4 out of 5
Directed by: Naokatsu Tsuda
covers season 1
Yeah, I rag a’plenty on shows / movies / comics that are based upon a singular hook – because what happens when you’ve run the course on that hook, which inevitably happens pretty much right after it’s introduced – but there can definitely be those rare occasions when the pitch is actually rich enough to support a generous amount of iteration. For Tokyo 24th Ward, its three young adult leads – once friends, now sent on separate ways after a shared tragedy in their lives – are brought back together by a mysterious series of phone calls which trigger a combination of elevated abilities and also a vision; that vision is the hook: it’s always a trolley dilemma, a sight of some future event in which people will come to harm and our trio can choose either path A or path B as a resolution, with neither being perfect, and them having to agree on what’s the best of two bad outcomes. While the “phone triggers super powers” thing might seem especially cartoony, 24th Tokyo Ward already stands apart with its interestingly mature tone mapped to its colorful, exciting visuals – even this aspect of the story has a sci-fi bent to it as opposed to outright fantasy that gives it some grounding, especially in an MCU age when we’re more used to accepting superhero powers as the norm. But the vision thing is seemingly what the show is going to hang on, and that’s pretty fun – it gives us a lot of creative opportunities for our odd couple once-friends to have to team up and juggle the odds, because the show doesn’t cheat on its trolleys for the most part: people do get hurt.
So I’m on board for this. Furthermore, CloverWorks and director Naokatsu Tsuda employ a Trigger-esque editing style throughout, in which we’re frequently cutting away from the scene for mood- / tone-setting imagery, or flashes of characters’ thoughts. It’s not quite as elegant or weighty as Trigger’s application – the flashes can be too brief to really give us context – but it still adds a sense of patience and emotionality to an action tale.
…And then the show goes one step beyond, by completely denying its hook. A couple of episodes makes us think that it’s going to be an event-of-the-week setup, but, more realistically, the trio is still at odds with one another, and they still have their own lives to attend to, not to mention the fallout of getting involved in such high profile matters, which intersect with their wards politics, and their own personal beliefs. The show dares to mix relative reality in with its pitch. It’s wonderful, and leads to some really stunning writing that stresses internal character development. This is combined with the mystery of those phone calls; an anime that actually wants to describe how things work! While the path to explanations is presented oddly – each character has to discover things on their own, which means the viewer understands the “secret” early on, and then we have to wait around for it to be re-revealed twice more – I’d again say that the maturity and depth of the writing helps to keep this fairly compelling, not to mention actually tying some concepts from that mystery into the show’s various themes: of follow-the-sheep mentality; of control; the “value” of our decisions. I understand that those might be tired concepts, but here, also, the show isn’t after fast answers. True, it shortcuts some deeper philosophizing by erring toward action when it can, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not something of a thinking-man’s action piece – Trigger vibes once more – also surely allowing one to tune off and just get into the slick animation and quality character / setting designs, if so desired.
The 24th Ward is undergoing a political upheaval in the process of greater acceptance into Tokyo proper: Gentrification of seasoned neighborhoods; the employment of technologies which are claimed to predict and prevent crimes; cleaning up of public art-pieces; and introduction of perhaps unneeded advances in architecture, and transportation. Shu, Ran, and Ko are three high school friends who, as mentioned, have now gone their separate ways, finding themselves at different points in the nexus of social events: Shu as the common man, Ran as an upstart, and Ko has joined the corporate world. Those phone calls bring them together, and eventually cause them to question their individual paths, as well as the future of their ward.
Surprisingly layered, appreciably short of fan service, and lots of fun.