The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
I think it's the mean-spirited anime that get to me more than the outright bad ones. Issues of craft and execution tied to a worthwhile concept are one thing, but shows that seem to believe everyone is mean and violence is profound and the world is just a generally lousy place are just depressing. Violence isn't seriousness, cynicism isn't insight, and callousness isn't strength. I don't care how tough it wants to appear, the grim-equals-good emperor has never worn any clothes.
That's my biggest problem with Kokkoku: its relentlessly dour tone, its philosophical negativity, and its reliance on either violence or the threat of violence to make us care. This whole episode felt callous to the point where I couldn't really believe the show cared about its cast, and if a show treats its characters as disposable, there's no way I'm going to be able to invest in them. There's a gleefulness to the way this show inflicts violence on helpless bodies that turned my stomach throughout.
Sadistic tone aside, this is largely a par premiere in most respects. The show's cynical nature actually works well in its illustration of the messy Yukawa family, who feel more realistically petty and burned out by the trials of life than most anime characters. It's not necessarily enjoyable watching them all snipe at each other, but the episode builds up heroine Juri's ambiguous feelings towards her nephew Makoto quite well, to the point where her attachment to him in the final scenes felt perfectly earned. Makoto is the savior of a family that desperately needs saving, and Juri's not going to let some crappy kidnappers steal him.
Narrative-wise, this episode spends far too much time setting up and explaining its central conceit, the ability to stop time. I enjoyed hearing Juri's father directly question how things like air pressure on their moving bodies work in an otherwise paused world, but segments like her grandfather's monologue on how people are ruined by access to this place only really bolstered the episode's cynical ethos, giving us little to hang onto dramatically. There was also far too much focus given to awkward pans around frozen CG objects; stasis isn't really that shocking of a power, and the prominence of these shots only underlined Kokkoku's aesthetic limitations.
Speaking of, the final issue is that it seems like Kokkoku will be relying more heavily on unconvincing CG monsters going forward. After spending most of an episode focusing on the implications of stasis as a power, the show ends by introducing first teleportation, and then giant Dark Souls-esque spirit monsters, who seem none too pleased to find humans in their static domain. It's a busy ending that only underlines how much time we wasted on the stasis stuff, and the monster's model just isn't convincing enough to inspire the awe that's clearly intended.
On the whole, Kokkuku's premiere isn't exactly bad, but its unlikable tone and mediocre execution make it hard to feel like this is a story worth following. If you're looking for a fantastical thriller with a more down-to-earth tone, it's possibly worth a shot. Otherwise, it's a safe skip.
I can get a lot of mileage out of a unique premise, and Kokkoku's first episode earns a lot of brownie points simply for having me dying to know what's next. Its basic setup is already working with elements I find inherently appealing: a dysfunctional family is thrust into a horrible situation and must get their collective crap together, after two of their own are kidnapped and held for ransom. I'm a sucker for crime/revenge stories that center on flawed working-class characters, but then Kokkoku throws in a supernatural element that makes things even more interesting for the audience and much more complicated for the Yukawa clan.
It's the writing and characterization that makes this complicated setup work as well as it does. From the beginning, Juri is painted as a sympathetic lead, a woman who's struggling to make ends meet and desperately wants her family to rise up out of their dead-end lifestyles. She's the kind of woman who, when discovering that her beloved nephew Makoto has been abducted and held for ransom, immediately tucks a kitchen knife into her skirt and begins marching out the door, knowing she'll probably be killed but willing to make that risk to get Makoto out safely. Her deadbeat dad's stubborn patriarchal pride works as a solid foil and mirror to Juri's own frustrated inefficacy, and the surly grandfather rounds out the core cast of this episode nicely. If Kokkoku was just about this family trying to rescue their family members, I think it would have been perfectly compelling in its own right. Then the grandfather brings out a magic rock and teaches his family the magic of stopping time, which is also a great direction for things to go.
The time-stopping angle is Kokkoku's main gimmick, and it works well in both concept and execution. The very idea being able to move about in a frozen world is rife with possibilities, and the script does a good job of both acknowledging the potential of the concept and handwaving any nitpicking that might tear down the flimsy logic of such a place. (“You want me to provide a scientific explanation?” says the bewildered grandfather, in one of the episode's funniest exchanges.) The only area where both the time-stop idea and the episode itself falls flat would be in the visual department. The show doesn't look terrible, but it has an awfully workmanlike, anonymous feel to its aesthetic and direction. Outside of the overlong CG shots that exemplify the effects of stopping time, the show mostly blows past any potentially interesting imagery in lieu of moving the plot along as efficiently as possible. The one exception would be the strange spirit the Yukawas encounter in their battle against the other thugs that can move about in the frozen realm. It's a bit too CG for my tastes, but it lends the environment a much-needed sense of alien mystery.
Now that Anime Strike is finally dead and buried, anyone with an Amazon Prime account can access their library of anime. Once you've finally caught up on Made in Abyss, Kokkoku's premiere is definitely something to add to your watchlist. It's a little sloppy in its execution, and the visuals aren't the prettiest, but it's a well-written premise about adults and for adults, which I think is reason enough to check it out.
