Rinka Urushiba is a poor high school girl whose only family is her father, Rindo, who has taught her self-defense. She works after school to help pay bills and put food on the table and she isn't ashamed to take advantage of anything to improve their situation. One day she sees a school of flying, glowing fish in the sky and a penguin flying through the sky after them. Rinka thinks these are hallucinations until someone else says they see them, too. One of the glowing fish flies into Rinka's body and she passes out. When Rinka awakes, she finds herself with white hair and the ability to phase through inanimate objects. Rinka meets another high school student named Kyotaro Azuma who has the power to teleport anywhere he can visualize. Both Rinka and Kyotaro are now beings called espers, people, or animals, that have come into contact with the glowing fish and gained super powers. Kyotaro convinces Rinka to become heroes together to fight the espers who are abusing their powers to do evil things. Is Tokyo ESP something extraordinary, or is it just a big headache?
George Lucas Gonna Sue Somebody
Far and away the best thing Tokyo ESP has going for it is how it brings in various pieces of Western pop culture as different characters either directly or by how it has a clear influence on the creation of a character. For direct references, we have things spanning from the Ghostbusters up above, to Steven Seagal, to the diminutive sagely master wearing a panda costume being Yoda in disguise (though this isn't in the series itself, I only found out when looking up pictures from the series), to Leonidas from 300 as a yakuza boss. to even, for some damned reason, John Travolta's character in From Paris with Love. As for indirect references, Rindo is basically a cross between Wolverine and Magneto who can go Super Saiyan (not even joking, visually he is Wolverine (he even at one point wields three attack batons in one hand just like Wolverine's famous claws), his esper power is magnetism, and when he uses his esper power, his hair turns golden blonde). Minami Azuma (the girl in the header GIF) wears a red and blue attire, can teleport, and wields swords. And there's a "professor" who leads a group of discriminated against people with super powers who has strong psychic powers himself.
Admittedly, there's no way of getting around it, nearly every one of the espers are basically knockoffs of characters in the X-Men series. Professor Xavier, Wolverine, Magneto, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, Juggernaut, Pyro, and Storm are all present and accounted for, at least in terms of powers and/or similar appearances. They even gave the Juggernaut knockoff a red suit and the Pyro knockoff external flame sources for crying out loud. They don't even stop at the X-Men when it comes to using Marvel characters. There's even a scarlet-haired woman in a skintight black catsuit whose specialty is stealth. She's Black Widow, only with powers. And these are just the examples off the top of my head. There are many, many more in the series.
Creative Uses of Mundane Powers
Not everyone gets super awesome powers, yet all of the good espers get involved in the fighting in this series. So they have to do some creative things to give them a fighting chance. One example of this is the daughter of Yakuza Leonidas has the power of psychometry. Basically all this means is she can see the memories stored in objects. Depending on the object, though, she can actually become a bit of a badass. She's able to throw her dad's prized baseball from his school days with the strength and accuracy of an elite pitcher. And when she is holding Bruce Lee's famous nunchuks, she goes HAM.
The First Episode Ruins the Series
Let me get this out of the way first, the very first episode of the series is far and away the best episode in the show. Nay, it isn't just the best episode of the show, in my opinion it is the only good episode in the show. And this is a problem, because I was hooked because of this one episode alone. But there are many reasons why the first episode ruined this show, so I'm going to break it down over the next few talking points.
The Beginning is the End, the End is the Beginning
The very first episode of the show is actually, chronologically speaking, one of the last three episodes. It actually takes place at the same time as episode 11, and it actually is an even better episode if you watch it in chronological order, because it makes references to events from the previous episodes. However, because episode 1 takes place near the end of the series...
Episodes 2 Through 10 Are Spoiled and Left Tensionless
Yes, a whopping nine episodes are pretty much made pointless from a viewing standpoint because thanks to episode 1, you know how things work out. For example there is a character who is an early antagonist for our heroes, but that character is one of the good guys in episode 1, so their face turn is decreased in impact. In turn this made episodes 2 through 10 extremely boring as I was just waiting for them to finally get up to the events of episode 1. The many action scenes in this stretch of episodes could have made it bearable if not actually entertaining, but...
They Blew Their Budget
Episode 1 looks amazing, animation wise. Sweeping, dynamic fight scenes, incredible shadows, lots of little details, it looked like a true modern day HD anime. And none of the other episodes looked that good. The rest of the episodes look decidedly cheaper and this show lacks a charming stylized look that could save it like shows like Sabagebu! or Log Horizon have. The amazing shadows of the first episode flat out disappear. There are often times where there aren't even any shadows at all beyond the most bare minimum shading used. All the nice little details go away, too, leaving us with a drab, flat looking show. What about the sweeping, dynamic fight scenes? Oh, those suffered the most...
