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"Tokyo Majin" Vol. 1: 110% of Your Daily Dose of Monster Killing

by on December 12, 2007

Anime fans will often tell others that there’s so much more to the medium than the stereotypes of giant robots, pocket monsters, and samurai drama. There are works that evoke incredibly deep feelings, plunging deep into the universals of the human condition with sensitivity and grace. They work their magic on us and transcend traditional definitions of genre to really push the boundaries of animated filmmaking.

This shot tells you exactly what you need to know about each characterHowever, if you’re not interested in any of that stuff and just want to watch a bunch of demons getting their asses kicked, then Tokyo Majin ought to scratch that itch just fine. This new, action-packed anime series combines the “monster hunters in high school” high concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the classic five-team dynamic of anime classics like G-Force or Voltron.

Tokyo Majin focuses on a quintet of teenaged heroes: Tatsuma Hiyu, the silent, confident, and totally square leader; Kyouichi Houraiji, the insolent, arrogant, and self-centered rebel; Aoi Masato, the sweet class president who fills the pretty girl role of the group; Yuuya Daigo, the giant, loveable lug of a wrestler who provides the muscle; and Komaki Sakurai, the hotheaded and belligerent captain of the archery team whose temper is worse than her arrows. It seems that high school students in Tokyo are dying in gruesome ways, and mysterious dark forces seem to be behind it all. The arrival of the cryptic and quiet Tatsuma at Magami High School triggers the unlocking of strange, mystic powers in the group, leading the five to become unlikely friends as they take the fight to the otherworldly forces threatening to consume them all. The mysterious antiques dealer Hisui Kisaragi plays the mentoring Giles role to their collective Buffy, while the nosey reporter Kyouko Tohno persistently tries to uncover the truth of what’s really going on.

The halitosis alone will kill youIt might all seem a bit cliched, and on some levels, it is. Most of the time, Tokyo Majin delivers exactly what you’d expect, but this isn’t a criticism since the execution of the show is terrific. The animation is fast, furious, and fluid, with action sequences that have a visceral, kinetic thrill to them. However, the technical mastery of the show extends to the quieter moments as well, since character designs and body language also neatly sum up everything we need to know about all the major cast members. Their appearance and the way they move amplify their character traits, from Tatsuma’s unflappable cool, Kyouichi’s insouciant swagger lifted straight from Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai, and Komaki’s stand-offish, hair-trigger attitude towards everybody except Aoi. Indeed, this latter point is one of several tensions that are set up between the five allies that will no doubt pay off in future episodes. While they may start off as stereotypes, these five high schoolers quickly grow on you, which goes a long way to keeping you hooked and wanting to know more.

Gothic Lolita is going a bit too farTokyo Majin also does quite a good job of luring you deeper and deeper into its world, giving you just enough information to know what’s going on at the surface, but not enough to really understand the bigger picture. It fully embraces a “show, don’t tell” attitude, mostly avoiding tedious exposition that would kill the show’s momentum. Indeed, we are given almost no information about the strange pair that seem to be the prime movers behind everything, and the fact that they’re embodied in a creepy, clown-like being and an even creepier gothic little girl just adds to the mystery. As a result, despite all the action and movement, this first disc is mostly dedicated to setting the shows chess pieces in place for the game to come. In fact, one criticism of the series is that it introduces way too many characters at once, such as a mysterious science teacher, a pair of mystics, a strange trio of gangsters, and a hard-boiled cop. We don’t get any cues as to which of them is truly important, at least until some of them end up dead, but even by the end of this disc, most of them are little more than distractions from the main event.

Despite the high drama of the setting, the show doesn’t forget to inject some laughs along the way. Some are appropriate and build character, such as when Kyouichi pulls his wooden sword out of a silk bag to face down a schoolyard bully, only to use the bag to towel-whip his opponent into submission. Also, Kyoko’s reaction when she encounters a monster in the first episode is both hilarious and perfectly in-character. Occasionally, the humor seems bolted on awkwardly, such as with Yuuya’s strange gym team entourage or the shenanigans involving Maria, the least authoritative high school teacher in the world. Still, on the whole, the mix between humor and action served Buffy the Vampire Slayer well, and it works as well in Tokyo Majin even if there’s less of Buffy‘s sassy attitude.

First you gotta fight, then you hit an uneasy truce. It's the rules.As enjoyable as it is, there are occasional rough spots. The first episode is tense and thrilling, with the five already banded together to battle a creatively bizarre and creepy spider/marionette demon, but then episode 2 hits a very selective reset button, since it brings Tatsuma to the new high school and nobody seems to understand their powers at all. Despite the second episode’s “2 Months Earlier” lead-in, it’s nearly impossible to fit the first episode anywhere in the next 4 unless partial amnesia is going to afflict several cast members. It’s almost as though the first episode were a pilot that was made to sell the series, but became obsolete by the time the series got picked up. There are also a few patches where story elements don’t seem to line up, such as how Aoi seems to be the one saving the group at the end of one episode, only to become to Tatsuma at the start of the next one.

As a DVD, Tokyo Majin gives little to complain about. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is crystal clear, with muted color palettes and film grain used for artistic effect rather than out of any limitation of the source material. The DVD comes with an excellent English dub that casts the five characters wonderfully well, making them distinct enough that you can tell which off-screen character is screaming. All five episodes get sensible chapter breaks and annoyances like unskippable trailers or animated menus are kept to a minimum. There are no extras to be had other than a set of trailers and clean opening and closing credits, but this is apparently new policy at ADV and certainly doesn’t make the show any less enjoyable.

Tokyo Majin isn’t where you’ll come for grand innovation or terribly deep thoughts. It is a real fireball of fun, and its perfect blend of action, mystery, drama, and horror won’t take long to hook you hard and leave you anxious for volume 2.

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