The thought of having super powers is a thought which intrigues the mind of mankind every day. What if you woke up one day and you had the power to control the world and reign supreme, jump from one space in time to another or have a sentient penguin as a pet? Well, in the supernatural anime Tokyo ESP, you get all three and a whole lot more in an action anime which is totally not influenced by a certain gang of mutants that are quite MARVELlous. Subtle, aren’t I?
In this iteration of Tokyo, a gang of espers [A person with the trait ESP or extrasensory perception] have begun an onslaught on Tokyo in the most audacious manner possible – floating the Japanese parliament building above the city. I always knew Japanese politics was up in the air but this is ridiculous! Anyway, the tyrants led by an esper known only as The Professor start to rain their might upon the city and the country as a whole. What’s caused these powers to suddenly appear? Vast schools of “psychic fish” swimming into the hearts of certain individuals and giving them superhuman abilities. That’s on the weird side, but it makes for a cool visual [apparently it’s how humans perceive psychic energy] As such, some of these “chosen ones” decide to use their gifts for ill purposes and begin a new world order by eradicating humanity one calamity at a time. It’s up to the likes of “The White Girl” and her posse to stop The Professor from destroying everything. However, the plot of the first episode isn’t the first episode; it’s actually an event which takes place towards the end of the season and by the start of the second episode, all of this becomes clear when we go back into the past and discover the origins of the modern day espers.
So we have a Memento-like narrative twist on our hands here. Another twist occurs in the vibe of the entire show; gone is the bleakness of episode one and in its place is a more jovial and somewhat less substantial action-comedy/drama. Rinka and her father live together in Tokyo and get by on a somewhat meagre existence. Rinka then one day witnesses the “psychic fish” as well as a flying penguin which turns out to be an important plot point; one of the fish absorbs itself into Rinka and she gains the power to pass through solid objects – sort of like Kitty Pryde from X-Men. In fact, there’s a lot of X-Men meshed into Tokyo ESP and its composition; even a little bit of Ghostbusters too! The biggest similarities are the vitriolic distrust of espers akin to mutants, new world order motif, desire for co-existence as well as Rinka’s father looking a lot like Wolverine. Despite these, the show is really charming and full of gags which makes it a very endearing end product. The first episode acts as a flash forward and the rest of the show chronicles how all the characters [both good and bad] develop and refine their powers from that day when a fish chose to assimilate itself with all of them. Sometimes when shows present a future event first, it runs the risk of confusing audiences and leaving tons of unanswered questions and headscratching about what’s going on; thankfully Tokyo ESP doesn’t do that. I felt like I got the gist about what was going on in that single outing and would be fine if the series started there; to get a back story is an added bonus. Who is this White Girl? “Well!” says the anime, “Let me show you!” and we get a telling of how Rinka got her powers and discovered how to be a true hero after many moments where she doubts her abilities. She encounters a guy named Kyotaro who got gifted by the fish too; he got teleportation powers [which are presented in a whisp of smoke quite masterfully I might add!]. The two quite clearly form a bond and the pair go through a lot of existential questioning about whether it’s worth fighting for peace or simply join the world order being formed before them. The Professor appears and we get a little more explanation about why he’s doing what he’s doing but it doesn’t shake off some concerns I have for the evil characters and the entire package.
The Professor and Minami, his cohort, are quite robotic in their justification for their attacks on the public at large and don’t seem to have a clear or deep motivation for giving espers autonomy. It seems to be purely built on blind frustration and not much else. Most people would question why I’m bothered by this and say that I should just let things happen and leave reason at the door; but I want some kind of meaningful cause to be the backbone of a charge against humanity. As far as I see, there was no anti-ESP movement before The Professor showed up, he pretty much caused the sudden fear. He could’ve easily got what he wanted in a more subtle and synergistic manner; achieve power through subversion and stealth instead of doing outlandish and somewhat immature acts over the skies of Tokyo such as A FRIGGIN’ TANKER! It may seem epic but it’s kind of irrational; contradictory of his character which is a lot more regal. As much as I like the good guy characters, the adaptation of the story sometimes gives them short shrift. Later on in the show, Rinka is screwed around with a lot and it’s here where you start to see the weaknesses that using a flash forward at the beginning brings. If you get the pacing wrong, then you need to frantically rush proceedings, risk cheapening certain key scenes because you know the end result already and also unravel the good build-up which had gone before; it’s something that plagues the latter half of the series. It’s a concern after such a strong start.
Tokyo ESP is a simple show but it’s executed with sophistication and explores ideas above its station; thrusting itself into the limelight with some of the heavy hitters of this seasons such as the re-edit of Psycho Pass and Aldnoah.Zero…to a point. Xebec [the anime’s production company] aren’t known for being masters of animation and it shows in some places where character models are inconsistent or scenes look cheap at times; but there are some very cool looking sequences and visual motifs which entice and enthral. It’s certainly an admirable showing from the studio which has floundered as of late with not that many hits – 2012’s Rinne no Lagrange being the most recent production which garnered much interest. I ultimately enjoyed myself watching Tokyo ESP and felt that it deserves a lot of credit for punching above its weight; it’s not the best produced show but it has the characters, the graphical cues and action to get the job done just about.
Tokyo ESP is available to stream on Funimation’s website.
RATING: CONTINUE [A charming and plucky series which gives a tip of the hat to Marvel’s classic mutant formula.]
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