The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Taboo Tattoo ?
What is this?
Justice “Seigi” Akazuka is exceptionally strong for a middle students, thanks to his intensive martial arts training. One night he rescues a man from a mugger and receives a special stone in return, which imprints a tattoo on Seigi's right hand. He soon learns from a young blue-haired woman that this tattoo is the truth behind an urban legend: a secret military-grade weapon developed by the U.S. has found its way to Japan through underground channels. When the tattoo is activated by a particular trigger, it enhances the natural physical capabilities of its wielder (called a Sealed) and gives them a superpower. But when Seigi triggers his own tattoo in a desperate situation, everyone discovers that his powers are anything but trivial. Taboo Tattoo is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Mondays at 2:35 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
At the beginning of Taboo Tattoo, the main character – a totally normal anime boy by all accounts – winds up in a scuffle with some street toughs, after which he's given a magic crystal with a powerful tattoo inside it that affixes itself to his skin. Presumably at this point the main character is much like us – doesn't know there are magic crystals that can give us super powers, didn't know you could even get a tattoo that way, and is generally skeptical of what any given grimy stranger might hand you after yanking it out of his backpack on a subway platform.
The main character then narrates, “Looking back, that was the start of it all.”
Yep, you're right. Keen insight. There really are no other candidates for “the moment it all started” than the time a complete stranger gave you, an otherwise totally normal kid, a mystical crystal imbued with special abilities.
So this is a dumb – emphasis on “duh” - 90's-style action show (few shows like this one were particularly memorable – they're harder-edged shonen action, usually leaning on themes darker than what you'd find in the pages of Jump but they're all aimed at the same early-teenage audience), and while it's nice to be reminded that this was once a more common kinda thing, this show didn't do anything for me in the story department. The “superpowered edgy teenagers” subgenre exists on the edge of a knife: go too far in one direction and the show winds up feeling like you're hanging out with a bunch of lame chuuni kids, explaining their fakeo superpowers in embarrassing detail for way too long. That's precisely the sour spot Taboo Tattoo hits, tonally – even the humor in this show is all rooted in that same attitude. Anachronistic chibified overreactions are the #1 joke, which aren't funny but are absolutely a staple of chuuni kid humor, which is obviously not my bag. Your mileage may vary.
Visually, there are a few interesting things happening in this show – one, it isn't animated a whole lot, but the director seems to have made up for that by aiming for some nifty dynamic angles and then heightening the individual shading and detail on all these still frames and slow pans, which results in a pretty nice-looking show overall, even if the character designs didn't do anything for me and the animation dips into straight-up “Flash tween” quality in moments. The fight between our hero and his generic badass lore-carrying girlfriend is pretty cool – the shot selection and the cuts they decided to fully animate look good, giving the battle some real impact. It's a standout moment in a show that really doesn't have any other standout moments, which means you can totally skip this one.
Taboo Tattoo offers a very familiar genre space, one you could likely guess even based on the title alone. It's another show about a boy who has/gains a Dark Power and who must use that power to fight evil, in a grim-faced world where people say things like “the Void Maker… the triggerless tattoo…” and “justice without strength is not justice.” It's the kind of show that embodies the essence of chuunibyou, which isn't necessarily a good or bad thing - but your own tolerance for that particular show-template will likely dictate the larger part of your reaction to Taboo Tattoo. Nothing about its narrative lifts Taboo Tattoo over boilerplate “grim action-fantasy,” so let's talk about the specific good and bad news.
The good news is, Taboo Tattoo's fights are actually pretty dynamically directed. It is very difficult to manage spinning camera angles in animation, since shots like that necessarily change the relative perspective on every object within them, and thus necessitate a whole lot of redrawing. Taboo Tattoo doesn't shy away from those shots in its big fights; there are a fair number of energetic exchanges here, where fluidly animated characters punch and kick as the camera whizzes around them. These sequences aren't honestly the most beautiful, since the show's characters designs are bland, its overall aesthetic murky, and backgrounds largely a bunch of CG pillars and walls, but they're certainly above-average for this genre. On top of that, the final fight of this episode implied the show might take a more tactical approach to fights than most, as protagonist Seigi is forced to use his opponent's strength against him.
The bad news is mostly everything else. As I mentioned before, the show's overall art design is just not good. Virtually every scene looks like someone forgot to turn on the sun, and the show's backgrounds are either ugly or absent when they're not composed of low quality, incongruous CG. On top of that, all of the scenes outside of those few fight highlights are barely animated at all - as in, a shot of a girl leaping down from a ledge is represented by one still frame, and Seigi at one point covers his mouth to avoid animating lip flaps. On top of that, the writing here is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel dark fantasy. Characters fit broad roles (childhood friend, spooky girl with a dark past, etc), and mysterious strangers say things like “this is a key that will lead you to the truth of this world.” None of the dialogue has much personality, and nothing about the premise is distinctive.
If you're very desperate for a new dark fantasy action show, Taboo Tattoo hits most of the minimum requirements of the genre. If not, I'd give this one a skip.
Just when I was starting to think that this season was a little light on super-powered teenagers, along comes Taboo Tattoo. This series has all the hallmarks of a standard-issue action anime, from its justice-seeking hero who gets an awesome ability by accident to the obligatory secret government program gone awry. There's even a strict old mentor and a childhood friend who's completely normal apart from her oversized bust. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the sound of boxes being checked off.
