Content Warning: Bloody violence, suicide (offscreen)/fridging
What’s it about? Kurima Raizo is a samurai tasked with the grim task of executing his own father-in-law when the latter becomes involved in the burgeoning opium trade. When it becomes clear Raizo is only a patsy in a larger scheme, the only ones he can turn to are a strange group of merchants-for-hire.
Revenger yearns for a simpler time—the kind of vaguely historical, vaguely supernatural action shows popular in the 2000s and most recently evoked by Yasuke. It’s a throwback to the letter, but a well-made one; meaning that whether this title is for you depends on your fondness for the era in question. Let’s roll down the checklist, shall we?
Long-faced character designs that lean slightly into the square-chin, broad-shoulder bishounen aesthetic? Check.
A muted color palette that makes nighttime scenes difficult to parse? Check.
A band of eccentric assassins who each have a token gimmick? Laconic rude guy, beefy older himbo, tiny murder child, and suave mysterious leader all say “yes.”
Ideal set-up for a potentially infinite case-of-the-week format? Yuh-huh.
There is only one woman, who has no dialogue, and she’s dead before the credits roll? You better believe it.
I want to stress that Revenger really does nail the kind of show it’s trying to be, and there’s something admirable about that. It has some nice shot composition after the rather muddy-looking opening, and for all my jabs about the color palette it knows how to make the weaponized bits of gold leaf wielded by “merchant” leader Usui Yuen pop off the screen. As you can also discern from that sentence, there’s a slight undercurrent of absurdity to the whole affair—the tiny murder child has a tiny murder kite with a glass-studded string, and Usui dramatically kneels to show off a back tattoo of the Madonna for maximum mid-combat effect—that I enjoyed very much. If Revenger wants to lean more into that vibe, it could well keep me around.
Oh, and did I mention the series composer is Urobuchi Gen?
That piece of information tends to produce to opposing and equally intense reactions: either you are me, and suddenly need to at least keep an eye on the show you were otherwise positive-but-indifferent about; or you are my partner, who was initially intrigued as a longtime Saiyuki fan and then instantly hit the eject button after the news. For better and worse, Urobuchi is a very distinct writer – at his best, he does dark, stylish action that taps into interesting thought experiments and can be truly emotionally shattering (and also, puppets!); at worst, he rolls around in self-satisfied tragedy porn and uses cardboard cutout characters to stage Philosophy 101-level debates. And you never know which one you’re gonna end up with until about seven episodes in.
Basically, it’s a big ol’ gamble. The foundational genre blocks are solid, and there’s some interesting threads in the background referencing England’s use of opium as a weapon in their quest to colonize both China and Japan. Whether that will be handled with any real thoughtfulness or just serve as fuel on Raizo’s inevitable path of revenge, I don’t know. If those throwback vibes click for you, give it a try; otherwise, maybe sit back and wait to see which Urobuchi showed up this season.