Anime original by Bakken Record
Streaming on Crunchyroll
In an alternate 1931, where the Tokugawa Shogunate never fell, strange creatures known as Changelings have infiltrated the criminal underworld. Opposing them is Nue, a government-sanctioned team of spies and assassins.
I’m always onboard for a good alternate history story and there certainly seem to be some fascinating ideas at play in Jouran. The concept of a shogunate that continued all the way into the 20th century is an intriguing one and the mashup with Blade Runner-esque neon dystopia holds a lot of promise. I’m also on board for a bloody tale of violence and revenge, but I wasn’t totally sold on the execution of said premise. While the thick-lined, CGI assisted transformation scenes look fantastic, overall the look is a little rough round the edges, which is a shame since the spy/assassin angle screams for an ultra-stylish presentation. I think a lot will depend on how well they can spin the web of intrigue that any espionage story depends on. I’m minded to give them a few episodes to show me what they can do.
I wanted to like this. A cool aesthetic (love those thick line transformation modes, the crossbow parasol, and the weird sci-fi buildings) plus the premise of a secret squad of supernatural spies striking against spooky shapeshifters should be a solid step towards success. But I’ve been spoiled by other shows in this vein; other pseudo-historical thrillers like Princess Principal and Sirius the Jaeger oozed with style, while recent supernatural-fight-series contender Jujutsu Kaisen has delighted with its fight choreography if not necessarily its plot or setting. Perhaps it’s an unreasonable request considering the competition, but unless Jouran can really give me a reason to set it apart from the pack, it’s not going to survive the rest of the season for very long.
Of the two (?) historical shows set in alternative reality Japan airing this season, Jouran definitely strikes me as the weaker of them. This title blends vaguely historical ‘fact’ (I’m using that term as loosely as possible here) with an equally vague supernatural/sci-fi type of feel, and while I’ll give Jouran points for trying – especially as this is an anime-original – it didn’t seem to make for a particularly comfortable or well-explained mix.
However, where the premiere mostly fell flat for me was in its more overall storytelling and execution. The pacing felt somehow off, as though the episode wasn’t quite sure where to begin and where to end certain plot points and how to tie them together into a cohesive, convincing whole. Some of what took place on screen also felt distinctly cheap to me, like it was there primarily for shock value, or at least to give the title a degree of ‘edginess’ that it just didn’t need. Maybe the series is trying a bit too hard to be cool, maybe it’s simply trying to earn some credibility with a specific demographic – possibly a little of both. Either way, it didn’t quite work for me, especially since I didn’t feel personally drawn to any of the characters, either. In fact, for whatever reason, it would probably be fairer to say that I outright disliked them.
On the other hand, I did quite like the art style. Those thick, sweeping brushstroke-like lines, particularly during the action scenes, make things appear more like moving calligraphy than just your standard traditional anime visuals, giving the show a slightly bolder, artsy atmosphere. Unfortunately though, that’s not enough to sell me, and since I have more than enough first looks on my watchlist this season, I’m not really compelled to try a second episode of this.