Review/discussion about: Taboo Tattoo
“What is it? What is it? Show us!”
Our class clamored. Mr. E, the best fifth-grade teacher this side of elementary school, was loved by everyone. Students and teachers alike. Clean-cut hair, green polos, khakis. Alongside his beaming smile, he always looked professional and cool.
And he also hid a secret on his left bicep.
“Maybe once you guys and girls graduate and go on to sixth grade. Until then, no deal!”
We always wondered what kind of tattoo he had. Something personal about himself? Something naughty? Something he accidentally got? Throughout all of fifth grade, from the class trips to the assemblies held in the main hall of the school, we tried sneaking peeks to see what it could possibly be. But to no avail.
Thankfully, Mr. E kept his promise. The mystery he professionally and cooly hid for the whole year was made known to us during one of our last days as his students. It was Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He was walking down a sidewalk, a lamppost in the background and a careless expression fitting his face, wearing his usual green robe and purple hat.
I speak of Dopey and tattoos today for one reason only: Taboo Tattoo. For this show is as fun as Dopey – and perhaps intentionally half as smart.
Taboo Tattoo starts on the streets of an inconspicuous city. Seigi, a high-school teenage boy, saves a local homeless man from danger, and, in return, the man uses a strange crystal stone on Seigi’s hand that imprints a bizarre-looking tattoo. When this piques the interest of a foreign beauty, Seigi finds himself thrown into the midst of an international terror plot.
Sounds cool, right? For the first three or four episodes, the anime is cool. Some hard-hitting, one-on-one martial arts. Crazy abilities like voiding space and possessing people. Attempts at establishing cute characters and even some themes on justice that, while most certainly not groundbreaking, at least put its mind in the right place.
But perhaps its best trait is its comedy. When Izzy turns into a cat when drinking coffee with milk or when Tom’s intestines fall out (all censored), the anime manages to strike that hilarious tone despite the blood and the action that surround them. In fact, that contrast is partly what makes it so funny to begin with.
With episode five, though, the anime goes bonkers.
Taboo Tattoo always had the serious-but-not-really approach, but episode five pushes its comedic roots to the limit and then some. By choice, the anime throws out both continuity and reason, creating a smorgasbord of events.
Minor happenings, like gobs of blood disappearing or Seigi randomly getting advice from Tom on how to beat Iltutmish (by closing his eyes), are already odd. But the show takes it further. That one-eyed cat mauls Seigi out of nowhere. Tom pointing out the cliché setting (cute childhood friend next door, beautiful transfer student living nearby, chosen one, parents away from home). BB, a brand-new character introduced at the end of the episode, asking Seigi if he wants a piece of gum.
Yet the best moment from the episode follows Touko and Arya’s “intense” table-top match.
The princess won, so, per the stakes, she was permitted to fondle Touko’s massive boobs as much as she wanted while Arya spoke with Seigi. However, all throughout their talk, which is completely serious with topics spanning wars and fighting, Touko’s moans escape. The scene becomes entirely goofy since it cares more about Touko’s background pleasure than it does the plot itself.
This sign is the first major one that argues the anime is purposefully presenting itself in a negative light. Which is weird because, honestly, what show would go out of its way to make itself look bad?
But it gets even better (or perhaps worse, depending on where one stands at this point).
The next two episodes feature the gang chasing after the princess and her squad to a remote island. There, the silly attempts at American cursing, the lead colonel not caring all that much that he had his pupils sliced shut, and Touko literally wearing a shirt that has the word “flag” on it (a flag she set with her watermelons and that she triggered with her death) bolster the argument that, yes, the anime revels in its absurdity.
All the while, the anime is basically nonsensical. Characters prattle on about justice and power in long-winded monologues. The contrived plot involving ruins, consumption, and power. The ridiculous developments like Iltutmish becoming a giant lion-tiger beast and Seigi getting nailed to a stone slate in some makeshift crucifixion. Touko even being there in the first place.
Taboo Tattoo doesn’t stop. Episode nine is entirely dedicated to BB’s “defection” to the kingdom, showing what he did to get the information he found on tattoos. However, it’s hastily put together. Inane subplots on secret clones, an odd focus on the king’s gay lover, and the ultra-convenient getaway train continue the show’s dive into narrative death.
