Takemichi discovers his adolescent thug life isn't what it's cracked up to be--if the state of his constantly smashed skull is any indicator. When the former punk gets a do-over, his friends and girlfriend's lives are on the line. It's time travel, now with more delinquents!
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Jean-Karlo, I've got good news and bad news.
The good news is, we're covering a show that starts with a sadsack loser getting run over that ISN'T an isekai!
The bad news is we have to imagine what it would be like to be stuck in middle school again.
Man, Re:Zero got weird while I wasn't looking...
Oh Takemichi wishes he was in Re:Zero. Subaru might have had to go through horrible physical and mental torture but at least he never said anything this sad:
What's sadder, peaking in middle school, or thinking you peaked in middle school...?
I mean, if you're in a position to think it, you're probably right. Either way it's a revelation I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and it sets the tone for this week's show pretty well. Tokyo Revengers is the new hit shōnen anime that dares to ask the question: What if the guy from ERASED got this shit kicked out of him a whole lot?
I've seen a lot of delinquents in anime: Yusuke Urameshi, Wooden-Sword Ryu, Eikichi Onizuka, that curious Mechazawa fellow. Good, stupid boys, all, but they don't quite match how brutal these gangsters can be.
Tokyo Revengers is basically a sucker-punch to the jaw, and it really doesn't let up.
I love me some delinquent anime and manga, which sucks for me because those basically don't get made anymore. They had their heyday in the 90's, but these days outside of hollering into the void for somebody to license Angel Densetsu it's not often I get to think about them much. So when Revengers showed up with our main cast looking like this, I was in:
I mentioned Great Teacher Onizuka up there, and Tokyo Revengers starts out somewhat similarly to it: Takemichi Hanagaki is a 20-something washout with no prospects in life. He's spineless, lives in squalor, regularly gets dunked on by kids a quarter of his age, and hasn't had a girlfriend since middle school. Speaking of, he finds out one day that his middle-school girlfriend Hinata and her brother were killed in an unfortunate gang-related accident.
Though he doesn't really have much to time to ponder that, since later that same day somebody decides to commit some public transit homicide and throws him in front of a train. In typical fashion, he has his life flash before his eyes, except instead of flashing it just plays out the worst day of his life in full.
"Worst day," indeed. Takemichi barely has time to appreciate being around some of his most beloved childhood friends before they get set upon by a gang of upperclassmen from another school. See, Takemichi and company fancied themselves delinquents and wanted to start a fight with the second-years from the school. When the third-years found out that Takemichi and company wanted to play stupid games, they came around to pass out stupid prizes.
... Also, is it just me, or does the one guy on the far right look like Okuyasu?
These guys could all be Part 4 villains, honestly. And that's not even getting to the weirdos with hand tattoos later on.
But yeah, that particular wriggle to this time-travel story is what first got me really invested in Revengers. Going back and reliving life with hindsight is a common power fantasy, but what a lot of them forget is that actually, being a teenager probably sucked a whole lot more than we allow ourselves to remember.
Where Jobless Reincarnation plays off thinking that your accumulated knowledge of playing eroge can make you live like a king in another world, Revengers has Takemichi realize that all his knowledge can't really save him—even if he did have knowledge that could destroy the people around them, they can still destroy his face without breaking a sweat.
Any attempt from him to gain a leg up requires him to take extra curriculum at The School of Hard Knocks.
That's the other half of this show that makes it click for me. Takemichi doesn't just realize he was a cringe-inducing wannabe, he recognizes that this one mistake lead to a life of timidly running away from conflict. That habit not only isolated him from his friends and loved ones, it also left him a wreck of an adult who can barely take care of himself.
I'm getting ahead of myself, but it also ruined the lives of the people around him. You see, the gangsters that thrashed him and his friends were from the Tokyo Manji Gang (Toman for short). In the 12 years since Takemichi ran away from his home town, Toman became an extremely powerful gang involved in drug/human trafficking and murder. It was Toman that caused the accident that kills Hinata, to say nothing of turning Takemichi's friends into their slaves.
Also worth noting that this whole playing Gang-stars was Takemichi's idea and he was the first to bail. So on top of trauma he also gets to live with the guilt of all that too. That's gotta be almost as painful as constantly getting his teeth knocked out.
Takemichi has the gall to at least try and make a change, and in a twist of fate he manages it. Standing up for Hinata's brother in the past winds up changing the future—he survives the accident that kills Hinata and, realizing he's the key to Takemichi hopping between the present and the past, decides to take on Toman the easiest possible way: by keeping them from becoming as big as they did in the first place.
Now viewers at home may be asking how that works. And the answer, like all other time travel stories, is simple: Don't think about it.
