Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 27th 2007
DVD 1 - Dark Arts: Dragon Stream
A wave of mysterious deaths has struck Tokyo, and the dead have been coming back as desiccated zombies. Other mystical threats also arise: a school in which evil spirits have been sealed, a demonic musician capable of directing crows to deadly attacks, and a ghostly dog in whose presence teenagers fall comatose. A mysterious tattooed man and a girl seem to be behind it all, but to what end? Determining that, and combating the supernatural menaces, falls to a loose group of six teenagers who have suddenly gained supernatural powers themselves: the delinquent melee combatant Kyouichi, the quiet, monkish transfer student Tatsuma, wrestling captain Daigo, archery captain Komaki, student council president Aoi, and Kisaragi, an assistant to Aoi's wealthy father. While they attempt to sort out what is happening and what they should be doing, student investigative journalist Anko tries to find out why an utterly disparate group of fellow students are now associating with each other.
In most ways the first five episodes of Tokyo Majin resemble other dark, graphic supernatural action series involving a team of individuals brought together by their powers and circumstance to combat paranormal threats. Like X, Ten Tokyo Warriors, and several others, the heroes come from diverse backgrounds, have diverse powers generally in tune with their natures, do not necessarily get along with each other, and fit comfortably within well-established archetypes. While it may emphasize its horror aspect a bit more than most, such a slant is too common in the genre to give this series any separation.
The one place where Majin does distinguish itself from other titles of its ilk – in its propensity to insert goofy moments – cannot be considered a plus. The creators go through all of this effort to establish an effectively dark and edgy environment only to disrupt it with random silliness like the nature of Anko's first appearance, her being bottled up in a large vase later in the volume, or the ridiculously caricatured appearance of DAIGO's wrestling team. Sure, Hellsing Ultimate gets away with a similar approach, but in that case it fits better because of the high-spirited nature of the series; for all its graphic content, it isn't meant to be taken entirely seriously. This one, contrarily, relies too heavily on its serious content for its credibility and plot progression to tolerate the inanity it has. This becomes increasingly apparent later in the volume when Anko, whose overzealous “get the scoop” efforts make her one of the primary sources of comic relief, gets into a situation which radically changes her demeanor, thus pulling her out of that role. (Whether this will be a temporary change or not remains unclear at the end of the volume.) The only place where the humor does work is in the behavior of the teacher Maria, but that may be because her behavior is more a reflection of her attitude than an outright attempt to be funny.
Occasionally disjointed storytelling and storyboarding also presents a problem. Dropping viewers into the middle of the story and using the second or third episode to fill in the backstory is a common structure in anime series that often works well, but the first episode throws out so many things without explanation or adequate context that it becomes a confused jumble. At other times the story jumps around too much without adequately connecting scenes, and in some places shots are outright missing; for instance, late in episode 4 Komaki is shown standing upright on her own in one shot, then is inexplicably being cradled in a teammate's arms on the ground when the perspective on the same scene changes.
The writing does have some upside, however. While the principle characters may not appear at first to be anything more than the one-dimensional role-players required for the parts, as the volume progresses the female side of the roster gradually starts to demonstrate more depth than that. This becomes most evident in what happens to Anko, but the tomboyish Komaki also shows some insecurities (and possibly suppressed feelings) beginning with episode 5 and Aoi eventually reveals that there may be more to her than her idealistic, irritatingly spineless persona; how someone as unassertive as her became student council president remains to be explained, but flashbacks suggest that she has some lingering Serious Issues shaping her character. Maria offers a lively but not over-the-top addition as the homeroom teacher, and fellow teacher IMAGI has yet to reveal where his eccentricities may be leading. By contrast, the annoyingly rude Kyouichi is still locked firmly into his brash delinquent role, Tatsuma never seems to do much except play along as needed, DAIGO shows little character beyond being sweet on Komaki, and Kisaragi behaves like an arrogant jerk towards everyone except Aoi. It could, of course, just be that their turns haven't come up yet.
Beyond the aforementioned caricatures, character designs favor stylized faces, slightly angular looks, and hairdos with sharp edges. So many different characters have stray strands of hair sticking out that it must be some kind of weird fashion statement. None of the designs beyond possibly Aoi and DAIGO impress much, nor does the background art, and all of the visuals have a dull haziness to their coloring which makes it seem like one is viewing the series through some kind of filter. The animation, which often looks stiff and only barely supports the action scenes, also fails to impress. No fan service will be found here, but the graphic violence and occasional English obscenities in graffiti warrant a TV-MA rating.
“Eclectic” may not be a strong enough word to describe a musical score that wanders all over the map. The hard rock songs by ACID that serve as the opener and closer may seem to set the tone, but only in the episodes about the demonic guitarist do heavy rock themes prevail. In other places classical music pieces and violin solos predominate, while still others rely on electronica numbers and standard spooky themes. It could be praised for being flexible or criticized for being unable to settle on a unifying theme, depending on the viewer's point of view.
ADV's English dub features a handful of seasoned veterans sprinkled amongst a principle cast light on experience but not lacking for talent. Casting and performances fit fine with the originals, with the voice of the doctor at the end of episode five actually sounding better in English due to having the deeper, throatier (and possibly electronically lowered) sound one would expect of someone so big. English scripting stays reasonably close.
Nothing beyond previews clean opener and closer can be found amongst the Extras, so purchasers must content themselves with five full episodes.
Based on its first volume, Tokyo Majin shows at least some potential as a decent supernatural action series which may be headed towards some real character developments. It must prove that it can sort out the problems it shows in its first five episodes, and decide whether it wants to be a lighter or more dedicatedly horrific tale, before meriting a recommendation, however.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Varied but effective musical score, presents horror overtones well.
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