Reviewby Jacob Chapman, Jan 12th 2010
DVD - Complete Series
A great evil stirs in Tokyo after sunset. The dragon stream has been disrupted, unleashing legions of demonic forces on the city that prowl the night and turn their victims into the living dead. Fortunately, this rupture in the flow of paranormal energy has also endowed a handful of teenagers with superpowered abilities, and they must use them to keep the demons at bay and restore order to the dragon stream. However, they aren't the only ones to inherit these new abilities. Crazed revolutionaries and vengeful youths share their own demonic powers with normal humans to ensnare the team of fighters and make the world their own. The five teens must band together and seek the help of other magic-users to protect the ones they love from a worldwide demon apocalypse.
Tokyo Majin is so very messy, in every sense of the word. Innocent schoolgirls get dragged screaming into the clutches of slime-spewing zombies, fighters clash and tear each other apart, spilling intestines and exposing bone, and juvenile delinquents morph into animalistic monsters or melt into rotting flesh-piles episode by episode. This series does not hold back on presenting every gnarly little detail of its bloodbaths.
Unfortunately, the plot is also a big mess. It's not entirely impossible to follow, but it's schizophrenic enough that viewers are liable to feel slighted for paying so much attention to the current set of villainous plots only for them to be supplanted by a new threat that has little to do with anything that occurred before. The two seasons of the series are separated into a “Dark Arts Chapter” and a “Martial Fist Chapter” but the number of antagonists and their pawns is far more than two; sometimes it feels like more than twenty. The number of ways the dragon stream's power can be employed is ridiculously infinite. Every eastern mythology from the twin dragons of yin and yang to the four beast guardians to fantastic retellings of historical events like the Meiji Restoration is pulled in and used at random to set up new confusing conflicts to squeeze into the plot. If there is an overall plot, that is, but it seems more like the writers are making it up as they go along. The climactic battle with the final villain arrives out of nowhere in the last few episodes, and the fact that the anime is based off a series of Playstation games is probably to blame.
The characters aren't impressive enough to compensate for this either, unfortunately. There is potential for growth in the main cast, but for the most part they remain “the shy bishi,” “the bad boy,” “the sweet girl,” “the tomboy,” and “the softhearted bigun.” Not to mention their shadowy sixth member: “Mr. Exposition.” Sweet girl Aoi and shy bishi Tatsuma get the most attention as they are hiding the most volatile superpowers, but the other four get just enough fleshing out to qualify them as equally leading roles…equally barely dimensional. Piled on top of these so-so protagonists are dozens of cardboard cutout NPCs that rob far more screentime than they should and only add to the confusion of the overstuffed storyblob.
Tokyo Majin does not know how to tell a comprehensible story. What it thankfully does know how to do is put on a wild, bloody show. For as many unneeded characters as there are running around, the character designs are very distinct and flexible. It is impossible to mistake one character for another even in the tertiary roles like the recurring young mortician and old detective pair or innumerable sensei figures. The animation is likewise quite impressive. The fights can be a little jerky and hard-edged, but retain fluidity where it counts, and the choreography for each bizarre new brawl is unique enough to merit rewatching the battles. Supporting the fights is a score as schizophrenic as the storyline, but with much more positive results. The score dances from techno beats to screaming punk rock to sweet orchestral ballads and fits each scene appropriately without ever calling attention to itself, (with the exception of a few insert songs by punk group ACID, who also performed the OP and ED themes.) The high entertainment value of each gory clash, and they are near-constant, almost makes up for the rotten story…almost.
The writing isn't rotten all the way through, mind you, and the story is most effective when it dives into its fighters' pasts. While not the most well-developed demon hunters, they have surprisingly engaging backstories to share, particularly the berserker Daigo's arc, and Tatsuma's romantic forays, both of which are downright tear-jerking. Emotionally, the series hits some very effective highs, but it's necessary to keep your brain switched off to get any enjoyment out of the overall result. Not much more can be said for a series whose final battle is nearly ten solid minutes of blasting ki and shattering sternums.
The emotional overdrive the series carries (lots and lots of screaming and swearing) is supported well by both casts. The Japanese track is capably strong with a good balance of seasoned seiyuu, and Yui Horie filling out Aoi's role perfectly in her shy whispers and angry outbursts. ADV's dub is extremely faithful, save for being peppered with more obscenities and appropriate colloquialisms. As there are no standouts in the cast itself, there are no real standouts in performance, but all the voice actors from a handful of newbies to a buffer of familiar voices put forth a solid effort that hits the mark just right scene by scene. Outside of the leads, Vic Mignogna plays season one's head villain Kozunu frighteningly well in all his silky-tongued, psychotic glory. He's doubtless the most engaging villain of the series, aided greatly by such a creepy dub performance.
Overall Tokyo Majin's narrative fails to stand out in any regard, and more often than not, it just embarrasses itself and falls into a cluster of contrived RPG-style plot threads, jumping from confusing scene to confusing scene with no overall direction. It's horrid. Still, it never ceases to hold attention for some strange reason. Visually, it's provocative, arresting, gory and wild. (Have you ever seen a series where a human hornet's nest goes around tearing off people's arms while insects crawl out of her skin and burrow into theirs?) At least for a brainless round of beat-em-ups, it hits all the right spots.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Wildly entertaining action blowouts, some emotional whammies
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