Director: Naokatsu Tsuda
Streaming on: Funimation, Crunchyroll
Tokyo 24th Ward is immediately intriguing. If you asked me off the top of my head what anime does well, I could rattle off a few things: high-concept fantasy and science fiction, colorful characters with vibrant personalities, and creating new ways to visualize strange or outlandish concepts. In the first episode alone, Tokyo 24th Ward cements itself as being capable of all of those features.
More than that, it has an impressive pedigree. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Naokatsu Tsuda’s body of work, but he has served as an episode director for a few noteworthy titles like Black Butler and Inazuma Eleven. He’s also worked on a little niche series you probably haven’t heard of called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He’s worked as director, both overarching and episode, script writer, and more in varying capacities up until Golden Wind.
So you’re telling me we have a cerebral alternate history sci-fi trip under the supervision of one of the creative leads in adapting JoJo? Despite that strong hook, it’s managed to fly under the radar for the most part; it’s an original work without a built-in audience, sitting at only 35,000 viewers on MAL as of writing this, a tenth of Cloverworks’ biggest title this season, My Dress-Up Darling, and nearly half of their other project, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform.
Don’t worry, I won’t be reviewing Akebi, as an anime about tween girls with highly detailed feet animation is just not for me. Er, where was I? Right, Tokyo 24th Ward! Kind of got sidetracked there, so let’s just start before I have to think about that toenail clipping scene again and get put on a watchlist.
In the wake of the second World War, the Allies raised an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, dubbed the 24th Ward. The district has become a Hong Kong-esque cultural and financial hub in the intervening decades, but as the ward inches closer towards being returned to the Japanese government, unrest ripples throughout the city.
Meanwhile, Shuta’s been in a rut. He once dreamed of becoming a hero, but he’s been stuck in a rut since the tragic fire that claimed the life of his close friend Asumi. Having failed to save her, he’s not certain he’s cut out to be a hero, and he’s lost touch with his friends, hacker and graffiti artist Ran, and budding politician and Asumi’s brother Kouki. The group known as RGB thanks to their hair colors has fallen apart in the year since the fire, but things are about to change.
A coincidence brings the old friends back together, but their reunion takes a turn when they receive a call from something listed as Asumi. No mere prank caller, the three boys receive a vision of their friend Mari being struck by a train. They’re offered a simple choice; derail the train, killing hundreds to save their friend, or let her die. So…yeah, it’s just the trolley problem.
RGB experiences some unusual buffs, though. Shuta’s always been athletic, Ran is tech-savvy, and Kouki intelligent and charismatic, but their talents now border on superhuman. Thanks to their combined efforts, they save Mari without derailing the train. The three are bewildered by the phone call, but Shuta’s convinced that Asumi is somehow still alive.
Tokyo 24th Ward looks pretty good, though you can definitely tell that My Dress-Up Darling and Akebi received more than their fair share of Cloverworks’ attention and resources. Close to the beginning of the first episode, Shuta shuffles in an inhumanly choppy Newgrounds animation circa 2004 kind of way. It was so egregious that my expectations for the show plummeted, only for nothing like that to happen again in the episodes since. Weird.
The character design is a notable bright spot, although the side characters can be underwhelming or downright busy. Obviously RGB receive the most love from the character designer, but I do wish that they had spread the brush a little better with the rest of the cast.
Other than that, I’d be a fool not to point out Tsuda’s work; the direction is top-notch. Key moments in a character’s thought process or conversation are punctuated by portraits cutting through the foreground. It almost looks as though Tsuda was trying to mimic a manga-style panel layout to make dialogue and action scenes more engaging.
All in all, Tokyo 24th Ward looks good, and sounds better, especially in its action climaxes where RGB unravels a prediction. Considering Cloverworks has two other projects this winter, they could have afforded to let it sit in the oven until spring. Wait, Spy x Family is next season? Er, it could have waited until the summer?
Slight side note here, but I often say I’ll go back and amend my review if the show in question takes a turn for better or worse. More often than not, I don’t, simply because my opinion rarely shifts one way or another in the few weeks between writing and publication.
Tokyo 24th Ward, however, has impressed my far beyond my initial expectations. If you’re interested to see what I originally wrote, basically I praised the trolley problems and world building, but lamented there wasn’t enough solid character writing. Well, my apologies to Tokyo 24th Ward and its writer, Vio Shimokura, because I didn’t give either of them enough credit.
Tokyo 24th Ward is ingenious in how it bases its plot in these trolley problems, and then builds its character writing around those dilemmas. Each character is a reflection of the world, or at least the part of the world they come from. Ran hails from Shantytown, the slums that have been pushed further and further back as the city prospers, while Kouki’s the son of the mayor and holds an internship with the Minority Report-style police organization SARG. Shuta sits between the two, coming from a middle-class family in the city.
Anime doesn’t handle sensitive topics well, generally; the medium has a bad track record of addressing social issues and uncomfortable subjects. Tokyo 24th Ward surprised me when it took a nuanced approach to questions of poverty, gentrification, and technology, and how those issues come to a head through its protagonists, particularly Ran and Kouki. Like I said, Shuta’s kind of in the middle as a sort of apolitical everyman type.
Ran escaped the slums by finding his vocation as an artist, and now beautifies his old neighborhood and the city at large with elaborate graffiti projects. Thanks to his background, he distrusts SARG and the establishment that Kouki represents. Kouki, meanwhile, has no personal stake in how SARG polices Shantytown, which makes him an impartial judge, but also a heartless one. He’s better able to make hard decisions than Ran, who can’t bring himself to turn against his old friends, but those same decisions may cost Kouki his friends.
And I’m barely scratching the surface of what they’ve touched on in just the first half of the show; this one will make for a great essay down the line. Whatever I said before, ignore it; Tokyo 24th Ward is written like the best of them, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Tokyo 24th Ward has quickly pulled to the front of the pack this season, partially due to its own merits, and partially to its peers’ demerits. I’ve been putting off writing a lot of these reviews simply because I don’t know what to make of this new season. Maybe that’s my punishment for biting off too much; I’ve picked up some shows that perhaps weren’t worth talking about. Even so, I have a good feeling about this one.
So while I’m wary towards any high-concept original anime, having been burned many times, I’m willing to take a chance on Tokyo 24th Ward and give it Neutral Fantastic. Huh, reading back on what I originally wrote, I said I wouldn’t be changing my review. Oh well, for anime I’m willing to bend my values a little bit.
It occurs to me now that I’ve written a lot of outlines for reviews and not a lot of actual reviews, so I’m sweating a little. Between all those reviews and watching these anime as they come out so my reviews are up to date, I’m getting nervous. Check out my next couple reviews to see if I make it to the finish line or collapse from exhaustion! The clickbait seminar I took at Blog Writing School told me to give cliffhangers to improve engagement numbers.
So while you’re waiting for reviews that may never come, hinting my untimely death slumped over at my laptop, go check out the rest of what the Otaku Exhibition has to offer, follow on WordPress for more anime reviews, or go check me out on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I talk about the absurd amount of anime I’m watching right now. Until next time, thanks for reading.
|Mediocre||Love of Kill|
|Pleasing||Sasaki & Miyano||My Dress-Up Darling||Demon Slayer|
|Fantastic||Tokyo 24th Ward|