Kokkoku or Trouble in Timestopland

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A screenshot from the ED.

September 2015: the news of Manglobe, the prolific animation-producing company, filing for bankruptcy go public. The news item makes people anxious about the fate of the film Manglobe was in the middle of making: Genocidal Organ. A bit later, those fears were assuaged when the crew responsible for Genocidal Organ announced they’re going independent as a new animation production enterprise called Geno Studio. The film was eventually released after some delays, and just recently, in October 2017, the company let out some news which could be acknowledged as a declaration of their ambitious future plans. Kokkoku, the new studio’s first TV anime, made in cooperation with Twin Engine, the company led by Yamamoto Kouji, an experienced anime industry insider, is an adaptation of a comic by Horio Seita. It has recently concluded and, of course, I’ve been watching it week-to-week…

Don’t you like stories about superpowers? They usually feature a large and varied cast of users of unreal abilities in conflict with one another – like in Jojo. Or Sakurada Reset. That’s a classic way to write a story, but you could also write a story about only one superpower. If you choose the right one, you might even realize that you’ve stumbled upon a whole subgenre of thrilling deductive stories. Like loop-mono. Anyway, if you take this route, you should probably make sure this one ability is interesting enough to fuel a longer narrative… Enter Kokkoku: an anime series revolving around a certain superpower that I’ve never seen explored this thoroughly.

The Yukawa family is an unlucky bunch. They’re poor, and the household’s young daughter Juri is hopelessly struggling to secure a future for their next generation. As if they weren’t troubled enough, somebody kidnaps the family’s youngest member, Makoto and his jobless uncle Tsubasa and now demand ransom. They have little time to get the money and pay the criminals. We get a glimpse of some sinister-looking hoodlums and a name: Genuine Love Society – a bizarre cult. The Yukawas seem to be in major trouble, at least until Grandpa Yukawa tells his family a long-kept secret. A precious stone lying around their house and serving as a decoration can be used to perform a certain ancient ritual. Gramps pours some of his blood into it and… time stops for the entire world except Juri, her deadbeat father and Grandpa. Looks like they don’t need to rush anymore – they now have all the time in the universe. However, even Grandpa doesn’t know much about the situation the Yukawas found themselves in. He calls the frozen world Stasis, or Shikai (止界). The protags go to the kidnappers’ hideout, where they discover that… they’re not the only ones who can move inside Timestopland. During a lethal standoff with the criminals, a frightening entity – a Herald – appears and kills one of the thugs who attempt to hurt the timestopped abductees…

And so ends the first episode, leaving the viewer with dozens of questions. What are the Heralds? What goal pushed the cultists (and their leader, Sagawa) to enter the Stasis? And most importantly, what rules govern the Stasis and how to navigate it? The ability to enter a single still frame of the film that is history and move around in it is extraordinary – the time-stopping stones could be incredibly dangerous if placed in the wrong hands. Google around for some timestop-themed porn for a glimpse of their potential. What to do with it then? Use it in service of some more-or-less noble goal? Or keep it unused and hidden from the wider world? Ultimately, both sides in the conflict pick their own answer to the question. The first episode is damn impressive and makes you wonder where the story will go next. I’ve never read the manga, so I can’t say for sure if it’s the original author or the adaptation’s screenwriter (Kimura Noboru) who’s to be credited with the magnificence that is Kokkoku 01, but it definitely is masterfully written. It’s probably a mix of both.

In later episodes, the Yukawas, each armed with a unique trick they can perform in the Stasis (like expelling people from it) try to figure the situation out while fending off attacks by Sagawa’s minions. The taciturn cult leader, meanwhile, puts all his effort into conducting experiments to research and exploit the frozen world. We discover more and more about it – we learn of the existence of Specters, creatures inhabiting Timestopland and possessing people to enable them to move inside it. The characters prefer calling them “jellyfish” instead, though. We get to know the villain’s motivations for targeting the hapless family. I have to admit that after the shock-and-awe of the initial episode, the ones that follow are comparatively slow and underwhelming. The show never stops serving you surprising reveals, however. At the end of episode 10, Sagawa is finally chased into a corner and defeated a bit before he achieves his goal.

…And then the show goes off the rails, kind of. Sagawa turns into a brain with eyes. Then he creates a cocoon around himself trying to regenerate. Then he turns into a baby, Childman-style. Kokkoku becomes a chain of bizarre events, with Juri and her allies treating it with baffling seriousness. Juri destroys the Stone, and with it the only way for her to get out of Stasis – others can be expelt from it, but Juri herself is now trapped. She frees all her friends, becoming the only person remaining inside. Then she does some childcare – at least until she expels Baby Sagawa from the stopped world. And then, finally, Juri is freed from Timestopland by a weakly foreshadowed, unbelievable turn of events which gives her a happy ending out of nowhere.

Even though the ending left a bad aftertaste, I enjoyed Kokkoku immensely. Not only the story itself, but also its presentation. The “realistic” color palette full of grays and browns, which some could call ugly, brings to mind some adult anime from the 2000s – my eternal favorites. If that alone doesn’t make you miss Texhnolyze and such, the endcards were all provided by oldschool seinen mangaka. The OP sounds and looks great, too – it’s a visual firework show that only slightly alludes to the story’s content instead of being a typical, classic kind of OP.

Kokkoku was a blast, and a memorable one too. An adequate way for a new animation studio to make its debut, leave an impression and make you look out for more of their creations. Go check it out.

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