Tokyo 24th Ward
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Tokyo 24th Ward ?
Community score: 3.6
I'll give props to Tokyo 24th Ward for having the vocabulary to describe the various sociological concepts it's trying to explore. The new plot this week is the rise in drug usage and crime in a part of the ward lovingly referred to as "Shantytown." But the show wastes no time on the idea that the poor are to blame for their problems, rapidly making apparent that the new drug, "D," is being trafficked in. It's mildly refreshing to see that presented up-front as a matter of course where other stories might hold it back as a plot twist, despite the fact that this sort of outside agitation is well-documented in the real world.
Of course, Tokyo 24th Ward is still the bluntest piece of social commentary imaginable, so it's hilariously another evil land-developing businessman spearheading this scheme at the behest of another plot about outside forces encroaching on the ward's real estate. This one does seem to actually tie into the broader thematic storyline of the show, however. It exemplifies elements of that oddly opaque Hazard Cast system in the background, while also clarifying the Ward's Mayor involvement in the takeover scheme. So already the show seems more aware of its own stakes.
The Hazard Cast system had already been acting primarily as a mystery box to be cracked open at an opportune time later, and that doesn't really change with the details we're given. It appears to be so secret that even Koki, the Mayor's son, can't ask how it works. Later, it's described as effectively a computer system that uses public surveillance data to predict crime (tornados are "crime" now, I guess), but like any major governing algorithm, what's actually inputting and driving it remains obscured. We've already seen that Asumi's ghost or whatever is adjacent to SARG's big computer system, and she's calling up the RGB boys and instilling them with superpowers to deal with events before they actually happen. Even if it wasn't powered by the soul of a forsaken child, an overbearing piece of monitoring software is just asking to go south later in a story for dramatic purposes.
Given its obfuscated nature, the major problem with the Hazard Cast at this point is using it as the key to Koki's point of view in this show's ongoing trumped-up Law/Chaos argument. Kozue, the sad little girl who's gotta be extra traumatized now that she's watched both her friend and her dad die in disasters right in front of her, goes missing, with Koki positing that extending the system's data surveillance to Shantytown would make it easier for them to track her down there. But even Shu, the resident meathead main character, calls out the underlying issue: an over-reliance on surveillance at the cost of personal privacy isn't worth it for supposedly better social safety. It's all so blatantly the opening remarks of a high school debate club that it would hardly register as things said by actual people if these characters weren't already constructed as philosophical mouthpieces.
Thing is, the show can't even actually present these ideas compellingly on its own terms. Koki's suggestion about using the Hazard Cast pointedly ends up useless when Ran is able to use his trusted network of locals to almost instantly locate Kozue instead. Similarly, the argument that the government's tech surveillance would make Shantytown safer in the midst of rising crime rings hollow when we already know that the government is working with business goons to smuggle drugs into the town, which is what's making it unsafe in the first place!
It's all a prelude to the post-credits setup for the story escalation: a choice between killing Ran's friend-turned-terrorist Kunai or letting him blow up a cruise ship full of aristocratic VIPs. The show already noted earlier in the episode that said ship is specifically carrying donors who bought into the drug-fueled gentrification plot threatening Shantytown in the first place. "Poor people vs rich people" as a plot is one thing, but this is "Poor people vs the rich people who are actively the ones harming them." It's the trolley problem again, but this time one track has a single working-class person tied to it, while the other has ten CEOs. Easiest lever pull imaginable.
Tokyo 24th Ward's toothless social commentary overshadows even its extensive use of specialist lingo. Ran accurately describes the perils of statistics-based policing and its effects on Shantytown's so-called "crime rate" to Shu, but nobody even considers throwing out the oppressive governing system (lord knows Ran isn't one of those crazy anarchists!). The takeaway is simply that implementing a system like Hazard Cast based on that faulty, human-originated data would be inadvisable. But who created the conditions that would motivate a violent terrorist like Kunai in the first place? The show doesn't seem to realize that its illustration of real-world structural failings makes it all too clear where the problems are actually trickling down from, instead setting up Ran and Koki as the extremes on the political horseshoe, with Shu compelled to play the Good Centrist right in the middle.
I want to give Tokyo 24th Ward the benefit of the doubt because it definitely understands the mechanics of a lot of its ideas. And the presentation is actually still holding together quite nicely, presenting some neat effects like those white-bordered character cut-ins, or creative use of camera angles as Shu chases down a drug dealer. But the show's bone-headed pretense of presenting its social themes as "challenging" in the face of its own clearly artificial conflict is aggravating. Perhaps as the main characters' agendas necessarily move closer over the course of the story, some sense of nuance in their approach can actually emerge. That might even coincide with the eventual revelations about the government and computer system actually pulling all these strings. But for now, it was frustrating to watch this episode undercut itself in real time.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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