At this point, Seigi is worthless and BB is dead. Naturally, then, the anime time skips a whole year. Seigi, Izzy, and a few others hide away to improve and prepare for the final fight – all while the bad guys lazed about without doing much.
They show as such in the video they send which, per usual, calls into question Taboo Tattoo’s purposeful negative presentation. For, when one of the newest side characters triggers multiple flags for his death in the coming final mission (that his girlfriend and the background red-flag bearers corroborate), it solidifies its intentional ineptitude.
The final few episodes, though, contain more head-scratchers and more unfathomable decisions than the rest of the episodes combined. The whole genetic-ascension deal with the princess. The random pill-taking that poisoned Seigi (but not actually). Him and Izzy floating in midair. The nuclear bomb that doesn’t go off. The souls of Izzy and BB linking when Seigi swallowed up Izzy just to give the two a final moment together.
To give Taboo Tattoo its due, it has two “worthy” writing moments.
The first is Arya’s kiss with Seigi. It acts as a connection between her and him so that he could become the giant mutant. It’s at least a callback to that earlier comedic bit in the show, meaning it’s not totally out of nowhere like most everything else the show tries to sell.
The second is the whole personal revenge versus selflessness angle. Seigi losing sight of his justice mindset, causing him to become something he wasn’t and not letting him accomplish what he wanted to, demonstrates the anime had its thoughts in the right place.
Not to say that these moments are handled with grace let alone execution. Because they’re not. Regardless, they are overshadowed by the repetitive Lisa-kidnapped subplot, the forgetting of important characters like Iltutmish and Touko, and the unbelievable need for Seigi to declare that he will protect Arya despite all that she’s done.
So, is Taboo Tattoo intentional in its silliness? Probably. But is it also horribly written, ignoring any sense of cohesion, logic, or basic plot development?
Yes. Without a doubt.
Taboo Tattoo had some quality animation near the start of its run.
More specifically, Seigi’s duel against Izzy is only as cool as it is because the choreography and, indeed, the animation kept up throughout it. A flurry of kicks, punches, and throws, ending with a downward knife strike. Pretty rad.
The anime manages to keep up for a while. Not to the same extent as in the first episode, but Seigi’s brawl with a possessed Touko and the later escapades in the freighter area are not devoid of animation.
And, to its credit, the character designs can be nice. Izzy’s silver hair and pink bow, Arya’s twin tails and smug face, and BB’s all-black outfit are some combination of cool, sexy, and cute. Not all of the designs are praiseworthy; Seigi’s is too plain and Touko just has her chest. But at least they remain consistent without any noticeable dips.
Beyond the first few episodes and the character designs, though, the anime goes downhill into a grave of its own making.
Scenes like Touko’s death where it’s a series of frozen cuts or the show’s increased reliance on “fast” backgrounds start to make many of the moments and fights less interesting since movement is masked (or sometimes not even present). So, what gets depicted isn’t what’s actually happening.
To try to compensate for the lack of animation, Taboo Tattoo incorporates many sweeping shots with the camera. Rather than the characters moving, the camera does, following up-close, far away, or all around. It would be nice if it was fluid, but, since it’s all so janky, the scenes are cobbled together as these near-still frames.
The art itself also doesn’t do it any favors. Many of them suffer from not-enough-noise syndrome. I.e., everything that’s shown feels conveniently away or scarce on life. A side alley, a row of houses, and a remote island are so bland and so boring to look at that it makes the fight’s location irrelevant.
Not to mention, the coloring and artistry is just not present. Everything is some shade of brown, orange, dark green, or grey. Sure, it places the show in a dreary mood which, admittedly, fits the overall tone of Taboo Tattoo. But when it all starts to blend together as this same-y mess, it becomes less than appealing.
Increased CG usage also reduces the visual appeal of the show. Rigid bodies and undetailed objects are the norm, and even the explosions start to rely on the CG effects. Their stark contrast with the already low-quality hand-drawn material makes it that much harder to watch.
