My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from Tokyo ESP, which aired during the Summer 2014 anime season.
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided here for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click and scan through numerous pages of unrelated material.
Tokyo ESP [Episode one]
I do not know what it is, but that Kadokawa Video intro throws me off guard every time I see it. It was developed in the 2000’s, but it feels significantly more, say, 1980’s. Then my mind needs to readjust and remind myself if I turned the right thing on.
But, I think it is fair to say, Tokyo ESP served up an opening episode that would not have been out of place on a spectacle reliant 1980’s OVA release.
What are these We Mean Business folks doing? Taking over the Diet building. How are they doing it? They have powers. What powers? Like super speed combined with swords or being able to imprint their image on others so defenders shoot each other. Other allies of theirs? In the streets, blowing up traffic, buildings, tanks, and so on. Snowing. Christmas time. Can someone throw a train? Let us throw a train. Decorative lights. Helicopters going down. Guns. Big Cool Red Motorcycles. Some stuff about social structures. The bad guys want to Colony Drop the floating Diet building. The divides between humans and ESPers. Maybe threaten to blow up a kid’s mom with a truck bomb. Have bomb thwarted in time. Someone is kicking busses like they were footballs. Lead character shows up. Roll credits. Drop mic. Walk out.
It is the kind of intro designed less around world building, character narrative, and more to just hurl out a blockbuster “Stuff Goes Down” clash banking on telling someone from the start that things will end up this way down the road.
Is that good, is that bad? Well, it is the sort of in media res approach that relies on the series coming back around to fill in the blanks. Who anyone is, what their motivations may be, or what brought things to this ESPer terrorism point. Those with one note powers are defined to us by how their abilities work in action, one after another, as their primary definitive characteristics. The X-Men comparison many have thrown around regarding this series is accurate, putting so many to use and employing their abilities to bombastic effect with the promise we will get to know them later.
Right now we really do not know a whole lot other than that and boom bang explosion as Tokyo descends into chaos. Which is not itself a death sentence, and indeed even a solid technique if this does come to want to use this as a climatic preview of what is to come. It “just” needs to fill us in on everything else that already happened.
Which, for a bunch of ESPers, one would hope to be pretty easy.
Tokyo ESP [Episode two]
As expected last week, we do flash back to less hectic times. Away from mass metropolitan terrorist activity and folks with plant vine control powers trying to beat down our lead, all the way back to when Rinka first acquired and had confusion relating to her new-found extraordinary powers. As they happen to involve object permeability, this naturally has to involve her losing all her clothes and falling through her second floor apartment into her elderly downstairs neighbor’s living room. Because of course it does.
I do not think I was anywhere near as harsh as a number of other folks were to this show after its first episode, so it would do well not to lose me now.
We received our much promised flying penguin and floating fish from the synopsis of the series though. As the progenitors and controllers of where the mysterious ESP abilities are coming from and what is happening, via these ethereal but poorly defined entities slamming into regular human beings, I am actually on board enough for the service they provide. We do not, at this stage, need to necessarily know where these fish and flying arctic birds are coming from.
They can just be a magical visual spectacle.
Except… they are not, really.
The sense of time alone, where we jump between three different layers between the episode (the terrorism we started with, Rinka falling through the floor, then further back to where the powers came from, then back up a layer), is disorientating. Beyond that, so much of the direction here is quite flat. The action sequences, such as Rinka’s dad accidentally triggering an ability to attract metal to himself and thus creating a giant ball of cars around him he can not get out from while rolling through the city, has little weight to it given the materials involved.
Later events like an art museum heist and resulting fight seem downright mundane. And indeed, those flying magical fish are presented very mattery of factly, with little sense of wonder or splendor to the affair. They show up, mechanically bestow a power, and we move on. There is little flair or enrapturing quality to it all. The whole episode really seems quite mechanical, like it was just going through motions. Even resident male lead Kyoutarou Azuma is mostly just explaining things to Rinka or giving exposition for most of his lines this episode, which is itself not a greatly engaging activity.
Any energy or momentum the show had last week seems to have downright evaporated. The series may well be just doing the bare minimum as a part of an effort to conserve resources for later events like the hinted terrorist showdown. And if that is the case I would respect the decision, as there were aspects in that first episode that would be nice to see delivery on in the action superpower fighting department. But even so, it would need to ensure audiences do not mentally check out beforehand
It almost takes its own brand of effort to have a Katamari Damacy Rollerball Made Of Cars Rolling Through seem pretty lackadaisical. Tokyo ESP can not afford to have too many episodes in a row like this.
Tokyo ESP [Episode three]
What to do with this series. What to do and where to go.
