The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Review: Tokyo ESP and Terror in Resonance are pretty similar experiences one episode in. The former is gleeful while the latter is contemplative, but ultimately they're both dialogue-minimal and action-heavy spectacle pieces where terrorist teens with unknown special abilities wreak havoc for unknown motives. Tokyo ESP is a more comfortable sit however, because it's a much more familiar story. These terrorist teens, actually espers, are clearly the bad guys and there's already a force of good on its way to stop them. Whenever there's an anime with "espers" in it, I just mentally replace the word with "X-Men" and it's exactly like reading those comics/watching the cartoon: same types of characters, same basic themes. The Unlimited Hyobu Kyousuke was definitely like this, and it seems Tokyo ESP will be as well, with its Magneto-led master race of espers out to conquer the normies who have persecuted them in the past.
Most of the episode is watching bad X-Men destroy Tokyo and hold the parliament building hostage. There aren't any formal introductions or exposition; we learn all we need to know up front about the characters from the action. It all seems hopeless for a while, but throughout the chaos, various characters remark: "You just wait until the White Girl (Wolverine, with an unfortunate name,) gets here!" When things are at their worst, Wolverine, our most powerful "good mutant," does indeed show up and it's a nice "oh snap" moment to cap the episode on. The action scenes here aren't comparable to some of the unusually cinematic stunners we've seen in Terror in Resonance and Tokyo Ghoul this season, but that's a high bar. Tokyo ESP's fights are competent, well-animated, and engaging, if more conventionally staged. If this is aiming to be an action show, it has the chops to be a good one, and it's refreshing to see an anime prove that right up front.
This show seems intent on dodging the "it gets better" criticism by going in hard with climactic events from episode one. It wouldn't work if the narrative wasn't so simple and familiar, but because it is, there's no confusion to be had, just loads of fun. We can find out who all these characters are later, but for now, we have a solid idea of their personalities, who's on what side, and instead of having to hear worldbuilding gobbeledygook about esper society or whatever, we get to just watch them fight!
In the end, it's just a matter of preference: do you want everything explained to you consistently, or do you want to be entertained first and foremost? If fights between a giant group of evil X-Men and a tiny group of normies and good X-Men is your idea of good entertainment, Tokyo ESP delivers in a major way. The biggest hitch here is that with an opening this big, this could be a case of "exciting first episode, and the rest of the series is a flashback to bland and mirthful days of peace where the cast was less divided." I hope it isn't. But giving it the benefit of the doubt up front, Tokyo ESP keeps it simple, keeps it polished, and puts its fireworks up front.
Tokyo ESP is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
Review: Because it debuts within one day of Terror in Resonance and also involves terrorist actions against the city of Tokyo, Tokyo ESP may well invite comparisons to Terror, but the two are very different in style and execution. While Terror seems to be aiming for a more nuanced approach, ESP looks to be a more all-out super-powered-action fest. Which one is better may ultimately depend on stylistic preference, but as a long-time Marvel Comics mega-fan (and especially a fan of the X-Men, which the premise is heavily borrowing from), I found this one to resonate far more, generate a far greater excitement factor, and look and sound nearly as good doing so.
To be sure, it isn't flawless. The premise – a group of individuals with diverse super-powers (generically labeled “espers”) takes over Japan's Diet and turns it into a floating island in a bid to take over the city, but they are opposed by both a human special forces team and another super-powered group – is hardly original, as villain known as the Professor seems to be deliberately stealing from the playbook of Magneto. And a couple of the villains are just too purely psychotic. But the episode sells it. We get great power displays and strong action scenes supported by good artistry and a dramatic musical score that may hedge on going over-the-top but nonetheless keeps the energy flowing. We see classic X-Men-styled moral statements passed along without being too blunt and an array of characters who look like they can be interesting. We are quickly deposited in the action without torturous set-up and the relevant details are slipped in here and there: espers have apparently been around long enough that laws have been passed regulating them, one called only White Girl (due to her white hair) has shown up in the past to fight off bad espers but has not been seen recently, the scenic Christmas plaza scene that is startlingly revealed to be surrounded by tanks and soldiers is that way because of past terrorist attacks by espers, and so forth. Director Shigehito Takayanagi may not have the name recognition of Watanabe (his main credits are The World God Only Knows and most of the Galaxy Angel franchise), but he's got something at least as good going here so far.
The one thing that should definitely be clarified is that, for all of the characters who get tossed out in the first episode, the one who is actually supposed to be the lead protagonist does not seem to have appeared yet, although she is mentioned. Suggestions are that this may be a flash-forward episode, with the backstory waiting to be filled in beginning with episode 2. Whatever the case, though, the first episode provides plenty of hook to reel viewers in with.
Tokyo ESP is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
I kind of feel like I missed something. This isn't a sequel, right? Because this is a case where starting in media res doesn't quite work. From what the show implies – although never flat out says – at some point in the relatively recent future, people with extrasensory powers (ESPers) have begun to run amok. They seem to consider themselves as a totally different type of being, speaking disgustedly of “humans” and “humankind” with the implication that they themselves are something superior. Because of these rogue ESPers, the military is now hanging around downtown Tokyo on Christmas, but they are unable to stop the villains from killing off most of parliament and stealing the parliament building, which is currently floating in the air above the city. Meanwhile people on the ground are wondering whether or not the pro-human ESPer, White Girl, who has helped out before, is going to put in an appearance. Ayumu, another good ESPer, gets annoyed that White Girl is getting all of the credit before he and another girl start using their powers for good. It's looking like Battle of the ESPers with a little military special forces assistance...
So I actually appear to have understood a lot more than it felt like. Perhaps the problem lies in the choppy pace of this introductory episode, which leaps about from scenario to scenario like a little kid trying not to touch the floor. Not only are there a lot of characters, but they all have unique(ish) powers and the best way to distinguish which side they're on seems to be by how low cut the women's blouses are. (Bad ESPers appear to use their powers to keep their nipples covered.) The lack of background information is also an issue – I certainly am not advocating infodumps, but a little more explanation would have been appreciated. The fact that the color scheme is once again dark does not help with identifying people and places.
I have to wonder whether Funimation deliberately sought out shows with dark colors and gouts of blood this season, because this is their third. This is uncensored so far, with sprays of thick red blood shooting from severed limbs and blood-soaked parliament members strewn on the floor. It isn't ultra violent, but it is noticeable. The animation does look pretty good, and there are some great displays of power – one guy kicks a bus into the air – but unless this manages to get its feet under it next episode, Tokyo ESP is a slightly confused supernatural battle. It is worth giving it a second chance...but only just.
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