This is review number three hundred and fourteen. This anime is part of the Fall 2013 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Tokyo Ravens. It’s a twenty four episode anime about a bunch of characters attending an onmyouji school in Tokyo. It is complex but oh so satisfying. This review is long because I went overboard with the praises. Yeah, I’m ashamed of that. Let’s read on.
This show is about a guy named Harutora that is enjoying his summer vacation with his three friends. One of them keeps urging him though to become an onmyouji according to his family lineage. He grew up without any real spiritual power though so the guy wants no part in it. When you see a person you care about die in your arms though, even an indecisive guy can gather enough courage to face all the evils he kept running away from just to avenge that death.
Taking the Pants Off
So I recently just promised myself that I would avoid light novel anime for a while. The repetitive and staleness of the medium caused me to hate myself and anime in general. Looking back though, the TPAB that started this website would never be so weak as to avoid a genre. Hell, I hate otome anime but I have grown to enjoy writing reviews about them and I think the same enjoyment can be made for light novel anime. With that being said, I convinced myself to watch Tokyo Ravens despite my sour experience with Strike the Blood. This is a good chance to force myself to enjoy writing reviews about something I hate so I might as well start here. Here’s the funny thing though, this anime screams light novel but the elements doesn’t play out like one. You can still notice the overwhelming heavy expositions and the pretentious fantasy garbage. All it needs now is to establish the harem and we’re good to go. Except it doesn’t. The show is very conscious of its approach. It develop the characters before the story, internalizes some of the conflicts and avoids a harem altogether. Oh my gawd, is this real? Is this a light novel anime that doesn’t act like a light novel anime? Something must be up. Apparently, this anime has a manga and I’m willing to bet the anime adapted that instead. I’ve seen light novel to anime adaptations and they’re pretty raw. The heavy expositions are overwhelming. The lack of development is apparent because you’re translating a source with no visuals so you’re left making your own visuals to it. If there’s one thing I learned with O. Screenplays is that most anime studios lack vision but they’re very good at adapting source material rich with it. The very hurdles that makes a lot, like 95 f*cking percent, of light novel by Tokyo Ravens is apparently overcome thanks to the manga. This got filtered and the resulting work is outstanding. Tokyo Ravens is a very good example of why light novel is popular to begin with. The fantasy elements coupled by a gripping story layered with compelling characters make light novel anime enjoyable. I do understand why most studio stumble adapting a light novel and I don’t blame them for making an exposition heavy harem centered fantasy garbage. If things magically align though then you could see the beauty of the medium and I do believe Tokyo Ravens has given us a chance to really experience it.
The anime opens rather tame. A lot of light novel anime would drop a ton of sh*t immediately since it needed to establish the status quo, the terminologies of the show and the overall theme of the anime. It’s never easy as the poor audience is often drowned into a sea of heavy exposition and boring dialogue heavy scenes while also trying to figure out the story of the chapter the show is in. Tokyo Ravens opens with three friends simply having shaved ice. The pace is surprisingly laidback and heavy exposition is nowhere to be seen. The most shocking thing here is that the first few episodes actually focuses on the characters and works a story around them. I’ve seen light novel anime does the same approach for shows like Durarara but the exposition is still pretty evident as it attempts to strangle you for even attempting to watch the show. Tokyo Ravens is scarily different. The pace is simple as the show is taking its time. The anime slowly introduces everything and just gradually develops the story. It does this after developing the characters though so I think this is the first time I have seen a character centered light novel show.
