ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:00 - 23rd July 2016, by David West

Tokyo ESP

A group of misfits, blessed – or cursed – with fantastic powers, band together to protect humanity from those who would use such abilities for evil. Fighting to protect a world that despises and fears them, they are…The Uncanny X-men.
Sorry, no. They are the ESPers.

Adapted from the manga by Hajime Segawa, the creator of the excellent horror-action series Ga-Rei-Zero, Tokyo ESP borrows the essential premise of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s marvellous mutants, but puts a distinct – and distinctly odd – spin on it.

The heroine of the tale is Rinka Urushiba, who has the power to phase through inanimate objects (hello Kitty Pryde!) Together with Kyotaro Azuma, a teleporter who believes ESPers must use their abilities in the name of justice, and a motley assortment of people with superpowers, Rinka faces the menace of The Professor and his group of evil ESPers – basically Magneto and the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants – who plan to subjugate ordinary humans.

The opening episode hits the ground running, loaded with exciting, fast-paced action scenes, but the series never recovers that early momentum. The script then jumps back in time to introduce the myriad characters and to slowly manoeuvre all the players into position but the screenplay, by Hideyuki Kurata, is chockful of holes and relies far too heavily on coincidence and happenstance.

The tone veers wildly. On the one hand, there’s lots of bad language and bloodshed when the fighting starts, which suggests an older target audience, but then balanced against that there is a cute magical penguin called Peggy, a pint-sized martial arts master who wears a panda costume, and even a telepathic pelican, which suggests something aimed at children.

The source of the ESPers superpowers is quite bizarre, but not in a good way, involving flying, mystical goldfish. Too often new characters are clumsily dumped into the story as it serves the plot, without any chance to fill out motivations or personalities. The script does allow a decent amount of screen time for exploring the Professor’s past and the events that have driven him to villainy, although any attempts at maintaining a serious tone are undercut by the sheer silliness of the premise (the source of the flying goldfish is a complete headscratcher).

The design work can be fun, with many of the supporting players modelled on famous faces. The father of one of Rinka’s ESPer allies, Murasaki, looks like King Leonidas from 300, there’s a squad of ESPer hunters modelled after Ghostbusters, while Rinka’s burly, muscle-bound dad bears more than a passing resemblance to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Pop culture references abound, with the psychometrically gifted Murasaki wielding a pair of nunchakus that once belonged to Bruce Lee, and the Professor’s henchmen that look like they could be members of Daft Punk. There’s no shortage of fanservice from the female characters, particularly from Kobushi, an ESPer with the power of invisibility and an obvious fondness for plunge necklines. The animation is solid, with restrained use of still frames.

Despite a very promising beginning, Tokyo ESP can’t match up to the intensity and drama of Segawa’s Ga-Rei-Zero. The design work is engaging, but the script and tone are too inconsistent and it’s never clear why everyone thinks Rinka is some big hero when she spends most of her time taking a whupping from a procession of opponents. Messy.
SCORE: 3/5
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