It made sense to me—it operates a little like Back to the Future crossed with Bill and Ted.
To a point, but those guys at least had time machines. Takemichi just bro-fists his way into the past.
At any rate, after a few pummelings and a pep-talk from Hinata, Takemichi is not only able to meet Toman's leader but even curries his favor. Sano, alias "Mikey", and Ryuguji, alias "Draken", are impressed with Takemichi's newfound gumption.
And by "gumption" we mean he got the tarnation beat out of him for like 20 minutes and stayed conscious. See that's the thing with Takemichi—he learned from Rocky Balboa that it's not about how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
Well yes, but Takemichi also grows enough of a spine to stand up to Sano and Ryuguji whenever Hinata is involved—which they respect.
Sano and Ryuguji are both the kids most-likely to leave you bleeding out in an alleyway while also being surprisingly virtuous—if they stab you, you did something pretty offensive. Which is why it's so mindboggling to Takemichi that they end up leading Toman, and that Toman ends up the way it does. They're thugs, but they're principled.
Yeah, Mikey and Draken are pretty much the classic anime street punks. Violent and impulsive, but with secret hearts of gold that you can respect even though they just stole your bike.
Also, I like Sano. He's a fun guy. He likes stepping on his underclassmen for fun, and he's got a dead look in his eyes, but it's hard to hate a guy who exclusively orders kids' meals at restaurants and insists that they have the flag, please, and takes a catnap right after. I file him and Jotaro Kujo in the "We didn't mean to write them as on the Spectrum, but they fit the bill" cabinet.
There's also this bit where he visits a victim of another gang's violence and Ryuguji kinda forces him to bow his head in solidarity towards the girl's family. Sano has principles, but either he's so stuck in them that he misses the forest for the trees, or just doesn't quite read people well.
That's kind of what makes their friendship work. Mikey is the passionate—and violent—fire that brings Toman together, but Draken's the one capable of keeping a cool enough head that he can handle situations that don't involve fist fights. It's a strong team all-told, and the dissolution of it is apparently what turns the gang from a (relatively) harmless group of teenagers into a crew so bad Naoto wants to merc them Minority Report style.
Lets put a pin in that conflict for now, because there's good stuff to talk about vis-à-vis Takemichi's time travel. He and Naoto often compare notes to try and gain extra information that could help them change the past. Part of this involves Takemichi tracking down his old friend Akkun. This ends in tragedy; not only does Akkun reveal he was responsible for pushing Takemichi onto the tracks, his inner turmoil leads him to take his own life.
Turns out whoever turned Toman into the nightmare it is now, they specifically have it out for Takemichi. We don't know why, exactly, and our hero's too busy with the crisis in front of him to figure it out, but it's clear that all the shit happening to Present Takemichi is more than just coincidence.
It's also extra heartbreaking because despite years of separation, Akkun is still a close enough friend that he immediately ferrets out Takamichi's time travel secret, and all but begs him to save him from the terror his life's been the last 12 years.
This is what really elevates Tokyo Revengers for me. The concept is a little like Otherside Picnic: this is an isekai story, but the real meat of the story isn't a power fantasy: Takemichi's growth comes from him reaching deep inside of himself and pulling out the wherewithal to put his life on the line for his friends. Because he knows what'll happen if he doesn't. And bless his heart, he can't throw a punch to save his life, but Takemichi is a fighter. He's willing to get his face broken in by his own friends for the sake of keeping them from digging their own graves.
Though speaking of digging graves, whenever Takemichi isn't inhabiting his own teen-self, the real 13-year-old Takemichi is busy making predictably bad decisions. Like when he wakes up 10 seconds away from ensuring Hina kills him.
I wanna take another moment to talk about Hinata—and Emma up there, as well. This being a shōnen series, they're both kinda hosed over as far as development goes. Akkun, Sano, and Ryuguji's internal worlds are fully explored, but Hinata is only ever really positioned as being a thing that Takemichi is fighting for who occasionally gives him moral support. We know he cares about her, but she otherwise keeps to the sidelines. Emma, for her part, loves Ryuguji a lot, but he doesn't quite notice her. And... that's it. Female characters getting hosed over in a shōnen series is a tired old song-and-dance, and it kinda sucks that even Emma (who, given her social circle, is most definitely hiding a pocket knife in her bra) doesn't get much to do.
With Hina in particular it's glaring because she's the entire point of the show's plot. They do a decent job making her and Takemichi a cute enough couple, but they also do a terrible job justifying why Takemichi or Naoto don't just tell her about the time travel stuff. Her life's on the line and instead of offering her any agency in the matter they just try to hide it like some kind of sitcom plot where they brought a dog home without permission.