The first few episodes are annoying though because it features this stupid love story between the main character and this loud girl. So basically, this girl likes the guy but the guy is oblivious. Certain events would lead to their relationship suddenly progressing though and moments out of their hands immediately starts taking over the relationship they’ve been holding on to for the past summer. The actually story is established afterwards. I think the first five episodes serves as a prologue for the anime. Everything that happens here is smartly connected to the rest of the show. It serves as a nice taste of the events to come. Anyways, the show is about this guy named Harutora Tsuchimikado. He is from this prestigious line of onmyouji and he frankly doesn’t want any part of it. He wants to be left alone and he doesn’t care about his family traditions. He also doesn’t have any spiritual power to actually be an onmyouji so the task of continuing the family tradition is left to his childhood friend, Natsume Tsuchimikado, who happens to be from the main branch of the Tsuchimikado family. Harutora prefers to live in this simple village enjoying the summer vacation with his two close friends Touji and Hokuto. Touji is a relatively laid back guy while Hokuto is an energetic loud girl that seems to have a bubbly relationship with our main character. She keeps insisting that Harutora become an onmyouji though to his annoyance. He doesn’t care about his family lineage and he just wants to live the life he wants rather than be forced to be something he is not. The way the characters are introduced is actually pretty great as the status quo is slowly presented through how each character acts in it. Unfortunately for Harutora though, his family lineage will bring him some more trouble as a powerful onmyouji decides to visit his town and raise some little hell. The event that follows afterwards gives you an idea of the beautiful things to come from the anime. It also gives us an idea about the main story casually introduced in this prologue. As things unfolded, Harutora soon finds himself enrolled in an onmyouji school in Tokyo where the real story begins.
Thinking back, the prologue really did come fast. In five episodes, characters are established and the main story is setup. I think we burned through two chapters in those five episodes alone though so I really find it remarkable that you never felt the heavy expositions closing in on you. By simple focusing on the characters and glossing over sh*t that doesn’t really serve anything in the story, the beauty of the story really shone through. Heavy exposition is usually experienced when the show explain sh*t that doesn’t really matter in the overall run of the story. I remember in Strike Blood that we are still figuring out what the hell a Progenitor actually is and then it mentions a church organization tied to the villain. It also mentions how his homunculus has a familiar inside it explained in a very complicated manner all while the story is progressing on its own. Heavy exposition can kill you if you aren’t careful but these things are eventually needed to properly present the chapter’s plot though so it has to be mentioned. Tokyo Ravens is different. The onmyouji background of the show is glossed over never explained, the story progresses in a snail pace while the show introduces each important character of the prologue and some things are eventually left for the viewers to discern on their own (like how a dragon is the ultimate summon monsters) so it won’t clutter the prologue. It is sound storytelling I have never seen in a light novel anime and it honestly scares me. It does tell me though that the rest of the show is going to be pretty awesome so I kept on watching fully engaged.
I think the show has six chapters but they aren’t really that important. Most light novel anime have each chapter different from each other like how one chapter would be about a terrorist organization and the second chapter would be about the characters going treasure hunting. The chapters are so incoherent that it adds to the beautiful clusterf*ck of the show. For Tokyo Ravens, the chapters are cohesive. It doesn’t hurriedly present one then erratically jump onto another. The chapters are all tied down by one main idea and the plot points are the main focus of the anime. For the chapters as well, the anime would often not hurriedly jump to the next one. I noticed that there are fluff episodes often just focusing on character development and relationships before the chapters ever fully go into motion. In this anime though, there are six chapters all focusing on various spiritual disasters that the characters are involve in. I think that’s the main gist of it. Spiritual disasters are when freaky supernatural monsters cause havoc in the city and various shaman police are called to prevent them. The first two chapters cover the prologue. It features our main character facing an evil opponent at his hometown and another in his first few weeks at the Onmyouji School he transferred to. The third chapter is about a terrorist attack cloaked in a spiritual disaster that somehow mimics the same disaster from two years ago. The fourth chapter is about a powerful opponent sending his calling card and happily inviting people to join him to hell. The fifth chapter is about Magical Investigation Division launching a manhunt to smoke out terrorists from his own government branch that ultimately led to some freaky awesome sh*t. The last chapter is about the big picture finally revealed and how the terrorist conspiracy leads all the way to the top. I’m trying to be vague with the chapters because they are pretty easy to follow and they feature a lot of crucial moments that makes the anime awesome. I think seeing these moments unfold is really the highlight of the show so I’ll refrain from talking about them. Believe me, if this was any other light novel, I’d talk about the chapters simply because they’re difficult to follow but Tokyo Ravens has a different approach that I think a lot of people would enjoy so just have at it.
