Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 19th 2007
Ranmaru Shindo, along with his feisty, devoted little sister Saya, survived a brutal murder spree that left 97 percent of their apartment-complex neighbors dead, including their own parents. Shindo is plagued with nightmares in which a sword-wielding topless woman dispatches his night-terror pursuers with extreme prejudice. Recently inducted into the investigation unit of the police department, he is determined to use his new position to track down his parents' killers. His resolve is only reinforced when he meets Sakura Rokujo, a member of the super-mysterious Division 2 of the investigation unit and the spitting image of his blood-spilling dream-babe, in the midst of a vicious firefight with what to all appearances is a gang of murderous super-fast zombies. Of course, not all is as it seems (is it ever?): Shindo and Rokujo have a deeper connection than he realizes, medieval alchemists and demons feature heavily in his new life, and he may have more in common with those zombie nasties than he'd ever want to admit.
With it's Satanic references, pointy-toothed gut-munchers and baby-faced body-possessing maggots, Tokko falls firmly under the banner of horror, which of course begs comparisons to other recent anime bloodbaths like Gantz and Elfen Lied, minus the ripe camp of the former, the character depth of the latter, and the eye-popping visuals of both.
Of course, enough blood is spilled in the first batch of episodes alone to fertilize the Sahara, making this a safe bet for anyone looking to satisfy a jones for flying body-parts. But dismembered bodies do not a good horror make. It is absolutely essential that the audience actually care what happens to the heroes, and on that front Tokko is less than entirely successful. The prickly, complicated relationship between the too-close Shindo siblings is definitely the highlight, especially once Rokujo is added to the mix. The scenes involving the much cuter (and more disposable) Saya are quite tense, but Shindo's bland presence at the center of it all makes it hard to care overall. Rokujo hasn't been given a chance to do much more than strike poses and reduce baddies to butcher-shop scraps, which is cause for concern given that this volume comprises more than one-third of the show's entire length. The rest of the cast is perfunctory at best and disposable at worst.
Which leaves Tokko as splatter horror without the "who will survive" train-wreck appeal that is the main draw of such outings. It fills the gap with pseudo-Christian mythology, conspiracies, secret organizations, and enemies of unknown origin, purpose, and identity. It's a combination that has yielded absorbing results in the past (there was a giant robot show that did that once...), but here it grows tiresome rather quickly. Plot convolutions are fun, but they simply can't support a show without some help from the characters.
But what about the violence you ask? Good question. Practically any shortcoming of plot and character can be forgiven if there's a bounty of aesthetically pleasing violence, and Tokko has its moments of gory beauty. The initial appearance of Rokujo, her sword trailing blood through a cloud of airborne anatomy, is one such instance. But the remainder of the time the creators seem to be under the impression that scattering disembodied limbs and puddles of ochre willy-nilly across the landscape is the height of horror aesthetics. The occasionally off-model character designs compound the problem. They retain Tohru Fujisawa's (GTO) distinctive touch, but look so young (in face, fashion, and body proportion) that they resemble teenagers playing adults in a high-school play. Animation is adequate when it needs to be (with an emphasis on the action scenes), but badly neglects the basic movements of the cast, making simple acts like walking and putting on clothes look almost embarrassingly awkward. Backgrounds are one of the few artistic highlights, and possess enough detail and depth to make the characters look flat and plain in comparison.
The music is dominated by jittery techno that does a fair job of raising tension when it has to but is otherwise entirely unremarkable. It certainly isn't a total earsore, but it will definitely please some more than others. The opening is a solid techno tune (in nearly indecipherable English) that is impressively choreographed with the visuals. The ending is a similar, but less memorable number.
The dub is thoroughly competent for the most part, professionally acted and reasonably faithful to the original. There are some attempts to spice things up with stark vulgarities (can someone tell me what a blue f--- looks like?) and inventive phrasing. While occasionally irksome, it's never crippling. Oddly enough the dub retains the original Japanese abbreviation used to refer to Division 2 (“Tokko”) while the subtitles translate it as SpecSec. And was it really necessary to keep repeating the unwieldy phrase “scattered body part murder” when there are streamlined terms like “dismemberment killing” readily available? Hire an English major or two, folks. Shindo is a little weaker than the rest of the cast, but that's more a reflection of his character as a whole than any quality of his English performance.
There is also a Spanish version that I am... entirely unqualified to comment on, though I did appreciate the irony of watching a Japanese show dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles on.
A clean opening and closing, and a gallery that consists of stills from the series are all standard, but this volume also includes an eight minute discussion of the show by the three female leads of the Japanese version, and a DVD-ROM screen saver.
Tokko's audience will likely be split between those who turn their superego's volume down and let their id run around going "cool, blood!" and those who find themselves asking questions like “how can all that blood stay red after it's been on the wall for five years?” and “what is the utility of tight leather pants and Superbra cleavage in fighting demons?”
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C+
+ The subtly creepy relationship between Shindo and Saya.
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