From what I understand from someone else who has actually read the source material, this episode and the one prior are by and large draining a large amount of the incidental character comedy so as to perhaps throttle our way ahead at full speed through the “backstory” of the explosive first episode. Having not actually read the manga myself, that would be a line of reasoning I could understand, in the sense that this does very much feel like a show that is not all that interested in spending a whole lot of time on world building or character craft. The direction is incredibly odd, to me, in that everything is brutally efficient (which does not mean good in this case) at moving plot forwards. Progression above on all else. Rinka’s dad, who was so inept with his sudden metal attracting power last episode he rolled up a Tokyo city block of traffic into a Katamari Damacy ball around him, can now just summon a single piece of kitchenware to his hand.
Which would itself not really be as big of a deal were it not a severe indicator of how fast this episode wants to run.
Kyoutarou just instinctively knows to head to Odaiba to track down a flying penguin, and he and Rinka are there to see it and then need to rescue said flying penguin from a Ghostbusters reference team. The penguin, perhaps naturally in a series like this, is the only friend of a shy girl with glasses, and all of this hubbub causes a great big car chase and eventual crash. And it is all so… well, uneventful, with little passion or sense of urgency. Very much as if the series itself knows that we know these characters sort of by and large need to make it to a much larger part of the plot we have already seen a glimpse of, so it is not even trying to sell on any potential danger now.
Kyoutarou’s teleportation powers, for how nice the wisp of smoke effect sort of look in action, are way too much of a conveniently droll card to play when a car is teetering to fall off of a overpass and he can practically sidestep everyone six feet to the left.
Going along with that, his complete out of left field backstory involving an impoverished and violent generic third world nation (maybe they will define it later, but for now they sure have not), is delivered with all the setup and grace of tripping over a box one forgot to move when rearranging their room.
It just sort of appears for a bit, but not in a good shocking way. The series is just pushing us along, always forwards, no moment for any of this to sink in or build an actual human portrait. Likewise, his followup “You’re my hero” line to Rinka searching for an emotionally charged audience reaction seems completely void. They saved some folks together, sure, and that is noble. And Rinka and Peggy the Penguin saved a drowning Kyoutarou. So that is also nice of them. But the timing and craft to it is all kinds of flat, hollow, and unconnected to the audience.
The series is oriented to want to be a massive party of fiction references, superpowers, and the like.
But in the path it is on for now, the show is valuing raw progression and plot beats over absolutely anything else. Recapture the glasses girl because she was already rescued earlier in the episode. Burn the apartment of the leading young lady and her dad down. Have the yakuza involved. Bring in a mysterious masked samurai figure who is distributing all of the glowing flying psychic power granting fish. It feels like a very boring treadmill exercise that can not even provide a runner’s high for the overwhelming experience. It is rapidly becoming a show of quantity with its moments over anything resembling quality to those scenes.
But given the lifeless direction, it is not creating an entertaining or celebratory pileup to go along with any of it.
Tokyo ESP [Episode four]
This is a show where Peggy the Penguin was punched by a psychically powered yakuza leader, and proceeded to emit a laser light show of rage before summoning an ethereal shark to pull the power granting goldfish right out of the guy.
And I am still not having a whole heck of a lot of fun.
That is a depressing state of affairs.
It is a swell thing that Rinka has mastered her powers of object permeability so quickly and on command. Brazenly walking into a known dangerous room and being pumped full of organized crime bullets would have gone to a very different place. Given how ruthlessly this show is trimming away at characterization in favor of delivery plot beats cold as can be, that one of the masked samurai figures responsible for distributing the magical goldfish around Tokyo turns out to be a childhood friend of Kyoutarou’s comes off almost comically inept. It puts Rinka’s father in the position to do a whole lot of research off screen during a transition, and come back to report on the backstory of those two to the characters. As Kyoutarou lost his parents in The Civil War Of An Unnamed Nation Overseas, it is an excuse for showing snipers picking off children, blood in the streets, and all the rest as sad string instument music plays on.
I am highly interested in issues like this, given my graduate school focus and overseas experiences in conflict zones, but I am calling this what it is: nothing more than a cheap ploy for the facade of character depth.
For that matter, the show has made significantly more attempts to establish Kyoutarou’s character via these points than anything it has done with its supposed lead character. Rinka, and to a lesser extent her father, we really do not know very much about. How hard things must have been without their mother, their poverty stricken financial situation, and so on. I know that these are circumstances that exist within the show, but it just is not interested in elaborating on them. As if these were shorthand bullet points notes on a character sheet, and the script filled those in as-is and considered its work done.
I have a more fleshed out idea of Peggy the Penguin’s motivations and drives, and Peggy is unable to speak human language.
Murasaki being rescued from the crime lords and gaining her own super powers in the process via another magical fish is expected enough, and in her case she has a “Theoretically Interesting, But Limited Application” power.
