The defining theme of Tokyo Revengers is regret. It's a universal feeling – there's not a soul in this world who doesn't have at least a few things they regret. For most of us, it's something embarrassing, or a mistake we made through myopia or selfishness that we only recognize in hindsight. For Takemichi, it seems like his whole life has been one long string of those, leading to the whopper of a line “Thinking back, my second year of middle school is when I peaked.” That's just horrifying, and the worst part is he's not wrong. Even when some mysterious magical realism sends our hero crashing into his 13-year-old body, with all the gangly awkwardness of a teen but devoid of the blissful ignorance of overconfident youth, he's not wrong.
Because for as awful, painful, and demoralizing as that year was and will be, it was the last time in his life he felt like he had anything resembling control. After fleeing the Tokyo Manji gang, leaving his friends behind in the process, Takemichi still couldn't escape the hurt and fear that experience instilled deep in his soul. And that's the beating, bloody heart that has so far made Revengers an emotionally gripping story. This is in many ways a typical time travel tale about making up for past regrets and doing life over (only better this time!), but what sets it apart is Takemichi's sometimes faltering determination to finally stand up to the things in his life that left him a burnt out wreck as an adult. This story isn't just about doing things “right” this time – it's about him confronting the trauma that's clung to his back and dragged him down for half his life.
That said, the rest of Revengers so far is no slouch either. For one, it's got a pretty distinct setting even among shonen manga these days. It's a period piece, specifically 2005 – which shouldn't feel that long ago but somehow does. More importantly, it's one of the only recent entries I can think of in the long-dormant subgenre of delinquents and gangs, which once dominated anime and manga. That's just inherently appealing to the part of me that counts Angel Densetsu as one of my all-time favorite manga, but it also works to perfectly bridge the conflict Takemichi and his friends face. See, they were playing at being badasses, imagining they could stomp their scrawny butts into a different neighborhood and have a turf war with fellow 8th graders. But that's the romanticized fantasy of yankī depicted in media, and immediately these kids realize they've tried to pick a fight with the kind of real-life gang that will go on to commit real, murder-a-cop level crimes – and they are totally unprepared for it.
That's where the strongest tension of Revengers lies. Takemichi is mentally an adult, and has had all that glamour and pretense stripped from his perspective already. He knows he's going against full-on dangerous criminals who could very well kill him, and is fully unequipped to face that kind of danger. But fate has for some reason chosen him to be the temporal axis on which the lives of his former friends now rotate, and for all their poor decisions, these are good kids. They're stubborn and headstrong, but we see in episode 2 that they absolutely care about one another, and I fully buy that Takemichi would swallow his fear to try to protect them and their terrible, embarrassing fashion sense.
I do however have some quibbles about the story so far, and it mainly comes down to Hinata. Partially I worry about any potential attempts at romance between her and the time-leaping Takemichi. It's all well and good to have nostalgia for a childhood girlfriend, but I'm gonna ask that the adult inhabiting his teenage body keep things strictly to handshakes and life-saving. There are enough weirdos out there who thought Kayo and Satoru should have gotten together in ERASED and I don't need to be dealing with those kinds for the next 12 weeks. More pressingly, I do hope she gets some character of her own outside of just being a beacon of wholesomeness, since she's also the only prominent female character in the entire show, and the emotional linchpin of the entire narrative. Giving her some genuine depth as a person would go a long way in consolidating Revengers' already strong foundation. She does feature prominently in the ED animation, so here's hoping.
For now though, this show has done plenty already to impress me with what it has to say. There's room here for Tokyo Revengers to be something special, equal parts brutal and poignant, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing where (and when) it takes me next.
Rating: Tokyo Revengers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.