Title: Meiji Tokyo Renka
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Romance, Slice of Life, Comedy, Mystery, Reverse Harem
Year of release: 2019
Meiji Tokyo Renka is a prime example of how important it is to get the feeling right. There’s a myriad of things I could probably hold against the show, but it really masterfully turns those things into positives – the quick jump between personal and comic does not give whiplash but demonstrates the fluidity of its atmosphere, and the minimal animation is framed as a stylistic decision and never feels like a limiting factor. There was never a nagging in the back of my head that a scene or episode was a misdirection, and when you pair that with how wonderful following Mei’s skittish adventures in Meiji-era Tokyo felt, this show was a delight to follow – right up to its grandiose and utterly triumphant finale.
There’s definitely a bit of “Why me?” to the premise that makes this otome-isekai adaption feel something of a mystery, but, after transporting Mei to an alternate history at the turn of the 19th/20th century, the show is far more interested in letting her live in the moment. Mei is, put simply, a gem, and, in a rather rare twist for the Reverse Harem genre, the one the audience really ends up falling for. She is by no means boyish or hyperactive, but her gung-ho demeanour, creativity and unending optimism make her a fine match for the various problems she faces. Whether Mei is inventing the mop to make cleaning easier on the maid, searching the city for a cat, or singing and dancing (yes, singing and dancing) about all the possibilities of electricity, she represents a ray of sunshine. An arc I thought would be questionable even turned out to be yet another fun and heartfelt sequence, as she learns just a little bit more about eloquence (from a crossdresser, no less!) to prevent the guilt she feels about potentially showing up Mori, the man who took her in. Even outside of her heartfelt, impassioned actions, her perfectly balanced lisp was simply adorable.
Despite the “reverse harem with historical figures” tagline, only one of the other men in the supporting cast made any sign of attraction towards her: Syunso. An artist in a rut, Syunso ended up spending a lot of time with Mei as she helped him overcome the mental block preventing his recent work. The time they spent together was both amusing and surprisingly tender, and there was definitely a part of me that hoped Syunso would become the main love interest, though when the excellent finale came, I was definitely not complaining anymore.
Perhaps there is one black mark I could hold against the series: the romance’s early developments. Mori’s romantic agenda just felt a little too pushy at times, though, that honestly didn’t comprise much of the show, and I found myself won over by the maing pairing towards the end. Even when Mori opted to house the now-homeless Mei for her month in Meiji-era Tokyo, it didn’t feel particularly creepy as she was housed with a female maid and Syunso. Mori was a surprisingly deep character towards the end, though the way he interacted with the comic side of his character was no less fun.
It probably speaks to the complexity of the game’s arcs, but the other boys went a little undeveloped – except one in particular, the American, Yakumo. Holding enough screen charisma to demand applause at every cameo, Yakumo was yet another delight that Meiji Tokyo Renka had under its belt – and he also had one of the first arcs, too. The clean-freak, Kyouka, underwent the most wholesome development, never being criticised for his clean habits and also got roped into Mei’s antics for a good time. The boys don’t get much screen-time, no, but they did make the most of it.
Meiji Tokyo Renka takes Mei through quite the adventure, giving enough gravity to make her stay weighty but also extremely feel-good and fun. When the climax comes, all the growth suddenly becomes apparent in one, final push. All the times that attention was spent on the minute built to an incredible finale and the meaning of her journey suddenly sparked in a blaze of glory. Meiji Tokyo Renka is a prime example of how important it is to get the feeling right, and it has unending feeling.