Kokkoku is an ambitious failure. It fails to understand the limits of its budget and writing, taking on far more than it could possibly handle. Its story is idiotic and illogical, the art is ugly as sin, the characters are frustrating as hell, and its glacial pacing makes it one of the most boring 'thrillers' I have ever seen.
It juggles many intruiging ideas like stopping time, a dysfunctional family, psychic powers, and many more, but Kokkoku wastes them on mediocre execution.
The dysfunctional Yukawa family comprises the main characters; an unusual choice for the cast that piqued my interest. It would be an understatement to say they don’t get along with one another. They hit, yell at, and curse at each other. The main character and older sister in the family Juri is the most put together of them all. In the first episode, we’re introduced to Juri's NEET older brother Tsubasa, slob father Takafumi, her nephew Makoto, and wise grandfather. She’s usually the one who has to take care of things like picking Makoto up from school, making dinner, and taking care of the family while her sister goes to work. It's understandable why Juri's searching jobs to move out, but sadly she has yet to be accepted after many interviews. Her living situation is well detailed early on and gave me enough to want to see her family grow and change, hopefully becoming tolerable enough for her to happily live with them.
What better of a catalyst to kick off all of their character arcs than a kidnapping? An unbelievable tragedy that happens to two of the family members, but I was intrigued how Kokkoku would answer why this would happen to such a mundane family. Little did I know, there wouldn’t be any logical answers for the many questions that are continuously piled on top of one another all the way into the final episode. After the two are kidnapped, the family receives an impossible ransom request and are unable to ask the police for help.
Knowing they would have to take matters into their own hands, Juri’s grandfather reveals his magical time freezing rock, hoping that they can use it save their family members. The rock gets only one partial explanation at the end that handwaves away any need for logic and chalks it up to ’it just works that way’. This is only the first of many gripes I have with the woefully underdeveloped sci-fi setting and spotty world logic that plagues Kokkoku at every turn.
Juri, her father, and grandfather enter the frozen time world of Stasis. Once entering, the three of them find it won’t be as easy as they thought to retrieve their stolen family. They would go on to fight against the evil criminal group responsible for the kidnapping who also somehow accessed stasis and entered it at the very same moment as the Yukawa’s… Um… What? How? These plot issues crop up everywhere while watching Kokkoku, and the show doesn’t even acknowledge them.
Repeatedly it bends our suspension of disbelief, with no care if it breaks or not. The ridiculous setup at least quickly introduces us to the leader of the group and cruel antagonist Sagawa. Coincidentally, the criminal group is looking for the magical time freezing rock so they can use it to commit crimes and what-not.
Stasis is a very intriguing idea that thankfully does get some moral exploration, but from a logical perspective, Kokkoku rarely makes an effort to be more than nonsensical. When a story wants to be mature and realistic it cannot have such glaring plot issues. It's so difficult to be immersed in this anime when the story is so unbelievable, no matter how maturely it presents itself.
In spite of this, the show offers up some intruiging moral implications. The grandfather states how this world can lead to people losing all sense of morality while they know there isn’t any consequence. It’s a thought-provoking moral quandary to put forward right away; what would you do if you had this power? Adding to the moral intrigue are the giant tree-like monsters known as Heralds. These frightening creatures enforce the rules of Stasis by brutally killing anyone who dares to break them, namely no killing allowed.
Sadly we don't get much more in terms of moral intrigue until the end, instead, the show tries to distract us with a shallow but occasionally entertaining mystery.
Plagued with horribly inconsistent pacing, the mystery story becomes nearly impossible to get engaged with. Most of the show takes place in Stasis, spent following the Yukawa family as they plan what there next move will be to save their family and escape. I'm not saying I dislike thrillers with a strategic side to them, but here it feels like Kokkoku is stalling for time. Even the backstories and explanation conversations that fill up much of the screentime have barely any relevance to the story in the long run.
Frequently we're forced to watch the characters discuss random backstories, shallow world explanations, and pointless strategy discussions; all of this presented as crucial information. After watching all twelve episodes I can tell you with certainty, those scenes are just filler. Almost nothing that happens in Kokkoku actually matters, it is just a collection of speed bumps only existing to stall for time. Trying it’s best to distract you from how poorly written the story and characters are.
