The term “moe anime” has often been heard to indicate the existence of a certain kind or genre of anime. But often, this term is used without making it clear what is meant by “moe”. Fortunately, Thomas Lamarre (2013) has provided a simple and easy to understand way to illustrate the meaning of moe, which is, “a way of being in a warm world and a way of bringing a warm world into being.” And that is exactly what can be said about the anime series Touken Ranbu –Hanamaru–. Airing in the fall season of 2016, every week, the anime brought amusement and comfy feelings with the warm situations it depicts.

Touken Ranbu –Hanamaru– is one of the two separate anime adaptations of the popular browser game Touken Ranbu developed by Nitroplus. In the game, players collect anthropomorphic personifications of Japanese swords to fight enemies that intend to change history. But unlike Kantai Collection, Touken Ranbu does not personify the swords as pretty girls (bishoujo), but as pretty boys known as touken danshi.

Produced at studio Dogakobo, Touken Ranbu –Hanamaru– aired before the other adaptation produced at ufotable. Since the series began its promotions, the key visuals and the trailers of Hanamaru had put emphasis on bright and warm colours, which hinted a more relaxed and cheerful tone for this version, in contrast to the early key visual of the ufotable version which was dominated by dark and cold colours.

Key visuals for “Touken Ranbu -Hanamaru-” and what would become “Katsugeki! Touken Ranbu” © 2016 Animation “Touken Ranbu – Hana Maru -” Production Committee; ©DMM/Nitroplus/Ufotable

Hanamaru did not lie with the promotional materials, as the show really shows more of the daily lives of the sword boys in their citadel base rather than their battles against the forces of the Historical Revisionists. This isn’t too much different from the anime adaptation of Kantai Collection, which takes viewers to get closer with the characters through the depiction of their daily lives.

Led by director Takashi Naoya (Luck and Logic) and with scripts from Pierre Sugiura (Barakamon), the staff that worked on Hanamaru builds a sense of intimacy through the comedic character of the sword boys’ daily lives. The characters have amusingly eccentric traits, like Tsurumaru who likes to play pranks, the mad-scientist like team medic Yagen, Kasen’s obsession to wash Yamanbagiri’s tattered cloak, and so on. Their activites also lead to silly situations, like trying to catch a bird, getting distracted while shopping, or doing a musical while preparing a bowl of udon. And serious characters like Hasebe serve as tsukkomi/straight man who have to put up with the other characters’ silly antics.

Shopping with Tsurumaru © 2016 Animation “Touken Ranbu – Hana Maru -” Production Committee

The funny depiction of the characters in Hanamaru is accentuated by the wide variety of cartoonish, deformed faces that the characters display in response to the sily situations they experience. Even the usually poker-faced Yamanbagiri can lapse into some wild facial expressions in certain situations.

Precious faces © 2016 Animation “Touken Ranbu – Hana Maru -” Production Committee

The light-hearted and funny daily lives that Hanamaru presents are not just some pointless fun. The relaxed atmosphere created by such scenarios establish a warm and friendly environment to explore and develop the characters, some of which still carry inner conflicts regarding their pasts.

Unlike in Kantai Collection, which tends to leave the nature of the ship girls ambiguous (are they ships that transformed into humans? Ships reincarnated as humans? Humans who inherit the power of ships?), the sword boys are shown without any doubts that they are swords given human forms by the Saniwa. They are aware of their nature and retain clearly their memories of their past with their historical owners, whose tragedies still haunt the swords’ memories. But in getting along in the fun antics with the other sword boys, we can feel how they learn and adjust themselves to embrace their new comrades as their current family under the care of the Saniwa.

The occasional missions that the sword boys taken throughout the series are also played out to push the characters toward that development. Rather than focusing on the spectacle of battles, the missions emphasise more on the characters thoughts and feelings regarding past events and figures. They also strengthen the bond between the sword boys across their differing pasts.

© 2016 Animation “Touken Ranbu – Hana Maru -” Production Committee

Such developments can be seen, for instance, with the character Yamatonokami Yasusada whom the series mainly focuses on. This sword of Shinsengumi member Souji Okita was unable to let go his attachments to Okita and wished he could have saved Okita’s life, even if he knows that it will change history. But as Yamatonokami got to know better and closer with the other sword boys, he transformed his admiration for Okita to carry on his idol’s fighting spirit in his new by protecting and caring for his new family.

Through his idea, Yamatonokami’s wish blooms along the wishes of his comrades © 2016 Animation “Touken Ranbu – Hana Maru -” Production Committee

By bringing to life the warmth between the sword boys, it also allows viewers to immerse themselves in that warmth. It feels nice and rewarding to see the swords’ bonds getting stronger, and more comfortable with each other. It’s so moe to see those feel good interactions. It’s no surprise that the show was voted as one of the most moe anime in fall 2016 season by the users of DoCoMo’s streaming service.

On the other hand, the characters and their relationships in this anime also involves some references that might be missed by viewers who don’t play the game or not too familiar with Japanese history; unless they are willing to give some extra effort to make inferences or conduct some research on their own. The enormous cast may also give some difficulties to remember all of them. But otherwise, even without fully comprehending those references, the fun and charming interactions between the characters could be enough for more casual viewers to feel attached to certain characters.

© 2016 Animation “Touken Ranbu – Hana Maru -” Production Committee

To sum up, Touken Ranbu –Hanamaru– is a moe anime that is enjoyable to watch. While it must be delightful for longtime fans of the game to see their favourite characters come to life and interacting in the anime, the warmth and friendliness of the show should be enough to also charm viewers unfamiliar to the game to care for and enjoy the character interactions. It could even be disheartening to bid farewell to Hanamaru –at least until the second season comes along.

Source Material  Online browser game by Nitroplus and DMM
Casts Daiki Yamashita as Imanotsurugi
Hidenori Takahashi as Ishikirimaru
Junji Majima as Nikkari Aoe
Kaito Ishikawa as Kasen Kanesada
Kazuyuki Okitsu as Hachisuka Kotetsu
Kento Hama as Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki
Mitsuhiro Ichiki as Yasusada Yamatonokami
Reona Irie as Maeda Tōshiro
Ryota Ohsaka as Shishiō
Seiichirō Yamashita as Yagen Toushirō
Sōma Saitō as Namazuo Tōshirō
Takuya Satō as Shokudaikiri Mitsutada
Tarusuke Shingaki as Heshikiri Hasebe
Tomoaki Maeno as Yamanbagiri Kunihiro
Toshiki Masuda as Kiyomitsu Kashū
Yuuki Tai as Sōza Samonji
Yuuta Kasuya as Gokotai
Director Takashi Naoya
Scriptwriter Pierre Sugiura (Kumamiko, Barakamon)
Character Design Junichiro Taniguchi (Genshiken, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Prison School)
Opening Theme “Hanamaru◎Biyori!” by Mitsuhiro Ichiki and Toshiki Masuda
Ending Theme Changes every episode
Studio Doga Kobo
Official Website
Broadcast Date 2 October 2016 (1500 GMT, 2200 WIT), 3 October 2016 (0000 JST)

The Indonesian Anime Times | by Halimun Muhammad | Originally written in Indonesian in December 2016

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