Director: Takashi Watanabe
Writer: Shinjiro (Author), Mayori Sekijima (Screenwriter)
Starring: Makoto Furukawa (Seigi) and Mikako Komatsu (Izzy)
Distributor: TV Tokyo
Genre: Seinen, Action, Supernatural, Ecchi
Justice “Seigi” Akatsuka believes in, well, justice. Because of this, Seigi often goes out of his way to help others who are oppressed or in trouble. One day, he saves a homeless man from some thugs, and, in return, is granted a strange mark on the back of his hand, which he later comes to know as a Tattoo (yes, proper noun). With this new Tattoo and its supernatural abilities in tow, Seigi is forced into a war he didn’t want to partake in–a sort of arms-race between the United States and the Kingdom of Selinistan–to see who can collect the most Tattoos and shift the balance of power.
My opinion of Taboo Tattoo started on a relatively high-note and progressively bled out all positivity with each consecutive episode. There is not yet a dubbed version of the series, and I have not read the manga.
Taboo Tattoo began as a relatively successful manga published by Media Factory and Yen Press in 2009, which was greenlit for an anime adaptation to run in 2016. There are twelve episodes.
Spiritual Content: The main antagonist wishes to establish herself as a godhead in a world that her subordinate describes as “currently lacking a god.” The Tattoos–the power curriculum of this series–are all linked to individual supernatural spirits, known simply as Sources. Sources typically manifest as faint images behind their human counterparts during battle, with rare instances of physical materialization into the real world.
Violence: Intense violence. Founts of blood spew and spurt from most wounds. Characters are impaled by weapons, jagged rocks, and even hands. Characters are burned or blown to pieces by fire and explosives, with even more deaths being attributed to blades or razor-strings, cutting characters to ribbons. At least one character is decapitated. Several characters lose limbs, which are left as bloody stumps. Guns and consequential gunshot wounds are commonplace, with some characters being killed “execution-style” to the back of the head. One character is crushed to death (or deleted? The details are tricky) by the protagonist’s ability. Another girl is eaten alive by a feline monster. In short, a lot of people die, and most of the deaths are horrific.
Language/Crude Humor: Just about everything in the book. “S**t,” “da**it,” “f**k,” “b***h,” “b*****d,” and “a**hole,” are commonplace, each occurring more than ten times. Sexually derogatory language is used as well, including “wh**e,” “d**k,” and “p**sy.” While the specifics are bound to change based on your specific translation, you can safely assume any version of Taboo Tattoo you find is going to be swimming in profanities.
Sexual Content: Oh boy, where do I start? There are no less than ten scenes where a female’s chest is groped, either playfully or as a form of manipulation and dominance. Multiple female characters have voyeuristic busts, with a supreme lack of clothing over their chests. One character wears a shirt-bra-thing which literally looks as though it should fall off any second and reveals more cleavage than it hides. A beach scene shows many frontal shots of rear aspects and chests in scandalous clothing, including one character who only has what seems to be a rope covering her nipples and nothing else. Similarly, there are several scenes where the main antagonist (and her clones) are stark nude, and covered only marginally by their long hair or particularly positioned legs.
Sexual jokes are made frequently, especially by two of the antagonists. One of said antagonists is a proud, self-declared, violent pervert whose weapon of choice is a whip. He pulls his crotch, makes innuendos about male and female genitalia, references bondage and torture, and finds sexual gratification in hurting women. The second antagonist is somehow worse, having no discernable limits to her promiscuity. The antagonist in question does the majority of the aforementioned groping, kisses characters at random, is implied to pleasure and have sex with a mentally-unstable dependent child in her care, touches herself, and generally makes every single scene tie back to sex in some way.
One female character throws herself on top of the sleeping protagonist while thinking, verbatim: “It is to a woman’s shame not to take advantage of a man who is so openly offering himself!” (Said female character is supposed to be the protagonist’s best friend, by the way.) Another character rifles through the protagonist’s belongings, looking for pornography. Porn magazines are nonchalantly offered to another character. One female enemy has her Tattoo just above, and leading down to, her genitalia. Another character only covers her chest with gauze. That same character goes red when accused of wanting to have sex with another character.
There’s… a lot on this subject. I believe I covered everything, but assume I missed something or other. There’s too much sexual content for me to believe that I reliably marked down all instances in the season. There was something to mention in almost every scene.
Drug/Alcohol Use: A side character smokes cigarettes. Near the end of the season, the main character takes supplementary pills meant to boost his endurance. Several characters are shown drinking alcohol at various points.
Other Negative Themes: Characters spying on one another is common from the beginning of the series. One character looks through the protagonist’s belongings without permission. There’s a theme of vengeance, rather than forgiveness or mercy, towards the end of the season. One character turns into a monstrous cat, which then eats another human before turning back to normal… That counts as cannibalism, right?
Positive Content: Taboo Tattoo goes back and forth on how to define justice and what makes it important. Characters willingly run into danger to protect those they care about. One of the antagonists show benevolence and innocence by nursing an abandoned cat to health.
Taboo Tattoo has a pretty solid start. I watched the first three episodes and, for the most part, managed to enjoy them. Initially, the show was too cliché and imbalanced in its pacing to really impress me, but I had hopes it would germinate into something worthwhile. That hope changed in a hurry.
