Togainu no Chi
In a world ravaged by WWIII, many countries are still dealing with the harrowing effects, Japan included. A military education showing the proper way to commit suicide has become standard for children, as is being adopted or put in an orphanage. Akira is one such person to grow up in a bleak environment. Not caring much what becomes of himself or anyone else, he fights people regularly under the name Lost in the street brawling competition Bl@ster. Cheered on by Keisuke, the only person Akira will tolerate, he lives life in a grey daze. Until he gets arrested on the charge that he killed a man. He’s facing life imprisonment until two mysterious individuals offer him a chance to get out, but on one condition – that he participates in a most deadly game and defeat the one who reigns over all, Il Re.
What else can Akira do but accept? Gripping his knife with the task that he’s been assigned with, his grey world is about to become soaked with blood as he’s swept up in a chain of mysteries involving illegal drugs, wars long since fought, and even his very own past.
In the world of BL there is no title more revered, no title more beloved and placed upon a dizzyingly high pedestal than Nitro CHiRAL’s debut work Togainu no Chi. Its praise is constant, eagerly recommended even by those who’ve rather curiously, never read it. It is that sort of legendary title which earns many a badly spelled youtube comment and drives people to learn Japanese just for the sake of reading it. Togainu also has the rather dubious honour of having received an anime, something which not many BL titles have received. Off the top of my head, I can count the amount of BL games which have been made into anime on one hand. But what makes this so special, a cut above the rest, so to speak? After finishing it up, I’m still not too sure. I held off reading it for a while, but after seeing the utter travesty that was the first episode of the anime, I decided that if I were to experience this supposedly fantastic BL title then I would experience the way it was meant to be – through its VN, and not a choppily animated series. I chose to drop the series after that first episode, and I’m glad I did. Suspect rumours were spreading about the production process, such as the team doing a SHAFT with the finished opening airing a couple of episodes later, and a director resigning at the eleventh hour as he didn’t want to work on something involving BL. Put those rumours together with the fact that the series was released in a boxset with the promise of reanimated and redrawn scenes having been delayed for months, and you’ve an idea about how enjoyable it must have been to work on that particular project. It’s a series that’s openly slated on all corners of the internet, even by people who’ve their yaoi goggles tight enough to cut off circulation that they’re usually willing to bypass such things as plot holes and poor characterization.
I read through a route and a bit before leaving it fall by the wayside, and there it stayed until now. Recently, YaoiForever released a translation and it renewed my interest in the title, somewhat. I was curious to see if the rest of the anime was really that bad (it was, but I digress) in comparison since I’ve seen it put on lists recently alongside infamous fuck-ups Musashi Gundoh and Mars of Destruction. Now, while we all may still roll our eyes at DEEN’s misguided attempts at animating Ryukishi07’s oeuvre, his titles don’t appear on such lists. If we were to look at the contrast a little more critically then perhaps the problem didn’t just lie in A-1 Pictures poor adaptation. Maybe the source material simply wasn’t all that good in the first place.
Akira is one of the worst protagonists I have come across – certainly the worst one I’ve seen in BL, and that’s no mean feat. While he may be the ‘cool and silent’ type, that’s just making excuses. There’s nothing at all ‘cool’ about being moody and disinterested, unresponsive to all. It’s not even a case of him possessing a superiority complex, looking down on those who try to break down that wall to speak with him – he quite simply does not care. Not even for himself. That’s a point him and the reader can agree on, then. It’s a natural result that he’s not particularly well versed in responding to people who’ve the intent of being friends. Upon arriving in Toshima he acts cagily around characters like Rin and Motomi, giving them monosyllabic answers while they treat him with hospitality and kindness. While I may dislike him for being so cold, his attitude does have interesting consequences. Misunderstandings due to this taciturn nature arise, and he laments the pitiful results.
