Nagasaki during the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate. A samurai named Kurima Raizo carries out the execution of another samurai, Hirata, on the orders of his master Matsumine, who has accused Hirata of importing opium into Japan. Kurima regrets having to kill Hirata – who was to be his father-in-law – but complies out of a sense of loyalty to his clan and its leader. That loyalty, however, is misplaced – Matsumine is the real importer, while Hirata was investigating the matter and getting too close to the truth – and Kurima in his turn is ambushed on Matsumine’s orders and nearly killed. Discovered by Yuen Usui, a lacquerware artist and “odd jobs” man, Kurima is nursed back to health before being told the shocking truth: his loyalty to Matsumine was used to manipulate him into killing an innocent man. Kurima is determined to avenge himself on Matsumine, at which point Usui reveals that his lacquerware business is merely a front: he belongs to an organisation called the “Revengers”, who execute justice on behalf of those too powerless to enact it for themselves. Moreover, Hirata, before he died, commissioned the Revengers to do just that by supplying the required token: a gold coin he has bitten into. With the Revenger’s help, Kurima infiltrates Matsumine’s castle and kills him; but before he can present himself to his fiancé and make atonement by committing seppuku, Kurima discovers that she has killed herself first.  Distraught, Kurima accepts Usui’s offer to join the Revengers, if only because he now has nowhere else to go; but before he knows it, Kurima finds himself caught up in the tentacles of a much larger conspiracy. Matsumine, afterall, was only the local face of a deeper and more sinister plot; and there are forces within the elite echelons of Nagasaki society who want to get their hands on the opium and release its lucratively destructive potential upon the population. Amid machinations and murders, as Kurima and the Revengers get closer to the truth, there lurks in the background another, hidden secret: a certain token given to Usui by Kurima’s fiancé before she died…

An original anime series penned by the prolific and legendary Gen Urobuchi (Psycho-Pass, Fate/Zero), Revengers was animated by Ajia-Do Animation Works and co-produced by games designer Nitroplus and production studio Shochiku. Premiering in January 2023, and animated in a crisp, cool style that combines traditional animation techniques with CGI and a vivid colour palette to produce an at times hyper-realistic effect, Revengers is at once a complex story of revenge and its consequences, a political thriller, an historical drama exploring the confrontation of East and West, as well as a psycho-emotional examination of grief and the meaning of life in the face of death.  All these disparate elements may have made the story muddy and hard to follow, but the narrative flows with an admirable clarity – especially for a weekly series – and the loose ends are tied up without resort to deus ex machina insertions in the plot. Moreover, the story itself carries the inevitable, remorseless weight of tragedy and the universal themes of consequence, nemesis, and retribution. Criticised in some quarters for the absence of a female character in a leading role, Revengers is nonetheless an unusually thoughtful though simultaneously action-packed period drama with a solid emotional-philosophical core and folkloric insight into the darker movements of the human heart.

Text copyright © Brendan E Byrne 2023. All rights reserved.