Kokkoku Ep. 1: Better come prepared with an axe

Juri’s a 22-year-old woman just trying to land her first job and move out into the city on her own. It’s not that she hates her family. Life’s just a bit tough back home. Both Takafumi and Tsubasa, her father and brother respectively, currently contribute little to nothing to the family, and her sister is a single mother toiling away to raise her child Makoto. Well, life just got harder for everyone. A bunch of two-bit punks have kidnapped Tsubasa and Makoto, and they’re demanding a random of five million yen. If they were smarter, they would’ve targeted a family that isn’t in such dire straits. Not only that, they only give Juri and her folks about half an hour to come up with the money. That’s no time at all!

This is where Juri’s grandfather steps in. He tells her and her father to put their hands on some sort of special stone. After cutting himself and letting some of his own blood drip onto the stone, time around them suddenly freeze. They’ve entered the world of Stasis. Because they touched the stone, they are freely able to move about, but the rest of the world has been stop dead in its track. As a result, Juri, Takafumi, and her grandfather can now take all the time in the world to rescue Tsubasa and Makoto. Well, maybe they shouldn’t take too long. Juri can feel something horrible and terrifying lurking just beyond her senses, but the three of them try to remain focused on the task at hand.

They’re just about to leave the premises with Tsubasa and Makoto when all of a sudden, they are attacked by other people who can also move freely through Stasis. More importantly, they’re only after the grandfather. The rest can just die. The attackers seem to be led by a calm, stoic man who speaks of disciples and bloodline. We’ll probably come face to face with a cult in the near future. In the meantime, Takafumi has been knocked out cold, and the grandfather tries to escape for now with just Juri. He has another trick up his sleeves: teleportation. But he’s an old man who probably hasn’t even used this powers in years if not decades, so he can’t teleport very far.

Juri and her grandfather don’t get far before their attackers threaten to harm Makoto. But before any harm can come to the child, some giant behemoth with nothing but dried out branches covering its upper half looms over everyone. The stoic man seems to have a name for it, though: Herald. The episode ends on that cliffhanger. Hm. Did the grandfather know that he would’ve been attacked? Probably not. Otherwise, he would’ve urged Juri and Takafumi to move with a little more urgency. But I can’t shake the idea that he must also know about that horrible and terrifying presence that Juri had detected earlier. I notice how he suddenly tries to move quickly when she mentions it. Up until then, they had been casually making their way through Stasis as if they weren’t in any danger.

In any case, I really enjoyed this episode. The first half does a great job of setting the stage. We get to know most of the major characters (the other girl still hasn’t shown up yet), their personalities, and the role they play without too much unnecessary exposition. I never felt the episode lagging at any point. If they can keep up this sort of feel and pacing for the entire series, that’d be great. The rest of the episode merely plants the seeds for later plot revelations to come. I could’ve used a little more atmosphere, I suppose. It would’ve been nice if Stasis was a little more off-putting. I think the monster’s sudden entrance would’ve been more effective with a little more foreshadowing than just Juri sensing something in the dark. But I’m really splitting hairs at this point.

There’s a lot of talk about greed and man’s inherent evil, though. The grandfather never mentions this ability because he’s scared of it. He won’t come out and admit it, but his fear is obvious enough. People will be in awe when they first step foot into Stasis, but they quickly use it for their own personal gain. Steal money, assault people, so on and so forth. There’s no limit to what you can do when there are no consequences. But not only that, he warns his family that Stasis can devour you, and I wonder if he’s speaking literally or metaphorically. Ultimately, however, this bit of exposition does foreshadow the arrival of their attackers. How long they’ve been here, and whether or not they’ve gone crazy from Stasis are some big questions to answer down the line.

All in all, it’s always too early to judge a show by just one episode, but I’m clearly interested in what Kokkoku has to offer. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode.

Notes and observations:

— Yay, the main character is not a high schooler dissatisfied with their life!

— Do they really interview potential candidates all at the same time in Japan? That sounds miserable. Job interviews are bad enough as it is. I like the scene composition. It feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable. She’s dwarfed by the two faceless men judging her.

— What’s with the blonde lady?

— I kinda like the OP. Doesn’t really put me in the mood for horror, though.

— Yeah, job interviews are always rough. I don’t want to remember how long it took me to find my current job.

