That’s right. Thanks to some evil-doing, hostage-taking espers, the National Diet Building has taken to the skies. Apparently, this season is all about grandiose scenarios. More specifically, it’s all about social upheaval for some reason. Someone out there wants to effect some change in the world. In Tokyo ESP, we have that familiar story where certain individuals with supernatural powers have now decided to lash back against the rest of us normies. From what I can tell, the bad guys demanded a special zone in the city for espers by attacking Tokyo Tower. Now, they’ve raised the stakes by taking the Diet Building and Japanese politicians hostage. Why? Because our evil mastermind wants humanity to recognize him and his cohorts as the new leaders of the world. You know, it’s a pretty standard human vs mutants storyline, except we’re now calling them ‘espers.’ We have superpowers, so therefore, we are better than you.
What makes these stories ultimately work, however, are not the crazy superpowers or the physics-defying battles between any two given espers. It’s not even the hero’s — or in our case, the heroine’s — sense of unerring justice. Rather, it’s what makes the bad guys tick. Why does Magneto do what he does? Well, he’s seen the horrors of the Holocaust first hand. And now, he sees his own kind being discriminated against by the world at large. I’m simplifying his story a great deal for the sake of this post, but needless to say, he has strong, compelling reasons to do what he does. His actions are nevertheless immoral, but still, you can sympathize with him even if you don’t agree with him. Now, I’m not saying we won’t get the same tragic backstory here. After all, we’ve only seen a single Tokyo ESP episode. But needless to say, this story can only be interesting if the villains’ motives amount to more than just, “Well, we are better than you.” I’ve seen too many like-minded anime where special individuals would awaken to their powers and immediately rape and kill people. It’s just ridiculous.
At the end of the day, these familiar tales tend to want to say the same thing: even though these special individuals have special powers, they’re still human like the rest of us. That’s why it never sat well with me when characters would just awaken to their powers and immediately start wreaking havoc. Again, I’m not talking about Tokyo ESP just yet. I’m merely speaking generally about what similar stories in anime have tended to be like. There has to be a reason, a very strong reason for villains to act the way that they do. And even then, a very strong reason doesn’t turn a person into a bloodthirsty maniac completely devoid of decency. Okay, now we’re talking about Tokyo ESP. At one point in the story, a lady shows up with a large vehicle and traps a bunch of people in a building with it. The vehicle has been armed with a bomb, so when it goes off, everyone inside the building will die. A young girl starts to cry for her mother, who is unluckily trapped inside the building. The evil woman, however, doesn’t even bat an eyelash to the girl’s plight. That makes no sense to me.
Well duh, she’s one of the bad guys. But hold on a minute. Just because you’re a villain doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become Hitler. We don’t know the full story yet, but let’s assume that espers have been treated poorly. So they want a special zone in the city that’s just for them. Okay, segregation isn’t the solution, but I can understand why they might feel that way. So they want humanity to recognize them as the real leaders of the world. Well, I’m sure some espers think they’re humanity’s next step in the evolutionary ladder (even though evolution doesn’t quite work this way), and as a result, they’re quite arrogant about it. But to murder a young girl’s mother right in front of the girl and not even feel the slightest bit remorseful about it? C’mon. Wanting justice for your kind doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly decided to turn a blind eye to everything else. It doesn’t mean you would automatically abandon all sense of morality. Yes, the evil woman refers to the people trapped in the building as cockroaches, but how do you lose your humanity so quickly? Special or not, how can you just murder a young child’s mother?
I can’t help but think, “Would Magneto do that?” Magneto is certainly a bad guy; he won’t hesitate to shed blood in order to help his fellow mutants. But still, would Magneto just flash a shit-eating grin as he kills a young girl’s mother? I don’t think so. Being a villain doesn’t mean you have to be comically evil. It simply means you’re the antagonist, the person that the protagonist opposes. There are always exceptions, but for the most part, villains are humans too. They may have strong but ultimately misguided reasons to do what they do, but compelling villains are nevertheless people we can sympathize with to a degree. Bad guys who just murder people because they are crazy are actually cheap caricatures. They’re only there for shock value, but in the end, they are utterly forgettable as well. They may have enthralled us when we were kids, but let’s take a close look at them now. Is Kefka really a well-written villain? No, don’t ask your 11-year-old self who thought Final Fantasy VI was the best JRPG ever. Ask yourself now.
Like I’ve said, it’s just the first episode. The man with the scar, a.k.a. the mastermind, may very well have a tragic backstory to tell. I just didn’t like the lady who shows up near the end of the episode. She’s the one-dimensional sort of bad guy who tends to plague these shows. What do I think about the rest of Tokyo ESP and its characters? Well, I don’t know just yet what to think. After all, our heroine doesn’t even show up either until the very last minute of the episode. For sure, she’s been talked about. These minor characters stand around and talk about her a-plenty. They are hopeful that she will show up and save the day. It’s almost mythological in a way, i.e. “The Legend of the White Girl.” Even the bad guys are awaiting our heroine’s appearance. Other than that, however, we haven’t been introduced to her properly yet, so I can’t comment on her characterization. Still, for an opening episode, this has been an action-packed start for Tokyo ESP. I certainly can’t complain about that. Having said that, don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m blown away.
Because the focus has been spread across several minor characters and not the main character herself, the story hasn’t hooked me. It’s caught my attention, but I’m not dying to watch another episode. Tokyo ESP‘s first episode is not as compelling as it could be because there’s no one to emotionally attach myself to. Future episodes can rectify this, but I have to be honest about my feelings. And the honest truth is that my reaction to this first episode is lukewarm at best.