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Sometimes, it seems like Tokyo Revengers is the forgotten modern anime blockbuster. Back when its two-cour first season streamed on Crunchyroll in 2021, it was one of that year’s most popular shows. It’s impressive how much its visibility was affected by the series’ international switch to Hulu/Disney+. Any momentum generated by the first season swirled down the drain like Takemichi’s bloodstained shower water. Let’s face it – Disney’s streaming few (admittedly fantastic) anime offerings are silently sent out to die with no marketing whatsoever. Look at their criminal treatment of top-tier shows Summer Time Rendering (delayed for months) and Heavenly Delusion (bizarrely released with the untranslated title Tengoku Daimakyo).
Compared to previous seasons, the Tenjiku Arc has higher stakes, with multiple major character deaths that Takemichi cannot reverse with his (as yet still unexplained) time travel abilities. Takemichi’s last trip to the future revealed a world so broken he’s been too terrified to return, and due to the duplicitous, murderous actions of his nemesis, Tetta Kisaki, the timeline keeps spinning further out of control.
Kisaki is perhaps one of anime’s best villains. He’s a manipulative schemer who makes others do his dirty work, motivated purely by personal gain. Like many of the most memorable villains, he’s the hero’s dark mirror. One of his motivations is to be a “dark hero,” reacting against Takemichi’s heroic actions. It’s perhaps understandable that Takemichi thinks Kisaki is a fellow time traveler. In this season’s concluding episodes, Takemichi finally gets a chance to physically confront his nemesis, and I have to admit I found this thrilling. Kisaki is such a little shit; it’s deeply satisfying to witness Takemichi land a solid punch on his smug, sneering face. Kisaki’s fate is brutal, too, which leads me to wonder where on earth the story can go next, especially considering how abruptly the season ends. Unlike the preceding seasons, there is no epilogue or transition to the next arc here.
Despite having a great villain, it’s not only Tokyo Revengers‘ streaming service switch that dented its chances at ongoing success – it’s a deeply flawed series that, at times, can be maddeningly frustrating to watch. Firstly, there’s a major issue with Takemichi as a protagonist. He’s so damned incompetent, as well as being as dumb as a box of rocks. Despite his supreme advantage of foresight, plus an additional twelve years of experience compared to his friends and adversaries, he still fails miserably when planning or even comprehending the situations he needs to resolve. Most conflicts are settled by Takemichi standing around crying while getting the stuffing knocked out of him as he waits for the next arbitrary plot contrivance to rescue him.
That brings me to the second issue, which is the writing. Shows like Re:Zero and Steins;Gate exhibit how powerfully time travel can be utilized as a plot device, driving progression with both despair and hope. Tokyo Revengers‘ writing is repetitive and uninspired, falling back on the same old strategies repeatedly. Are Takemichi and his friends vastly outmanned and outmatched in a gang stand-off? Don’t worry, Takemichi will cry and get beaten to a pulp again while everyone watches and gasps.
Thirdly, Tokyo Revengers: Tenjiku Arc‘s pacing is monotonous. Despite averaging almost four manga chapters per anime episode, the extended fights drag across multiple episodes, many of them composed of increasingly hilariously drawn-out reaction shots to every punch and kick. Seriously, during this most recent season’s climactic battle between Takemichi’s gang and the rival Tenjiku thugs, the rudimentarily animated action pauses multiple times per episode to show every single character in the enormous cast gasping in shock, in turn, one after the other.
So, if Tokyo Revengers has so many fatal flaws, why do I think its third season (strangely listed by Disney+ as the second half of the second season) is still worth watching? Despite its foolish protagonist and awkward writing, Takemichi and his friends have a lot of heart and are easy to root for. Even knowing he’s out of his depth and useless at fighting, Takemichi keeps striving to protect his friends and loved ones from a terrible future. He’s selfless and self-sacrificing, and eventually, this wins him the respect of his gang-mates who once dismissed him as a weakling. He’s an example of a hero whose motives are pure and who saves the day (usually) without resorting to violence.
Takemichi’s friends are all ridiculous, and it’s hard to remember that these gangs of sub-Fist of the North Star martial artist monstrosities are all supposed to be middle-school-aged kids. Tattooed and shaven-headed, Draken is fifteen-going-on-thirty-five, and he’s one of the younger-looking ones. This latest arc greatly humanizes Tokyo Manji Gang’s enigmatic and mercurial leader, Manjiro Sano (Mikey). However, it also grants him a previously unheard-of sort-of half-brother who returns, causing the familial tragedy that accelerates the plot to boiling point.
The Tenjiku Arc has been a return to form for Tokyo Revengers, which lost its way in the latter half of the first and most of its second seasons. Despite its drawn-out pacing and often janky animation, the heightened drama, real emotions, and deeper character work all combine in some unlikely dark alchemy to produce an entertaining show that rises above its myriad flaws to become an entertaining and exciting pot-boiler, filled with brutal cliffhangers and punch-the-air moments of triumph. With only one major arc (plus the aftermath of this one) left to adapt, at the current pace, I expect it could be completed in another two cours, at most three. Let’s hope Takemichi returns for a victory lap – the poor beaten lad has certainly earned it.