By Shelley Pallis.
What if you could stop the world? What if you had the ability to freeze time for everyone else, but had the power to stay in motion yourself? You could catch that bus. Actually, come to think of it, you could ignore the bus altogether and just walk to work, knowing that you could still reach your destination with plenty of time to spare. Actually, wait a moment – why are you going to work? That nine o’clock clock-in doesn’t have to happen until you feel like it. You could vote yourself a day off. A week off. A month? How long could you take being alone in a frozen world.
But… what if… you found out you were not alone after all…?
Unemployed (and seemingly unemployable) girl about town Juri Yukawa has failed in her nineteenth job interview, when she hears that a group of people called the Genuine Love Society have kidnapped her brother and her nephew. Do they want money? No… they want the artefacts that makes it possible for members of her family to stop time.
No, Juri didn’t get that memo. She thought her family was just another Japanese household spiralling into 21st century debt and despondency, but now she discovers that they are fighting in the realm of stasis with predators who want to snatch away their powers.
Kokkoku plays with the idea of stopping time in both its good and bad aspects. Who hasn’t wished for the chance for a do-over, an extra hour in the day to complete that all-important task, or the ability to somehow make it for that crucial meeting on time? But Seita Horio, who created the original Kokkoku manga for Morning Two magazine in 2008, takes that simple daydream and puts it through the wringer of due diligence – there are those who would use their power for good, but what of those who use it for evil? He envisions a world in which any millisecond might be the site of an unseen battleground between the forces of light and darkness, while the rest of us go about our lives oblivious.
Notably, Morning Two is a magazine for grown-ups – enmeshing the manga reader and anime viewer in a world of adult concerns and priorities. No less a figure than Shigeru Mizuki, creator of Spooky Ooky Kitaro, wrote that it was the highest-scoring manga he’d read in recent memory. Watch out for oodles of easter-egg references to other time-travel stories buried in Yoshimitsu Ohashi’s direction and Noboru Kimura’s script, sometimes appropriately in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments – a butterfly frozen in flight, alluding to The Butterfly Effect, a girl suspended in mid-air, like the titular Girl Who Leapt Through Time; even an old-school alarm clock like something out Groundhog Day. Time travel connoisseurs might also recognise elements of Richard Curtis’s under-rated About Time (2013), in which the menfolk of another dysfunctional middle-class family also had the ability to shunt reality in directions that better suited them – Horio’s manga, however, had almost finished its original run by the time Curtis’s film became an unexpected hit in East Asia.
You could, if you wanted, see all sorts of reflections of modern Japanese society in Kokkoku’s talk of stasis and secrets. Japan has, after all, been trapped in a stagnant economy, stalled at the cusp of the 1990s, for the last twenty years – if it doesn’t look that way to readers of this blog, that’s largely because pop culture remains one of the most vibrant exports. Juri is unable to find a job in the depressed economy; her dad’s been laid off, and her brother is a shut-in slacker, faffing all day with computer games instead of engaging with the world outside. Meanwhile, the Genuine Love Society could serve as a foil for real-world Japan’s black economy – the gangsters, loan sharks and racketeers who are always ready to take pro-active action… even if it’s illegal and comes at a heavy price.
“Stasis” isn’t quite the ability to turn back time. But it can keep things where they are for a critical period of catch-up. Kokkoku asks just how long that period might be – what would be the effects of living indefinitely in stasis. There couldn’t possibly be a catch, right? Wait a moment…
Kokkoku is released in the UK by Anime Limited.