I would like to talk about the two main plot points of the show. This was established early on in the prologue and eventually become integral parts of the chapters to come. The first one is about the Taizan Fukun Ritual. The antagonist in the prologue basically stirred some hell because they wanted to do this ritual. It’s about resurrecting the dead. It’s a taboo form of ritual though where you have to give up something of equal value for the life you are trying to resurrect. The ritual has gain notoriety after a genius omnyouji named Yakou Tsuchimikado failed in completing the ritual. He died but rumors started circulating that he indeed succeeded in the ritual. He planned on resurrecting himself and he actually did it by travelling through time and becoming one of his very descendants. With his success, a lot of people are now intrigued at the validity of the ritual but it’s a dark path only the insane are brave enough to walk into. There are two important things about the first plot point. The first one is about the ritual and the mystery surrounding it. Throughout the anime, the details of doing a successful Taizan Fukun ritual are constantly explored. People that studied it, attempted it and the various things needed to do the ritual is slowly revealed as it hints for the ritual to be properly done somewhere down the line. The very idea of this dark ritual coming to fruition is actually a wonderful element of the show. Who is crazy enough to attempt it after the events of the prologue and who would be desperate enough to want to see it succeed? Gawd, the whole thing still gives me goose bumps.
Aside from the ritual itself, people are also interested with the idea that Yakou Tsuchimikado is alive. This is the guy that revolutionized the magic based system that runs the world by uniting all magic and rituals under one database. The man is a genius and his eventual returned excites a lot of people. Some has hypothesized that his return is soon and the descendant’s body he will return in is from the main family of Tsuchimikado. Basically, it’s the main character’s childhood friend and this leads us to the second plot point. The Yakou fanatics. It’s basically a cult of diehard fanatics that worship the genius Yakou as a gawd. They believe that his coming revival will bring about some great things so they go about trying to speed up his return. They’ll often use spiritual disasters as a lure so they can do corner the supposed Yakou incarnate and then goad their gawd to appear. The approaches are never subtle and majority of the arcs often involves just the fanatics running ape sh*t. This plot point is not as straightforward as you might think though. The whole religious aspect of the fanatics has a deep social and political element to it. As the show progresses, things aren’t what they seem and supposed good guys eventually turn bad while bad turns good. This plot point has so many interesting details that it actually made the whole anime experience pretty damn awesome. After all, a random terrorist attack plot point grew into something overtly political filled with wonderfully crafted conspiracies that it’s easily the best part of the anime for me.
I’m blazing through the plot points though because the big focus of the anime is really on the characters. It’s a very character centered show wherein the plot points and the chapters really only progresses through the characters action. No supernatural sh*t happens without someone triggering it first or some big confrontation happens first. Hell, even heavy exposition scenes are laid out wherein a lively discussion is held or something supernatural is flying in the sky wherein the characters takes it down. This is another aspect of the show I really love. Light novel shows are very main character centered wherein this normal guy with an unlimited supply of super powers can kill a monster that authorities, who trained for that kind of sh*t, cannot defeat. It roots to the wish fulfillment aspect of light novels wherein the reader relates to the main character therefore feeling high when the main character is the only one that can stop whatever trouble is brewing. For Tokyo Ravens though, the main character is grounded. Majority of the chapters actually have various characters featured and yes, for gawd damn once, our main is an inexperienced sh*t head that often just gawks at other powerful shamans who essentially saves the day. He was so “normal” that he really didn’t become your staple light novel hero until the very last few episodes. That means everyone shares the spotlight in remarkable manner.
