Taboo Tattoo
Episodes 1-3

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Taboo Tattoo ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Taboo Tattoo ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Taboo Tattoo ?

After having the privilege of reviewing Big Order, 2016's Most Bafflingly Incompetent Anime (So Far), watching Taboo Tattoo seems like some sort of weird karmic reward. Both Taboo Tattoo and Big Order feature a nondescript male protagonist with a longtime female companion who is gifted with all-powerful supernatural abilities. Both anime feature another female character who arrives to rope our protagonist into a conflict with many other supernaturally powered individuals that ends up involving conflicts between entire world governments. Taboo Tattoo's protagonist is even named Seigi, while Big Order has a hero named Eiji, and both of their super-powers originate from glowy emblems embedded into their palms. I'm not accusing Taboo Tatoo of being a rip-off or anything, I just thought it was funny that so soon after Big Order ended, I would be confronted with a show that has such striking similarities.

The operative difference between these two shows is that Taboo Tattoo isn't terrible. That's not to say that it's great either, but I'm more than happy to take “Not Great” over “Worst Series of the Year.”

Still, one of the big reasons Taboo Tattoo and Big Order feel so similar is that both shows are more than content to stick to well-worn storytelling clichés instead of straying from the beaten path. Both shows also populate their clichéd stories with stock characters instead of interesting individuals. Neither of these anime was ever really destined for greatness, but Taboo Tattoo does succeed where shows like Big Order have failed. It knows exactly what kind of show it wants to be, and it doesn't try to be anything else. Based on these first few episodes, Taboo Tattoo wants little more than to be a perfectly functional, by-the-numbers shonen action series.

I should note that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The basic pieces the show is playing with aren't terrible ones, after all. Justice “Seigi” Akatsuka fits the bill for “likable teenage protagonist that enjoys helping those in need,” and after helping out a mysterious drifter, he is gifted with a tattoo that, to nobody's surprise, grants him amazing powers. He meets Izzy and Tom, two agents working for the US military who explain that the tattoos are weapons developed to prevent war with the fictional kingdom of Selistan, and Seigi happens to have been given the most powerful one. The new ruler of Selistan is obviously unhappy about this, so she begins to send her cadre of unhinged hench-folk to kill off our heroes and presumably take over the world. Like I said, there's nothing particularly fresh about this setup, but it works to get the ball rolling and provide us with some decent action set pieces.

”Decent” is probably the descriptor I'd use for almost every aspect of these first few episodes. The characters are all perfectly decent but never that interesting, and all of them feel like they could just be re-skins of similar characters from a dozen similar shows. The storytelling is decently paced and coherent enough, but I wouldn't call it “compelling” so far. The comedy, as in many of the scenes between Seigi and his childhood friend Touko, is always decently amusing, but it never really hits the mark of being "funny." The visual direction and designs all work decently enough to keep the show easy on the eyes, but it's also too familiar and workmanlike to distinguish itself from all the other anime out there that look “good enough.”

J.C. Staff does pull out some pretty well-animated choreography for a couple of the fights scattered throughout these episodes, but the blocking and camerawork don't do enough to bring out the energy and tension that such smooth animation should provide. The studio is also experimenting with using CG to build a lot of the backgrounds and parts of the interior sets, and this does occasionally lead to some inspired direction and cinematography. At the same time, a couple of these computer-assisted shots feel downright clumsy. There's one moment in the third episode that simulates a tracking shot and then tilts to an overhead shot of an empty staircase above Seigi and Tom's training room. It looks kind of neat, but it doesn't serve much of a purpose, and then the camera just lingers there awkwardly. Sloppy directorial decisions like this undercut the potential of this fusion of 2D and 3D animation; hopefully the creative team gets more comfortable and expressive with it as the series moves forward.

Despite how underwhelming Taboo Tattoo can feel, there are moments of genuine personality that shine through often enough to give me hope for the series' potential. There's an undercurrent of self-aware silliness that helps to lighten the trying-too-hard edginess Taboo Tattoo often tiptoes around, which actually helps me forgive a lot of things I might otherwise take issue with. Izzy's real name is Bluesy Fruesy for one, and I refuse to believe that any show with a character named Bluesy Fruesy is meant to be taken all that seriously.

There's one particular moment that closes out the drama of the third episode, where Seigi and Touko are walking home after Touko's body was stolen in a botched murder attempt by the Selisitinians. The pair encounter an alley cat caring for her kittens, and the cat's angry hisses are actually subtitled for the audience. “The hell's your problem?” it says. “So I'm a stray cat with a fish in my mouth. Sue me.” There's no indication that the characters can understand this cat, and it certainly has nothing to do with the plot at hand. It's a bizarre moment, but a pretty entertainingly bizarre moment. A dash of weirdness and surreality could be just what this series needs to stand out more.

So far, Taboo Tattoo is not a great show. Heck, I'm not even sure if I can call it a “good” show. Still, it manages to entertain and mystify me enough to warrant a modicum of interest. There's some kind of potential buried beneath the show's humdrum outer layer, and I'll be curious to see if it can live up to any of that in the coming weeks.

Rating: C+

Taboo Tattoo is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life. He spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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