Tokyo ESP Episodes 1-7
by Theron Martin,
Review: In a world where espers (a generic name for anyone with super-powers) are a reality, an especially powerful illusion-casting one called The Professor has assembled a team of espers with racial supremacy in mind and a notion to carve out a domain for he and his fellow espers – and he certainly has no qualms about violently sticking it to ordinary folk and resorting to terrorist methods to do so. (In other words, he's Magneto.) But some espers, inspired by a justice-minded heroine called White Girl (because she has white hair when her powers are active) oppose the Brotherhood of Ev. . . er, The Professor and his minions and, because they believe in peaceful coexistence with regular humans, fight back. But the party doesn't really get rolling until White Girl finally shows.
And then we discover that the first episode was merely a flash-forward to the eventual climax and most of the rest of the series will be showing how things develop to those climactic events. In one sense that is a little disappointing, as the first episode actually does an excellent job of feeding viewers enough to understand the basics of what's going on while still dropping them in the midst of dire events. However, that disappointment fades over the next few episode as we gradually see that the path for getting to those events was not a simple or straightforward one and requires a considerable amount more fleshing out than was initially apparent. We learn that people are not born as espers but become them through physical contact with psychic fish, and that lead heroine Rinka (aka White Girl), who gains the ability to phase though inanimate objects, was originally a poor but energetic girl interested in nothing more than making enough money to put food on the table. Only through encounters with a young man who fancied himself as a Hero of Justice did she start to see herself as a heroine, and though she had some fighting training from her ex-policeman father, only through additional, specialized training (and being on the receiving end of a lot of beatings from bad guys) does she gradually learn to fight on a level where she might hope to survive against the Professor's strongest disciples, one of whom is a veritable sister to the young man. We also get to see how other individuals featured in the first episode – the psychometric, the precognitive, the invisible female boxer, and the teleporting enemy swordswoman – gradually come into the picture, though as of episode 7 we have yet to see how some of them achieve the full power levels that they showed in that first episode. How the more heroic-leaning ones might have been inspired by Rinka is also gradually starting to come into focus, although that, too, has yet to be fully realized in a couple of cases.
That this endeavor heavily draws inspiration from Marvel Comics' X-Men is indisputable; too many parallels exist for it to be a coincidence. The series does, however, put its own distinct anime-flavored spin on the whole notion of those with super-powers splitting along “master race vs. coexistence” lines, primarily in its portrayal of Rinka. She is the classic hot-blooded anime action hero/heroine, one who energetically charges into everything she does, does not back down from fights even when she should, and often has to weather a beating to learn valuable lessons. That makes her almost instantly likable, as the series is very much about her figuring out the hard way how to be a true heroine. Her encounters with Kyotaro, the male teleporter who often wears a mask, give her a moral sounding board, her encounters with the boxer, psychometric, and precog give her potential allies to recruit/inspire, and her encounters with The Professor – and especially his sword-wielding daughter Minami – provide the potent adversaries that any heroine requires to reach her full potential. Naturally other characters (especially Kyotaro) get some development, too, but this is really primarily Rinka's show.
For all that the content touches on bigger themes and dark events, though, the series does not take itself as entirely seriously as the first episode might lead one to believe. It is primarily a high-spirited action series overall, one which typically takes itself seriously but also regularly mixes in mild doses of goofiness; the pint-size martial arts expert who becomes Rinka's trainer invariably wears a panda suit, for instance, and the female boxer, who is implied to not be much older than Rinka, falls for Rinka's rather ridiculously buff father upon being rescued by him. Other little tidbits abound. The content also gets some nice touches from considering some details of power uses which are commonly overlooked, such as how when one character instantly gains a skill that allows her to move beyond what her body is normally used to doing, she suffers for it later. Those looking for fan service will find a little, but it is limited beyond one early scene where Rinka is first learning about her powers (she apparently phases through her clothes when her power first manifests), the sexy outfits of a couple of characters, and the closer, which artfully feature Minami running around in the nude. Also watch for an early cameo by some characters from Ga-Rei Zero, another work by the creator of the source manga, and a bizarrely random allusion to Ghostbusters.
The technical aspects of this Xebec production are not bad but definitely not the series' selling point, either. The artistry and animation are at their sharpest in the first episode and certain feature scenes later on and drop off (and definitely become more limited) at other times, with some inconsistencies showing in exactly how solid Rinka's build is. Still, character designs provide a wide and satisfying variety of looks and action scenes and power uses, when animated sufficiently, usually do not disappoint. The soundtrack does nothing exceptional beyond an overly-dramatic heavy metal closer.
Unlike Aldnoah.Zero, which is a grander story being weighed down by flaws, Tokyo ESP is a story of smaller scale and ambition which is succeeding because it is largely avoiding major missteps. While there is some concern about whether or not it still has adequate time to get back to its starting point without rushing things, its only significant problem so far is that it sometimes gets just corny enough to detract from its more serious elements.
Tokyo ESP is currently streaming on Funimation.
A virtual high school teacher by day, Theron (Key in forums) has been an anime fan since the early '90s and a reviewer for ANN since January 2005.
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