The opening of Tokko’s first volume begins with images of the mundane and the supernatural being interwoven, culminating in the presence of a bloody and rampaging demon walking the streets during daylight, and being inaugurated by screams.
As the creature leaves its trace in blood, two young residents of the apartment block arrive at their home but find it destroyed and smeared in blood. As they begin to run away the boy loses the hand of his sister and, turning around, is consumed by the image of devils leering in the darkness until another young girl destroys them with her sword. She is also covered in blood though, and as it drips from the edge of her sword, tormenting him, she refuses to answer why she is always a part of his dreams.
Waking, Ronmaru is greeted instead, not by the answer, but by his sister in her lingerie (that’s just the beginning of their relationship). Graduating as a police officer, Ronmaru quickly comes into contact with members of the Tokko division, a group rumoured to fight inhuman foes with swords. Ordered by his new Yakuza faced boss to assist in murder investigation, Ronmaru soon comes into firsthand contact with the Phantoms and the Tokko. Over the course of four more episodes, the nature of Tokko and the phantoms are partially implied, though a larger (but not necessarily better) story is clearly in the waiting.
Tokko’s greatest fault is its animation, which, for whatever reason, can range anywhere from serviceable and average, to outdated by ten years. For the most part the series’ animation and character designs are clearly average, and this is most evident in the fight scenes, where a black or white screen is followed by characters remaining stationary or sliding across the shot, followed momentarily by gushes of blood, signalling victory. It is only after the third episode that fights even seem to incorporate fluid animation on a common basis. The monster designs can also vary from dull and unoriginal, to bad imitations of Resident Evil, with only the stronger humanoid Phantoms looking anything close to scary. This naturally impacts on the shows charisma but what irks most isn’t that the animation is essentially average, but rather that its inconsistent, momentarily looking great and terrible (as the screens I’ve chosen illustrate).
The series has already demonstrated to me that it can produce tension and atmosphere as a result of the complementary effects of its music and a strong combination of visual elements. Tokko is all too content to be basic and functional however, rather than playing to the strengths of its genre (which it can, but rarely does).
Although Tokko can be boring and the animation doesn’t do it any favours, the byplay of different genres (important in the creation of atmosphere), character and story development are generally well paced. If you’re a genre enthusiast, Tokko might grab your attention; if not, you should probably be betting on it developing into something better as time goes on.