Andrew Osmond charts the hidden depths of Towanoquon
The new series Towanoquon joins this year’s legion of superheroes, beside assembled Avengers, a new Spider-Man, some dark knight or other, and the cinema screenings of Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning. Towanoquon’s most obvious Western relative, though, is X-Men. In the show, a group of young people develop a variety of powers, and are pursued by a cruel secret paramilitary force that seems bent on scrubbing them out. The Professor X figure is a youth (well, he looks like a youth) called Quon, who’s driven to protect the paranormals, and will take any risk to do so. Quon is a transforming superhero; his alter ego is an armoured, avian-looking warrior with super-speed, tremendous strength and the power to channel the elements.
Like Tiger & Bunny, the show feels like a conscious blend of traditions to make Japanese and Western viewers feel at home. The emphasis on the youngsters being potential unexploded bombs, who can lose control of their power with devastating results, goes back to Akira. Also like Akira, we’re thrown into the thick of the action at the start, bewildered, with a great many questions about the backstory. Don’t worry, you’ve not missed anything – the backstory is filled out through the series, with most questions answered by the last episode; though one or two ends are left deliberately untied for possible sequels.
An interesting touch is that Quon gathers his group in an indoor Tokyo leisure park, with amenities such as a Disneyish mock-up castle, reminiscent of the withered “children’s” nursery in Akira. It’s not the only Disneyesque note. The first Towanoquon episode partly centres on a girl called Kiri, whose life is torn up when she suddenly develops powers, like Anna Paquin’s Rogue in the first X-Men film. Kiri has lost her voice because of a past tragedy; however, her special power is bound up with song, and her story has shades of Little Mermaid, particularly the Disney cartoon.
A more Japanese theme is the continuation of the past in the present (spectacularly illustrated in the film Summer Wars, which had images like a Japanese castle in cyberspace). The setting is present-day Tokyo – indeed, part one opens with a glimpse of the new “Skytree,” Tokyo’s tallest tower, which opened this May. We’ll have to see if it becomes as popular in anime as the venerable Eiffel-style “Tokyo Tower,” built in 1958. But Towanoquon also has a huge sacred tree that Quon tends in the leisure park – and we learn Quon and the tree are about the same age.
Quon’s history goes back many centuries, to when his people were a hidden tribe, denounced as monsters by the rest of Japan – we see a medieval-style picture scroll literally demonising them. If X-Men was an allegory for Black Power, then Towanoquon, along with anime such as Princess Mononoke and Claymore, seems to tap into Japan’s own history of oppressing minorities, such as the so-called Burakumin caste. Towanoquon, though, mixes anger with guilt – Quon, especially, has much to atone for – as well as loneliness and nostalgia. The paranormal kids want to survive, but they also want to return to the homes and families they’ve lost.
You might also make links to other anime by Towanoquon’s production studio. BONES made a previous X-Men-style series, Darker than Black (sequelled by Darker than Black – Gemini of the Meteor). It dealt with similar themes, though compared to Towanoquon, Darker than Black was, well, darker and harder-edged. Not that Towanoquon is a soft touch. It starts with quite a light tone, showing the characters’ funny sides, and has cute players such as Miu, a girl with the Doolittle-like gift of talking with animals in miaows, woofs or squeaks. But as usual in anime, people die or suffer – Quon, especially, has lots of blood in him – with a particularly icky torture scene as the stakes ramp up.
One more BONES theme reprised in this series is brotherhood – something the studio knows from its years making Fullmetal Alchemist. Although the anime name is often written Towanoquon, it’s clearer if you write it as Towa no Quon; Quon being the hero’s name, and Towa being the name of Quon’s long-lost brother. And how was Towa lost, you ask? Watch the series and find out…
Towa no Quon is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.