The combination of all three in the final fight, though, is deplorable. A couple of shiny, mutant monsters fight in hand-to-hand combat with complete disregard for visual accuracy or even a sense of control. Frames are repeated, entities “move” on-screen, and the whole inner-thoughts moments dominated by purely black or purely white backgrounds end it on as low of a note as possible.
Though perhaps its biggest error is one that it (coincidentally enough) makes intentionally. The opening track features a woman whose right eye is stitched shut. BB, during his flashback episode and as he does in the OP, squares off against her. However, the anime chooses to reuse some of the exact same frames for her art and animation. The only difference being the lighting.
Very few anime would include some of their OP visuals shot-for-shot, and fewer still only do so to avoid animating a particular segment. Taboo Tattoo falls into this latter camp – and it perfectly sums up its incompetence.
It’s no stretch to say that Seigi of Taboo Tattoo may be one of the worst characters ever written.
He’s what’s known as a do-nothing character. He may have dialogue, and he may take part in the various festivities, but he does nothing worthwhile. Either for himself or for the events at large.
His name being “Seigi”, which translates to “justice” in English, should already indicate how lame his character is (even if it is arguably the anime making yet another intentionally bad joke). He refuses to kill anyone, believing that such justice is not right. Plus, he has one memory of his dad, about reaching out his hand as a metaphor for reaching out for what’s in front of him.
For some reason, he almost never understands what’s going on, asking the same types of questions: “What are you saying?” “What are you talking about?” It’s meant as him being unable to comprehend everyone else’s ideas of justice and righteousness, but, when he spouts almost nothing but these questions, it makes him into an intolerable person.
When it comes to the fights, he barely contributes. Izzy and the others of Taboo Tattoo explicitly tell him that using his void tattoo is, in fact, taboo, so he rarely does. That leaves him and his martial arts which almost never help him. He loses his first duel against Izzy, Touko steps in during his fight with Iltutmish, and, even after all his training with BB, he doesn’t do anything on the faraway island to the point that Touko gets killed.
This outcome causes Seigi to do even more nothing, forcing him into a deep depression and a sense of worthlessness (which he arguably already had). Cue a one-year time skip that doesn’t show how he came to improve his skills, and, when asked how, he responds that he just “knows” what to do. Yikes.
Yet that doesn’t help him in the final fights. Against Kar, he gets beat constantly until BB’s spiritual presence causes Kar to hesitate. And, when he squares off against Arya for the first official time, she destroys him because, apparently, his conviction for revenge is too selfish (as opposed to her “saving” of humanity which is just a backwards way of saying that she wants everyone to die).
However, the kicker is their second official fight. Right as she is about to lose and Seigi is about to deliver the final blow, she screams, “Don’t think you’ve beaten me!”, and she escapes. In other words, right up until the end of the season, Seigi does nothing, solidifying his do-nothing status for all eternity and his spot in the hall of shame as one of the worst characters of all-time.
The rest of the cast are almost not worth talking about, but, for completeness sake, they will be.
Izzy started out as someone of intrigue. She could hold her own, and she had an interest in Seigi’s tattoo. So, when she recruits him, it’s done both as an act of protection on her part as well as a means to understand more about him and what he was capable of.
Taboo Tattoo gives her a high cute status very early on with her catlike drinking of coffee. And, once the anime learns that her young looks are the price she paid for wielding her tattoo, she becomes the explainer of sorts. How tattoos are used, what people do with them, where they came from, and so on.
She has close friendships with Tom and Lisa, indicating that she isn’t just some hardened warrior but a person who cares deeply about those around her. Which is especially evident when she does what she can to save Lisa from the clutches of the enemy (twice).
As such, and early on, Izzy is not much more than a passable side character (despite her main character status). For the anime largely ignores her: no improving of her relationship with Seigi, no personal conflicts she must overcome. She has her comedic moments and her action moments, but, as a character, she is super average. Perhaps slightly less.
Come the halfway mark, Taboo Tattoo tries to make her more relevant. BB’s previous relationship with her and the loss of her left arm provided some interesting outlets for the anime to explore. But all that’s given about her connection to BB is one aside under a bridge and single, measly flashback where she twirls his hair. As for her arm, she gets a biotic one to replace it, and, beyond Seigi catching her before she fell to the ground, it does not play a significant part in the events thereafter.
