by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Kokkoku is the kind of show that walks a line between “deliberately paced” and just plain “slow”. The former is the term I like to use to describe stories that move at a careful rhythm while remaining engaging; the latter is probably the most common complaint for when a series bores its audience. Despite some serious pacing problems, I would argue that Kokkoku has fallen on the favorable half of that divide more often than not; there are definitely individual scenes that feel sluggish, but on the whole the show has managed to keep my interest. This week though, on Kokkoku's “Ninth Moment”, the show finally crosses the line and wanders into the territory of dullness.
To make matters worse, there are a lot of interesting and important developments in the plot this week; they're just presented in the least interesting manner possible. Tobino, the angry cult member who was brutally killed last week, starts off the episode by transforming into a herald. In a desperate bid to save Grandfather's life, Juri smashes the Master Stone to pieces, knowing that she can send her comrades out of Stasis using her own powers (though she won't be able to save herself). Shiomi at last betrays Sugawa and comes to the aid of the Yukawas, though he gravely informs them that despite Sugawa's purely academic interest in Stasis, the monster will not stop until Juri, her family, and their allies are all dead. Even Makoto finally gets something to do, revealing that his own Stasis powers lie in controlling Heralds like Tobino (though Takafumi claims his grandson's power as his own).
Written out like that, it's easy to see that there's a lot going on in this week's script, but you'd hardly know it by watching the actual episode. After the admittedly tense opening scenes involving Juri's self-sacrifice, the rest of the episode devolves into an extremely tedious series of minimally directed conversations. A solid six minutes of the episode is devoted to Shiomi flatly explaining Sagawa's powers, how he intends to use them, and revealing that this entire crazy scheme is motivated by his desire to see what ultimately becomes of humanity in the future. His goals being so underwhelming is largely the point; Juri expresses anger at the fact that her whole family's life has been turned upside-down by one man's exceptionally bizarre science experiment. I like the beats of this conversation on paper, but there's so little energy to the execution that it becomes incredibly hard to stay invested. Juri's sacrifice also works really well as a part of both the character's arc and the show's development, but the direness of the situation is drained somewhat by all the bland jabbering.
It doesn't help that the show's animation budget seems to have dwindled to spare change and prayers. The show has looked fairly ugly since episode four or so, but this episode barely rises above slide-show levels of animation. Coupled with the flat character models and weak overall direction, this results in easily the least interesting Kokkoku has ever been visually. I was pretty forgiving of the show's initial aesthetic shortcomings, but this may be a drop too far in quality.
The most entertaining sequence to come out of this episode besides Juri's heroism would have to be Makoto's contribution, where he discovers his ability to control Heralds while trying to save his grandfather. I love the idea of finally giving the poor kid something to do outside of looking perpetually confused, though I'm wondering about Takafumi's involvement in all this. He showed some genuine spine when he was willing to stand between the Herald and Makoto, and his shushing suggestion to Makoto suggests that he's putting on this farce to protect his grandson in some way. Still, Takafumi's only major characteristics have been his weak will and sneaky ambitions, so I'm not entirely convinced he isn't just trying to boost his own damaged ego.
Now that all of the pieces are in place for the series' final act, I really hope Kokkoku can dispense with the info-dumping and put some pep back into its step. I'm long past expecting the show to be more than a B-grade pulp thriller, so all I want is to see it end as gracefully as possible. I wouldn't even mind a catastrophic tonal misfire for the finale; it would be disappointing, but it would at least make for strong discussion. If Kokkoku ends its run by being terminally boring, that would be a real tragedy.
KOKKOKU is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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