The one person who Akira cares enough for to be by his side is someone who is in many ways the opposite of Akira, yet at their core quite similar. While Akira is a stoic fellow of few words, Keisuke happily bounces alongside him, more than willing to fill in the gaps. They grew up together, so it’s natural that he would care a great deal for his dear childhood friend. Even so, Keisuke feels hopelessly useless compared to the strong Akira. He’s plagued by feelings of inadequacy, forever mumbling how sorry he is. If anyone puts Akira on a pedestal, it’s Keisuke. While he is a lovely character, such feelings bubble to the surface in Toshima.
With his short stature and slim build, Rin often gets mistaken for being a girl. Even so, he’s quite the capable fighter, once participating in Bl@ster with a team of his. Along with Motomi, Rin becomes Akira and Keisuke’s lifeline in Toshima, showing them what places are safe in neutral zones, and how absolutely necessary items such as food and first aid kits can be bought. During their first couple of days, he’s in invaluable presence. Generally an excitable and hyperactive fellow, he does his best to cheer up his new friends. However, he becomes extremely prickly whenever Shiki is mentioned. It seems to be a sore spot with him.
Motomi is the chain smoking older guy with a curious past. Not having the talent for fighting, he gets through Toshima by being an information broker, and it’s something that he has a knack for. Never letting a scoop slide, if anyone wants any information on a certain person or what’s the current state of affairs, the sharp Motomi is the guy they go to. He’s a figure of loathing for the the guy who runs Igura, Arbitro who he reacts in a playful manner around, if only to deliberately rile him up. Never letting anything slip unwillingly, Motomi has a few grudges of his own.
Shiki is the oh so edgy character clad in crosses and leather who will certainly be crawling in the player’s skin during his route. Has a talent for showing up in front of Akira at the worst possible times, he’s a haughty fellow who is the worst developed character out of the lot. Whereas the four other characters have at least one trait which endears the reader somewhat, Shiki has nothing. Not from the outset, and not through his route. He’s the kind of guy who feels like he has the right to toy with someone’s life, and has no qualms about dragging someone back to his apartment and calling them his ‘property’, beating them viciously if they dare to disagree. Next to Akira, he’s the guy who for reasons which mystify me is the most popular, and gets the most merchandise. Is it the leather? It is, isn’t it. Having no interest in the complicated matters involving politics or drug dealings, Shiki’s goal is to fight a certain man.
n (pronounced ‘Nano’) is quite the mysterious character. Giving a faint, almost ghost-like impression, he seems detached from the chaotic atmosphere of Toshima. n will contentedly slumber beneath a tree while someone is going around slaughtering people at random, or will lazily walk through blood-soaked alleys without a care in the world. He is the philosophical sort, posing riddles at Akira which cause him confusion. His role in Toshima and relation to the other characters is one of the larger mysteries in Togainu no Chi.
Despite Togainu taking place in an immensely chaotic time period, the city of Toshima gives the impression that it’s strangely afloat, a disembodied spectre cut off from the chaos both external and internal happening in other parts of the world. In light of attempts at rationalizing this through Emma mentioning that the city has devolved into a lawless area filled with nothing but drug-addled criminals, something still feels off. Unfortunately, despite all the potential that inevitably comes with a setting like this one Togainu never goes into quite enough detail about the war let alone its effects, rendering it quite an unsatisfying experience. Exclusively being placed within Toshima is not an excuse to eschew the setting for this can all still be shown within the city’s confines. To give an example of what I mean let’s take a look at age’s Muv-Luv Unlimited. Despite taking place in a world where horrifying outer space creatures roam free, the reader is acutely aware of the conflict occurring outside the relative safety of the barracks despite nothing ever being shown. To portray something like that in a compelling manner is arguably one of the work’s greatest strengths; depicting how humanity is struggling without showing their adversaries or the battles against them. The ominous premonition is forever lurking on the reader’s mind, yet here it is all too easy to forget what’s going on in the world outside until another character happens to mention it.