She can get a read on the history of something by touching it. So, eating meat goes right out the window after trying to eat pork and seeing a pig float around in the air and getting carved up. Gimmicky, but kind of nifty. Having introduced Kyoutarou and Rinka to her father though, and they display their special superpowers in front of him, he makes an understandable surprise remark about if they are even really human or not. Which… results in his daughter immediately deciding to run away from home and stay with the rest of the gang, as this was a clear display of ESP discrimination and not, say, her dad being just completely caught off guard at the sight of human teleportation and something sticking their face through a bag with minimal prompting.
This is the level of scripting and event delivery we are dealing in here, and it is just groan inducing.
To the credit of Murasaki’s dad, he does come by again to drop off her luggage for actually running away with, plus a ring from her deceased mom (which seemingly everyone in this show seems to have, now that I think about it). Given her powers, we have a nice credits sequence where she gets to look back and see her mother while Murasaki herself was still a baby and actually see her mom and meet her family for the first time. Which is a super nice sentiment!
It just deserves so much better than this show.
Tokyo ESP [Episode five]
We may be about halfway through the Summer season, and yet even so I only really considered in the past week that most of what I have been following weekly for this part of the calendar year have been comedies. All of them in fact, save for M3: The Dark Metal, which historically I tend to go weeks without watching.
Of these comedies then, stretching across a variety of styles and approaches, Tokyo ESP is by far the least amusing to me. Even a silly penguin which can also brush her own mouth with a toothbrush is not really putting in the necessary shift. And its additional (and really more primary) action genre elements have slacked off significantly so far to boot, so it does not even have those moments to fall back on to put wind in its sails.
While only three episodes separate us from where this series began with the Professor taking over the Diet building and where we are here propping up where his plot and goals originated, it sure does feel like a much longer stretch to have sat through. Where not a whole lot was really accomplished in carving out who the other characters are at that. Lots of haphazard backstories dumped and action scenes engaged in, but with this strange and flat disconnect where there was little sense of weight or pressure to anything. The Professor / Hokusai Azuma having the ability to generate mental spaces and illusions that as far as others minds are concerned are indistinguishable from reality is the sort of thing animation could go very far with, on a technical level. So far in this episode we have seen it used to place characters in a grand palatial lobby for instance, which suitably gets the message across of what he is capable of. Though at the same time it all lacks a certain sense of wonder or imagination about any of it in how it is presented to us as viewers to process.
Very plainly, very matter of factually.
Which on the one hand would be fine for the initiating character themselves to expressing things that way, though to us as viewers we are likely to want to perceive things in a more imposing or sheer scale of impact manner. It is a good power in that it should allow for compelling or fantastical situations, either here or down the road, but so far on the former end it is so direct and lacking in dynamic angles that a lot of the whimsy or fun the show could have with it all gets sucked right on out before it could even begin.
The same situation applies to when we have Hokusai engineering the circumstances for a flying naval cargo ship over the airspace of Tokyo. That what should be a moment of awe, power, or anything of the sort is just sort of, well, there.
It is like one is giving some of the best or most interesting sandbox toys in the world to a kid, and they just sort of joylessly plod around with them because they would rather be playing a sport or something instead.
They are doing functional enough things to pass the time, there is just a general lack of inspired or creative spark due to very much preferring a different activity. And there is nothing inherently wrong with them wanting to have preferences and a desire to do something else, but this is a piece of television entertainment media we are talking about here. For instance, we once again are placing so much time and attention on all around everydude Kyoutarou and his so sufficiently generic civil war backstory that we are still not establishing which country he was actually in at the time. More attention on his relationship with Minami, as well as to Hokusai, and coming from all of that and some times of their past together and getting away from it all. Which would be all well and serviceable perhaps, except Kyoutarou is not the main character of this story as currently presented. Rinka is supposed to be.
She gets the fight sequences befitting a main character and the general narrative framing, but little actual time is spent on establishing personality or backstory.
She is already in the squirming around blushing in the middle of the night thinking of Kyoutarou and being at ease with him phase, but the arc of this is nearly akin to a flat line. These supposed feelings lack substantial activity that would allow me to believe her acting this way as an individual at this stage in her knowing this guy. It is like a checkmark on a list the show feels a need to mark off, that Rinka likes Kyoutarou, but would rather focus more on bland calls to Kyoutarou’s civil war story than anything relating to Rinka and where her emotional headspace arc has taken her in life. Which fits practically everything else related to her involvement in the show. Her family is poor because it says so, but it does not want to dwell on or do anything with such a background. Her dad takes up some reasonable screentime, but if we were to switch some lines around he may as well be an uncle, much older brother, or anything else on the family tree as they lack much in the way of father-daughter bonding time as shown to us. And so on down the line even into her fight scenes, which are never really about her so much as they are about the other character, which are two very different effects. One could by all means engage in the latter, though one still needs to do the groundwork for the former at some points too. So we know their perspectives, feelings, philosophies, and so on.