The wonderful thing about Harutora is that he is very detached from the events of the story. He also rejects the idea of being a main character. Light novel characters really just goes with the flow. If the story calls for them to hunt down a terrorist then they’d just do it no questions asked. If they need to be a caring guy for his harem then he’ll be one. He’ll be laidback, aggressive, uncaring, passionate and horny at the drop of a hat because the story needs him to be as such. Harutora is different. He is so outside the story that he soon drifted out from space. He wasn’t born with a spiritual power, his heroic mindset is knocked down when he realizes he literally can’t do anything to help, he is carried by other characters all throughout the show and he is unremarkably dumb for his own good. The show is pointing the fact that the guy has no place in the story. His heroic mindset and caring for others is also the only thing of value to him. He did train in the anime but he didn’t really grow any better. He didn’t become reliable and he was a push over. This was surprisingly intentional. The story calls for a small man with a big heart that wins the audience over by sheer honesty and perseverance. Harutora is a character you’ll gradually grow to like and this is because the show will pull the rug right under you. To be fair, the plot twist is fairly obvious and I think I spoiled it already but the character development is so wonderful that it would still get you emotionally involved the moment it was revealed.
Breaking from the traditional main character centered story, this show actually features a group of students acting independently from the events of the anime. Light novel rule dictates the main character shall do it by himself. This show features five more characters and two of them are actually male characters as well. This is a huge thing because I dare you to name another light novel anime that lets the main character share the spotlight with male supporting characters. The comment section is below. Have at it. Anyways, Harutora’s unremarkable role gives five more characters time to shine. One of them is Natsume Tsuchimikado. She is the childhood friend of Harutora and the supposed reincarnation of Yakou. Natsume is a strict girl that grew up tied down with traditions so she doesn’t often speak her mind and became distanced to a lot of people. Natsume wants to be a normal girl though and she just doesn’t have the proper skills to really achieve that. I really like this character. She started out as this annoying cliché but her character is complex. She represents that light novel staple character that is paired with the main character and free scenes are dedicated to their cute flirting. A good example of this character would be Yukina from Strike the Blood, Miyuki from Mahouka and that princess chick from Hagure Yuusha Estetica. I honestly wanted to murder her trope plagued ass but her character is deep. She’s vulnerable despite being strong and the show really internalized a lot of things about her. A few more personal monologues and her character would’ve been perfect. I love this little love dilemma she had concerning this thing that happened during the prologue. She is also predominantly strong than our main character and her dragon is proof enough just how big their gap is. The best Harutora can do is call forth his familiar yet Natsume would often show her experience and stand toe to toe with some of the stronger enemies. She’s a person that accepts the heavy role of saving others and actually has the capabilities to do so which is different from Harutora that simply cannot do any of that sh*t. This was all the more relevant in the final chapter where Natsume displayed her heroism counter Harutora’s incapability which I find absolutely poignant.
The other characters include Harutora’s other close friend, Touji Ato. He is the laid back guy that would just watch on the sidelines then give appropriate advice when the situation calls for it. In the third chapter, he was also put on the spotlight because he had a terrible secret agitated by the spiritual disaster of the chapter. He is the reliable friend for the group as he would be that one neutral guy that would always hear both sides. He is also lovingly loyal though and he’ll come into arms if the situation calls for it. The rest of the characters include another girl that considers Natsume a rival but also secretly wishes to be friends with her. She is stubborn though which I like and she is an effective supporting character wherein her involvement usually helps develop some of the characters. Another character would be this annoyingly loud first year student that joined their group later in the show. She is a powerful shaman and she is a manipulative little devil. She is also the most straightforward character in the show since she wears her emotions in her sleeve. It’s easy to love or hate the character. It depends on how you perceive her. The fluff episodes involving her are tiresome but I really enjoy the scenes where she fights. It easily shows off her experience despite being the youngest in the group. Lastly, there is this meek guy named Tenma. He is this background character that is acknowledged as a side character. It’s amazing how he has absolutely nothing to offer in the story yet he moves with the group despite doing nothing. He is literally useless but the group is never complete without him. Some chapters do point to his ineptitude and does mix it to the story to improve it. This character is fairly useful but only because he is very useless.
