What’s it about? When, on her eighth birthday, Mei Ayazuki mentioned that she could see ghosts, she got a reputation as being strange. That reputation has followed her into high school, but it’s okay – she’s made peace with always being alone. However, when a mysterious magician offers her a chance to disappear, she accepts it. She finds herself in Meiji-period Tokyo, unable to remember the details of her life, and somehow invited to a lavish party with guests including Ogai Mori and Lafcadio Hearn.
Just like the song in Gypsy says, “You gotta get a gimmick if you wanna have a chance.” And while otome anime aren’t quite the same thing as old-timey burlesque, the old rule holds true. We got Code: Realize, where the characters were all based on turn-of-the-century literary figures. We got Phantom in the Twilight, which offered monster boys. Now we have Meiji Tokyo Renka, which has Meiji-era Tokyo’s artistic community reimagined as bishounen.
How much you get out of this first episode may very well depend on whether you recognize the names in the summary. Everything, down to the party venue, is presented with a flourish and wink that indicates that the audience should recognize these names instantly. Personally, the only one I recognized off the bat was Lafcadio Hearn, but looking up the names was a lot of fun. One thing I did notice in my off-the-cuff research is that many of the figures they chose had a subversive bent, although there’s no knowing if that pattern will end up meaning anything.
On a scale from “Amnesia heroine” to “Phantom in the Twilight’s Ton,” Mei falls slightly more on the active side, and that suits me just fine. Once she finds herself at the party, her priorities are roast beef, finding her way back to her own time, and boys, in that order.
And to be honest, she’s pretty much right on—the episode has promise, but the part where she just gets passed around from guy to guy as they introduce themselves is pretty dull. It feels more like listening to a teacher call roll at the beginning of class. Outside of Mei and Mori, who had the lion’s share of the screen time, I feel like I’ve forgotten the entire cast. And I definitely didn’t love it when, after saying she was his fiancee as a cover, Mori turned to her and said, “You belong to me.”
The more interesting part has to do with Mei’s psychological state at the start of the episode. Although she says she’s accepted being alone and friendless, that clearly isn’t the case; after all, why would she accept the idea of disappearing so readily? She’s burnt out and depressed, but her having an environmental cause for her depression makes it easier to accept that having an adventure will actually be healing for her.
Meiji Tokyo Renka also has notably better production values than many contemporary otome anime. Of course, that just means it’s about average for most anime, but let’s not dwell on that.
I’ve noticed many of the otome anime in recent years have a sort of flatness, where it doesn’t feel like the characters are moving through space and it’s hard to forget they’re ultimately drawings. It’s much easier to sit back and enjoy looking at the pretty men when they’re on-model and there’s a sense of literal depth about them. Even the horses and the carriage they were pulling, things that are notoriously difficult to animate, looked pretty good.
Other than the slightly possessive boys, the only other potential issue AniFem readers should know about is that Kyoka Izumi is a germaphobe. One of the other characters treats this as an annoying quirk rather than a legitimate mental illness, but it’s still unclear if this is because the character is insensitive or if the entire series is. Either way, it’s worth mentioning and something to keep an eye on.
By the end of the episode, I didn’t really have a firm sense of where Meiji Tokyo Renka is going. It rests firmly in the realm of, “Well, that was a thing I just watched.” I didn’t not like it, but it doesn’t inspire passion or excitement in me. Maybe I’ll give it an extra couple episodes. Maybe I won’t. It’s fine.
Editor’s Note: Due to site issues, the paragraph about germaphobia was briefly lost and then restored to the article.