To Taboo Tattoo's credit, this episode is pretty entertaining whenever the characters start fighting one another. The simple abandoned building backgrounds and conspicuously dark lighting speak to a series that's making the most of limited resources, but it's still fun to watch the action play out. There's a decent amount of motion involved in the characters' punches and kicks, and some really meaty sound effects lend each hit some extra weight. There's a kinetic feeling to this episode's action scenes that similar shows often miss out on by encasing everyone in some kind of protective magical barrier. Having the hero take an actual punch or two heightens the illusion of danger and makes for more compelling viewing.
The trouble comes when the fights end and the characters go back to talking. Taboo Tattoo seems really keen on explaining all the details of how the top-secret tattoos work, and that leads to a whole lot of expository dialogue. A show can only rattle on about this stuff for so long before it becomes tedious. All of that self-serious dialogue also tends to clash with the show's attempts at sprinkling in moments of humor, most of which end up feeling out of place in the otherwise dark and dangerous atmosphere. I imagine things will start to flow more naturally once Taboo Tattoo gets its initial deluge of information out of the way, but my emotional response to the story thus far is close to zero.
Taboo Tattoo could be worthwhile for folks whose brains aren't already oversaturated with similar titles. If you've already been down this same road more times than you can readily count, then its appeal is limited to mindless but competent action. It could be a bone-crunching good time as long as you don't ask too much of it, but I don't see it rising to the top of my streaming queue any time soon.
What this adaptation of a seinen manga series wants to be is pretty clear: an all-out super-powered action tales which has a dark, graphically violent edge but also balances it with silly humor, much like Akame ga KILL! And that it maybe could have been with some smoother execution. However, it steps into too many pitfalls along the way to be fully successful.
Both of the series' two major flaws manifest early on and consistently and are somewhat related. The first is that the writing finds only an awkward balance between its humorous asides and more serious elements – more so than most series which attempt this pattern, anyway. The transitions between the two are jarringly abrupt and often ill-timed, and the humor is rarely successful at actually being funny. Overall, it is more of a dissonant element to the content than a complement. But that may be just an aspect of the series' bigger and broader problem: it simply isn't all that well-edited. Even aside from the attempts at humor, transitions are choppy and the storytelling never really establishes a good flow. This is very surprising given the track record of director Takashi Watanabe, which includes dark, violent action titles like Freezing, Shakugan no Shana, and New Fist of the North Star as well as lighter-hearted action fare like Slayers. Something just went wrong here.
That being said, the first episode is hardly a total waste. One thing it definitely gets right is the animation of its martial arts-based action sequences. These actually look pretty sharp, with a surprising amount of fluidity and detail to the moves as the camera zooms in and around the movements. In fact, these are slick enough that I have to wonder if the series has the budget to keep it up. Its twist on the “girl running with the toast in her mouth” routine is also noteworthy for its rare gender-reversal, and the core cast members introduced so far are generally likable. Fan service-laden action fare is also on Watanabe's directorial resume (Ikki Tousen and Senran Kagura as well as Freezing), and it looks like some can be expected here; while it doesn't seem like it will be an obtrusive element based on the first episode, numerous sexy female characters populate the opener and the chest of Seigi's female classmate (childhood friend?) is a little too conspicuous. It generally darkly-shaded artwork, courtesy of J.C. Staff, is also pretty good.
So while I'm giving this one a below-average score overall, I don't think it's without potential.
I will grant you that Taboo Tattoo is cramming a lot of manga material into its first episode – if I recall correctly, this is most of the first extra-long chapter in half an hour. But that doesn't quite excuse this episode from being a by-the-numbers action series that feels based on the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The good deed in question is third year middle school student Seigi saving an older man from a couple of thugs. As a reward, the old guy pulls a clear slab out of his backpack, pulls off the protective coating, and places it on Seigi's palm. It dissolves into his skin and leaves behind a weird tattoo, which you just know is going to be all kinds of supernatural awesomeness.
Actually, it's part of a secret American bioweapon project, because why not. In the story's world, America is threatened by the rise of a fictional kingdom known as Selistan, and a lot of the actual reasons why the two countries are on the verge of war are left out. (They are in the manga, if you're curious.) Now that Seigi has one he's an official threat to the US, and who better to hunt him down than a cute girl? That would be Izzy, who claims she's much older than she looks, and is really terrible at trailing people. All of that is really just icing on the cake of what the episode focuses on: fighting, complete with the sounds of crunching bones and pulverized organs, and Seigi's friend Touko's boobs. That last is really sort of weird – she's actually not in the episode much, but when she is, her breasts get more attention than almost anything else about her. For a series that gives Izzy shorts under her miniskirt, it feels like a bit of a mixed message as far as fanservice goes.
Along with trying to put way too much into one regular length episode, Taboo Tattoo also doesn't look terrific. There's something odd about the way the characters move and look against the show's backgrounds, almost as if they're part of a poorly done visual novel rather than an anime. There are lots of shots of Izzy from the waist up looking directly at the camera and talking, which is probably what's leading me to that conclusion, and thinking about it, we actually don't see a lot of full-body animation unless there's a fight scene. Those are decent, but they use the old blurring trick to obscure the need for clear shots of what's going on. The fights also take place in darkness, which feels like another tactic to avoid having to show too much.
Taboo Tattoo may pick up once it has shorter chapters to work from, but right now there's not much here that I'm enjoying. The character designs are interesting with Seigi looking a bit different from the usual protagonist, and once we get more about the deal with Selistan things should make a little more sense. But unless this can graduate beyond being a by-the-numbers action story, it isn't holding a lot of appeal, either visually or narratively.
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