Now, let’s talk about the grownups of this anime. Let’s talk about the scene stealers. A lot of characters are in the police force of the anime. Powerful shamans protecting the city and onmyouji from rich family lineage make up the religious and socio-political elements of the show. A lot of the spiritual disasters that happens in the chapters are responded to by the adult characters. The beautiful thing about these characters is that they can be good guys or bad guys depending on the situation of the story. This was evident early on when, in the prologue, the antagonist is later revealed as one of the main characters. They can play both sides because the characters all have their own special motive and plans in response to the situation of the anime. There are a lot of them but let’s just focus on the important characters here. There are the divine generals that protect the city. These are twelve powerful shamans that work for the city. They are the ones that usually swoop in to defend the city from spiritual disasters. In chapter three, they contained an area trying to kill a level four monster. In the later chapters though, these warriors of justice were seen in a different light when they were also caught up in the conspiracy that unraveled later on. It was pretty awesome though to see these over powered characters clash with other powerful characters. It created some really high moments for the show. It’s special considering how talent and experience is simply the deciding in these fights. No stupid pretentious light novel storytelling. It’s just who is stronger in a Shounen showdown that’ll keep you at the edge of your seat. Among the divine generals, one true stand out would have to be this psychotic guy named Reiji Kagami. He is chaotic evil where his intentions are purely evil yet he is still one of the guys protecting the city. He is completely unstable and he simply acts for his own benefit often enjoying crushing weak people under his heels. The first time you see him, you wanted him humbled and the later chapters eventually gave us that moment in splendid fashion.
The one actual scene stealer of this show though would have to be one of the teachers of onmyouji academy, Jin Ohtomo. He is a former warrior of the city but has since turned to teaching. He begs you to underestimate him and then you’ll go crazy discovering how awesome this guy is. He had the best fights in the entire series and I love how cloaked in mystery this guy is. Words cannot properly describe this awesome character. You have to see him for yourself. There are a lot more characters but some played a more strategic part to the story and I think it’s best to just watch them play their hand. Some of them never leave their office despite being hugely influential figures. Others are simply plot devices though that explains some of the confusing aspects of the story to soften the blow of the heavy exposition. There are mentions of astrologers predicting the future but they merely just established the narrative rather than actually perform some astrology magic or something.
This review has gone crazily long. Can you really blame me? I written off light novels as simply garbage just two reviews ago so I am so happy that everything I mentioned there actually happened in this anime. A more personal story, internalized emotions and not relying on light novel cliché, I wrote that paragraph as a really defeated man convinced never to touch a light novel again. I’m happy that my open minded self has convinced to keep on watching though because Tokyo Ravens is an anime I really admire. You know the best part?
No. Accidental. Harem.
You can clearly see though that the harem elements are there left to just float in obscurity. A bunch of female characters does fall in love with Harutora but you can also feel the show not going there. It doesn’t want an accidental harem and son of a b*tch, THANK YOU. I can die a happy man now because the beauty of light novel is not dead. Amidst the saturated garbage, there is hope and I am fine with that. I can endure all the light novel fantasy harem garbage knowing that hope still exists. I think all the praise goes to the manga though. Light novel anime cannot be this good. I think the manga filtered all the bad things and improved on the good things. It has the same author or something so I’m glad this rare moment of a manga/light novel hybrid gave us something really outstanding. It does give you an idea how big of a gap the two mediums are. Light novel walks the wish fulfillment line while manga walks on a more action oriented line. The strengths of both lines meet here in Tokyo Ravens and it’s beautifully presented. Seriously, I want more. I want more shows like this. I want to see more shows that bring out the beauty of light novels without the pretentious recycled garbage. I’m surprised 8-bit handled this anime. They’re known for high quality visuals and this anime feels subdued compared to some of their works. I always believed they have what it takes to at least match A-1 Pictures in terms of quality but I guess it’s hard to stay consistent with such high quality. It’s a decent adaptation though despite my complaints. I hope there is another season. The anime ended openly and there are a lot of questions left unanswered so I do hope another season is coming. 8-bit has something great going here so I hope they follow it up. Really, my only complaints are on the animation and the ending. After all that awesomeness, it cannot just end on a whimper. They need to do another season and end this sh*t with a bang, damn it.
