see him succeed. Her story is incredibly tragic, with her becoming increasingly intertwined in the conflict within Toman due to her connection to Takemichi. That is not to say Hinata doesn’t have her own drive. Not only is she stronger than Takemichi, she is more than willing to stand up for him in front of Draken and Mikey despite their appearance. Her emotional strength and willingness to help Takemichi despite not fully understanding why he has changed so much, quickly made her one of my favorite characters in Tokyo Revengers.
While the writing for Tokyo Revengers is strong, the animation and direction of the show isn’t quite up to par. It’s clear that the people working on the series were passionate, but the budget just didn’t support it as much as it should have. They just couldn’t keep up with its intriguing plot and premise, and often feels stale and hollow in the process. Fights feature minimal drawings, with very little dynamic movement showcasing the different characters’ fighting styles, despite each of them supposedly being unique. I know this is the studio behind Berserk (2016), but I still expected better.
With that said, the art direction and score make up for the minimalist animation. Art director Manabu Otsuzuki (Black Butler, Hellsing Ultimate), along with color designer Kunio Tsujita (Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song, The Tatami Galaxy) and art setters Naomi Ogura (Golden Time, The Rising of the Shield Hero) and Yuuho Taniuchi (Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online), brought the world of Tokyo Revengers to life. Despite the lack of motion, the nighttime cityscapes still felt lived-in, placing me in the moment with the characters as if I were in Tokyo watching the events unfold. Director of photography, Hisoyoshi Yamamoto (SSSS.Gridman, Hortensia Saga), then perfects the artwork, adding further definition to the beautiful artwork.
Hiroaki Tsutsumi (Jujutsu Kaisen, Dr. Stone) continues to astound with his work in shonen anime with his score for Tokyo Revengers. A punk rock, guitar heavy score punctuates the heart pounding climaxes of each arc within Tokyo Revengers’ first season. Takemichi’s theme almost sounds like a lion roaring, seeming to represent him finally finding his footing with Toman.
Studiopolis’s English dub for Tokyo Revengers manages to capture the spirit of the characters, while also bringing a story engrained in modern Japanese culture to an English-speaking audience. ADR director David Walsh (So I’m a Spider, I’m Standing on 1,000,000 Lives) managed to make nearly every member of the cast synonymous with their roles due to his direction.
This was my first time experiencing A.J. Beckles (Kemono Jihen, 2.43) in anime, and this man is a powerhouse in emotional range. Beckles’ performance as Takemichi is more than just overflowing tears and boundless crying. His chemistry with each member of the main cast, especially Lizzie Freeman’s (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Rent-A-Girlfriend) Hinata, is electric. I was already a fan of their relationship, but their performances elevated Hinata and Takemichi’s romantic scenes for me.
Aleks Le (Demon Slayer, The Misfit of Demon King Academy) is one of the most charismatic voice actors working today, and his role as Mikey is no different. Mikey requires a wide emotional range due to his chaotic nature, and Le is able to pull it off brilliantly. He’s able to sound soft and laidback in one scene, but menacing and bloodthirsty in the next. His delivery, particularly in the scenes involving Baji and Kazutora, are some of the best in the entire show.
Despite having to match such a performance from Le, Sean Chiplock (Re:Zero, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure) managed to hold his own. This was the first time that Chiplock managed to completely disappear into a roll for me, obviously taking some pieces from his time as another notorious anime gang member. Chiplock has even openly stated that his voice as Draken was inspired by fellow voice actor Jonah Scott, but it is more than just a simple emulation.
Griffin Puatu’s (Beastars, My Next Life as a Villainess) performance as Naoto, while not featured as heavily as the rest of the main cast, still manages to stand out due to the more serious scenes he receives. Puatu’s Naoto acts as a nice foil for Beckles’ Takemichi, brining a more serious tone to contrast the youthfulness of Beckles’ performance. Puatu is known to bring gravitas to his roles, and Naoto is yet another prime example of this.
Joe Zieja (Ascendance of a Bookworm, Fate/Apocrypha) plays what may be the most interesting character in Tokyo Revengers, Kazutora, yet he is able to showcase just how twisted the character is through his line delivery. Those moments of silence before a soft, almost whispering, voice speaks so calmly about murdering someone who was once his close friend are terrifying.
These moments are made all the more impactful by Lucien Dodge’s (Jujutsu Kaisen, Fate/Zero) Baji, a more up-front and visually effective character, wearing his motivations on his sleeve. Dodge highlights the subtext despite Baji’s overbearingly loud nature. Baji is a “fight first, talk after your eardrums are ruptured” type of character, and Dodge absolutely understood the assignment.
However, most of his prominent moments come from his chemistry with Adam McArthur’s (Jujutsu Kaisen, Shadow’s House) Chifuyu; together they provide the emotional core of the latter half of the first season.
Tokyo Revengers is definitely one of the best-written anime to come out of 2021 so far. With some amazing English dub performances, and a fantastic soundtrack, the show could have easily been the anime of the year. However, it’s lackluster animation downplays the strength of its story. You can watch the entirety of Tokyo Revengers’ first season subbed and dubbed on Crunchyroll.