If Kokkoku has one thing going for it, it's the crappy characters. In all seriousness, the show's central dumpy family, a disjointed pack of unemployed grumplords who constantly snipe at one another but seem to care when it really matters, is the main thing holding this otherwise dubious production together. Rarely do anime characters feel more like totally average frustrating people you might have in your own life without going overboard into villainous or "tragically quirky" caricature. While saying I "like" these characters would be saying too much at this point, I can definitely at least appreciate their unique chemistry as the family whose house gets probably skipped by judgy moms taking their kids trick or treating. Little do they know that this embarrassing clan has inherited time-stopping superpowers. It's a neat concept done well so far, with mostly naturalistic dialogue and a good balance between crassness and sympathy; our heroine will unplug her older brother's video game to yell at him one minute, but takes a moment to gently wipe the tears away from her little brother's face in stopped time the next.
That's good because the production work is mostly just ugly. (I hope you're a big fan of brown!) I struggled to find a decent-looking screenshot for this writeup, but ultimately had to cheat and pull from the ED sequence. The series is being handled by Geno Studio, which (as its name implies) was principally founded to help finish out the troubled development on Manglobe's Genocidal Organ. Now Manglobe is gone and they remain, which means their staff and mission statement is a complete mystery to me. Are Shukou Murase's old guard working on this in some capacity? (That would explain a lot, because Murase's aesthetic can barely squeak by with great TV-sized resources, much less this seemingly rushed project.) But I'm willing to bet most of this was outsourced and Geno Studio just did the planning and storyboards. The pacing is decent and there are a couple creative shots in the mix, but overall the show just looks bad.
Anyway, provided the story keeps its heart in balance without verging too hard into grimdark edgelord territory, Kokkoku could still be worth a look as a strange little horror thriller with a novel premise. Keep your expectations measured, and maybe there will be a memorable story lying in wait here.
I went into this series totally blind, so perhaps that contributed to this being a pleasant surprise: a series featuring seemingly-normal, very grounded adults who get involved in a super-powered caper where stopped time is a major element. If you're looking for a series with a more mature tilt to it this season, this one looks like a prime candidate.
The source manga is described as containing horror, drama, and mystery elements, and all of those are in play in this first episode, although it also has some lighter-hearted moments in the early stages. The mystery comes from what the actual story is about this “Stasis” realm, about whose nature even the grandfather doesn't know much beyond that it has a tendency to warp people. Whether that's because of some inherent effect of the environment or simply because of the dangerous opportunities it offers, even he doesn't know. The drama comes in the kidnapping and in the unexpected discovery that Juri, her father, and grandfather aren't the only ones capable of entering the Stasis realm, with a monstrous entity showing up at the end. Taken together, it all makes for an intriguing package, as the chief bad guy is clearly targeting the grandfather and knows the monster's true nature.
The most refreshing aspect of the whole scenario is that these are just ordinary people. No one is showing other super-powers or advanced fighting skills yet, nor is anyone secretly a ninja or anything like that. Whether it's the laid-off father, the unemployed 31-year-old son, the young woman fruitlessly looking for her first office job, or the sister who's trying to support a son whose father's identity is unclear, these are all real-world relatable characters, so there are all sorts of interesting possibilities in seeing how they navigate this messy situation. An aesthetic that eschews more exaggerated characters designs also helps out a lot and contributes to the violence having more impact than usual, even though it's nowhere near as graphic as some other titles this season yet. One of the most visually and musically dynamic openers of the season also helps set the stage, and the sexier closer is no slouch either.
Job-hunter Juri is apparently going to be the series' protagonist, but it looks like the other young woman shown prominently in the closer is going to be introduced next episode. However that plays out though, I'm on board for this one.
There's something very strange afoot in Kokkoku, and it's not just the fanservice in the ending theme that really doesn't fit with the rest of the episode. It involves kidnappers, the ability to stop time, and dryads on steroids for some reason. It mostly works as an introduction to a dark, vaguely supernatural story with fated bloodlines and other mystic stuff, but it's also kind of confusing, making this a series that merits a second episode to see if it's going to be able to carry off all of the clearly ambitious plans it has.
Our protagonists appear to be Juri, a college senior having zero luck on the job market, and her grandfather. Their family's down on their luck (as in Mom's and Big Sis are the only ones working), and Juri's ready to just get the hell out and leave everyone else to fend for themselves, even if that means leaving her adorable nephew Makoto behind. She’ pretty much reached the end of her rope when the story begins, which is why she harasses her out-of-work older brother Tsubasa into going to collect Makoto from preschool. The sole reason the show seems to have made this choice is so that Juri will later suffer from guilt – because on the way home, Tsubasa and Makoto are kidnapped and it was supposed to be Juri instead. Presumably this is because Makoto and Juri are the two family members that Grandpa cares about the most; certainly Juri's the only one we see treating him with anything close to kindness, although he's hardly neglected. At any rate, Grandpa's the one who knows what's what with the time-stopping powers and it's his blood that activates them, so even before the true villains show up, it's a safe bet that he's the target.
For a fairly straightforward story, Kokkoku has a relatively difficult time telling it. This largely seems to stem from the fact that attempts to be artistic get in the way of the plot unfolding. Far too long is spent showing us how the world looks frozen, from the focus on a bee caught mid-flight to a child's dropped lollypop. They're interesting images in and of themselves, but after the third shot of the bee, it feels like things are just being stretched in order to make the plot fill the allotted time. The blue butterfly feels more potentially symbolic, both because of past usage of butterfly imagery in anime and also due to the idea of a butterfly's wings being able to affect events – what happens if the butterfly is unable to move? Given the less than subtle use of spiderweb imagery in the episode, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what the show is going for.
There's definitely some potential here once the story gets itself off the ground. The question is whether or not the pacing can even itself out enough to merit our patience. I'll probably give it at least one more episode to see how things go, but if it doesn't start moving more evenly, not more than that.
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