Reviewby Jon Hayward, Mar 8th 2007
The First Four Discs
There exists a underground city below Tokyo called "Tokyo Underground" and this title involves a Maiden trying to escape from a evil organization. However this escape attempt causes the bad guys to come and re-capture her leading to the heroes of the title going after the Maiden and battling in fight after fight. Not much else happens...
Title: Tokyo Underground (Vol 1-4)
It's a tough call on Tokyo Underground. The Australian anime scene is unique because one company (Madman Entertainment) has attained such an insurmountable, massive market monopoly. In any other country the idea of a single distributor holding the rights to Spirited Away, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell would seem like complete madness. Still that is how it's been in Australia for quite some time now, and we really should be thankful that one company has managed to nurture a healthy scene, a scene that would hardly exist without them. However, a little serious competition wouldn't go amiss, and you'd be hard pressed to argue that either Kiseki or Siren have really provided anything other than undercooked, half-hearted attempts at attaining the serious attention of anime fans. Enter Tokyo Night Train. The titles they have brought with them haven't exactly been well known or critically acclaimed titles, but their discs are professionally produced and properly packaged, and in general it's looking like someone else is finally going to take a serious bite at the apple.
That's why it's so heartbreaking that Tokyo Underground, one of their initial releases that TNT has pushed heavily, is so relentlessly, mind-numbingly crap. This simply isn't the sort of release that is going to sustain interest; it's either average or below on all fronts, and amid a sea of genuinely excellent titles, a desire to support the new kid on the block won't be enough to vindicate perseverance of purchase. Tokyo Underground suffers from the most elemental and crippling of problems: it's simply not interesting. Its characters are tired, its story is drawn out and dull, its design is inexcusably undercooked, its animation is sub-par, the soundtrack fails to leave any sort of impression and the list could, if so inclined, go on. And yet, it's not quite terrible enough to be entertaining for all the wrong reasons, either.
The story would be straightforward if it was more focused. A mysterious girl (referred to as ‘The Maiden’ by the organisation pursuing her) of apparent magical significance, with the help of her bodyguard, escapes from the secretive world that exists below Tokyo and befriends a couple of high school students soon after reaching the surface world. These students are Rumina, a well-intentioned schoolyard bully, and Ginnousuke, his bumbling but wholly loyal childhood friend. They meet, they talk, an unconvincing romantic angle is shoved in far too quickly, and then the girl is kidnapped and so the remaining gang head into this unexplored underground world in order to rescue her. Eighteen episodes later and they are still in this underground civilisation, and still on the very same rescue mission. While this doesn't have to be a crime in itself, it is in this case. There are no controlled digressions, no cleverly spun side-stories to vindicate this – no, this delay is a straightforward case of story procrastination. This is presumably the result of the writers being unsure of how to move forward and not knowing where the tale should go. Instead of progression, viewers are instead forced to wade through an increasingly tedious collection of adversaries, typically defined by some new sort of special power, occasionally laced with moments of cheap melodrama.
Throughout this ordeal, attempts are made to imply a narrative justification: something about the governing body of this underground land, known as The Company, a dragon and the full significance of The Maiden. This has just been a poorly connected mess so far, though, and promise of further episodes being tighter and more interesting is thin on the ground. None of this would matter anywhere near as much if some other aspects of the show were up to scratch. Were the frequent fight scenes interesting and well executed, then Tokyo Underground would be more entertaining to watch; that the fights are barely animated and consist of cheap gimmicks pertaining to special powers – water, wind, gravity et all – and waste too much time by allowing rambling explanations about how each power works, is a blemish that actually makes watching this series an embarrassing experience.
Add to these shortcomings that the underground world presented here consists mainly of dull corridors and box houses, and in general hasn't had much thought put into its design at all, and you often find yourself looking at a screen with nothing on it that's actually worth looking at. However, throughout the show the odd attempt is made to cater for uninteresting visuals that are, at least in part, the fault of an insufficient budget. More than most anime, Tokyo Underground visually embraces the visual tactics of its manga heritage by throwing characters into boxes and reducing backgrounds to fuzz in ways that would be more familiar printed on a graphic novel. The end result works for a short time, but after a while it ends up getting used for its own sake as a sort of desperate means to stop the show's appearance from getting too dull.
Characters are all fairly typical archetypes, and are voiced accordingly in both languages. Neither audio track provides performances you would especially want to listen to – it just feels like the actors lacked energy and enthusiasm, but you can hardly blame them when the exact same could be presumed of the main production staff. This has, thus far, been a paint-by-numbers Shounen adventure of the most tedious kind, and we're actually quite relieved that we weren't sent advanced copies of volumes five and six for review. Watching Tokyo Underground became more and more like chewing leather boots the further we got in. And while there's always a chance that the final eight episodes may suddenly turn around and become the most awesome thing this side of Robotech, it's still a fair chance that it simply won't be worth wading through this much muck to get to anything worthwhile. This is a shame, as TNT's DVD release has been quite well handled, with no nasty surprises such as VHS rips or missing (or unrefined) subtitles, and overall acceptable audio, video and packaging. Extras are thin on the ground, but this can be forgiven for a TV release, especially one as under the radar as this, but it's still a shame that the actual content is so inferior to the standard that viewers should be able to expect.
Overall : E-
Story : F+
Animation : D-
+ Competent DVD execution
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