Deep in the earth, beneath the bustling streets of Tokyo, there is a hidden world. Created by a corporate entity known only as "Company", the vast labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, and laboratories was used for the express purpose of studying a hidden power within some humans that allowed them to control the very elemental and physical forces that make up life as we know it. However, they dug too deeply into their research and unleashed a power that they were unable to control. Afraid of their creation, they sealed it away and closed off the entrances to their secret subterranean cities, trapping their former employees and test subjects below.
A generation later, in the Tokyo Underground, a new power user, named Ruri, has appeared. Called the "Maiden of Life", she can control the very essence of life itself, and the vengeful leaders of the Underground see her as a chance to awaken the Company's feared creation and take revenge on the surface dwellers who abandoned them.
The bodyguard of the Maiden of Life, Chelsea Rorec, a power user who can control gravity, discovers the dark designs of her superiors and decides to flee with Ruri. They manage to escape above ground where they meet a boy named Rumina and his friend Ginnosuke. When the Company tries to recapture them, Rumina displays a hidden power, the ability to control wind. People from the Underground have never encountered this ability before, since no winds blow there. The Maiden is recaptured and Chelsea, Rumina, and Ginnosuke set out to save her. But how does Rumina possess powers thought only to be native to those from the Underground? What is this dark power that the remnants of the Company are trying to unleash? Will they make it in time to save Ruri?
Original in concept, beautiful in design, but lacking in technical execution, Tokyo Underground is a show that, while entertaining, could have been so much better.
The entire underground city theme has been done before (i.e. Evangelion), but it is given a fresh face in this show that makes it seem more real, rather than fantasy. Long dark tunnels with prefab walls, artificial lighting on rails, and a dark sky of metal replace the fanciful geofronts of other anime. The Underground is exactly that. The character designs are well done and very faithful to the original manga, and all the inking seems to have been done with computers, like many of the newer shows, lending Tokyo Underground a smooth and stylish look.
But then Studio Pierrot, in typical mass-market fashion, drops the ball a bit. The single major flaw in the execution of this otherwise interesting anime is, well...its almost total lack of animation. Not since Star Ocean EX (yet another Pierrot release) have I seen the "still shots and pans" style of anime taken to such an extreme. It's a shame really, since the otherwise wonderful character concepts would really be something if they actually moved more than five frames an episode.
All right, so perhaps that's a bit exaggerated, but honestly, close-ups with fuzzy digital filters are no replacement for well-animated facial expressions, and black screens with flashes of light do not constitute good sword fighting scenes. For a show based on such an action-packed manga, it is distinctly lacking in motion. It also suffers in a minor way from what I call Kenshin Syndrome, where the heroes and villains feel compelled to offer up lengthy explanations on life, the universe and this week’s special attacks while in the middle of a big fight scene. Sometimes I found myself shouting at the screen: "Just punch him already!" Sheesh.
Still, it's not entirely bad, and some of the scenes are genuinely funny or exciting, but so much of it drags, that what could have been fast-paced and interesting, becomes tedious in some episodes. I lay the fault for this at the feet of Studio Pierrot, who has a long history of anime releases of varying quality (including the exceptional Kimagure Orange Road and Hikaru no Go), but is primarily focused on merchandising and commercial sales.
Tokyo Underground will never be a classic, but it's a fun ride for what it's worth. The premise alone wins points for originality, and the characters are fun if slightly dumbed down for a younger target audience. The opening and ending music is also excellent. I would recommend this as a good starter action series for newer fans, or younger viewers, but more well-versed fans may be slightly disappointed, especially if they have read the manga.
Recommended Audience: The target audience for this show was primarily preteen to teenage boys but it holds little that is objectional for youger children of either gender aside from the fighting, which is toned down and bloodless.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Tokyo Underground © 2002 Uraku Akinobu / Enix / TV Tokyo / Dentsu / Pierrot
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