Akitaro DaichiReiko YasuharaYuriko YamaguchiTsukikage Ran
Tsukikage Ran
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2000
Director: Akitaro Daichi
Writer: Akitaro Daichi
Studio: Madhouse Studios
Actor: Akemi Okamura, Reiko Yasuhara, Yuuichi Nagashima, Yuriko Yamaguchi
Keywords: anime, historical, samurai, ninja
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 13 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=789
Website category: Anime early 00s
Review date: 19 October 2009
Akitaro Daichi is my favourite anime director (Kodocha, Fruits Basket), so this was always going to be a must-see even though I'd heard that it was inconsequential. I'm glad I saw it, but I can't disagree with the consensus. In the end I became rather fond of it, but it took me an episode or two to warm up to it and at the end of the day it doesn't really add up to or mean anything.
In the Edo period, a samurai (well, ronin) is wandering the Japanese countryside with a Chinese martial artist. This is completely standard. There are any number of Japanese historical dramas with this kind of premise, but the specific approach of this series is to make both of its lead characters female, comedic and gently anti-heroic. I've seen it compared with Su-ronin Tsukikage Hyogo (1965), for instance. The ronin, Tsukikage Ran herself, is a booze hound and a drifter with a laid-back approach to life and a strong moral sense that she works hard to keep buried under her reluctance to get involved in trouble. She's proud and not particularly modest, describing herself as a "wandering beauty", but she's also impressively tall and more than competent with her sword. For money she leeches off Miaow, who's a motormouthed and super-gullible halfwit who'd have got herself killed ten times over without Ran. She'll jump into any situation feet first on the slightest provocation, which says everything you need to know about her heart of gold and her intelligence.
...and that's about it, really. This pair drift from adventure to adventure, never even getting involved in anything so complicated as a two-parter. This goes on for thirteen episodes, then ends without even a finale. You could watch the series in any order. It's fun and often funny, but there's no ongoing dramatic hook and I can't imagine it carving itself into anyone's heart. It's decent television and no more.
Apparently the episodes were written by first coming up with a title and then building a plot around it. However I should confess to a personal bias, in that I'm not a fan of samurai drama and I think it was one of Japan's soundest economic and social reforms to abolish an unproductive warrior caste who could behead peasants whenever they felt like it at the start of the Meiji era. At the beginning I was thus mildly hostile. Episode One I didn't like. By Episode Two, I was grudgingly coming to tolerate it. Episode Three I really enjoyed. It's funny, it's touching and it's characteristically Akitaroh Daichi. Once you've accepted that it's a bunch of low-key standalones, it's really good. Meow finds a baby and things spiral out from there, with comedy and heartfelt moments. Other favourite comedy episodes of mine include the feminine colossus Stephanie (episode 10), who thinks Japan is populated entirely by samurai, ninja and geisha.
I like the lack of machismo. Ran is unstoppable with a sword and impressively cool, but she achieves these things in a matter-of-fact manner and the voice of a human rather than an anime character. Her language is abrasively masculine, but not her delivery. Fortunately she sounds neither like the stereotypical male samurai (i.e. eight octaves down to a pitch that vibrates the fillings out of your teeth) or like certain female voices you'll hear (i.e. a child's squeaky toy being choked to death on helium).
There isn't a whole lot to say about this series. There isn't an overall plot. It's deliberately light fare, although not without the odd heartfelt moment. It's enjoyable, but it's not the kind of thing to send you out into the streets recommending to people. If you watch it, you'll have fun. You'll laugh. However it's unlikely to linger long in your memory, either.