I say that, but it’s not as if the effects of the war aren’t shown, nor was the setting a transparent excuse to throw a bunch of moody bad boys together. How certain characters developed was a direct result of the war. If Akira hadn’t been exposed to atrocities during his childhood then he surely would not have been as dissociated or cut from human relationships as he is. I did appreciate how even when he makes an effort at speaking to the characters of his own accord and opening up more the change isn’t instantaneous. He doesn’t become a social butterfly overnight, still remaining a gruff and awkward fellow. But he recognizes that his personality can cause misunderstandings. Likewise these effects extend to its supporting cast. If Keisuke wasn’t so overly dependent on Akira all his life, then surely things would have been different for him too. Rin, Motomi, Shiki, and most noticeably n – they all could have gone a different path if it weren’t for the wounds society inflicted on them. In the work’s latter stages where characters lose their faith in society, lamenting about how it won’t be saved and it’s a sad thing to see unfold. So perhaps on some level while I may criticize Togainu for not going in depth into its world, that may be the point. To show how others are adapting, or how their lives have been ruined. With a certain route or two, it does admittedly show that effectively, to a degree. If only those routes were more fleshed out.
I wanted to see more struggles. I wanted to see longer flashbacks involving corrupt politicians making backroom deals, and scientists lacking any remaining shred of humanity working on fearsome weapons. Not just having that exposition thrown at the reader in several lines in order to facilitate the progression to what truly matters, apparently. Now I understand that many readers are just in this for the ‘HAWT BISHIE MANSMEX X3;;;’, but I’d have liked to have seen a more thorough presentation of the this world. Post-apocalyptic settings are about as common as they come, but it’s arguably a series’ unique quirks which make those settings all the more fascinating. For a Nitro+ title, I expected far more. It’s not even the fact that it’s on the CHiRAL branch, for it’s a Nitro+ title through and through with many well known staff members working on it. The supervision and direction were handled by Urobuchi Gen, while other familiar names such as Tsuji Santa and Namaniku ATK were on board.
The routes were far, far too short. So short that I daresay one would be able to finish the entire scenario comfortably within a day, if they so wished (it’s a pet theory of mine that a new character was added to the ports for the sole purpose of trying to flesh out script size which was that extra bit shorter due the removal of h scenes). There were moments where I wish Fuchii Kabura would have elaborated on certain situations. With every good ending, civil war is on the verge of breaking out and Akira and his chosen companion escape through the sewers to another city. While it briefly describes them getting there, it would have been nice if it went into a little more detail of their initial struggles in a different town. How the surrounding people were being affected, and how they themselves were. With the country resuming the chaos, it gets to a point in the routes where I was able to tell when the moment for leaving would come. So there is an element of predictability.
The character designs vary in quality, yet fit their characters. Characters such as n, Gwen, and Motomi are dressed in a swish and fashionable style, with Akira and Keisuke dressing in relatively down to earth fashions, Akira with his jeans and plain jacket, Keisuke in his coveralls. Rin and Shiki’s outfits are questionable, and the true mystery of Togainu no Chi is what on earth they were thinking when they designed those outfits. Since Shiki is the villainous sort, I understand why he’s wearing black. I totally get that. But did Tatana Kana have to give him the most awkward looking ensemble? Why on earth would there be horizontal zips placed high on the leg? Maybe Tatana was being considerate, taking into account how warm he would be slashing people apart. Which begs the question, if he’s going to be murdering people on a daily basis, wouldn’t leather be the worst thing to wear? I can’t imagine fighting in sweaty leather day after day would be particularly hygienic. And he’s wearing a polo neck. Perhaps the reason Shiki is so frustrated is because he’s constantly hot. Rin’s outfit is not that much better, being a disastrous tartan affair. Arbitro’s flashy hues are adequately flamboyant and certainly suit him well.