Tokyo ESP comes off as wanting all of the posturing of having its lead superhero character be a young woman without having any real interest in doing so on an expressive or narrative level.
Given that Gatchaman Crowds was airing this time last year, with Hajime Ichinose blowing away a lot of superhero media issues with unyielding attention, this newer show feels substantially outdated.
Tokyo ESP [Episode six]
Minami has a line early on in this episode directed towards Rinka: “You have no conviction.”
This feels like such an apt way to summarize on so much of what has transpired thus far in this show. Around the similar point early in the episode, the cargo ship from before is dropped against the Tokyo Tower, which sounds like such a dramatic event. And it clearly wants the viewer to treat it as such, given the attention to emergency crews, the news, people talking about the event, and so on. But on an actual execution level, with camera work, music, pacing, and so on, it is just A Thing That Happens presented plainly as could be.
Right down to the emergency crews themselves getting a regulation throwaway line line or two in about how folks like Rinka and her father are clearly espers as well, and thus are they not terrorists too? There is no passion in their voices or concern in their tone. They are not gravely questioning the situation in front of them or having a difficult internal debate on if they can trust the big man floating up piles steel reinforced concrete through the air so victims underneath can be rescued.
A “Can we trust them?” style scene is just what the superhero checklist demands occur in a situation like this
Then we fast forward through a bit of a news montage, and ten days have elapsed.
Which would itself be fine, it would be understandable for there to be a zone of inactivity from our protagonist while Rinka recovers from the fights that occurred previously and overall dwells on her situation. But we have classmates of hers going all “Have you heard…” to another about the cargo ship being floated and air dropped on the Tokyo Tower. Not like, say, theories about the attack. But that the situation occured.
This is a city that, for our purposes, has endured a rather significant terrorist strike. Forty two deaths due to the resulting physical damage, plus the overall strangeness of a cargo freight ship being airdropped on a significant metropolitan landmark adding fuel to the fire. For which, additional esper crime has broken out in the meantime. And this act of the Professor’s happened well over a week ago, given the ten day skip.
I imagine, yes, every single human being of a cognizant mental state in this city would have heard of this event by this point.
Elsewhere in this episode, Rinka gets to have a few sparring sessions with her father. Which is the kind of thing I have certainly been calling for, that the series would want to highlight their relationship and dynamics a bit more. He is the one who taught her to fight, he is a single parent with an only daughter in an increasingly radical and dangerous situation, and on every level provides the basis for the series to work some interesting angles. It does not even necessarily need to be a “deep” or multifaceted family drama situation (Tokyo ESP is still, as ever, more of an action-comedy than anything else), it just needs to wiggle some gears around competently enough for us to get a good handle on them and their history together.
Naturally, the series drops this ball in favour of having a short older man in a panda costume show up, steal Rinka’s bra, and fondle her several times. Complete with declarative Panda Boob Fist action phrase in his later attempts. He does his introductory ones though, mind you, before the eyes of her father, who does and says nothing. The old panda guy is his old martial arts trainer, you see! Which apparently extends him an unlimited free pass to sexuality assault Rinka without her dad even batting an eye at the situation and her clear embarrassment and uncomfortability.
There is wanting a show to be one thing, and the final product of the show itself being something else. I would say in such situations I do try to by and large reorient myself somewhat appropriately. Tokyo ESP clearly wants to be a far less ambitious action show than I would have prefered. Even with that though, and with this episode in particular, its flat approach to speeding through the superhero narrative checklist opens up these scene cracks where one does not even need to overthink the situations at hand to find them problematic or troubling.
It does the exact opposite of what a lot of superhero media can do. Rather than making me engaged with its social dynamic representations, personal struggles with strange and unknown forces beyond one’s own power, or even the fantasy of a world I would want to escape into, I find myself to want very little to do with Tokyo ESP’s universe. And no amount of antics from Peggy the penguin look to be set to change that.
Tokyo ESP [Episode seven]
Our episode this week opens with a guy we met way back in that fast forwarded first episode getting to kick the stuffing out of our leading lady in a sparring match, complete with a “This is why I hate women!” direct quote.
I damn near shut the episode down.
I really am trying to wrap my head around how this production keeps veering so far off what should on paper be a relatively straightforward mark to hit. We have Rinka as the theoretical lead (though never in practice), with a background of poverty situations and single dad parenting. And it just does not want to actually do anything with this material or character on any substantive level. Rather, we get Ayumu, who we barely know, getting to fill a kind of male audience insert role left open now that other resident teen male Kyoutarou has been jammed in a narrative fridge. Complete with clear nerdier framing and with his mother running for political office on a slate grey standard anti-esper platform while he also has esper powers he hides himself for the Mom Just Does Not Understand Me angle. And he gets an uncomfortable misogyny vibe in his dialogue on top of it all.
