Tokko, Vol. 1 (2007)

Erik Hinton

This film is easily digestible but its meter, governed by repetition, sets it apart from the flimsily constituted anime tripe that is oft-showcased on cable television

Tokko, Vol. 1

Director: Masashi Abe
Cast: Fumiko Orikasa, Kenichi Suzumura, Akemi Kanda, Hiroshi Tsuchida, Kana Ueda
Distributor: Manga Video
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Manga Entertainment
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-03-27

Repetition has unfairly been stigmatized. Popular culture and criticism, with their insatiable drive for a continual renewal of originality, have dismissed repetition as the black sheep of creative devices. In its place, the artistic sphere churns out a formidable array of inventive techniques to surfeit the call for unilateral “newness”. This appears reasonable -- who doesn’t enjoy art that is constantly evolving rather than mired in recapitulation -- but, in practice, gives rise to a serious issue: many of these “inventive techniques” are such a far cry from anything canonical or recognizable that audiences are left utterly confused. Hardly a play is written today without the use of projections to create an extra-dimension of viewership (or rather nonplus), plot lines are so defiantly non-chronological that the discussion of “what actually happened when?” eclipses the actual production, and pastiche has come to be the warhorse of art, dragging audiences roughshod through a landscape of cut-and-paste symbolism. Perhaps our neophilia has gone too far.

Tokko Vol. 1 presents the first five episodes of a 13-part anime. As a serialized form, Tokko immediately falls under scrutiny for repetition. It is indeed difficult to maintain originality over many episodes and anime is notorious for its use of recycled plots and stock elements. Tokko Vol. 1 commits both of these “sins”…and I loved every artistically impious moment.

In five episodes, only one story even slightly deviates from the formula of 18 minutes of exposition and five minutes of action (in that order). The characters present nothing new to the genre -- ooo, a boy with deceased parents and latent supernatural abilities and a mysterious dream girl -- and swords, demons, bumbling police officers are hardly new plots of ground to be tread. In fact, I can think of nothing in Tokko Vol. 1 which I haven’t seen in countless anime series and films (most of which I enjoyed less than here).

Tokko Vol. 1 relates the epic of Ranmaru Shindo whose parents were slaughtered in his adolescence by some mysterious phenomenon (the Machida massacre) which claimed almost all of the apartment complex in which he lived. Ranmaru and his sister Saya are among but a handful of survivors. Furthermore, Ranmaru is haunted by dreams about his parents’ deaths and of a mysterious girl who saves him from phantasmagoric demons in his nightmares.

When the series opens, Ranmaru has recently graduated to the Mobile Investigation Force, the elite division of the local police squad. However, before long Ranmaru is introduced into a world which the academy did not train him for and his squad doesn’t understand when brutal murders begin to turn the city into an abattoir. Every time his Mobile Investigation Force begins to investigate these crimes, they encounter incredibly strong mutated humans who are impervious to bullets. These creatures are only dispatched when a furtive division of the police (known only as Tokko) arrives with bladed weapons, hacking the zombies to pieces. As expected, this causes intradepartmental strife as Ranmaru’s chief feels encroached upon by these secret police.

As the series progresses, the attacks begins to converge on Ranmaru and he discovers there is something different about him, perhaps a result of the Machida massacre, which saves him from harm. Also, the attacks begin to wax in severity and frequency and Ranmaru eventually confronts a demon which is, to a degree, responsible for the violence. One of the Tokko, Sakura Rokujo, befriends Ranmaru and, as plot convenience would have it, she turns out to be another Machida survivor and the girl in his dreams. “What happened at Machida and what are these monsters terrorizing the city?” is the question which dominates Tokko. Little is resolved in Tokko but the five episodes which comprise it firmly establish the mosaic of questions which will ground the rest of the series.

All of this is accomplished in a very conventional manner with quirky Japanese humor, awkward dialogue, hyperbolic blood gushing from wounds, and a deliberately measured revelation of the past. Furthermore, the precision with which the episode breaks down into 18 minutes of dry header and 5 minutes of slasher-action tail is metronomic. It is repetition though, both within the series and within the genre, that makes Tokko Vol. 1an absolute success.

Reiteration is a fantastic tool for building anticipation and Tokko Vol. 1, if nothing else, keeps you wanting more. Checked by moderate difference and an expanding understanding of the events, the film's reoccurring elements serve as a steady baseline, percussively driving the action forward. Would Tokko's plots drastically shift from episode to episode or be intellectually strenuous à la Ghost in the Shell the rhythmic inertia would be lost to viewer stress.

Tokko Vol. 1 does not purport to be revolutionary and it is not, in any way. Rather, it is fun and its mystery, while translucent, engages the viewer. This film is easily digestible but its meter, governed by repetition, sets it apart from the flimsily constituted anime tripe that is oft-showcased on cable television. In a way, then, I suppose Tokko Vol. 1 is something new. Embracing its essential recycling rather than trying to move beyond it (and fail like most current anime series), it becomes fresh. Paradoxical? No, this is merely indicative of the misconstruction of repetition as stagnation.

Tokko Vol. 1’s features are little to note, but do series DVDs ever actually have good extras? This DVD is complemented with a Tokko screensaver (perhaps a boon for enthusiasts who would like to deck out their monitor with flesh eating zombies), the theme song and the closing song (as if after five episodes we could ever want to hear it again or watch the uninspired visual opening), an image gallery (which still perplexes me as to its worth), and an public forum with the voice actors (every bit as exciting as one would expect).


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