As a mystery, it’s moderately successful at keeping you guessing, but sadly it’s deeply flawed story isn’t good enough to justify the many cliffhangers we’re left with. Let alone provide us with even a single satisfying payoff. Hell, the word satisfying would only come to my mind in one scene of the show. The final shot episode twelve ends with is technically satisfying, but at that moment the show also reached its peak in disappointment because instead of giving us even one answer for any of its intriguing twist it simply ends. That’s it. Kokkoku spits in its audience’s face and says ’you got what you came for, now leave’.
Maybe if the characters were better I could have gone a little bit easier on the terrible story. The idea of a dysfunctional family being forced to put aside their differences in the face of grave danger is cool, it was easy to connect with their arguments. But my problem is that there is nothing to them beyond those frustrating fights and annoying personalities.
Juri is likable in how strong-willed she is, but there’s really nothing else to her than a strong-willed woman who wants to protect her family. She's a likable character for these traits but lacked the characterization beyond surface level information. The rest of them are just annoying. Makoto nags about wanting things because ‘he’s a kid and doesn’t know what’s going on’ only existing as a plot device to be kidnapped and add stakes (which works but is a cheap trick). Takafumi stays a stupid slob for the entire show, never changing, only adding frustration. At least Tsubasa's character had major growth thanks to the low point in life he started on, sadly we don’t see much of him in the show diminishing the impact of his arc. And the grandfather’s only purpose is to be the wise old guy, is a lame excuse to get some random family involved in Stasis.
We occasionally see the characters tested by the events that occur throughout the show, but that often felt like the writer shifting them around to keep the plot moving when considering how little (if at all) they change. They start as a dysfunctional family and for all, we know they still are one after the show ends.
There is one definitive change made to some of the Yukawa family members throughout the show, some of them get psychic powers while in Stasis. As if pulled out of thin air, for unexplained reasons certain characters have abilities like teleportation and sending people out of Stasis. These powers seem like little more than plot contrivances added so the Yukawa's can get out of dangerous run-ins with the crime group.
The menacing villain at first made up for the family's overall annoyances; that is until he got a development episode which just boils his mysterious presence down to a pretty pointless and irrelevant explanation. I really couldn't figure out what the point was to him getting an extensive backstory when all it did was take was extinguish his intimidation and replace it with an interesting but ultimately irrelevant story. His story is meant to explain why he’s so evil and wants to kill people, but it feels like they forgot that important part of his character because it is in no way referred to in his story. You’re really going to tell me he just started killing because his childhood was a little different than everyone else’s? Why not Kokkoku, it’s not like I believed anything you were selling me this far into your shitshow of a story anyways. The issues don’t end here with the characters, both art and sound have their own problems too.
The newly founded Geno Studio gets off to a rough start with Kokkoku; which is worrying considering they’re at the helm of the much anticipated Golden Kamuy adaptation. Environments are made of dull colors and lack much personality. They were likely aiming to create a believable world, and they did, but the issue is how unappealing it is to look at. Perhaps if there were details added to the environment (ie: visual symbolism) it wouldn't feel tiresome to look at the thing.
Characters look decent but in the later episodes, they frequently look off model. At its worst we see them warped with just plain ugly looking faces. These flaws are so surprising in a show that does not require much animation, it takes place in a frozen world and most of the screen time is dedicated to conversations explaining what’s going on and planning what to do next. It’s hard to take a character seriously when their face looks like a potato.
Most of the voice acting is suitably grating on the ears to fit the annoying characters. Juri is well voiced thankfully, a decent reprieve from the others. The opening song Flashback is fun, frantic, and wild. The song is unlike any this season, one of the best. The op’s visuals of it are great too, even changing slightly with the show's progression.
The ed is trash. It’s full of fanservice of the two lead female characters (the only female characters in the show) which doesn’t send a good message. Any tension from the cliffhangers is totally drained by this tone-deaf ed. I’m not sure if Geno Studio had a fanservice quota to meet (because the show is thankfully devoid of it) or if this was some misguided creative decision, but it does not fit this anime.
[Story: 3/10] Poorly paced, illogical, unbelievable.
[Character: 4/10] Unlikable, uninteresting, little to no development.
[Art: 4/10] Passable at best, ugly at worst.
[Sound: 5.5/10] Great op, mediocre sound effects, weak voice work.
[Enjoyment: 5/10] Glacial pacing hampers excitement.
Kokkoku has lots of ideas, but it has no clue what to do with them. You’d expect it to make something of all of its pieces, but then it just ends. A collection of intriguing but mediocre parts doesn’t culminate into a good whole. It’s as boring and mediocre as it could possibly be. Just skip it and listen to the op instead.