Fight Scenes Become Dynamic Slideshows
I'm not even remotely kidding. The overwhelming majority of the fight scenes after the first episode are literally still images with dynamic action line effects thrown on top of them to make them look like they are in motion. I've bagged on some shows in the past for having a single fight scene look like a slideshow. This is just downright unacceptable and is something I am highly disappointed came from a studio with the kind of legacy that Xebec has.
Cheap Cameo Bait
If you don't know, that girl is one of the main characters from the significantly better anime series, Ga-Rei: Zero. She appears at the start of episode 1 in a pretty lengthy cameo featuring the other main character as well. This cameo scene wasn't in the original manga, despite both Tokyo ESP and Ga-Rei being from the same mangaka. It is rather clear this cameo was put in to try and get the attention of Ga-Rei fans, made more obvious when you consider literally every other cameo has had at least some effect on the series. The duo just shows up, talks to themselves, and walks into the cold Tokyo night. I kind of find it a dick move trying to lure fans of a much stronger show into watching a weak show by associating the characters they love with the weaker show.
They Don't Explain Most of the Powers
Normally I am ok with them just letting the audience figure out the limits of the characters' powers through observation. But Tokyo ESP has so many characters doing new things with their powers at the drop of a dime that explanation is pretty much required. For example, the Professor temporarily froze some characters, but only in their mind, via his psychic powers, but they don't explain that in this show, I had to read that from a manga reader explaining the scene. In the show it just looked like he suddenly gained ice powers. Then there is Rindo, who for the majority of the show he only attracted metallic objects to him, but then he suddenly is able to attract dirt to himself. I had to yet again get a manga reader to explain to me that his power isn't magnetism, he can attract anything to himself, but only to himself. But again, due to poor explanation, it seemed like he could only attract metal. Speaking of poor explanation...
WHO THE HELL IS THAT?!
That, ladies and gents, is an esper.....angel.....goddess......thing. Get ready to be surprised...I don't know what exactly to call her, because the show flat out doesn't explain anything about her beyond her name. I guess she's some big deal, though, cause the Professor makes a big deal out of the arrival of her and her male counterpart. Hey, speaking of the Professor...
(The following talking point contains spoilers, if you don't want to be spoiled, head to the next talking point)
The Professor's Plan Makes No Sense
The Professor's grand plan throughout the entire series ends up being to go to the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree and release a massive swarm of the glowing fish into the Tokyo area, creating a bunch of new espers. Ok, cool. Except a few problems with that. First, why didn't he just do that from the very freaking beginning? His daughter and adopted son both have teleportation powers for crying out loud. He easily could have made one of them poof him to the top of the Sky Tree and release the fish from the very beginning. Unless his goal was to summon the esper deity things. Which if that was the case, it most definitely needed to be explained.
Second, if his goal was to create utter chaos by having an army of evil espers, well logically speaking, that would backfire on him, because he'd ultimately end up creating even more good espers than evil ones. Humans, despite what we may like to think, are overall good by nature. Look at what happens when a major natural disaster strikes. Yes there are the asshats that will loot stores and homes, in this case they'd be the kind of people to join the Professor's army, but they are a small sliver compared to the amount of people who are actually helping others and going out of their way to do good things.
The End of the Prologue
I don't know if it really is the end of a prologue, but damn it, it sure feels like it. The ending of the series, specifically episodes 1, 11, and 12, feels like the beginning of the real series and everything else is just the pointless origin stories to everyone involved. Basically, to me it feels like the show ended before it got to the good part.
For all the flaws I can list for Tokyo ESP, of which there is a laundry list of them, the biggest, most egregious flaw of them all is that Tokyo ESP is boring. I may have said in the past that shows like Blade & Soul or Aldnoah.Zero are bad shows not worth your time, but in those cases I was speaking in terms of top to bottom quality. I was judging the quality of their writing and aesthetics. And even then I still found some things they did right or at least partially right. Things that still give them some merit worth watching. So while I may have said they won't worth your time, I meant, "They aren't worth your time, but if you do give them your time, there are still some things worth seeing, despite their many flaws." They were flawed from an artistic standpoint, but not from an entertainment standpoint. Whether or not something is artistically good or bad, as long as it isn't boring, it has some value. But that is Tokyo ESP's biggest failing. It is flat out boring, and because it is boring, it fails as a piece of entertainment. This time I am being dead serious, do not waste your time on Tokyo ESP. It isn't worth your time and it does nothing to deserve your time. It has neither artistic nor entertainment value. Far and away Tokyo ESP is the worst anime I have seen to completion this year. And god damn do I wish I hadn't...
If for some reason you still want to see Tokyo ESP, you can watch it on the Hulu and FUNimation streaming services. Tokyo ESP is based on a manga by Hajime Segawa currently running in Kadokawa Shoten's Shonen Ace magazine.