Watching the last two episodes of Tokyo ESP earlier, I started to think about all of the similarities this show shares with known comic book and television properties focusing on humans with superpowers. While it isn’t a new concept to anime, having done probably hundreds of shows over the past three decades or more, superpowered humans tends to stick within the confines of comic books and video games in the US. Marvel and DC have almost everything you want locked up in print, television, movies, and games. They all almost work along similar storylines. Humans gain powers, humans realize they have to co-exist with normal humans, and normal humans fear what they do not understand and attack them. Racial undertones permeate the subject matter so much so that one could imply that it is a vehicle for pushing a social agenda to the viewer.
Ignoring the boring stuff though, a few weeks back I mentioned how much I saw X-MEN in this show, with Kyoutarou being Charles Xavier and The Professor taking up Magneto’s helm, nearly literally. Their powers do not reflect the same, but their ideologies tend to match, one wants a world of peaceful co-existence where espers can contribute, and the other wants humans gone and espers to assert their hold over the world. Simple enough, divide the lines, the heroes from the baddies.
Yet I started to find another show’s element creeping in, and that was of NBC’s old HEROES show from 2006. I’m sure a few of you cringed, and I don’t blame you. Heroes was a show that started off well enough in a way of giving Marvel’s prowess a run for its money, with a diverse cast and good premise, only to be ruined by terrible twists and thin plots in later seasons.
Heroes was a show that worked extremely well in the first season because it takes a Plain Jane character and gives them the opportunity to become a Mary Sue in their own world. Every kid dreams of having powers or being able to do things others cannot, but resign to the reality that such a thing will never happen. In this world, it does happen and naturally the character affected has to spend time figuring out how it works, and what to do with it. Unlike most comic book stories, which start out after the character knows their powers and is already in control of them, Heroes says “Here are some people, they just learned they got powers, now what?” and leaves the plot open. Do they use them? Do they run home and hide? Do they go buy a case of beer and drink until they can’t remember? But then they dangle the plot. They need to do something. So now they have to learn how their powers work, and make the decision to either go and see what is happening, and maybe save the world, or pussy out.
Tokyo ESP takes roughly the same approach, and departs from previous esper fare like Railgun. Apart from the first episode, which is a prelude to events to come, the second through now episodes focus on the origins of their powers, and them learning them. For most, they realized they had powers, and then had to learn to control them. But when they realized that other espers were planning to use their for no good, several characters stepped up to assert their own brand of “justice” and use their power in such a way.
But this sort of monster-of-the-week plot wasn’t going to work for a half-season. So naturally ESP dips into X-MEN territory and pulls out the classic New World Order. After all, why co-exist with those awful plebs when you can live with your fellow frat brothers and soro sisters in The Land of Milk and Honey? The Professor decided that instead of becoming Jessie Jackson, he was going to become Adolf Hitler, because if you can’t join them, beat them. Certainly worked out well for ol’ Hitler I imagine.
So why does this all matter? Well it doesn’t really. I needed something to fill a post for this week to pretend I am still paying attention. But it calls to head what I like about ESP when it comes to its premise, and what places it above Railgun when comparing the world of espers. It’s all well and good to have a show about superpowers and humans, and Railgun does a great job with the various characters, but where it suffers greatly is exactly what happened to Heroes in its second and third seasons; Too many characters with too many plotlines that didn’t really gel together and when some did converge, they made a mess of things. ESP keeps it pretty tight around Rinka’s team of heroes versus The Professor, Minami, and assorted randos with powers. Peggy acts as the de-factor Syler here minus New Spock and the serial killer motif, collecting anyone’s power that he/she decides isn’t worthy. The powers themselves are also pretty simple, yet boast elaborate uses for some, such as Murasaki’s ability to see the past, but in weapons, imitate its operation and use them. Like most shows though, ESP stick with the mainstays of teleportation, invisibility, electro-magnetics, and super strength. That works for them, simple is never bad when you do it right.
Where I hope ESP does not fail though, is getting back to the plot that it opened with. We’ve obviously seen a lot of their comeuppance, and know fully their intent to stop The Professor and his attempts at destroying modern civilization, but we know not how they intend to do so. Certainly, some powers can defeat others easily, but it’s those who either use theirs cleverly, or possess other physical abilities that will form the TWISTS for this show, because certainly we know Rinka and can pass through things, but it’s her physical strength and martial arts that will work for her against say Minami and her teleportation and katanas. Seems like an impossible battle?
Me? I’m in for invisibility. How else are you supposed to walk in to the woman’s bath?