by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Six weeks into Kokkoku's story, it continues to be a strange and unwieldy beast. The art and animation are all over the place, and it's more clumsy than eye-catching most of the time. The story continues to move at an erratic pace, with the plot feeling less focused now than it did at the start; Kokkoku has widened the net of its family drama this week and placed the focus on Shoko's quest to free her family from the prisons of their Herald forms. Despite this being the first time we've seen the Yukawas and members of the GLS really interact with one another, Shoko's motives make this plot feel more like its own side story. It's one of the most interesting stories we've gotten to see unfold in Kokkoku's brief run, but it also completely diverts the momentum of the Yukawas' storyline. This isn't a bad episode, but it is one of the weirdest entries of Kokkoku in terms of structure.
Take the resolution to Tsubasa's storyline for example. The scene where he subdues and kills the assassin in his home is as tense and thrilling as anything we've seen from this character; the look of desperate aggression in Tsubasa's eyes as he smothered the man was particularly affecting. But right afterward, Tsubasa's despair leads him to begin transforming into a Herald, right as the rest of his family finds him again. Juri is able to stop this process by using her power, so the scene at least establishes her ability to interact with Heralds in this way, but the result turns what an intriguing development into an opportunity for more mechanical exposition. While this does push Shoko's story forward, it also makes the meandering pace at which Tsubasa was reintroduced to the story feel too protracted.
The central plot is much more successful, though not without its rough edges. Seeing Juri and Shoko finally interact was very satisfying, and the show handled their ambivalent enmity well. Of course Shoko would hate Juri and her family; their thoughtless use of the Master Stone stole her entire family away from her, and the Yukawas didn't even make anything of their lives with this power. Still, she knows that the only way that her mother, father, and brother can be freed is to use Juri's ability to expel the Specters from them, so even when she has an oblivious Makoto kidnapped again, it makes sense that the two parties would work (relatively) well together. Unlike the thoughtless struggle for power posed by the GLS, both Shoko and the Yukawas have clear goals that they can help each other meet. Because of that, the tension and mystery of the Herald-summoning plot felt compelling, in spite of being somewhat disconnected from the main threat driving the early episodes. The action also works well when it arrives; the animation is still janky, but the general premise of Juri having to climb up a Herald to attack it while in motion is strong enough to carry the sequence.
This scene also finally does something with Takafumi, who has mainly been dead weight until now. The twist of him having enough killing intent to summon the Heralds seems somewhat obvious in retrospect, but it was genuinely surprising in the moment. This not only helps solidify Shoko as a solid deuteragonist, since she's not as capable of lethal intent as she imagined, it also reveals that Takafumi may be hiding a psychopathic edge that makes him a much more intriguing character. It's been foreshadowed for weeks now that he will probably be tempted over to the dark side, but this has always been attributed to his weak-willed nature. However, his desire to learn the ins and outs of avoiding Heralds indicates more ambition for taking advantage of Stasis that could prove to be more dangerous than we thought.
It's clear now that Kokkoku isn't a show for everyone. Its pacing is often frustrating, and its ambitions tend to exceed its technical and artistic capabilities. Still, I enjoy watching ambitious messes, especially when they feature such a compelling premise and just enough engaging characters to keep things moving along. Shoko and Juri are two interesting protagonists, and I'm invested enough in their stories to keep going with Kokkoku, just so I can see where they end up. Shoko has finally been able to lay her parents to rest, but her young brother has much more color in his cheeks than I imagine anyone expected. This can only mean that Shoko and Juri's lives are about to get even more complicated.
KOKKOKU is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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