Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger prefers realism in his cartoons about demons, prophecies, and ancient gates to hell.
Babes, Blood, and Blades!
When we last left Shindo, he was cozying up to the creepy folks at Tokko, performing an independent investigation of the Machida massacre, going out with pretty high school students, and fighting powerful demons in the streets of the city—all while trying to keep his regular job. As a result of his troubles, he got a stay in the hospital, a freaky tattoo on his arm, a lot of pissed-off people in his wake, and the troubles that come with becoming a demon magnet. Though Volume 1 was about establishment, the series was 5/13ths underway and not many answers had come.
Tokko: Volume 2 rectifies this in a big way. Shindo's boss, best friend, and sister take a back seat to the members of Tokko, the demons, and at least one shadowy faction trying to stop Shindo's investigations. Answers come fast and furiously, and Shindo has to sort through this information overload while fending off supernatural beasts of every description. He learns of his hidden powers, the true nature of Tokko's fight, and the existence of even more battle lines than he was originally privy to. As his knowledge and power grow, Shindo finds his world changing in disturbing ways.
Though Volume 1 was impressive, I didn't give it enough credit. Yes, the animation is still noticeably static in Tokko: Volume 2, but Tokko does a great job of creating mood. Not only does AIC Spirits get the obvious stuff right—relentless demon attacks, shadowy figures, exploding torsos—but they achieve a psychological imbalance that is a mixture of archaic prophecy, horrible nightmares, and twisted relationships. Tokko is neither sunny nor gentle (even though it has a sense of dark humor), and the mood will get to you.
That's where the credit comes in. AIC Spirits had to struggle to get the realistic gore and nudity past the Japanese regulatory commission. I've long maintained that nipple-less women and white squirts of what should be blood are annoying cop-outs that make the work seem juvenile. Yet the blame is on regulations, not the animators, and AIC Spirits exerted effort to get the real nipples and blood on screen. Some of these nipples are shown for mature, plot-advancing reasons, and some of them for purely gratuitous reasons, but at least they're there. As for the blood, it is a prerequisite for a gritty show about mass murders and demon annihilation.
Although Tokko has a low frame rate, it has an edgy, shimmering effect as though the plates of a printing press were slightly misaligned. Colors and ghost images leak around the edges of the animation, enhancing the dreamlike or otherwordly aspects of the show.
In retrospect, both Tokko's realism and its creative visual effect were obvious positives that I overlooked the first time around. But after watching the extensive featurette included on this disc, I gained all sorts of realizations about the show. Clocking in at over 35 minutes, with very little fluff, the piece is one of the most comprehensive and informative anime extras I've ever seen. Be warned that this featurette contains massive spoilers about the story arc and character fates (though if you pay attention to the catchy opening credits, much of this story arc is suggested already).
Speaking of the story arc, it has grown considerably. Tokko has an obvious demon-of-the-week (and now, puzzle-piece-of-the-week) format that it deftly ignores. With only four episodes left, there isn't time to confront dozens of major demons to obtain the missing puzzle pieces. In fact, there seem to be far too many outstanding questions for them all to be resolved in 100 minutes. That means that the already quickened pace of the show will speed up even more, and major plot twists are in store to resolve everything. Although it never seems to hurry, Volume 2 moves at a fast clip and drums up enough suspense to keep you invested in the characters.
All told, Tokko is an unassuming anime that gets some key things right: it doesn't break the sense of mood, it presents sex and violence with maturity, and it keeps the plot moving at a nice clip. The characters are somewhat generic and the animation low-key, but the trade-off is worth it.
The Tokko: Volume 2 DVD has some annoyances. First is the broken chapter stops. I used my skip button to move past the closing credits and missed episodes 7 and 9. I then had to go back and watch them, all the while wondering why I'd missed so many details. As a result of the broken chapter stops, I saw the episodes in this order: 6, 8, 7, 9. Like Volume 1, Tokko: Volume 2 has noticeable aliasing, particularly during horizontal pans. On the plus side, it has five audio tracks including uncommon 5.1 Japanese and 2.0 Spanish tracks. There's also the aforementioned massive featurette, which makes Tokko: Volume 2 a flawed but packed release.
Horror and demons are mainstays of anime, and it is hard to be completely original. Nevertheless, AIC Spirits has created an involving, pleasing take on the genre that gains points for its maturity and lack of condescension. If Volume 3 matches the first two, then Tokko is a tight trilogy worth seeking out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
• Making of Tokko
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