Sight and Sound
Character design is pretty decent. Sumihei’s design doesn’t really standout that much but they are pretty great despite looking generic. It’s definitely your typical light novel design though where female characters have all the details. I like the well-built physique and the emphasis on the faces. The small details are also pretty cute since it helps tell characters apart. I also like her range since the large cast is nicely diverse and the familiars looks incredible as well. I can’t find the designer’s actual illustrations so I’m a bit stumped. 8-bit did a rough job adapting the characters. The color palette is a bit dull and the lack of details bothers me. 8-bit excels in character design ever since they convinced me how masterful they are with Yama no Susume. The visual work on Tokyo Ravens is not that great. There are many ways to elevate Natsume’s masculine features, make Touji’s seal phase look more bad ass and even make the summon monsters look a lot more menacing yet 8-bit was kinda lazy here. It could’ve ruined the experience if the story wasn’t good.
The animation also looks pathetic. There are some amazing fight scenes though but it could’ve been better. The fight scenes are carried by the awesomeness of the characters and not the actual pace of the fight. It feels lacking when you have characters throwing talismans, summoning element based attacks and calling forth their bad ass summon warriors and all you get is an uninspired back and forth. The thing that irks me though is the stiff CG. I feel like I reviewed a 2010 anime with the heavy reliance of stiff CG. These are CG generated monstrosities that look robotic than anything else. Its unflattering watching them move and it’s sad seeing so many of them run amok in the series. The cinematography is pretty awesome though. The use of different camera angles and shifting views to different characters certainly elevated the scenes despite the lackluster animation.
The anime’s has two OP. The first OP is “X-encounter” by Maon Kurosaki. This is a damn cryptic song and the techo pop beat is a bit unappealing. I personally don’t like this kind of music but I do love the whole aura of it somewhat being a weird Atlus inspired Persona music coupled by an even cryptic opening sequence completely Persona inspired. The OP sequence is weird but it features the characters and small snippets of the show. The uneven pace of the song and the montage can be a bit misleading though as if setting you up for something that is not present in the actual show. The second OP is “~Outgrow~” by Gero. This is a more energetic song completely fitting for an OP song. It’s a pop rock song about keeping hold of hope and keep on moving forward. It’s a nice song that is fun to listen to thanks to the voice of the singer. I hate the random English lyrics though since the song relies more on style than substance. The OP sequence features a short rundown of the events of the anime with a few peeks of the new characters while the main ones do some cool stuff in the short run of the montage. The sequence is so nicely done though that I still smile considering all the cool characters that appear in it.
The anime also has two ED. The first one is “Kimi ga Emu Yuugure” by Yoshino Nanjo. This is a more solemn love song about someone wanting to be strong for her partner. Yoshino’s voice gives this song amazing appeal and it’s a good thing considering the lyrics are a bit dry itself. I do love how it relates to Natsume and Harutora though but that’s a small novelty. The song is still a bit iffy. The ED sequence is pretty great though as it features Natsume being all cute and serious in the high quality animation you should’ve gotten from 8-bit. What the hell 8-bit? The second one is “Break a spell” by Mami Kawada. It’s the same techno song like the first OP and it’s accompanied by another cryptic sequence. The song doesn’t impress me. It’s another cryptic song about stuff. I don’t care. It sounds dull and over stylized. The sequence holds the same unimpressive look to it. I don’t understand where the show was headed with this cryptic stuff. It’s like it’s trying to appear smart or cool or something.
8/10 “A rare example of a good light novel anime that possesses the fantasy harem heavy exposition cliché garbage I hate from the medium given an unremarkably impressive spin as you see the story and the characters given more care than any of its garbage elements.”
I recently discovered that a light novel anime I give a score of six is good but mediocre. They are well written shows and someone out there will like it but it possesses the things I have grown to hate about light novel anime. If it gets a score of seven that means that there is something worth watching despite the flawed elements of the light novel anime. If it gets a score of eight then TPAB truly found it amazing. Tokyo Ravens is clearly a light novel show complete with the heavy exposition, the harem and the pretentious fantasy story but it rejects all of it and focuses more on the characters and the story. I rarely give out an eight and above grade so let’s just stop this. I highly recommend this.