Background: Serious supernatural anime series are growingly popular in the USA but Japan has long had a following for such shows. The reasons bandied about online aside, the eerie style of horror coming from Japan in more mainstream projects has drawn a lot of attention to the genre so it makes sense when companies give the green light to shows such as Tokko. Like many other shows, this one has a manga version too; allowing fans to get into the differences each version can provide that cater to each medium best. This time, I'm wrapping up my look at the series with the third volume, Tokko 3; where many of the loose ends are tied up even if only on a superficial level.
Series: Tokko is set in contemporary times in Japan. The hero of the story is a new detective by the name of Ranmaru Shindo, a young man who got into law enforcement in part because of the wholesale slaughter of his parents and neighbors in a huge, bloody massacre five years prior at his apartment complex. The official version of what happened is that a gang killed 300 people and tortured them to death, leaving almost no survivors in the process. Ranmaru knows differently of course but no one believed him and his desire to protect his sister from a similar fate keeps him from going off on the handle about it. Five years after the massacre, he works as a member of the elite Mobile Investigation Force, tracking down criminals using his head and his aggressive style of policing, coming across a series of murders that look far too bloody to be considered routine.
As he and his partner eventually encounter a killer demon that vividly reminds him of his past, they try to use conventional methods to stop it but are unsuccessful. Just before they are killed like the other victims, a group of sword wielding youth saves the day, taking over the crime scene as part of a special, top secret branch of the department known only as Tokko. It bothers Ranmaru and his colleagues that the affair is taken out of their hands, his boss practically declaring war on the group until he is shut down by those higher up. Needless to say, Ranmaru continues to investigate what he comes to find out is a series of similar events that he knows deep down are related to what happened to him five years prior.
One of the benefits of his youthful zeal is that some of the standoffish members of Tokko take notice of him, one even befriending him for no apparent reason until he remembers that she used to live in the same apartments as he did when the massacre took place. This fuels his fire to figure out how it is all related, though the more he checks it out, the more frequently he gets in the line of fire with the slowly evolving show taking a really long time to open up the particulars. The slow pacing aside, the story drops just enough hints as the demons leave a swath of bloody corpses in their path, some more powerful than the others. As the story unfolds, Ranmaru finds out that he has a special destiny linked to a large tribal art tattoo that starts to appear on his arm when the creatures attack, a fact that the members of Tokko do not let go unnoticed.
The episodes in the second volume continued Ranmaru's descent into the hellish sub-culture of his predicament. Ranmaru finds his access truncated in the department computer for any related information and people from all divisions in the police department telling him to stay away from investigating the mysterious mass murders and Tokko group. Being young and headstrong, he ignores their requests (even demands), ultimately learning some of the secrets behind the organization and what they are fighting. His own past puts him in great jeopardy as he finds his personal potential to become one of the Tokko to have the darker risk that he could become a force for evil; his strange persona embracing both sides of the equation. Under duress, he is pushed into discovering which side he will end up on given the clock counting down increasingly rapidly for the residents of the city, in an effort to see if Ranmaru is capable enough of resisting the temptation of becoming a demon himself.
The third volume had the cast finding out just how precipitous the situation for Ranmaru's soul could be as they took the chance that he might end up working against them. His natural tendencies might give him supernatural abilities but they also put him on the line to succumb to the darker energies he wields too. The episodes this time were 10) Trembling, 11) Prison, 12) Rage, and 13) Dark. This being one of those times that I purposely avoided reading about the series as it came out, I was surprised as heck when it was over because that was simply the end of the series. The last four episodes of the show made it clear that a lot was hinging on the handful of survivors of the tragedy; both sides wanting to use them to gain an advantage. Ranmaru could be the one to accelerate the end of civilization at the hands of the power mad alchemists, demons, and devils or he could be the one to end their gambit for power; initially falling prey to their seductive charms as he wanted to stop them for all the wrong reasons. If you're familiar with the Star Wars series, you'll know how the theme of becoming that which you hate is played out heavily; the dark path preventing a person from seeing the light until all was lost. His only hope lies in the fact that he once befriended one of his new police group as a child and her devotion to saving him at all costs. Regardless of the outcome though, with over 90 more demons to go, the group isn't keen on taking chances on what amounts to a wild card newcomer; making this quickly wrapped up series appear to be more rushed than usual. Could it pick up with the remaining players? Well, it could and fans of the Manga version are probably going to be quick to point this out but there were a number of tossed together conclusions that left me cold so I rated this one as a Rent It.
Picture: Tokko 3 was presented in the usual 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as made in Japan. The animation style was fairly limited and the backgrounds extremely drab most of the time, foreshadowing the gloomy nature of the show in a low budget sort of way. There were some minor compression artifacts and moiré noticed but nothing especially bad, the darker nature of the show and dominance of night scenes causing most of the trouble. To me, it was almost as if the original manga artists were employed to translate their comic as faithfully as possible, forgetting that anime is a visual medium that relies on movement, preferably fluid movement, to sell the story. Still, while this might be a huge party killer in most other forms of anime, it tended to work well enough here that I couldn't dispute the creepy feeling I got watching it at night this stormy weekend.
Sound: The audio was presented with a number of choices this time, the best of the lot being the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround tracks in either the original Japanese or the newly commissioned English language dub. To me, the dub suffered from way too much foul language which sort of numbs you down after hearing it too much, causing it to lose it's impact. Further, the characters were handled somewhat unevenly in the dub with a few of the voice actors sounding like they were pulled off the street at the last minute, and the dialogue made up as they went along. The original Japanese track fared slightly better with more of a flow to it and the feel of the show addressed more handily. Both of them had decent separation and an eerie music score that contributed to the mood of the scenes though, probably more so than most horror anime I've heard to date. The other three tracks were in 2.0 Dolby Digital, the Japanese, English, and even Spanish tracks offering up a fair experience but kind of plain after listening to the surround versions so if you don't have a 5.1 receiver, you'll be seriously missing out this time.
Extras: If you've read my anime reviews in the past, you'll know that I am all about value and expect a lot of entertainment for my money. This time, the show had only four episodes but I was admittedly pleased to see a feature starring the original Japanese voice actors & production crew talking about the show in another lengthy Making Of extra included here. There was also a photogallery and some trailers but the ~35:24 minute long making of feature was very detailed and added a lot of value for me. There was a fair amount of overlap from the last volume in the series of BTS offerings but the production staff in Japan did manage to gleam out some kernels of understanding; showing how what they were going for with the series was largely a function of opportunity than specific creative ideas.
Final Thoughts: Tokko 3 blended horror and cop action fairly well and showed a thickening plot that has yet to fully embrace all the potential of the series. Still, with the way it was paced and did not give away all the fun prematurely, I think it served a nice package of spooky thrills for genre fans to appreciate as it gave me the creeps more often than not. The language and blood were off the scale this time so to me that meant it pandered to a younger audience but I also thought it gave a nice nod to the many horror shows that work well under this dynamic and those of you into getting the cheap scare of a horror movie will certainly find enough to like with the entire Tokko Series but the unease I felt at how the show seemed to almost suddenly stop (just short of where it needed to in some ways) and left me hanging with numerous unanswered questions. In all, as part of a short series, some of you are bound to like it a bunch more than I did but after what amounted to a creepy, suspense filled start, I wanted more closure than this one had so your mileage may vary considerably.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.