Kokkoku First Impressions
“I’ll tell you as we walk. We have as much time as we want.”
Kokkoku is a hell of a weird mystery, and I mean that in the best way possible. Its weirdness was apparent just from reading a basic plot promo, but actually seeing the show in action is another thing altogether. Watching it brings to mind the best elements of the confusion that came with watching the opening entries to Erased or Terror in Resonance. I have no idea where this show is going to go from here, but I am definitely intrigued. The manga upon which this series is based is described as being a horror, mystery and drama series. Certain aspects of each of those genres can be seen in this opening, but there is a sense it is more than the sum of those parts. To put it simply, I’m fascinated at where this weird story is going to go.
Our central characters are all members of the moderately dysfunctional Yukawa family. I won’t deny that I occasionally viewed them as the Japanese equivalent of the Malcolm in the Middle family, but the comparison has its limitations. The Yukawa family consists primarily of adult family members, with only one child involved in the mix. Our main character is Yukawa Juri, a young woman who is attempting to find stable employment, and who finds herself at odds with her unemployed father and older brother. She also has an older sister who is the single mother of a young boy. To top it all off, they live with their retired grandfather who serves as something of a patriarch of the family. If you find it difficult to keep track of, that’s fine. The show does an exceptional job of establishing the family dynamic, and keeping all the players distinct and memorable. Despite not being particularly well off, the family is thrown into disarray when Juri’s unemployed brother, Tsubasa, and her nephew, Makoto, are kidnapped and held for ransom for 5 million yen. Juri and her father are shocked and confused by this demand, given the fact that they aren’t particularly wealthy, but the grandfather calmly forces them to sit down and uses a stone to freeze time.
As far as supernatural elements go, it’s a little surprising that this factor doesn’t seem more out of place. When I was initially skimming a promotional synopsis, I felt the time manipulation aspect was a bizarre and abrupt factor to introduce when you already had to establish a half dozen family members in the first episode. However, the panic, incredulity and shock all plays out in a manner that feels appropriate, and the show even takes the time to explain some elements of the frozen world they enter, named Stasis, though it understandably keeps certain factors vague with the grandfather admitting he doesn’t have a strong enough grasp of its working to provide scientific explanations. The presentation for Stasis is impressive with little details like the father picking a wasp out of the air to inspect it. My only criticism is that, like any story that uses frozen time, anything that can be in a dynamic situation when time is frozen is. A cat is in the middle of a jump, a child is dropping his candy and one of the kidnappers is in the middle for reaching for Makoto’s head. It always feels slightly ridiculous that the exact moment that time gets frozen is also the exact moment that a bunch of interesting movement is occurring. Still, the presentation is impressive, regardless of my little nitpicks. The character designs are interesting. I find the overly lined faces of the grandfather and father don’t mesh with the more traditional anime style of Juri or Makoto, but I suspect I may get accustomed to the combination as the show continues. There is also some integrated CG which can vary in quality. It appears most prominently towards the end, and, while it may appear distracting, one could argue it is also used in the most appropriate fashion, to depict something bizarre and otherworldly. Overall, I can’t say that I have any real criticisms of the visual aesthetic, but I do find that some aspects feel mismatched even if the overall implementation is impressive.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I’m still reeling from how smoothly this first episode moved, despite the amount of ground it had to cover. I watched this almost immediately after watching citrus, and the contrast between how the two dealt with potentially suspension-of-disbelief straining material is stark.
- We don’t see much of the older sister in this episode, since she is the only employed member of the family, and is therefore occupied. Furthermore, given the limited timeframe that the kidnappers provide the family the show ensures it makes sense when they don’t waste time trying to contact her.
- The OP can be simplistic in some aspects, but it makes up for that with its sense of style and tone. There are many still shots used, but damn if I didn’t find it catchy, intriguing and memorable.
With a strong sense of pacing and a carefully constructed introduction to our main characters, Kokkoku provides a fascinatingly well devised introduction to this mystery. If it can maintain this level of production, we may have a particularly strong contender on our hands here.