Let’s overlook a couple of the obvious flaws–in particular, the author’s naming scheme. The main character, who is literally named “Justice,” has the defining feature of being an outspoken proponent of moral justice. The alliteration in the title reeks of somebody who thought they were being clever, Izzy’s real name is “Bluesy Fruesy,” and the character nicknamed “Shrodinger’s Cat” has an obsession with cats, acts like a cat, and can turn into a cat. It’s all quite heavy-handed and can be forgiven in light of the many other, better reasons we have to not enjoy this series.
The plot is simple enough, except for when it’s a steaming pile of convoluted half-exposition. Many mechanics of world affairs and the Tattoo magic-system are explained, but not very well. We get just enough exposition to feel like we’re being burdened with more than we need, but not enough to fully understand any of it. I left each episode with questions, and when some of those questions got answers, the concurrent answers were almost always unsatisfactory. For example, we learn early on that Izzy is much older than she looks… There you go; that’s all you get. Have fun figuring out why. Influence of her Tattoo? Probably, but we never know for sure.
The universal ignorance to the conflict of the war over the Tattoos is unbelievable at best and shameful at worst. It seems nobody outside the US and the Kingdom of Selinistan (or just the “Kingdom”) is aware that Tattoos exist or why they are important. Taboo Tattoo clearly takes place on Earth, but we have no idea where this “Kingdom” is on the globe, nor do we have any explanation as to why so few third parties are vying for the Tattoos. Sure, the existence of the Tattoos is being kept a secret, but when entire militaries know of them, I have a hard time believing somebody’s not going to go public with that information eventually, especially not in an internet-age setting. Plus, the Kingdom’s throne is usurped in a violent upheaval from within the family, with multiple heirs being taken out. This is treated as having nearly zero repercussions on a world-wide scale, and is simply accepted as the new norm. Now, not every story is politically-oriented, and I understand as much. But one or two sentences at least acknowledging that the world cares about this shift of power would be appreciated, even if no action is taken on the matter.
Moving on to characters. I’ve had communion wafers with more flavor and substance than the majority of the cast in Taboo Tattoo. Every single character can be easily shuffled into one or two character traits which define their entire personality. Many of those traits are classic archetypes. The awkward, love-confused female friend. The stoic, all-black, shades-wearing super-agent. The sexual sadist. The confused and easily-manipulated little girl. The morally-absent villain who wants to kill everyone just… because. Wait, I thought it was because she wanted to become a god? Wasn’t that the antagonist’s goal? Now she wants to kill everyone… to become a god, I guess?
Taboo Tattoo is a series which cares little for character development. Evil characters are evil for the sake of it. Good guys try to walk an edgy line of moral greyness for sake of conflict, but end up falling flat. Some characters are introduced as set pieces to force the story along, and then are promptly offed when they’ve fulfilled their role. Blood is most guilty of that last part. Yes, Blood. That’s a first name. When characters do change, it’s in an immediate one-eighty running against their established character, such as when the battle-hardened Izzy suddenly breaks down in tears with minimal prompting at the mere sight of Blood and runs to his back. We are not given enough buy-in to care about this moment. We know nothing about either of these characters, yet we’re expected to be moved at this scene? No.
However, more infuriating than any of this is how characters seem to act in spite of logic and proper pacing. They are written to do things almost as if the author is conscious that his story is boring, so he shoves them from one intense fight into the next and is willing to sacrifice emotional investment and calculated responses to reach that end. So many times I found myself muttering, “There was no reason for you to do this,” which has basically become my message to the author of this series.
I can’t decide which is worse in Taboo Tattoo–the bombardment of sexual promiscuity, or the dialogue. The dialogue is so stiff that it might have actually caused me physical pain once or twice. The humor is either derogatory or jarringly sudden. Either way, it tends to be fairly tasteless. The emotional scenes are so wishy-washy, I would have been embarrassed if one of my roommates had walked in during any of the intended-to-be-sad parts. The fights are plugged full of every staple phrase you can imagine–everything from “I’ll never forgive you!” to “Impossible! How could I be defeated?!”
The sound effects are alright with the exception of Seigi’s “Void Maker” ability, which is muted and grumbly, like a broken bass stereo trying to play a song with lower register notes.
The soundtrack is hit-or-miss. Some tracks work, others don’t. The tracks themselves are pretty good. They just lack a theme or mark to differentiate them from other soundtracks. Decent, but generic.
The voice acting is good throughout, and is one of the anime’s only saving graces. Even for the more eccentric characters, the voices come out strong and manage to capture each individual personality. If the dialogue ever sounded bad, it was more a fault of the script than the actors. There is no present dub available to watch or critique.
I was deceived by the animation. The first fight in the show is the best one. There’s a sense of lighting, dynamic motion, and impact in the skirmish between Seigi and Izzy which is absent from the rest of the anime. I suspect much of the budget went into this fight (and the few short ones which follow) to act as a hook for viewers. By the end of the show, the developers rely on computer-animated graphics more than anything resembling hand-drawn animation. Half of the final battle consists of two CGI monsters fighting, each of them of only marginally better quality than what you could find in 1996’s Beast Wars: Transformers anime. Some effects look like they could have been pulled straight from the pages of a Windows 98 screensaver.
It took me four months to finish this twelve-episode anime, because I had to go through so many mental hurdles just to prepare to sit down and review it. So, in the end, I cannot suggest anybody give this anime a try. Maybe it gets better? I know the manga has been going for several years and is still serialized, so there must be some sort of appeal.
However, I cannot find it. As a critic and storyteller, I refuse to recognize Taboo Tattoo as quality media, and as a responsible member of our Christian community, I cannot recommend it based on all of the content concerns. Taboo Tattoo, as it stands, is better off avoided altogether.
The Bottom Line