What’s it about? Three young men—hacktivist Ran, straight-laced Koki, and aimless drifter Shuta—meet up a year after graduation at a memorial for the disaster that killed their friend Asumi and tore their friendship apart. That day, they receive a phone call from someone who sounds just like and claims to be Asumi, and who grants them superpowers to solve a seemingly impossible problem.
How well you get on with Tokyo 24th Ward will likely depend on your reaction to the following information: halfway through this double-length premiere, the three main characters receive a phone call that proposes to them, verbatim, the trolley problem. Then the camera zooms up an extremely detailed shot of their noses and gives them super powers that allow them to avert the choice and save both. This episode lost and won my trust probably about six times in the course of 48-minutes, and I’m still not sure what to think of it beyond a general “alright, I’m listening.”
In truth, this series was always going to have my attention from the moment I noticed its series composer credit. Shimokura Vio is probably best known as the writer of the Steins; Gate visual novel; but I’m more familiar, albeit secondhand, with his sophomore work YOU and ME and HER: A Love Story (nee “ToToNo”)—a 2013 eroge that played with a lot of meta/horror dating sim writing that Doki Doki Literature Club would later become famous for. I was desperate to know what that kind of writer would bring to an original anime. Maybe not something good, but inevitably something interesting.
So far what I can say is that this premiere definitely has Thoughts™. More precisely, it seems eager to be a thought experiment, and goes absolutely ham on fillings its premiere with liminal spaces. The protagonists are new graduates looking for a life path and a moral philosophy; the hacking elements lean heavily on augmented reality, while the supposed Asumi lingers between living and dead both on the phone and in Shuta’s memory. The setting itself is in one big transition: Tokyo 24th Ward is a special island originally controlled by Allied forces that was turned back over to Japan 20 years ago; it became known as an “infamous red-light district,” and is now on the verge of being incorporated into Tokyo proper.
That transition makes it a political hotspot, and the mayor (who’s also Koki and Asumi’s father) is busy trying to repair the city’s image by setting up a Special Administration Region Guard whose goal is nominally to monitor and respond instantly to accidents and crimes but in practice spends a lot of time harassing the Ward’s marginalized populations. It was around this time that I wondered about Shimokura’s feelings on his fellow Nitroplus alum Urobuchi Gen, because parts of this premiere feel like nothing so much as a backwards swandive into Hell with both middle fingers raised toward Psycho-Pass.
That’s quite a called shot to make, but as someone for whom Urobuchi’s non-Madoka work has never really clicked, I confess to getting a little kick out of 24th Ward’s bold commitment to name-dropping an overused philosophical litmus test and then kicking it in the face. That’s not to say I’m confident that this is going to be the next Akudama Drive. There’s a slight “both sides”-ness to the setup at play here, with indecisive Shuta bookended by his two friends representing anarchic reform and a police state like this is a Shin Megami Tensei game. Combined with a scene where Ran’s protester friends shake their heads and remark that “violence will only backfire on you” as if violent protest isn’t often one of the only recourses left to activists when their other efforts go ignored. Still, it’s making an effort from the get-go to grapple with difficult subjects in its cyberpunk, and I’m willing to see where it’s going.
Production-wise things are considerably more uncertain. This first episode looks fine but it’s not particularly a stunner, and it leans heavily on visual novel-style cut-ins of the characters to fill in for dynamic movement so that it can save its big guns for the train finale. It shakes out fine, but the rumblings about production woes even before the premiere make me wonder how long that can hold. The show already opens with camera footage of a very awkward CGI child running out in front of a car and hitting it with what could definitely be called a “BONK” had there been any sound. If it ends up leaning into that more this could be a veeeeery different experience by the end. Beyond that there are one or two mildly fanservicey outfits, and Shuta’s mom somehow looks almost indistinguishable from his former classmate, but the main consideration here is whether you’re ready to strap in for another ambitious bit of spec-fic that might go flying off the rails after all.