by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
How would you rate episode 3 of
When the first episode of Kokkoku aired, I gave it a fairly high score in the Winter Preview Guide, despite the show's rough production values and occasionally sloppy directorial decisions. This was because I found myself intrigued by the show's unique premise, and I appreciated the depiction of a dysfunctional middle-class family trying to get by in an insane situation (reminding me of Bong Joon-ho's excellent 2006 monster movie, The Host). With the season being overwhelming populated by cozy slice-of-life series, Kokkoku represents a refreshingly serious and more adult-oriented mystery with a lot of potential to thrill and horrify in equal measure.
Two weeks and two episodes later, my thoughts about the show remain essentially the same. Juri and the rest of the Yukawa family's misadventures in the world of frozen time remain reliably engaging, especially with the introduction of the mysterious cult that also possesses the power to move about in a standstill universe. The introduction of the Genuine Love Society, as the cult is strangely named, has been the primary focus of these introductory episodes, alongside more exposition covering how the frozen world works and getting the rest of the Yukakwa clan involved in the story. We've only just learned the basics of the GLS and why they're after the Yukawas, though a woman named Majima makes it seem like the story isn't going to be so simple as “The Yukawas had the magic Stone this cult worships, and now they want it back”. Based on both her limited flashbacks and how much she figures in the ED, it's clear that Majima's mysterious relationship to Juri and her family will end up being a major driving force for the story.
If anything, my biggest complaint so far is that Kokkoku has yet to really kick it into high gear for a plot that feels so indebted to tightly woven cinematic thrillers. The Genuine Love Society is an effective threat, but their motives remain nebulous at best, and splitting up the Yukawas means that each family member's contribution to the story is spread pretty thin over the course of three episodes. The bloody interventions of the mysterious Handler and Juri's near-fatal encounter with the cult members helped amp up the excitement after episode two's deluge of exposition, but even that latter scene was interrupted by Majima's explanations for the spooky time jellyfish (aka Specters). I understand that a certain amount of exposition and world-building is necessary for such a high-concept premise, but I feel like it could be balanced out with more clarity of plot and character.
Kokkoku demonstrates an unwieldy balance of its many moving parts, which is easily its greatest weakness so far. Individual scenes, like the comedic bits that come when Tsubasa and Makoto finally receive their Specters and wake up to this strange frozen world, work great on their own, but when placed in the machine of moving parts that is Kokkoku's plot, these scenes and the long bits of exposition drag the tension and pacing down just a little too much. At times, these first three episodes feel like the first act of a movie stretched out to fill over an hour's worth of time, which doesn't work so well for a plot that's supposed to feel more tense.
It also doesn't help that Kokkoku's aesthetics are mostly middling. The show is never ugly enough to outright ruin anything happening on screen, and director Yoshimitsu Ohashi and the crew at Geno Studio do their best to compensate for the rough animation with occasionally stylish and dynamic shot compositions, but the fact remains that the ambitions of the story are somewhat hampered by inconsistent character models and dull background art. The esoteric electronic soundtrack by Michiru is pretty effective though, helping to pick up the slack in the drama department.
All of these criticisms might make it sound like I'm really down on Kokokku, but it's really more indicative of how much potential I feel this series has. Original author Seita Horio has crafted a devilishly intriguing world and a cast of flawed but relatable heroes, and I'm eager to see where the story goes from here. The less-than-stellar production values and some imbalanced writing may be holding Kokkoku back from greatness at the moment, but these first three episodes have been a fun ride regardless, and I look forward to seeing what strange trials await the Yukawas in the coming weeks.
KOKKOKU is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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