All right, that’s how you open an episode.
Since the ancient times, the Kannagi priestesses have used their swords, or Okatana, to exorcise the creatures known as Aratama that brought chaos upon the world of man. These maidens were known as Tojis, a special task force within the police allowed to have their Okatana on their person because they are government officials, but they mostly consist of school girls who go to one of five training schools. This spring, the top Tojis from five schools across the country have been gathered for a customary tournament where they will use their abilities and fight for the top position.
Well, on paper it has a lot of things I generally like – fun character design, sword battles, giant monsters, what’s missing? Pretty much nothing of necessity. Fairly straightforward “school girls fight faceless monsters,” at first glance. And in setting that up, we’re treated to a perfect example of how you should introduce a series like this. The first scene we get drops us right into the action. It’s not especially amazing, but it’s only the first episode. And it is pretty cool to watch. I kinda liked the monster design, too. Though I certainly hope they aren’t literally all going to be giant demon centipedes. The point is, in a show like this the first thing you wanna do is flash the premise a little. And this does that particularly well, giving us little glimpses of presumably everything that’ll be of import in the series. Not a groundbreaking scene, but a good choice and executed well.
Then we’re introduced to the qualifiers for this aforementioned customary tournament. Here we’re introduced to two of the leads – Eto, Kanami and Yanase, Mai. Right away we’re shown at least a little of what to expect. Mai is the more demure one, whereas Kanami is more typically spunky. It’s interesting that in this particular instance, we’re not actually shown the full extent of what the fights would involve. They battle using wooden swords, rather than the actual sacred ones we wind up seeing later. Kanami appears to be pretty good at making really quick judgment calls and snap decisions, while Mai is more hesitant. And that costs Mai the duel. But it’s cool. They’re friends.
Ordinarily, these are the things I like about fights like this where they aren’t long, drawn out, and all that. Because the fights here are so quick, there’s not a ton of time for them to exposit. You really have to rely more on the fighting to tell the story, in a way. And how the characters fight will show you things about them. It also leaves a lot up to the animators and lets them do their job. Long fights are all fine and dandy and can be just as effective. Don’t get me wrong. They can be incredible spectacles or, given the breathing room, allow the characters to play off of one another to the same effect – learning more about them. But this method can work just as well… if done right. Here it’s done… competently. Some of the fights aren’t really choreographed especially well. And the animation in some is just nothing to write home about. But others are fun to watch. Personally, I think this series could do with a blend of both styles. But I also think this first episode might’ve been blazing through everything, just to give us a small taste of all it planned to offer in the future. So maybe it’ll improve. And I highly doubt battles with monsters or more seasoned fighters will be over just as quickly.
Later the show makes its play at setting up the intrigue of the series – or at least the first few episodes – by introducing us to Juujou, Hiyori. We’re not entirely privy to what happened, which I like. Especially given the direction things wind up taking once the episode reaches its apex. I can guess what’s happened, but odds are high I’m thinking too hard about it. My mind tends to go the dark route on stuff like that.
There’s also another element that wasn’t really elaborated upon, but it could be pretty interesting. When Kanami and Mai run into Hiyori outside of the household of this extremely influential family in their world, Kanami and Hiyori’s swords… get on this weird Silent Hill siren s–t. As if they’re trying to provoke the two of them to fight or something. My own twisted mind came up with a horribly dark headcanon as to why, which you will never hear. But I am genuinely curious.
One obligatory fan-service scene later, Kanami and Mai are bonding a little, as if they’re in town on vacation. Kanami tries to help Mai get over her nerves, but if I’m honest, that scene doesn’t really go anywhere. The main issue with it is Mai, but I’ll come back to that issue in a bit.
On to the Tourna-
No. None of that. Alas, it’s not a full tournament arc. Actually, the entire tournament takes place in this one episode. And based on where things end up going, it’s fairly clear it’s not going to be the actual focus of the show. Which is fine. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tournament arc. But I’ll blame marketing for them basically over-selling that bit. Unless it winds up coming back, later in the season.
Despite that little hiccup, the tournament is pretty cool. As I said before, the fights don’t last especially long. Like I mentioned earlier, they’re probably only there to show you glimpses of the main cast as they’re all present and accounted for. Naturally, Kanami zips through, as do Mai and Hiyori. And during each of Kanami’s fights, she shows that same affinity for lightning-fast decision-making, up to and including her duel with Mai.
Then there’s the final fight, which takes a pretty much-expected direction, based on the information we’d be given so far (which, I remind you, was a whole lot of nothin’). So now Kanami and Hiyori are in a tight spot. The action leading up to that conclusion was really sleek and pleasing to watch. There’s something satisfying about the sound of swords clashing, honestly. But now they’re basically set up to fight the Elite Four, and their journey literally just started. Oh, I know they’re called the Royal Guard. But, um…
My only real problem with it is the character of Mai. Kanami is set up as sort of a Shounen-esque protagonist with a lot of spunk, a voracious appetite, and a fairly evident disregard for some of the more mundane aspects of life, such as tidiness. Mai, on the other hand, is the “girly girl” to Kanami’s “tomboy.” She’s treated as a bit of a worrier, which is fine. But they set up sort of a rivalry between her and Kanami that, friendly as it is, doesn’t really have a lot of room to flourish whilst buried under everything else. There’s certainly nothing fundamentally wrong with that relationship. But rivalries, however friendly, should be treated with some level of ceremony. And theirs seemed almost more of an afterthought when weighed against the rest of the episode. It has potential to be interesting, of course, as do many of the show’s ideas.
I feel like Mai shouldn’t have gotten the chance to duel Kanami in the tournament. We already saw her lose the qualifier to Kanami anyway. And if she’d lost to someone else that Kanami was able to beat, then that would’ve been a little more effective for her arc. Especially since her whole arc was centered around a desire to surpass Kanami. Heck. They could’ve had her lose to Hiyori. That would’ve been doubly effective in the long-run. Show Hiyori as incredibly competent, create even more of a reason for Kanami to want to duel her, introduce another player for Mai to want to catch up to, the list of benefits to this goes on for a while. And while we’re on the subject, we’re not even really given a ton of reason as to why this rivalry is even a thing. A good rivalry is ultimately a clash of the ideals and convictions of the participants. All we’re really given is that Mai wants to surpass Kanami, but not why. And the why is a pretty big piece of the puzzle to be missing. Hopefully, this thread will be expanded upon in future episodes.
Toji no Miko is basically everything I expected it to be. And it does its job effectively. It manages to have some pretty slick animation and quick, satisfying fight scenes. The character design is eye-catching. And the cast looks like it’ll be pretty fun. The show could stand to delve into a few elements a bit more than this episode really had time to. And I would state that there was a surprising absence of humor in this premiere. Not that I expected the series to be a laugh riot, but there’s maybe a chuckle or two and that’s about it. Granted, we haven’t been properly introduced to half of the main cast just yet, so we’ll see. The characters aren’t especially deep or intriguing, but we’ve got time for things to develop. All in all, the premiere of Toji no Miko is looking like a strong contender for the Junk Food category, but in mostly the right ways. Not heavily flawed, but not trying to hard to be anything special. It manages to be entertaining, for the most part. And, hopefully, its character interactions (of which we didn’t get much, in this episode) will do the same. This anime season is off to the races, folks. If schoolgirls fighting monsters (and each other) with swords isn’t your speed, maybe schoolgirls eating ramen together will do it for you?
But if you’d rather check this one out, Toji no Miko is Simulcast on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 10:00am EST.