What is this?
Watching the news, Takemichi Hanagaki learns that his girlfriend from way back in middle school, Hinata Tachibana, has died. The only girlfriend he ever had was just killed by a villainous group known as the Tokyo Manji Gang. He lives in a crappy apartment with thin walls, and his six-years-younger boss treats him like an idiot. At the height of his rock-bottom life, he suddenly time-leaps twelve years back to his middle school days. To save Hinata, and change the life he spent running away, hopeless part-timer Takemichi must aim for the top of Kanto's most sinister delinquent gang. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
Man, I love it when a show can surprise me in a good way. After a few minutes of Tokyo Revenger's premiere, I wasn't sure of what to think of it. A depressed, lonely, and self-deprecating 25-year-old gets pushed in front of a train and ends up reincarnated as his would-be-delinquent teenaged self from twelve years prior? Okay, sure, that's a familiar enough take, the idea that you'd get to do it all differently if only you could go back knowing what you know as an adult. I definitely appreciated that Tokyo Revengers stuck with having its hero relive his regular life, and not get dropped into the body of a perverted baby from another world or something, but I still wasn't sold on either the story itself, or Takemichi as a hero.
It didn't take long for Tokyo Revengers to win me over, though, starting with Takemichi's appropriately gobsmacked response to his situation. He immediately realizes how lame he and his friends were, trying to act and dress all tough as they attempted to play at having a real gang. His cousin, who he thought was a big deal at the time, is really nothing more than a lackey to real delinquents in town, the Manji Gang. When Takemichi's crew start jonesing for a fight, his fully grown brain can't help but freak out at the utter stupidity of the whole act. I mean, you get punched the wrong way just one time, and your freaking dead, pal. Takemichi's had enough dying for one day, thank you very much.
I was also wary about the romance angle, especially since it seemed like such an afterthought. We learn about how Takemichi's middle-school girlfriend, Hinata, died as a bystander of the Manji Gang's fighting in 2017, but Takemichi barely seemed to care. The show once again pleasantly surprised me by working that apathy into the writing and acknowledging how much it spoke to Takemichi's sad state that he couldn't even remember what his only girlfriend ever looked like by the time she died. Only now, getting to appreciate her as the caring person that she was back when his younger self took Hinata for granted, does Takemichi realize everything he's let slip away from him as time has gone by.
If the show had gone for the straightforward of having Takemichi just start his live over, I might still have had problems with it, because it could never not be weird to have the fully grown Takemichi courting his thirteen-year-old ex. I much prefer the direction the show actually takes, where Takemichi encounters Hinata's little brother, Naoto, and manages to convince him of the whole time leap scenario which ends up saving Naoto's life when Takemichi wakes up in his present day body in 2017.
Naoto was able to save Takemichi, you see, but Hinata is still dead, so the two will have to work together to change time even more until she is safe. Now that's a premise I can get behind! I wish that Tokyo Revenger's had a little more polish, visually speaking, but with a hero I can root for and a tine- hopping adventure that promised plenty of twists and turns, I'm more than happy to give the show's middling visuals a pass (for now, at least).
Tokyo Revengers didn't really grab me until the last few minutes. That's when we get to the heart of the story – that, despite having traveled back in time when he was hit by a train, Takemichi was only able to save one of the Tachibana siblings, and it wasn't his girlfriend Hinata. This sets up the story to take an ERASED-like tack, potentially sending Takemichi back in time again and again to save Hinata and possibly his other friends from middle school.
Unfortunately, the getting there feels like a bit of a slog. Not entirely, because there's still a healthy amount of trying to figure out what's going on and putting all of the pieces together. (This episode gave me the mystery I wanted from Pretty Boys Detective Club.) This requires remembering what the TV said at the beginning of the episode, specifically what gang war caused Hinata's death at the less-than-tender hands of Truck-kun. Could the Tokyo Manji Gang also be behind Takemichi's fall onto the tracks? It seems possible, because when he goes back in time to 2005, the year he was in the eighth grade (middle school year two), we learn that he and his buddies weren't the badasses they thought they were and picked a fight with the wrong ninth graders. Since those ninth graders went on to become the feared entity known as the Tokyo Manji Gang, and since Takemichi specifically moved away after graduating middle school to get away from them, that feels like a real possibility.
And if it isn't them specifically, it could very well be one of his old friends, resentful that Takemichi escaped lifelong thughood.
This raises some interesting possibilities for who else Takemichi might save or lose in his attempts to prevent Hinata's death. How would things have been different if he hadn't let his friends go to the meetup that got them in the gang's sights? Can he go back and prevent that, too? Naoto, Hinata's younger brother, is now a police officer after having met with Takemichi in an altered past, so he may be in the position to really map out Takemichi's trips to the past – assuming, of course, that he can go back to precisely when he wants to. Will he have to die each time? Right now I'm guessing yes, but that comes with its whole own set of issues. However this pans out, it is not going to be easy – at least not for Takemichi.
While the character designs are a little off-putting (and tread dangerously close to Escaflowne noses in profile) and the rest of the visuals are just okay, this could be a show to keep an eye on. Depending on how it plays its cards, it could be an interesting exploration of what might have been – and what it takes to get there.