by Theron Martin,
Since the beginning of episode 2, Tokyo ESP has made it plain that Rinka is on a classic hero's journey, the kind that is the fodder for many a shonen action or superhero comic book protagonist. In that vein episode 9 represents the point where the heroine bottoms out and has her great Crisis of Faith, the point where she gets struck down so hard by both foes and the onus of blame that she takes upon herself that even a mighty spirit might be shaken to the core. We know from the first episode that she will eventually snap out of it and return to the fight – if she was not able to do so, then why would the storytellers have bothered to cast her as the lead protagonist in the first place? – but seeing where a heroine has to struggle back from is, of course, a big part of what makes such a journey interesting and involving.
The handling of it could have been done smoother in this case, though. As suggested by the end of episode 8, the feature scene is the attack on Rinka's high school by The Professor's goons, and it is, indeed, an ugly affair. Outnumbered by people just as good at fighting as she is, who have the advantage of knowing exactly what she can do, and who can use school friends whom she cannot bring herself to hurt against her, she cannot prevent rather literally getting the life beat out of her, while Minami takes off with Kyotaro to once again deposit him out of reach, but this time in defiance of orders (for all of her other amorality, Kyotaro is one person that she cannot bring herself to kill) rather than as part of them. In a surprising bit of pacing, though, that is all resolved in only the first half of the episode, with the second half left to how, in ensuing weeks as Rinka recuperates, anti-ESPer legislation quickly goes into effect and gets ESPers detained, forcing Rinka and friends to go on the run, though at a cost. But a now-powerless Rinka naturally cannot tolerate putting anyone further at risk and strikes off on her own.
Although the story does what it needs to do, the pacing is now moving along at breakneck speed, which does keep the plot going but also prevents the full weight of the events transpiring from sinking in. For a story like this, that's a crucial slip. A seemingly half-hearted animation effort also drags the episode down. Fight choreography, while mostly uninspired, does earn points for showing one of the rare cases where a character is actually simultaneously getting hit from two sides instead of the more typical tag-teaming. The early parts of the episode, which show some of Minami's past from Minami's perspective rather than Kyotaro's, do not do as much as they were probably intended to flesh her character out, either; we learn how she first came to kill and how she came to unwavering (at least until now) support of her father, and are given suggestion about how she came to lose faith in humanity, but too little of it resonates. The flashbacks also give The Professor only a cheap reason for his perfidy; loss of a loved one is, of course, a perfectly reasonable reason for becoming an evil, racist bastard, after all! (Sorry, but as motivations go, you're not in Magneto's league on that point, either, Professor.)
Despite the complaints, this episode has not knocked the series out of alignment to wind up being a good one in the end; far from it, as it sets up the requisite story elements to build towards the climax. However, in terms of minute-by-minute execution the series is bottoming out here as much as the heroine is.
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