In doing my prep work for the 2022 Oscars post, I’m being reminded of something I pretty much already knew – 2022 was an awful year for original anime. There were an awful lot of them, but very few of them were any good I’m afraid. That’s been the trend in anime the past couple of years, with more originals being produced but with less originality. I would always be happy when a new series produces two first episodes as good as Revenger has, but I’m especially hopeful about this one because anime desperately needs a few good originals.
The huge caveat that is Urobuchi Gen certainly hangs over Revenger like a dark cloud on the horizon. But for all my concerns that his usual narrative drift will claim this show as yet another senseless Urobutcher victim, I can’t praise these two eps without praising him. It makes a difference having a polished, classically sound writer in charge, and even on his worst days Urobuchi is certainly that. There’s so much clarity in the writing here – everything that’s happening is logical and transparent without relying on clumsy exposition by explanation. It’s just a good, classic historical drama, even if it does seem to have a few flights of fancy to it.
The first new twist is the introduction of the man apparently in charge of Usui’s operation, a seemingly European priest played by Ohtsuka Akio. There doesn’t exist a show that can’t be improved by casting him, and this is seemingly going to be an important role. The extend to which Usui and his band are all true believers is not absolutely clear, but there does seem to be some kind of bizarre Christian revenge doctrine behind the whole thing (though the money certainly doesn’t hurt). Usui’s decision to cut Raizou in on the take from the last job doesn’t go over well with Nio and Souji (Hayama Shouta) but Usui is clearly playing a long game where Raizou is concerned.
The system in use here is simple – whoever wants to hire the Revengers passes them a gold coin with bite marks in it, the depth of the marks communicating the strength of the grudge (or at least the teeth). That’s a rather poetical image it must be said, but Usui is pretty sanguine about the whole thing. Despite his interest in convincing Raizou to join, he refuses to deny that what he does is murder. He couches it in terms of being an instrument of those who desire justice and are unable to seek it themselves, but for a samurai like Raizou – even a fallen one – the idea of killing people for money over someone else’s grudge is reflexively abhorrent.
The someone in question this week is Mana (Sarah Emi Bridcutt), a dying courtesan who seeks revenge on the husband who cheated her out of her father’s dowry, Inohachi (Masuda Toshiki), and his employer and co-conspirator Tenmokuya (Sugino Tanuki). The go-between is Usui’s man Murakami Teppa (Takeuchi Shunsuke). He too has a day job, as a doctor, but “Riben-ji” is clearly his main gig. The question is whether Raizou will be a part of all this, but Usui presents his choice in stark terms – he can waste away to nothing in hiding and shame or he can put his sword to the service of “justice” (as Usui sees it).
Even without Ohtsuka’s scenery-chewing priest’s involvement, this revenger gig is obviously morally dubious in a big way. Call it what you will – “vigilantism” probably comes as close as anything to the reality – it’s murder. It so happens the people we’ve seen killed so far have certainly been rotters, and Inohachi and Tenmokuya are no exception – conning young women out of their family savings and selling them into prostitution stamps their ticket to Hell to be sure. But you have to wonder just how careful the Riben-ji about making sure the client whose money they take is actually in the right before they kill for them.
It’s Raizou who dispatches Inohachi with some help from Murakami (I’m guessing that style wouldn’t fly in Tsurune). As for Tenmokuya it’s Nio who lures him to his doom (if there were any doubt about Nio’s gender Tenmokuya’s particular perversion puts it to rest) at the hands of Usui. All this is done with a great sense of style and narrative punch – this world and this situation feels very real, and as flamboyant as they are so do the characters. It’s an excellent mix so far, thoroughly entertaining and artfully done – all we can hope is that history doesn’t repeat itself and the series has the legs for the full distance.