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Review: “Tokyo Ravens Part 2” – Chasing the Light

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NOTE: This review spoils the first half of Tokyo Ravens. Also, although she’ll likely never read this, I would like to apologize to composer Maiko Iuchi for mistaking her as male in my earlier reviews of her work.

Tokyo Ravens Part 2I enjoyed the first half of Tokyo Ravens immensely, despite the mixed bag in quality I have seen from light novel adaptations. One of the big challenges of adapting any novel into a visual medium is to give the audience the feeling that they’re not missing expository prose, or having the prose forced on us via the characters. The first half of Tokyo Ravens accomplished this and a lot more, but does the second half do the same?

We pick up immediately after where we left off, and unlike the gentle way the first set left off, we are thrust right into the action from the get-go. In the second episode of this set, we witness a dramatic assault on Onmyo Prep Academy, which ends in a revelation for one of the shadowy figures that haunted the end of the last set. From that point on, Tokyo Ravens does not slow down. All of the secret agendas being constructed in the first half come to roost here, and it can be difficult to follow what is best described as a melee a trois as the show charges towards its conclusion. The writing inserts plenty of ambiguity into the proceedings as well, with a definite lack of outright villains in this series. Tokyo Ravens‘ antagonists tend to fall into the archetype of having convincing motives for their actions. The notable exception to this is Doman Ashiya, who seems to be out for sheer power and greed, but he is dispensed with early on in this set (or so the show wants you to think). Even then, he only attacks the Onmyo Prep Academy for someone else with a different agenda.

Tokyo Ravens 2A significant factor in the gyrating plotlines is the addition of Takiko Souma. She’s as young as the main cast, but composes herself almost like an adult in most circumstances (which make her rare lapses into childish tantrums rather unnerving). She calls herself a Yakou Devotee (a member of a cult centered around the great, late onmyouji Yakou), who were characterized as crazed, obsessed villains in the first set and the early part of this one. However, she’s aggravated by most of them and makes a move to wipe most of them out soon after her introduction. At the same time, she tries to insert herself into Harutora’s and Natsume’s lives, trying to learn about them, but not knowing how to properly interact with them, as her childhood was stolen from her. She wants nothing more than to empower Natsume, believing that Natsume is the reincarnation of Yakou, but her attempts to do so seem counter-productive. In fact, her efforts expose something about Harutora and Natsume that drives her to correct the “problem,” but as she rashly attempts to intervene, it causes a disaster that dramatically changes the course of the series. Rarely in anime has a character introduced after the halfway point had such an impact on the narrative; perhaps I have to go as far back as Pain in the whole Naruto saga to find a good point of comparison.

It is difficult to discuss the remainder of the series without dropping spoilers. The aftereffects of Tokiko’s “corrective” action changes the whole dynamic of the series. It makes fugitives out of the cast members for an episode, and makes Harutora effectively sign a deal with the devil. This also imbues a lot of power into Kon, who was something of a joke character for most of this series. The final episode of the series finally gives Kon a chance to show what she can really do and what she really is. The events also transform some previously heroic characters into antagonists because of Harutora’s change in affiliation. It’s not entirely out of character for Harutora to do the things he does in these final episodes, since his actions are driven by a special sort of desperation that comes with losing someone you care about and wanting to do anything to bring that person back. However, this effort also costs Harutora a lot from a personal standpoint, and at series’ end, you are left with the impression he has become a different person entirely. The series wraps up the loose ends tightly enough to give closure, but it is definitely bittersweet. The final scene leaves one thing up in the air in the event a second season is commissioned. The anime series adapted all of the light novels published at the time of airing, and while sales were apparently decent in Japan, they weren’t as strong as Studio 8bit’s hit adaptation of Infinite Stratos. It will likely be a while before we see a verdict on that.

Tokyo Ravens 2Studio 8bit’s animation for Tokyo Ravens remains a highlight. Characters are rarely off-model, and the vivid colors that lend so many layers to both the characters and magical spells are stronger than ever. The action is storyboarded with a strong emphasis on clarity. The out-of-place CGI for certain familiars continues to be a problem, and there are some clumsy interactions with the 2D characters and magic, but the 2D animation itself remains at a high level. It is clear, once again, how much passion director Takaomi Kanasaki has for this project, and it is passed onto his crew with panache. If only all light novel adaptations were directed by someone with equal reverence for the original source material. While the writing does slip a bit, series compositor and writer Hideyuki Kurata continues a great job of translating all of the information and agendas onto the screen as well.