I mean, I often have ended up selecting screenshots of Peggy The Penguin for these posts because they are probably the only character I am not either disappointed in their use of or otherwise offended by.
Now, Ayumu does get to lose to Rinka in a followup sparring match, as that is a mechanical gear to mark progress or some sort.
Really, it just took her an afternoon to figure out that his short term precognition ability would have issues with multiple simultaneous strikes from different directions. A simple enough puzzle, which in and of itself is fine, sure. But the tone of the fight is not about Rinka overcoming a difficulty, progressing so far with her father’s training, or anything of the sort, despite that visually happening. The fight is about Ayumu and his thoughts and framing. There are some flat lines our panda martial arts teacher gets to spit out plain as can be instead to cover what should have been Rinka’s internal considerations. To where he may as well just be speaking to the audience as the laziest way possible to try and talk about what should be going on visually in this fight while keeping it framed around male voice.
If Tokyo ESP was focused more on empowering its female characters, who we are told are leading figures, it could even try to somehow spin this in a productive way. About overcoming such notions and considerations hurled at them, and so on. Yet tonally and in story framing, with all the scenes of him and his mom, then him needing to try and overcome a violent outbreak at a political rally, Ayumu is really the main character of this episode and we are meant to sympathize with his views.
And I just do not care to. There are so many better things this series could be doing with its time.
Heck, Murasaki mentions in an offhand comment that gets cut off about just having borrowed something from her father. You know, the father she ran away from home from a few episodes ago, and later had a nice scene with getting to see a vision of her mother via her new powers? Apparently that bit of potential family character drama, with her coming back to terms with her dad after all that, all was entirely resolved off screen to no fanfare at all.
That is how tonally broken this show is, between what it could be doing and what it chooses to try and build instead.
Tokyo ESP [Episode eight]
Back to Ayumu, his mom being drunk and bandaged from her prior injuries, and the overwrought one dimensional concern of how her son being an esper will affect her public political image.
It is perhaps a tricky thing to hold against the show, as on the one hand this would be a character vector to explore, sure. But there are problems here. This series does not have the writing chops to handle anything resembling matters of social and political discord on a familial level, so trying to lean more heavily on them now via a mother character only introduced last episode (especially this late in what is only a twelve episode series), is a weak show of form just on a fundamentals level. There is no palpable drama here, since her turn to support her son is all but assured in a series as straightforward like this and with limited time left to boot.
Beyond that though, we still have the core issue with the star and focus of the show. Where the series wants to prop up more and more details about the limited male side characters, while it also is still trying claim the young women are center stage yet without giving them similar characterization time. The end result is we have the actual structure by default being one that favors trying to make the audience sympathize with the male characters. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, their more numerous and more screen time holding female peers seem far more one noted and mechanical to the operation, because they do not get the same attention.
Is is a baffling series of choices, even if it is in manga form run in a shonen magazine. For the number of young women in this series, and for the amount of screen time they take up, we should know who they are far better than we do at this stage.
To better show what I mean, Kyoutarou returns to the scene this episode.
Not just his end of episode arrival at school again, but his whole sequence with Minami and such beforehand as he tries to escape his captivity and they have their rooftop and inside talk. There is a history and conflict there, someone he has known for quite some time, and being on two different sides of the present situation of the esper terrorists and the espers who, well, do not want to be terrorists. A straightforward and not really well smoothly delivered one, again given the overall writing, but there is a divide there and it is recognizable for what they are going for as Kyoutarou remains steadfast with his Hero of Justice ideal. Rinka, meanwhile, who is described even in character synopsis form as the main character, gets an extended series of flashbacks to Kyoutarou as she goes for a run and even a day at the amusement park alone. Riding the Ferris Wheel while thinking of him and such. Even when he is not around the focus remains so much on Kyoutarou, and yet while Rinka is the lead we as the audience know nowhere near as much about her as we do him.
That, I feel, is a continuous problem of this series, as it seems to want to have strong female characters and leads within what is fundamentally a shounen battle series. But it continues even now to sidestep needing to tell the audience much about them. A selection of new recruits to the villain side have been made this week, such as a dismissive lady with a cell phone focus, a more sly one literally taken out of being chained to the ceiling in a restaurant rape cell, and so on one after another. The need to bolster the terrorist forces is there, sure, but again looking at the time remaining and this series track record: I do not expect any of these characters to be more than one dimensional archetypes at best. Simple bowling pins to be knocked down by the Heroes of Justice side of the plot equation.
Ayumu’s issues with his mother are arguably already better delivered on and nuanced further than anything the series has done with Murasaki and her father. And Murasaki has been with us so much longer, in addition to being the owner of our critical esper goldfish gobbling penguin. Yet, her role has now been reduced even further to a swooning cookie baking and love letter sending attachment for Ayumu. Keeping in mind, of course, last episode he was spouting his “This is why I hate women!” lines and making multiple disparaging remarks regarding Murasaki’s age. Charmer, really. Even if he did potentially save her life by the end of last week, Ayumu’s misogynistic vibe is an undercurrent that speaks to a whole lot of problematic things going on in the handling of this series and its characters in general.
