Japan was thrown into chaos in the wake of the "Great Disaster," during which the spirit energy of the country was disturbed by an onmyouji (a type of magician), leaving spiritual disturbances all over the place. Harutora Tsuchimikado was born into a family of onmyoujii mages but has no power whatsoever, himself. One day, his childhood friend Natsume appears to him to convince him to take on a promise he'd made to become her shikigami (familiar). Shortly after, he's convinced to take up her offer with the arrival of a marauding solo mage, Suzuka, who's attempting to use Natsume's powers to resurrect her father. Harutora ends up becoming a member of Onmyo Academy in Tokyo, where Natsume (presenting as a boy in order to fulfill her role as heir to the family) also attends.
I'm not positive that the explosion of "Magic Academy" anime has anything to do with Harry Potter being popular, but I have my suspicions. I can think of a handful of older examples, like Negima, that come from manga, but my take on the phenomenon is that the book inspired a lot of European magic-themed light novel series in the 90s and early 2000s, and that this led to a lot of anime adaptations showing up in the 2000s and 2010s; it probably didn't hurt that the "ordinary boy finding extraordinary powers within him" story model was already so common in anime. If I'm going to be blunt, it's not a genre that I've really been that thrilled by: shows like The Familiar of Zero have their moments, and I know of a few uncharacteristically good examples like Little Witch Academia, but maybe I bring in the Harry Potter reference because it helps explain, to me, why stuff like Magical Warfare, Bladedance of the Elementelars, and Mahouka feels so formulaic. Well, that, and the harem element, which we've established by now tends to be a huge turn-off for me. So Tokyo Ravens wasn't a show I was that thrilled about, originally, and it's probably not something I would've ever picked up if we hadn't had a request floating around for it. It does at least center more on Japanese, shinto-inspired magic, setting it apart from the other various Hogwarts clones I see in anime, but beyond that, the list of things that really set it apart is pretty short. Still, I wouldn't say it's exactly "bad," and it's the kind of show that might be worth a watch if you have time to spare or are a bigger fan of this sub-genre than I am.
Tokyo Ravens gets off to a pretty rocky start, launching right into ugly love-triangle territory between Harutora, the outwardly demure and hyper-feminine Natsume, and Harutora's brash, tomboyish childish friend Hokuto. These first few episodes are pretty cringe-inducing: not a whole lot happens besides the two girls trying to convince Harutora to become a mage, and a lot of whining on Hokuto's part. I'll say that this triangle has an....interesting twist, later on, but it makes for a hard sell at the start, given how annoying Hokuto is, and I definitely thought about dropping the show. Things get a bit more interesting when we move to Onymyo Academy itself, after four episodes, at which point it almost feels like a different show: the harem-y element is there but toned down, and with Hokuto and Suzuka mostly out of the picture and Natsume living outwardly as a boy (which she spends most of the series doing) we settle into the show proper. And it's not an especially inspiring show, nor is it anything I haven't seen elsewhere, but I didn't exactly dislike it. Yes, there are a lot of teenagers' hormones getting the better of them and getting them into dueling matches they never should've started, plus the whole trope of Kyouko Kurahashi, the snooty granddaughter of the academy's principal, being haughty and dismissive to Harutora but actually liking him (raise your hands, how many of you didn't see that coming?). Honestly, it's convention after convention, with this show.
Still, if there's a reason that it all works, it's that the balance of humor is better than in some similar shows: it doesn't take itself as nauseatingly seriously as does Magical Warfare, and it isn't as goofy as The Familiar of Zero. The show had one character who really could've ruined my opinion under the wrong circumstances, but actually sort of made it for me, and that's Kon, Harutora's fox-like guardian familiar. Mascot-type characters can easily get annoying, but she was just so adorably protective of him without coming across as creepy or mean; not to mention, her jester-like clothes are weirdly cute, as are her facial expressions. So, she basically makes every scene she's in, whereas such a "breakout" character could easily have screwed the show up for me (and has before); she lightened up the pompousness of this show just enough. And I won't say I'll list the rest of the cast as my favorites, but it actually helps quite a bit that I actually somewhat liked most of the cast. Sure, there's a bit of tsundere-style crankiness on Kyouko's part, and Harutora can be a dummy, but his friend Toji is pretty pleasant and intelligent as "best friend" characters go (that type is usually totally insufferable), Natsume's pretty badass, even if it bugs me that she only seems to do her best fighting while in "boy" mode (sigh), and I rather liked one of their teachers, Jin Ohtomo, who's kind of like a calmer and wryer Mad-Eye Moody (complete with a wooden leg). And for what it's worth, the fight-scenes are entertaining enough: the focus on Japanese mythology, if not handled amazingly accurately, is still at least something of an interesting twist, and the fight scenes themselves are well-animated. The show won't win any awards for art direction, and the character design is a bit flat in my opinion, but the animation itself is pretty strong, with even some of the gratuitous CGI fitting in more decently than usual (on a side note, the 1st OP and ED are both catchy, and they should've just used them for the whole show).
But Tokyo Ravens never gets anywhere past "decent" territory for me. For one thing, it has the problem that a lot of light novel adaptations do of trying to cram various subplots in; it's far easier to do this in writing than in movies or TV, and they don't handle it especially well here. I had a hard time keeping track of the various secondary characters and their factions and allegiances; another reason that I don't feel that the Japanese mythology was handled especially well is that a lot of show-specific terms are just thrown around, making this harder to understand for anyone who hasn't read the light novels (and they aren't translated into English as far as I know). Tokyo Ravens trips pretty hard on itself, in regards to those two problems; it also makes the mistake of trying to make as big an impact as possible with the ending by teasing at as many strange plot developments as possible, but it's an awkward, inconclusive ending. It isn't as bad as the ambiguousness of Elfen Lied's last episode, for example, but it's still unsatisfying. It's disappointing, because for all the decent things about this show, the mishandling of character introductions, pacing problems, and clunky ending make it kind of hard to recommend.
So, I'm giving Tokyo Ravens a decent grade because I got *some* enjoyment out of it: it starts off terribly, but after that it shapes up and makes for a likable enough show. But it's very messy at the same time, and it's also not the kind of show that will stick with me very long, I think; magic-academy light novel adaptations make for a crowded genre, and Tokyo Ravens doesn't totally do enough to stick out from that, in the end.
This is a pretty weak three stars (a 5/10 on MAL, if that helps): I did actually enjoy a lot of it, but it's also weirdly hard for me to recommend. Maybe add a star if you're really into this subgenre. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Fairly tame as fighting-heavy anime go, there's a bit of bloodshed but nothing I remember as especially gory. There's a wee bit of fanservice, and I vaguely remember it being more noticeable at the start of the show, but it barely registered.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of FUNimation (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Tokyo Ravens © 2013 bruise of Kohei-corner soldiers / Corporation KADOKAWA Fujimi Shobo / Tokyo Ravens Production Committee
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