Also also, SHE KNOWS MARTIAL ARTS. Takemichi should be begging her to teach him so he can do something besides bruise his opponent's knuckles when he inevitably finds himself fighting another 7-foot-tall 9th grader.
At any rate: Takemichi has a wild night as he tries to navigate a potential gang war on the night of August 3rd. He has to keep Ryuguji from getting killed, which is hard when Ryuguji is jumped by an entire army of Moebius's thugs.
Woah now, we can't just skip there without commenting on the original leader of Moebius! This absolute Man of Culture deserves some spotlight.
Granted the most important thing he does is get stabbed, but by god I just love looking at that loser.
It's funny because when we first meet him, it's his washed-out adult self, who is nowhere near as intimidating.
I've heard of "be careful who you call ugly in high school", but woof.
He ditched the monogrammed jumpsuit but don't worry, his boxers have "PEAKED IN HIGH SCHOOL" stitched across the ass.
Seriously though, the disparity between past and future is generally pretty shocking. Obviously most of these guys grow out of their bleached-hair phase eventually, but for Osanai it's another result of whoever the hell took over Toman in the preceding decade destroying another life.
In the ensuing fight between Toman and Moebius, we possibly get a glimpse of them courtesy of, er, this guy who apparently is a big fan of Treasure's Sin and Punishment games. His name is Hanma, he's from the gang Valhalla, and... that's it. He absconds during the chaos to parts unknown.
I've only known Hanma for five minutes but I already love this incredibly extra, demented street thug. You know he's crazy because hand tattoos fucking hurt.
Speaking of, we've completely failed to talk about the insanity that is Draken getting a god damned head tattoo in primary school. He better hope this whole biker gang thing works out because trying to get an interview at WacDonald's is gonna be rough with that thing.
Speaking of Ryuguji, it turns out that Takemichi couldn't keep him from getting stabbed. This season's climax is Takemichi, Hinata and Emma desperately trying to keep him alive while an ambulance comes—meanwhile, the gang has to hold off the band of middle schoolers that thrashed them in the first place.
"Middle schoolers" in heavy quotations since each and every one of these guys looks like they're old enough to be paying child support to their own middle-schooler children. Don't smoke, kids.
The good news is, Takemichi's friends are able to distract them with their punchable, punchable faces until the ambulance arrives. It's still a nice bit of character development. For example: in the "original" timeline, Akkun stabs Kiyomasa up there, which leads to his future as a Toman stooge in charge of a hostess bar. Akkun is a lot more in control this time around.
The bad news is Takemichi gets stabbed through the hand for his trouble. But he's also able to finally, desperately face down the source of longstanding trauma and come out the other end alive enough to tell the story. It's one of those classic Shonen Hero moments, but instead of unlocking a new power to defeat the bad guys, our hero bravely chokes a guy out while praying for his life.
That isn't a slam, for the record. Dignity is a luxury reserved for people who can afford to leave a fight.
At any rate: the gang is able to keep Ryuguji alive long enough to get him the help he needs. He pulls through, and many jubilant tears are had.
I actually really dig the little arc we get with Mikey through this. When he arrives and Draken's still in the operating room, he's all stalwart badass:
But once Draken does pull through, and everyone else is celebrating, Mikey sneaks off on his own to let out all the stress and fear he'd been keeping inside.
It's this really sweet moment that reminds you that for all that Mikey seems born to beat the shit out of people, he's also still a kid who loves his friends, and seeing the person he cares about the most in danger does effect him.
Unfortunately, that's all she wrote. Takemichi is able to go back to the future and finds things have changed—severely, at that. Akkun is still alive and now works at a salon, and even Hinata is still alive. But with the last episode being a few days away from airing, we don't know the full context. Also, the next arc starts airing next month and we haven't even begun to learn what the deal is with Valhalla. So things are only getting started.
I'm excited for whatever comes next. Revengers has its flaws, but this arc has made it clear it can tell a gripping, emotionally resonant character story alongside delivering some classic Yankee action. My only major complaint is that whoever is editing these episodes for international release REALLY needs to stop being so skittish about the god damn Manji symbol. Multiple episodes have glaring edits where they cut out group shots of Toman's members because the couldn't edit all their jackets, and it gets ridiculous at points. Just stick with the 4Kids approach, guys, it's fine.
I keep forgetting that Tokyo Revengers is a shōnen story, given how unflatteringly it gazes upon Takemichi. This isn't a power fantasy, unless you fantasize about being a gofer for guys who could rearrange your face. Takemichi drags himself through the mud but comes out of it a better person, and his growth is more about confronting his cowardice more than just stumbling his way to success. It was a very engaging, pleasant surprise and I do hope more people check it out.
And I hope more people come to appreciate our hero's fashion taste too.