I never get the feeling this show actually respects any of the women as individuals, their ability to move the plot on their own, or otherwise regarded as people with stories to tell.
To perhaps end with Peggy: she gets to eat another set of powers this episode. Which, given the giant laser shark whirlwind which has been summoned for it before, should be quite a sight at least as a small spectacle of enjoyment to see. But, it happens off screen, and we only cut to the scene in question after Peggy has already consumed the catch.
Underwhelming and disappointing, like so much else Tokyo ESP contains.
Tokyo ESP [Episode nine]
The episode where I learned Peggy is actually a male penguin, and not a female penguin.
It is possible a personal pronoun may have been hurled out in an earlier episode somewhere that I did not immediately react to. But even so, this would be where “he” was used several times in quick succession to refer to our esper fish eating magical bird. Which is kind of unfortunate, because mentally I had interpreted Peggy as a female, in which case it would be the one woman character the series sort of has a grip on and does not have terrible framing to their activities or treatment. Peggy is a pretty solid character have a handle on what to do with: they offer huggable support to the cast as a cute critter, a rare and significant ability to consume the power granting fish, and otherwise can be utilized for a comedically oriented scene in a pinch (like trying to use a toothbrush).
So of course the series makes Peggy a guy. Which should not bug me anywhere near as much as it does, if at all. There is no reason it should disappoint me. Had it not been for how so much of the rest of this series consistently feels like it has some seriously tone deaf ideas on female superheroes and villains.
We see a full team of young women (and one guy with flamethrower arm attachments) besiege Rinka’s school in an attempt to flush her out and execute her on live streaming cell phone video for the city of Tokyo to see. To show what they will do to espers who do not join them, and those who do not otherwise meet their demands.
Ok, sure, fair enough. It would be a hamfisted approach, to be sure, but this is anything but a subtle series. So the core idea of what they are seeking to do here, as a Point A to Point B objective set, I can follow along with and be strapped in for the ride. And yet, as is often the case in this show, it fails to sell a sense of “Why” or “Who” to differentiate from the top level “How.” Or, put things another way: I can not tell anyone involved on the esper villain/terrorism side of the equation apart from one another as characters. The quiet cell phone girl, woman stung up in a restaurant rape locker, etc from last episode, a plant vine tentacle whipper introduced here in passing, they all have identical manic “Kill! Kill! This is so much fun!” style archetype personalities here. Outside of their power sets and differences in appearance, they have no differences in banter or commentary, be it either amongst themselves, with Rinka, or to other students.
I am not even asking so much for them to be well developed characters with rich motivations and complex ideologies. I just want the sense that the words coming out of any of their mouths are ones partial to them. That they should reflect something their behavior, language use, cadence, etc. As it is, they are all but only interchangeable modular parts to say script lines, with just the surface level of visual character model differentiation.
Going along with this, that we have Rinka summarily beaten to so near the point of death that her esper fish leaves her body.
It is assuming it to have ceased functioning permanently, and I actually do like the idea of that. These are special powers with unique mechanisms for which they are able to manifest, and we have Peggy to show a system is in place where such fish can be removed even by force. So the “Heroine loses their powers, and must move on without them until they can be regained” plot is a trusty standby to call up. How to make do in the world where she would have been marked as an esper, despite having no ability to act on such powers at the present. So I am even alright with time advancing while she was unconscious in the hospital, and how there is now an esper detainment team through some special emergency order.
And yet, things like her being handcuffed to the hospital bed, when her esper power is to move through solid objects (so long as it is not flesh), is questionable in context. Nobody else knew her powers were gone at the time, and she indeed tries to use them them and everything needs to have a thinking session to come to “the fish left her” conclusion. Murasaki taking out multiple healy armed government special forces is nifty as a visual, but it seems to conflict with or otherwise be confused by what her power actually is. She is stated to be able to see the past history of a given object she touches. Yet here she grabs a set of historic Totally Not Used By Bruce Lee martial arts weapons and now instantly knows how to use them.
While quite similar power sets, and each potentially useful in their own way, there is a slight difference between the two.
It goes back to the matters of attention to craft and intent, and the problem this series seems to have with it. During a show about superheroes, I really should not even have the thought cross my mind if the writing room (past or present) implemented what someone’s superpowers are incorrectly.
Tokyo ESP [Episode ten]
At the start of this episode, this series has three twenty minute or so packages to get us on track to the future fight sequence surrounding a floating Diet building and and all out terrorism assault it delved into for the entire first episode so many weeks ago. At the end of this episode, well, we are still by and large waiting for it to make a move in that department. This episode is almost entirely dedicated to The Professor and his background.