— I like how realistic her family feels. For one, they’re all there. No one’s fucked off to another country for some inexplicable reason. Secondly, they’re far from perfect. Life’s hard, man. Finding a good job in this economy is hard too. And the exposition through dialogue is effective. We get a bunch of information while at the same time understanding Juri’s desperation to fly the nest. As much as we love our families, we also have to accept that we can’t become them.

— It’s kinda peculiar, however, that both her dad and brother are complete deadbeats. The patriarch indulges himself in alcohol, and the 31-year-old older brother plays RPGs in the living room.

— And yet, the father gives Juri some gruff for giving her brother attitude. Welp, someone’s an enabler.

— Makoto is one of those names where I never know whether it’s a guy or a girl until I see the character. Anyway, her mother sees the kid as their last hope to raise a decent adult. Juri’s only 22; she’s barely an adult. So dad’s an enabler and mom’s a bit… rough and bitter around the edges.

— It’s funny: Tsubasa can’t even pick up his nephew without raising alarms at the preschool. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, but what about an ID? Do they have that in Japan or…? I really don’t know. I used to have both, but I only carry my license now for obvious reasons.

— Every time I see kids in anime, they always seem like the most annoying little assholes in the world.

— A plus for me so far is that the characters all have clear and established personalities distinct from each other.

— Why would you let go of your nephew’s hand? Why would you even entertain a guy who has half his face covered? Tsubasa is such a shut-in, he really doesn’t have any street smarts.

— I wonder why we suddenly cut to a spider sitting on its web. Who’s being ensnared in a trap? At first glance, we might think Tsubasa and Makoto, but I’m not so sure it’s that straightforward.

— These idiots can’t even kidnap a wealthy kid.

— Juri blames herself; Makoto wouldn’t have gotten kidnapped if she had gone instead. Well, it seems she really has no regard for her brother. Also, could she really have done much? She probably would’ve been more wary of some punks approaching her, but still…

— Funny how Takafumi is throwing his weight around now. It’s almost like he’s using this crisis as a way to regain his manhood. His wife is busy working while he’s chopping vegetables for dinner later. She even has the car. He obviously feels emasculated, and I doubt this is an insecurity that he can share with anyone else in his family.

— Seems unsafe to tuck a kitchen knife in your shorts like that. I don’t care if she’s wrapped in cloth.

— The time freeze moment was cool. They really want to show off their 3-D rotating effects. Look at this butterfly! Look at this lollipop! Look at this bee!

— Maybe it’s a wasp, I’m not some insect expert.

— Goddamn Wack Donalds.

— I like how the dad asks some pretty reasonable questions — “What about air friction and force? How come we’re still able to breath and walk normally? What about the concepts of time and matter?” — if he is an outsider, but they’ve got some family to save. As such, no one has the emotional energy to entertain such thoughts. They just want to save Makoto (and maybe Tsubasa). This also says a lot about Takafumi. There’s a time and place to ask these questions. During a family crisis isn’t one of them.

— The grandfather warns that most people fall to their base desires soon after discovering this world. Not him, of course.

— What does it mean to be devoured by the world of Stasis? Things to find out later.

— Some of these time-freeze scenes remind me of moments from The Evil Within 2. Walking around a frozen scene… it’s like a 3-D picture that you can walk through. At some point in the future, we’ll be able to do that. Instead of just taking a photo or recording a short movie, we’ll able to capture an entire environment within a device, and simulate it later for ourselves to walk through and re-experience. That’s going to unlock some pretty freaky shit especially if someone applies the idea to horror movies. Anyway, I’ve gotten off-topic…

Something is lurking above them, and Makoto can sense it. She tries to warn her grandfather, but he tells her to focus on the main task of rescuing Makoto and Tsubasa. He’s aware of the presence too, but he just doesn’t want to openly acknowledge it. He probably doesn’t want to scare them.

— Both the grandfather and Takafumi are going to have to carry a grown man in his chair all the way back home. Rough.

— If these new guys are here to kill, you’d think they’d have more than just wooden swords on hand.

— Can you bleed in Stasis? Will your blood stop moving once it escapes your body or…?

— The grandfather can teleport?

— True disciples? Bloodline?

— Why is the ED so cutesy? Why does it show so much skin? We get to glimpse Juri and another character (Shoko?) in various states of undress. Like the OP, it doesn’t seem to match the tone of the anime.

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