by Theron Martin,
Tokyo ESP started with strong potential but suffered during the latter half in large part because of pacing and execution issues, and the finale is little different. Whatever other criticisms might be leveled against the show, though, one cannot accuse it of being unoriginal in the ass-pull it comes up with to give its heroes a fighting chance. I am reasonably certain that no other anime series ever made – nay, no other super-hero series of any kind ever made – has had a telepathic penguin be the ultimate secret weapon that even the heroes did not know about themselves.
But at least we somewhat know the story on that penguin. Remember the strangely-garbed woman who briefly appeared near the beginning of the first episode? She's back, and with a similarly-oddly-garbed brother, and they apparently have everything to do with the forces that The Professor really was trying to root out while acting like a stereotypical villain the previous episode. Exactly what that is all about is beyond the intended scope of this series, though, as it is but one of many points left unresolved at the end of the episode (and thus the series).
What we do get is the climactic showdown between Rinka and Minami that has been building for the whole series, and unlike previous encounters, Rinka (predictably) puts up a much better fight this time. The fight choreography indicates that her intense training is largely responsible for this, but the interactions between the two also imply that Rinka is now the more determined one, while Minami might be getting dragged down by being conflicted over what has been going on with Kyosuke. The fight is reasonably well-staged within the limits of the series' animation budget (some action anime series well-disguise their limited animation, but this is not one of them) but ultimately just a piece of the overall final puzzle, as Rinka's crew must also deal with The Professor's other remaining forces before the final showdown with The Professor – and of course the grand return of Kyosouke. That is the point where things become messy, though, partly because that climactic scene aims for a lot more gravitas than it has the writing quality to pull off. The musical score certainly tries to give the content that extra oomph, but it isn't enough.
The ending is both intriguing and frustrating. The frustration comes from realizing that Rinka had really cool powers for most of the series (and yes, she does get them back) and actually rarely did anything very cool with them. The frustration comes from us never learning more about how Kobushi's new ability developed beyond an offhand comment about months of training. The intriguing parts come from wondering what the story is with those mysterious individuals at the end, what Minami's state of mind is going to be given what transpires at the end, and especially the observation at the end that, while the main villain was defeated, the lingering consequences of his actions are far from quickly or neatly resolved, a point that is all-too-commonly-overlooked in series like this. The note the series ends on indicates that espers as both heroes and problem cases are here to stay.
So in the end Rinka completes her Hero's Journey, only to discover that the journey was only about becoming a hero, not saving the world. In that respect the series does, on the whole, succeed, but it traversed a rocky road getting there.
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