It is an understandable and indeed wholly reasonable series of points to want to deal in, because we are so deep into this show and his motivations for wanting to cause such total and complete upheaval have been weak at best. Which is especially baffling as his past connection to helping rescue Kyoutarou from a civil war environment and assist with transitioning him back to Japan, as well as Minami being his daughter, have been things the show has wanted to float out as points of potential personal conflict or ideological division. We just… have not known too much of anything regarding who The Professor really is for any of that to actually have done anything prior.
A tricky thing with this situation is that it does fill in multiple aspects of the story in at once. The Professor, his wife, Kyoutarou’s parents, and so on were all part of a research dig which ended up resulting in excavating what by all accounts is the Arc of the Covenant, stone tablets and all. And said stone tablets contains the psychic power granting fish. So that is certainly an important find and all, if on the gimmicky side for a narrative as already overburdened as this one. And indeed, things rapidly turn into a series of multinational government officials vying for control of it, detaining and then murdering all of the research staff, and so on.
This would be a lot in its own right, but that this is all coming up so late in this show and as a series of extended flashbacks to boot, it is difficult to engage with the material. Outside of a few framing scenes, this is almost entirely a background data dump of an episode. We are not watching, say, two characters having a conversation about this history with bits and pieces of visuals to these stories to give them some higher impact and weight.
Nothing is active about the way this is playing out here.
So our entire story in the present is effectively placed on pause while the production attempts to squeeze in the entire justification for the antagonist’s actions within a compact box rather than having humanized him at all over time. As the lone survivor of his team being betrayed, his overall inner contempt is understandable. Yet this is something I feel he could have been more centrally figured by as a character, as things like his whole team of chaos causing espers have if anything greately detracted screen time from anything that could be done with his personal material.
During the few moments the show is taking place in the present day this episode, we have Rinka wandering around in the rain thinking about how there is no point to being a hero or anything without Kyoutarou at her side. So, her dimensionality as a character is ever flatter, and entirely reliant on a male figure who I am certain at this stage she has been separated from far longer than she has hung out with him over the course of the series. She eventually succumbs to capture due to her single-minded exhaustion, which I am sure from here will allow for the team to get back together again before being released prior to the finale.
Elsewhere, Kyoutarou reflects on The Professor’s background, and leaves us with the philosophical ideal of “What’s wrong is wrong.”
Which, for the exclusion to any kind of nuance that permeates through so much of this series, I suppose I can not consider as out of alignment with the ideological compass it largely operates with. Even last episode, I was mentioning how hollow most of the villainous figures storming the school were as characters. So I suppose I should write off any hope we would get more inference on who they may be as people, as opposed to being mere cackling bowling pins for the show to eventually knock over.
Tokyo ESP [Episode eleven]
I had previously wondered just how we would manage in the span of two final episodes to get ourselves from where we were and up to the terrorist esper forces storming the diet building as they were in the first episode.
In which case, we have our answer: we can just jump right to that, essentially, which is plenty of reason to cycle through some of that first episode footage again on the cheap. Rinka, now incarcerated by the esper detainment units, still gets to mope around about what Kyoutarou would do, such as has been her disposition now for the majority of the program despite having very little time with him. Kyoutarou, meanwhile, has been stuck on the island he was dumped on the last time he was whisked off, and growing out his facial hair while building a raft to see if he can make it to shore via short range teleportation on it.
Then he meets a giant psychic pelican. Or, at least, he names said creature Pelico.
Without asking the giant psychic bird if they already had a name they preferred being called by, of course.
The big set piece this episode works out as being the terrorist esper forces storming the detainment center, in an effort to free what one would imagine could be a resource full of potential recruits.
This is probably one of the single most reasonable series of actions this show has chained together thus far. In that, I can at least understand conceptually why a lot of high powered esper would gear up for this kind of operation over, say, the random attempts at killing Rinka. As even the theoretical main character, she really has not done too terribly much deserving of such attention outside of her loose connection to Kyoutarou and thus The Professor and Minami.
My understanding is this television series has been skipping huge swathes of the manga that actually establish Rinka’s character and arc better, and I believe in a heartbeat. Particularly this episode.
The terrorists who storm the detention center are pretty much the exact same group of one note female fighters who stormed Rinka’s school not too long ago. She managed to get put in the hospital rather than outright killed, and then was on the run of the detention forces until they caught up to her and brought her in for processing and security. Now Rinka, who had her butt kicked eighteen different ways to Sunday fighting these same people at school in broad daylight hard enough to put her into a coma for a few weeks can now whoop all of their faces into the floor. In the dark. With her eyes closed. Without her psychic fish powers.