Izzy is arguably the best character the anime offers – which isn’t saying much at all. Thus, looking at the rest of the cast is a chore in futility.
BB acts as Seigi’s role model, but he has nothing else known about him besides his cool-guy status.
Iltutmish was once a street urchin taken in by Arya, but her opposite personality whenever Arya was around is her only memorable quality.
Touko exists to potentially lose as the childhood friend (since it could have gone either way given Seigi’s acceptance of her and Izzy’s own romance with BB), provides some sexual relief (given how much focus her breasts receive), and introduces a pointless forehead-tattoo conflict (which gets resolved immediately upon her death).
Kar had romantic feelings for BB that were technically her downfall, yet their foundation is just a couple of small exchanges he had with her during his brief stint in the Kingdom.
Wiseman is an evil scientist, the homeless man that originally gave Seigi his tattoo. He researches them and double-crosses the main gang. That’s it.
The weirdest character, though, is Ajita. He’s the man who wears a wide-brimmed hat and a monocle. In the OP’s visuals, he has a monster sprout from his eyeball, yet despite this and his meager introduction during BB’s past-depiction episode, he only shows up right at the end. He turns into a giant bee, distracts the helicopters for a bit, then blows up into a purple gobstopper.
Unfortunately for the cast, they do not come off as intentionally poor in the same way that the story does. They’re just poor. Meaning, they’re wholly problematic without any of the fun.
Taboo Tattoo’s music and sound are by no means stellar. Most likely not even passable. But, besides the comedy, it’s better than almost everything else the anime has on offer.
The opening track does not try for anything fancy, but it has its merits. The drum beat and piano work well both together and individually, and the vocalist keeps up with the pace as well as belts out her notes when needed. The sound dropping in the middle of the track and the somber tone despite the swiftness also work in its favor. Again, not an amazing track but not an abhorrent one either.
The ending track is filled with piano, guitar, and drums. Harmonized signing accompanies the composition, and another somber tone dominates the air. It’s a forgettable piece through and through. Same goes for the original soundtrack with its little slice-of-life tune with a bunch of xylophones and its mysterious techno jam.
As for the voice acting, it’s acceptable. Shiori Izawa as Iltutmish takes the top spot with both her quieted and energetic voices for the young girl. The rest, though, do not provide anything special.
This show has a crazy amount of writing problems in the second half that severely hamper anything it tries to do. The protagonists have next to no strengths, and the villains are laughable. What little plot it crafts brings a lot of action without substance.
Despite these large problems, I was entertained. More so than I maybe should have been. Each time I thought the anime could not get more ridiculous with its developments, it managed to one-up itself on a per-episode basis.
That’s not to say the anime’s actual cute or comedic moments were not so. Because they were. Tom backwards spider-crawling up the side of a house and Touko straddling Seigi had me laughing quite hard. Episode five deserves another shout-out. It was absolutely hilarious and easily the highlight of the whole season.
Plus, the yuri. The sweet, beloved yuri. Arya may be a horribly written villain, but I can get behind all her lewd female-only antics all day, every day.
I can’t say that about the entire anime. Because it’s still way too riddled with issues for me to see as anything but problematic. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of fun throughout this wacky experience.
Taboo Tattoo starts off in a rough spot and only gets rougher the further along it proceeds. From the weak story to the even weaker characters, from the wonky animation to the bland musical choices. It’s like a regrettable tattoo: fun in the moment, but, in hindsight, a completely wrong set of decisions.
Story: Bad, the asinine writing destroys the narrative into smithereens, but, arguably, it does so intentionally
Animation: Terrible, bad artistic direction, below average actual animation, poor visual choices, and okay character designs
Characters: Terrible, Seigi is unbelievably and abysmally written, and the others are just as poorly handled, given no attention, or both
Sound: Bad, okay OP, bad ED, bad OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, comedy, yuri, and the wackiness of it all made for a surprisingly entertaining time
Final Score: 2/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3