With the exception of the gaudy alliteration in its name, Taboo Tattoo is a series that starts off on the right foot. While there are a handful of content concerns which detract from the episode (as you’ll find in the content guide below), the overall quality and delivery of this pilot is superb. We are given a lot of information quickly, without feeling like the exposition truck has dumped a burden on us. Taboo Tattoo is gearing up to be a predominantly dark action series, with bursts of light-hearted humor for balance.
Our main character is one Akatsuka Seigi (last names first to keep with Japanese convention), a middle-school boy who does not act his age. This is perhaps due to the tutelage and constant thrashings of his grandfather, who doubles as his martial arts Sensei. At least Seigi goes out of his way to use his training for good when he helps dispel vandals and thugs who try to take advantage of others. However, one day he saves a man who returns the favor by giving Akatsuka a mysterious stone, which then assimilates into the palm of his hand, leaving an ominous tattoo behind.
Almost immediately afterward, Seigi is plunged into a fight with a woman we later come to know as Izzy, an American military elite and wielder of her own “Tattoo,” which, as she explains, makes her something known as a “Sealed.” Apparently America has developed these seals as a new technology to augment human ability and grant supernatural powers, but somebody has started selling them into Japan’s underground market, where the technology has naturally attracted the attention of the Yakuza. The rest of the episode involves Izzy explaining how Tattoos work, Akatsuka trying to actually register the information and apply it, and surviving an attack from a Sealed working with the LA Mafia.
My summation will not do justice to how well the narrative unfolds. With the exception of the scarce goofy moments and pretty much anything the character Touko does, Taboo Tattoo has strong scripting and scene transitions, instilling the audience with a good sense of who the characters are without feeling smothered by overt character quirks. Seigi himself is a hybrid of your “Everyman” and “Superman” tropes, being highly competent in some areas that don’t necessarily help him combat the daily grind and his rapidly developing exposure to this new military underworld. Seigi is a hyper-confident Chaotic Good like most Shonen characters, but not in the way of your big names like Naruto or Luffy. No, Seigi carries himself with a more jaded mentality, reckless like he doesn’t care if he ends up succeeding or accidentally dying along the way, as if the latter would be a relief.
As far as we know, the giant creature is simply representative of Izzy’s killing intent and prowess. It is not a material figure.
We are given a bare-bones backstory on Seigi’s father, who was apparently killed for being vaguely “too weak,” as described by Seigi’s grandfather. I don’t know if it’s an official trope, but this definitely falls into my own category of the “Shonen Dad Rule” which posits that most fathers of a Shonen protagonist are either awesome, dead, or both. This is one of my only upsets with the series so far, besides the name (I will try not to hark about this too much).
Izzy herself hasn’t been given much personal detail, save for her supreme competence in warfare and knowledge of the Tattoos. She is made a little more human by her partner, Tom, who calls her out on some of her impulsive and perhaps ill-considered decisions, such as spying on Seigi.
Time to call attention to the biggest selling point of the series so far: the action. Holy cow, the action sequences are beautiful. Optimizing on dynamic camera angles, streams of movement, and proper martial arts forms, the fight scenes are outstanding. Even when segments of them start to become unrealistic in regards to what the characters can do, it’s still conveyed in a way that doesn’t feel overwrought with flare. A smooth, slow-motion gimmick is used in ways you rarely see in anime, where instead of being abused and used as ten-second fodder to allow the main character a chance to speak their mind in the midst of combat, it slows down only for a moment to emphasize the power behind the next motion or attack.
Lastly, let’s talk about the opening cinematic. I have no opinion on the song yet, but, my goodness, do they load a ton of future developments into that sequence. There are tons of characters that haven’t yet been introduced, a lot of high-octane scenes, and layers of beautifully-rendered lighting to create an excellent opening piece.
Spiritual Content: There seems to be no material in Taboo Tattoo of distinctly spiritual nature, at least not right now. So far there’s been no mention of God or any other deity, and no religious or spiritual concepts like angels or karma. While it has not been explained (or given any real attention), there do seem to be shadowy figures that will briefly flash up behind the Sealed whenever they are in combat. This could suggest some form of spirit does exist within the series.
Violence: Judging by this first episode, I’m not expecting Berserk-levels of violence, but Taboo Tattoo is definitely not going to be playing nice. This series has already promised a lot of fighting in the future, all of it ambitiously animated down to the tattered detail. There’s a substantial amount of blood and visceral hand-to-hand combat, and one character is hit by an attack which is difficult to describe. The best I can say is that his chest implodes into a dark, tangled mess.
Language/Crude Humor: Multiple uses of the word “d***,” and God’s name is used in vain at least once.
Sexual Content: We have at least one obligatory, busty, middle-school girl, and another character in a short skirt. The behavior is not sexual, but in terms of character attire, there’s plenty of fan-service to go around, especially considering some of the yet-to-be-introduced characters from the opening cinematic, one of whom appears to only wear a sports bra and skin-tight running shorts.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Themes: We have a cell of characters spying on the protagonist, going so far as to bug his personal affects. The nature of the story also centers around the agendas of powerful crime syndicates such as the Yakuza and LA Mafia.
Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'
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