And there is no establishment of how or why she can do this all of a sudden. No arc of coming to a personal revelation while in the detention center being looked down on by others (at least, nobody eats with her). No extend series of physical training attempts like one may perhaps be able to achieve in prison. We barely had any idea of how long she has even been in prison. She just gets to have sudden immediate combat prowess beyond anything previously established and with fewer tools at her disposal, without spending any time at all on the how and why. The show is just sprinting to the end as fast as humanly possible, and it just does not care about the leading figure or why we as viewers should care about her.
So I don’t.
Pelico, as an out of nowhere giant psychic pelican looking for a mate (who I assume will come to be Peggy, in some crossbreeding weirdness), makes more immediate sense to me in their desires, objectives, and skill levels than our main character has had whole episodes to have potentially fleshed out.
Tokyo ESP [Episode twelve]
There are effectively two big fights which have to happen this episode.
First up, Rinka and Minami need to have their showdown. Given the way this series has handled everything about them, even this fight has to be all set to them working out their issues regarding Kyoutarou. We took him from who, who has what feelings, Rinka yelling that if Minami had just believed in Kyoutarou more humanity could have walked a different path. Kyoutarou may as well be a mythological figure at this point, as he has spent so much time away from other characters, yet they know so much about his apparent philosophy. Keeping in mind of course this is a teenage boy who has literally stated “What is wrong is wrong,” so interpretations of his ideals of justice and the heart of the human spirit may not be the deepest of pools to be playing in. Nevermind how the entire arc of Rinka is based directly around her having immense feelings for a boy she has very little interaction with over the course of the series.
She may be the main character by requirement, but everything is framed in such a way where this may as well be an audience interest piece where the girl is entirely reliant on some milquetoast boy to even be able to bring herself to lift a finger against direct threats to her. The series desperately wants to work the star crossed love story angle, and I can respect that. But their collected time together over the course of the show is so small, and there are so many other characters desperately crammed in given the size of the cast, to where her continued emphasis on this one singular point is amplified in how strained it already would have been with fewer folks about.
What should be a showpiece fight between Rinka and Minami on opposite sides of the esper terrorism question, something the series seems to want to have built toward, is entirely about a boy and who likes him more.
This leaves showdown with The Professor, who has set up all the nonsense going on with the floating Diet building so he could get in position elsewhere to open the Arc of the Covenant to spread psychic fish throughout Tokyo unopposed.
Which is a better plan in context than it probably sounds written out. Peggy, bless their little avian heart, needs to fly both Rinka and Kobushi across Tokyo as they swim through the onslaught of fish. Which is kind of a nice idea of a sight, taken on its own right. Though the polygonal nature of the fish causes them to stand out a lot more in such numbers on a night sky when they completely surround the hand drawn characters in motion. And out comes our series of interactions, verbal exchanges, power use, and counter power use. Including Pelico showing up to neutralize a telepathic freeze ability of The Proffessor, state that they did so and how, and this is the extent of Pelico’s entire use in the show after arriving last week. All of this from distance.
Then characters who have never been seen before, save for perhaps two lines earlier this very episode, show up and attack him.
Apparently this was his plan all along, to draw whoever these folks are out and take them out with him, as he entirely changes his philosophical positions. Who they are and why they are here is not covered at all. I imagine they are supposed to be related in some way to the larger international conspiracy relating to the Arc and the death of his wife and entire research team, but even that is me ascribing information to the series it does not provide. Forget anything relating to affiliations, background, and what their goals are. They just show up with dwindling final minutes remaining. And then they are gone.
To say this is anticlimactic is a rather severe understatement.
Not that our heroes themselves explicitly need to take him in or take him out so as to enact justice, but this plot point is really a disservice to anyone watching the series. Even if the show were to be perceived as good in my eyes, I would cry foul here. That the show has been so haphazard in all forms of characterization and driving motivational factors up to now, and I do not happen to think this show has been a fun ride, makes this ring one final time as mishandled material through and through. This is the kind of ending that is wholly banking on having a second season to reach any kind of resolution or getting to the bottom to the Arc conspiracy The Professor was looking into. And I do not find that acceptable, as for a standalone media product this treats the viewers like, well, fish on a lure.
But the bait is very lackluster as a combined package of episodes, let alone this one.
Most of what I have read from those who are familiar with the source material have been incredibly disappointed by this adaption and how it has chosen to go about itself, and I can believe that. Even without manga knowledge, as a television show this has not been a very engaging journey. Too many characters in too small a package, in turn poorly handled motivation establishments for any of them, very basic action over any kind of more creative cinematography that the psychic powers can easily justify, and so on.
Tokyo ESP has some nice ideas sometimes that it could explore or build a scene around. Murasaki being able to see the past through objects, for instance. But the production is in such a rush to hurl in so many characters that everyone’s abilities and much of their screen time are essentially reduced to one shot fighting game super moves. There is not so much time to build engaging character scenes around them, or explore their potential.
The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning this has not been.
It would not even qualify as a feeder academy.