Maiko Iuchi’s score for this series merely confirms what I believed from the first set: this is her magnum opus thus far. While most of the new pieces here are cut from the A Certain Magical Index vein, in that they were largely electronic, the orchestral pieces that debuted in the last set continue to drive the action onscreen strongly. The highlight of the new music is Takiko Souma’s theme; she gets a mystical flute-and-piano piece that encompasses her adult-in-a-teen’s body exterior but also hints at a inner vulnerability we only see glimpses of in-series. Overall, this remains a stellar soundtrack and shows a dramatic growth for Iuchi that I hope will continue in the future.

Tokyo Ravens 2The opening and the ending from the last set, “X-Encounter” and “Kimi ga Emu Yuugure” respectively, quickly exit from the series after the 13th episode. After an episode where no opening or ending theme is used at all, we get a new set with the 15th episode. “Outgrow” by Gero is the new opening, and while it is a dramatic, stellar rock song, most of the footage is reused from X-Encounter and edited much more haphazardly, which does a distracting, dramatic blow to the momentum the song provides. At least the footage present in the new ending theme, “Break a Spell” by Mami Kawada, is entirely new and fits with the gentler tune well. Still, both are a bit of letdown compared to their predecessors, but still function well enough.

This was brought up in the commentary for the last set, and is brought up again in the commentary for episode 14, but ADR Director Colleen Clinkenbeard had to exit the series after episode 12 due to her pregnancy. Zack Bolton takes over those duties from there, and the transition is almost seamless. I’ve found Bolton’s best work tends to come from series with a colder, more mature, emotional perspective like Darker Than Black, as opposed to something with a warmer core like Tokyo Ravens, but Bolton’s direction shows no real slips. His casting for the new characters also acquaint themselves well, such as Felecia Angelle as Tokiko and John Swasey as Genji Takahashi (the head of the Onmyo Agency). Perhaps the greatest praise should go to Monica Rial for the vocal gymnastics she has to do in the final episode, which required Kon to have two separate voice actresses in the Japanese version.

Tokyo Ravens 2As for the script, Jamie Marchi (with Tyson Rinehart again providing assistance) has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the source material, but like with the first set, she tends to stick closer to the original script here. The majority of the “Marchi-isms” are gone, and while there is a slight increase in the amount of slang compared to the first half of the dub, it remains more muted compared to her usual work. Overall, the dub script remains faithful and doesn’t stray from the intent or characterizations, and has about as much profanity as the original script (which is almost zero).

The Japanese dub is also well-executed, with Kana Hanazawa doing a great job with Natsume’s two personas and Hiroyuki Yoshino clearly having a ball playing the bloodthirsty Reiji Kagami. The Japanese version has no real flaws from what I can tell, as it is a clearly seasoned cast outside of Kaito Ishikawa as Harutora, and he acquaints himself well as well. The big difference, like last time, is that Kana Hanazawa and Caitlin Glass both hit vastly different tonal ranges as Natsume, and your preference of which performance will likely be the deciding factor of which version you’ll enjoy more.

There are three different commentaries included as extras here, along with more of Kon’s chibi exploits (subbed-only, unfortunately) and textless openers/closers. Nothing too illuminating about the commentaries other than the explanation for Clinkenbeard’s absence, but Clifford Chapin, J. Michael Tatum, and Michael Johnson (Doman Ashiya) put on a pretty decent 24-minute comedy skit for the episode 14 commentary. The Blu-Rays remain the best way to watch the series, but the DVDs look great as well, as my screenshots of the DVD version probably show.

Tokyo Ravens 2Overall, Tokyo Ravens, while there’s a slight drop in overall quality here due to so many agendas and narratives colliding all at once, remains an exemplary example of how to adapt a light novel into animation. Hopefully the cast and crew do get rewarded with their efforts with a second season, so they can continue to prove to the rest of the industry how a light novel adaptation should be done. Some of the best pacing I have seen from such an adaptation, along with great animation, music, and voice acting in both dubs, makes Tokyo Ravens a series you shouldn’t let pass by. Even with one thing intentionally left dangling, I have not seen this much closure in an ending for a light novel adaptation as well. It feels like a complete story from start to finish.

That earns Tokyo Ravens my wholehearted recommendation.