While each character only has a few tachi-e, it’s not something that detracts from the experience. The CGs remain beautiful all the way through, with dark moody palettes. If I had one complaint about the otherwise appealing CGs, it’d be that the faces seem to vary in them. Almost every character suffers through this, most noticeably Keisuke, Akira, and Rin. Their faces will look strangely different in every second CG. Slight consistency error which I’m willing to overlook because the CGs are otherwise flawless. Not a disproportionate torso to be found. The backgrounds are dark, somewhat realistic affairs, depicting a beautifully destroyed town with the skeletons of buildings being on show.
Those who are familar with Nitro+ will be treading well known territory here, with music production done by ZIZZ. While fitting the industrial wasteland of Toshima, the rushing guitars and sample electronic beats themselves outside of Togainu aren’t worth listening to. While typing this portion of the review, I was listening to the soundtrack and I was surprised on what felt like hearing some tracks for the first time. While reading through a VN of medium length, you’d expect to be at least a little familar with every track, but that wasn’t the case here. Even an ending theme which I heard perhaps only twice was more memorable than a track I probably heard more than twice. A track of note was ‘Dialogue’, which played during more personal moments with the characters. ‘A Vision’ is one of the more memorable tracks if only for how bizarrely out of place it sounds. Amidst tinkly instruments, sirens play while a woman heavily pants and moans. The theme of Arbitro’s peculiar layer is ‘Organization’, sounding so humourously villainish, like something you’d hear in a poorly produced B-movie. While I’m sure ‘Grief’ may have played during what were supposed to be tragic moments, it’s not a track I’d associate with such moments.
Leaving the BGM aside, the ending songs left far more of an impression. For the good end, we’ve the Kanako Itou sung ‘Still’, a hauntingly beautiful song with surprisingly good English. Its lyrics mourn happier days gone by, but has a hopeful note. The two other endings ‘Good bye Aliens’ and ‘CurriculuMachine’ are produced by CurriculuMachine, who some might recognize for having worked on the DraKoi soundtrack. The opening ‘Grind’ is an incomprehensible mess, but no doubt it fits someone’s taste.
The seiyuu are a mixed bag. While much of the core cost go by pseudonyms, it’s clear to any well trained ear that ‘Nanimusha’ playing the lovable Keisuke is Sugita going against type. When thinking of a stand out Sugita role, one would be inclined to think of his deadpan snarker characters. It makes a nice change to hear him stutter and speak in a floaty デレデレvoice – it’s the kind of voice one would have no trouble imagining Sugita taking the piss out of. He’s able to let himself go more, vocally wise later on, and then it’s back to the Sugita we’re used to hearing. One of my favourite lines from him in this state is a truly maddening sounding, ‘have you awoken, princess?’. The velvety voiced Midorikawa Hikaru plays Shiki. At the very least, I can say that Shiki has a fitting seiyuu although the role doesn’t really allow him to have much of a range. Yamazaki Takumi could not sound more bored playing n if he tried. His drawling voice makes an amusing competition with the dreamy, far off look in his eyes. Toriumi Kousuke plays an unremarkable Akira.
I could have seen myself liking Togainu no Chi. I even expected myself to. Like many other readers of BL, I thought for sure that it’d be something I could find myself getting excited about, searching for long sold out One Coin figures and playing silly CHiRAL Mori games. Things seldom work out as expected. Togainu had flashes of brilliance which mostly occurred in the common route, but had very poor individual routes. Out of five, I didn’t dislike two. And even out of those two, I can honestly say that it was only one of the routes I kind of liked. The characters were offensively insipid, and longer routes could have helped change that opinion. I feel like there wasn’t enough of what could have been shown with certain characters. After completing Togainu, I’m still not too sure who the supposedly official guy Shiki is. Am I going to have to listen to his drama CD to fill in the blanks? Disappointing stuff. Maybe Togainu’s anime being a disaster wasn’t simply A-1’s fault after all…
Overall score: 61%