We’re only about halfway through the first anime season of the new year, but already the showing is stellar. What makes new anime enticing around these times is their originality. For the average fan, tired concepts tend to fall flat — anime too similar to others just aren’t exciting to watch. KOKKOKU broke the mold this season with a concept I’ve never seen before. 

On first glance, the show appears to be a slice of life anime about an eclectic family, but this is a story with many moving parts. In a world where time stands still, KOKKOKU manages to achieve satisfying action and a dynamic story. Unlike a lot of anime that start slow for a while, KOKKOKU wastes no time. Problems reveal themselves mere seconds into the first episode. The first five episodes alone craft a whole separate world of strange powers and dangers right alongside our own. 

Rather than introduce each character in this world blandly, amazing exposition permeates the story. As you watch death-defying escapes and deep mysteries, you’ll learn a little about each member of a family. While these family members may seem simple on their own, they come together to define each other through interactions. This alongside the delightfully dynamic concept makes this one of this winter’s best.

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A Promising Plot

The biggest thing to know about this show is that time stands still. What makes the action throughout every episode so interesting it that only certain characters are able to move while time is frozen. The entire show takes place in this state, called ‘Stasis’. Interacting with other objects and people is possible, but nothing someone isn’t actively touching moves. Throwing a drink, for example, leads to the liquid just stopping mid-air before it hits the ground. For main character Juri Yakawa, this is a world she’s in out of necessity.

Juri walks through Stasis. While time is frozen, a child's dropped candy floats undisturbed in midair.
Even falling objects stand still in Stasis | Image courtesy of Amazon Video

The show begins with Juri lamenting over an impressive 19 consecutively failed job interviews. Like most young adults, she’s trying to become financially independent. Unlike her NEET brother Tsubasa, she wants to leave home, but she’s a lost cause. The only hope for this dysfunctional family is Makoto, Juri’s nephew.

Makoto is a bright, energetic kid with a future ahead of him, unlike his relatives. One day, however, Makoto and Tsubasa are kidnapped on their way home to the house. Before Juri can react, her family receives a call demanding ransom. They have 30 minutes to deliver 5 million yen (46,650 US Dollars) to the kidnappers. While they’re able to scrape together the money, there’s one major issue. The location the kidnappers sent is 50 minutes away.

This is where things get interesting. Juri’s grandfather brings out a magical stone. With little explanation, he has himself, Juri, and Juri’s father bleed onto it. This freezes time, letting them walk to Makato’s location with ease. Things don’t stay easy though. They aren’t alone in Stasis. The kidnappers are in league with others who want the mystical stone. Juri’s family find themselves in a fight for survival.

Frozen in Time

So you’re frozen in time. You can do whatever you want, right? Not quite. What KOKKOKU does super well is keeping some of its world unclear. So far, there are a couple things we know about Stasis. The first is from earlier, that most people (called “Stalled”) don’t move while time is frozen.

Even someone capable of traveling in Stasis can’t grant others the ability to move very easily. But that begs the question, how do you move in Stasis? While we don’t know the mechanism for doing so, we do know that stones like the one Juri’s Grandfather has allows one to freeze time. Stasis isn’t simply a world where time is frozen. There is a different Stasis for every moment in time, meaning 6:46 pm might have 60 different Stasis instances over a minute.

In KOKKOKU, strange jellyfish like energy enter humans and grant them the ability to move through Stasis.
Juri, her father, and grandfather freeze time and enter Stasis | Image courtesy of Amazon Video

All of this makes evading criminals a lot more intriguing to watch. Juri has to take advantage of the camouflage the Stalled offer. She can hide in cars or just among crowds. Unlike most chase scenes, which involve avoiding bystanders, KOKKOKU uses them.

Interestingly, included in this world is a guarantee of the lives of the Stalled. If someone attempts to kill a Stalled person, a giant being with treelike appendages appears. These creatures, called Heralds or Handlers, will kill anyone moving in Stasis who tries to kill a Stalled.

Thus far, the Heralds are still a mystery, as even Juri’s wise grandfather knows little about them. This again contributes to the constantly evolving world in KOKKOKU. While some things are explained as they happen, a lot of Stasis is strange and unfamiliar to everyone in the show. Rules literally kill and save people, making exposition dynamic.

A Wholesome Family

Beyond the amazing concept and evolving story, KOKKOKU has better characters than most anime. What’s impressive is that the show handles characters collectively. Rather than build and develop characters consecutively, KOKKOKU builds them alongside each other. For example, Juri seems like a failed, wannabe careerist who only cares about her individual success. When you take a look at her family though, her actions make a lot more sense.

