Tokko, Vol. 2

[8 August 2007]

By Erik Hinton

The fairy tale that is Tokko’s outrageous plot, general excess, and formulaic composition is still very much in circulation with the new release, Tokko Vol. 2; you can still expect fantastic action scenes. However, the fairy tale that was my rosy-eyed love of the series has died or, in the spirit of the film, I’ll put it this way: the fairy tale has been simultaneously dismembered at six different places and is spraying blood all over the landscape.  What remains, when the carnage subsides, is rather dull.

For those of you who missed the review of the first installment of Tokko, this anime revolves around Ranmaru Shindo, a young police officer whose parents, along with the most of the inhabitants at their apartment complex, were killed in a supernatural massacre. This occurred when other-dimensional demons broke into our world to wreak havoc and whatnot. A mysterious supra-police force, “Tokko”, comprised of survivors from the apartment complex killings, fights these demons. This small group wields medieval weaponry and is the only organization capable of defeating the demons, in contrast to the maladroit, flat-footed regular police.

Tokko Vol. 2 finds Shindo finally able to actually aid Tokko, rather than merely sit back and watch as they filet grotesque creatures crawling (or flying, if they’re winged) out of the earth. Shindo, we learn, has powers that are awakened by a Tokko member who had to stab him and throw him into the pit from whence the demons came in order to awaken the demon symbiote within (these powers are a feature exclusive to the apartment massacre survivors).

As fortune, and common plotting, would have it Shindo’s symbiote turns out to be more powerful than his compatriots’, turning the tide in an escalating conflict that the massively outnumbered Tokko was losing, until now.  Tokko Vol. 2 adds the element of a time limit to the band’s struggle; if they do not defeat the higher-order demons quickly and retrieve the pieces to an alchemical puzzle-box-dimensional-key, the growing rift between worlds will become too large to control and Earth will be overtaken by these monsters.

Based on this main story thread alone, Tokko Vol. 2 seems completely acceptable, with all the conventions of the post-introductory chapter: the revelation of the protagonist, the waxing magnitude of the conflict, the plot forced through the harrows of complexity. However, Tokko Vol. 2 cannot content itself with this necessary build which is often mutually exclusive of the frivolities of the prologue.

For example, The Two Towers lacks the light-hearted merriment of the shire in The Fellowship, but that doesn’t make it any poorer of a novel (or film). Tokko Vol. 2‘s fatal misstep, however, comes when it (metaphorically) places a hobbit dance sequence in the middle of the big battle (where Legolas surfs down the stairs on a shield). Tokko Vol. 2 insists on maintaining subplots, such as Shindo’s annoyingly gregarious sister’s attempts to rein in Shindo and his hard-as-nails police chief trying to maintain control, which Tokko is usurping due to his much better personal qualifications to fight the demons. Both of these characters are numbingly one-note and while they provided a nice distraction as the plot was set into motion, their reoccurrence mires the forward action.

At every episode we have to bear too much time spent on Shindo’s quotidian life to offset his demon killing exploits. Were these characters to even have two dimensions, this would be a clever device to guard Tokko Vol. 2 from becoming completely mindless and inhuman, an exercise in gore. However, as it stands their failure to connect with the audience whatsoever makes viewing these sub-plots painfully tedious and I found myself wishing that Tokko Vol. 2 was just a slaughter-fest. At least I wouldn’t have to endure any more frames of Shindou’s sister’s saucer-wide mouth open in a whine, or see the police chief’s vein throbbing out of his head as his face turns red with anger. Camp works in a campy environment. In Tokko Vol. 2 it is about as welcome as loudmouth drunk at a funeral. Show some respect, there are flesh eating monsters, here!

Furthermore, every member of Tokko is given a dark back-story to motivate their revenge: The brother who failed to protect his sister, the sister who had to kill her demon kin. Again, this is a perfectly acceptable device when deftly employed, but making retribution the sole motivation for every protagonist’s actions is rather trite.  One can only be motivated to help avert a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions in the name of dead family members? If some wise character would just step in to remind the members of Tokko that revenge will not bring their loved ones back, but there are other reasons for fighting.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/tokko-vol-2/