Image source: ufotable on Twitter

You have enemies who are out to change time by altering events in the past. You need to stop those enemies. So you send warriors into the past to prevent things from being changed. It’s a fairly simple premise. Touken Ranbu likes to remind us that it’s not that simple in practice.

[Note: This article contains spoilers for Katsugeki Touken Ranbu.]

In Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu, historical swords reborn as handsome boys—called Touken Danshi—fight against the mysterious Time Retrograde Army to protect the events of history. You can take a moment to let that concept sink in. Go on, I’ll wait.

Based on the browser and smartphone game, Touken Ranbu, this is the second anime adaptation—the first being Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru, which aired last fall season.

While much more light-hearted in nature, Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru focused on the dilemma of having the ability to save someone but not doing so to preserve history. The story mainly focused on the sword, Yamatonokami Yasusada—a sword belonging to the famed Shinsengumi swordsman, Okita Sōji—and his being torn between his sense of duty to his mission and his love for his former owner.

Touken Ranbu Asks A Difficult Time Travel Question of Its Characters

Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu focuses on a different group of blades and has a much more somber—and more action-filled—tone. Whereas Hanamaru discussed the issue of avoiding the temptation to change time because unpleasant things happened, Katsugeki takes a much more blunt tone in the topic of changing time; the Touken Danshi are already changing time just by being there. Their job isn’t to prevent damage to the timeline, so much as minimize it.

Basically, in terms of changing history, that die was already cast the moment the Time Retrograde Army set its sights on any certain event in time. Simply by existing in a time where they’re not supposed to be, the Touken Danshi themselves have the potential to butterfly effect the timeline in catastrophic ways. Obviously they do their best not to get involved or to interact with their surroundings too much in ways that could cause this, but that’s easier said than done when you don’t know exactly how your enemy intends to change things.

Image source: ufotable on Twitter

We see the weight of this whole issue early on when the series protagonist, Izuminokami Kanesada—a sword once belonging to the second in command of the Shinsengumi, Hijikata Toshizō—sees a child in danger and saves them. Izuminokami Kanesada’s companion, Horikawa Kunihiro—another sword owned by Hijikata Toshizō—notes that saving the child could change history, to which Izuminokami Kanesada remarks that if that should happen, he’ll just come back and “take care” of the kid.

Izuminokami Kanesada’s words are fairly casual in delivery, but reveal the danger in the Touken Danshi’s mission. Every little thing they do can change time. And not in the “Marty McFly owns a nice truck now” happy kind of way. Izuminokami Kanesada has a strong sense of morality and justice, which drives him to save an innocent, but at the same time, he is also willing to kill that innocent if need be.

Image source: ufotable on Twitter

It is noted in the series that time has a convergence factor to it which allows it to self-repair like in Steins;Gate—where certain events are destined to happen no matter which route you take—so there is a bit of wiggle room in just how much the Touken Danshi can do while they’re in the past attempting to fix things. So long as things don’t stray too much from the actual events, things should return to normality. Still, there’s no telling what could cause things to change beyond repair. It’s not enough that the Touken Danshi defeat their enemies, they need to know what their enemies are trying to do and how they are attempting to change time. They’re constantly on the defensive, being forced to respond, and it gives everything an atmosphere of tension. It would be tragic if the Time Retrograde Army comes up with a way to alter time by forcing the Touken Danshi to stop them. But that’s time travel for you.

Image source: ufotable on Twitter

Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu can be viewed with English subtitles on Amazon Anime Strike, Crunchyroll, and Hulu. It’s also available on AnimeLab in AU/NZ and on ANIPLUS Asia on TV in Southeast Asia.

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