Juri, sipping a can of green tea, looks at a billboard with family photos.
Juri reflects on her adolescence as she struggles with adulthood | Image courtesy of Amazon Video

Her brother Tsubasa is a NEET and is content spending his day’s gaming. Juri’s father is unemployed and constantly trying to make ends meet. Her grandfather, outside of his knowledge of Stasis, is a rather typical old man and can’t straighten his family out. Juri’s mother is the only person working in the family, and we barely even see her on screen. Alone, any of these characters are rather typical for an anime. But for an anime with plentiful action, it’s rare to see all of those types in a single family.

This has the effect of merging the contextual frameworks of the characters. Viewers get a deeper understanding of how hard Juri works to not be like her brother and match her mother’s example. Everyone cherishes and protects Makoto because they don’t want him to be like them. When he’s kidnapped, for instance, Tsubasa’s fear is that the stress will make him anti-social.

Typically, shonen anime protagonists are driven by an often hyper-masculine desire to save the world. For Juri’s family, entering Stasis is merely a means to an end. Juri wants to save Makoto; she doesn’t have some broader goal for making use of Stasis. This sets her in contrast to the villains of KOKKOKU, who only want to use Stasis for personal gain.

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Balanced Action

Initially, I expected KOKKOKU to involve wild fights. Anime concerning time usually introduce weird powers for no real reason. While in Stasis, Juri and her grandfather possess powers that allow them to teleport short distances and keep the kidnappers at bay. The show quickly reveals that only certain bloodlines can do this. Juri’s family seems to possess additional powers on top of having access to the stone. While these abilities are useful, they’re never so extreme that they completely shift the balance of power.

Juri landing a powerful and direct palm thrust on a kidnapper.
While Juri may begin to develop some powers in Stasis, her precise strikes and surprise attacks are all a mental game | Image courtesy of Amazon Video

The good, rather wholesome nature of Juri’s family contrasts with the absolute terrible human beings who are after them. Unlike Juri, who does her best to avoid harming Stalled people while evading capture, the kidnappers’ group is the opposite. They steal from shops and even assault Stalled women. They’re so toxic in fact that when Heralds kill their own members, they don’t care. Rather than try and save their partners, they bait lower level members of their group to investigate how Heralds work.

Since these people have guns and knives, they balance out with the special powers Juri and her grandfather have. The lower level members don’t have any grandiose plan beyond making money and getting women. For the higher level people in charge, their motivations are largely unclear. The group’s boss seems knowledgeable of Stasis and wants its power to give his family status. Like learning about Stasis itself, the first few episodes don’t reveal too much about this strange other family and their hoodlums. Viewers learn more and more as the higher-ups get even more involved in the plot.

An Expanding Mystery

The plot has evolved in one continuous sequence. Rather than break for introductions and a formalized set-up of the story, KOKKOKU begins with the kidnapping and never stops. From how things look thus far, this entire season is set up to be one giant series of events. The exposition of characters is built so well into the plot that there is no real need to depart from anything to explain origins and contextualize anything. Juri begins to have flashbacks from her experience with Stasis as a child, giving even more material to slowly explore. All of this is still while Juri and her grandfather are seeking Makoto, meaning there’s constantly multiple layers to the story.

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For any anime making use of the “main character with dark but muddled memories” trope, this is the way to properly handle it. Rather than constant references to the same irrelevant flashback, KOKKOKU shows things that make more and more sense over time. There is both the facts about Stasis that viewers learn over time and the bits of Juri’s past that slowly reveal themselves.

Not only is the show itself compelling for the trials of rescuing Makoto and Tsubasa, but KOKKOKU makes you want to learn about the characters too. We don’t know a lot about why these families have access to the mystical stones, for example. This is the kind of mystery that really locks me into a story and keeps me coming back week after week.

Timeless Enjoyment in KOKKOKU

While what first got me into KOKKOKU was the incredible opening and ending songs, the plot kept me watching. Juri is a character I very seldom get to see in anime, and the show has a psychological thriller feel to it. A lot of other shows might just take the time-freezing element and run with it without development.

KOKKOKU builds off Stasis in a way that builds an entire world with rules and consequences. Even the characters themselves are unaware of what might kill them and what might help them. The anime builds up its characters and makes a simple kidnapping into a season-long escapade.

More importantly, KOKKOKU took a rather basic concept, freezing time, and expanded it. While it’s only halfway through the season, I’m confident the show is only on a path to getting much better. More characters are jumping into the mix, and Juri even finds a peculiar connection with one of the kidnappers. It’s unclear whether Makoto will return home safely. It’s doubtful that anything will be resolved soon, as the story is only adding more addictive complexity and detail. In either case, it’s a world and plot that you won’t be able to stop watching once you start.

Featured image courtesy of Amazon Video.

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