Painted in red, the word "VON" is all that is left behind after a terrorist attack on a nuclear facility in Japan. The government is shattered by their inability to act, and the police are left frantically searching for ways to crack down the perpetrators. The public are clueless—until, six months later, a strange video makes its way onto the internet. In it, two teenage boys who identify themselves only as "Sphinx" directly challenge the police, threatening to cause destruction and mayhem across Tokyo. Unable to stop the mass panic quickly spreading through the city and desperate for any leads in their investigation, the police struggle to act effectively against these terrorists, with Detective Kenjirou Shibazaki caught in the middle of it all.
Zankyou no Terror tells the story of Nine and Twelve, the two boys behind the masked figures of Sphinx. They should not exist, yet they stand strong in a world of deception and secrets while they make the city fall around them, all in the hopes of burying their own tragic truth.
Oh, Zankyou no Terror... How much did I praise you during the early few episodes, but how could I know that you will turn out how you did. Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance or Terror in Tokyo in English) was one of my most anticipated titles of the season and I am sure I was not alone. The show also gained a bit of a hype because of the famous Shinichiro Watanabe (Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop), who I am in all honesty no big fan of, but okay, let's get this review started. Just make sure that I will NOT be able to hide
all possible spoilers, so just read this review if you have already finished the show or dropped it and don’t consider picking it up again! Or if you just don’t care about spoilers...
The plot, or rather the premise, was what caught my attention and interest at first. “An anime about terrorism?” Sounds thrilling alright, but sadly it turned out to be quite a train wreck with lose plot and lackluster characters in the long run. Basically the show is about two special kids, who build bombs and make them explode, but with no people around so nobody gets hurt. That’s a weird characteristic for two young blooded terrorists, but there are reasons for this, obviously. And they announce their terrorist attacks on YouTube and ask the police riddles, so they may or may not stop the bomb from going off. That’s what I was thought to be quite interesting and I was hoping for there to be a message behind the bombings and some deeper meaning and connections, but sadly that wasn’t so. Either I didn’t get them, or the riddles were just there to make the show appear smart. The show generally shows its story from two perspectives, from the bomber’s, naming themselves “Sphinx”, and the police’s perspective. What I found somewhat disappointing that there was no real tension during the moments when the investigations took place and the investigation process went waaaay too easy. I mean the main detective, Shibazaki, seemingly knows all of Greek mythology (that’s what the riddles are mostly based on) and at one point he clears a riddle because he watches his fat friend play a video game. It reminded me of some cheap Hollywood movie in which the protagonist finds out some very important clue due to something a kid spouts. I’m sure you know what I am talking about.
How the story played out felt a bit cheap in general. I mean Shibazaki (together with "Five" in the middle part of the anime) was the only one driving the plot along thanks to his super knowledge and his daughter who knows a lot about bombs and nukes. Also in the end he meets a few men who willingly agree to just tell him everything he wants to know in fullest detail, just because.
Another point when the show took a huge nosedive in my opinion, was when a former “friend” of the main characters “Nine” and “Twelve” was introduced as their nemesis, called “Five”. Five was basically the point on when I almost gave up on the show. She seemed just like a psychotic woman who had to stop Sphinx because the US said so. And to do this she went overboard multiple times, resulting in countless casualties, damages and wounded innocents along the way, for a ridiculous, nonsensical and compleely unjustified reason and motivation if you ask me. And she also did pointless and silly riddles with bombings, which the main characters now had to solve and disarm… While the character of Five was not complete useless, I do agree that she shouldn’t have been there. They should have spent more time on the "important characters" and explore those more. Speaking of which.
The whole cast of characters was so lackluster, with barely any real explained motivations or fleshed out ones among them, the only decent one being the detective Shibazaki. He was the only one advancing the plot, but even this with the most trivial and convenient ways possible, like I told you before. I mean his relative and one friend gave away the location of the bomb in the last episode, oh my, how convenient indeed. It was so cheap I had to face palm. A lot of answers to the already mentioned riddles by Shibazaki where really sudden and there was never a clear train of thought to follow either him or the actual main protagonists, which was a shame. This could have been a great cat and mouse game like in Death Note, but it was not. There isn’t much to talk about the two male main characters to be honest. Nine was the rather cold and distant guy, while Twelve was the funky and hyperactive one. They have flashbacks to their past every now and then, when the plot feels like it, and that’s about it. We literally learn everything there is to them in the first two episodes, with their motivations being revealed in the very last episode.
The last character I want to mention is Lisa, Sphinx’ female sidekick. She has a highly clingy mother and got bullied in school, that’s where she first met Nine and Twelve, which was the most convenient and cheapest way to introduce her, because for whatever reason Sphinx joined a local school in episode 1, but where never ever seen there again, which makes it pointless and the yet again really, really cheap. Her relation with her mother seemed like an important plot point in the beginning, but was quickly abandoned and never talked about again, which is quie a shame. The only things she then really did where trying to cook for Sphinx, but messing up, helping them out a few times, but messing up, staying at home, but messing up and so on. She also gets kidnapped a few times to drive the plot along, but contributed nothing important or meaningful to the story whatsoever. As you can see, the writing is not really strong with this one. Sadly this doesn’t change in the later episodes as well and even the conclusion was everything else than satisfying and quite anticlimactic. They basically shoved everything we already assumed down our throat in the most forced way possible, though at least it is complete and not inconclusive. That’s a plus.
But thankfully the show is good in two aspects; visuals and sound. The animation was really good for the most part and especially in the first episode gorgeous. The explosions were fluent, the attention to detail on backgrounds and characters remarkable and the use of lighting and shadows impressive too. But sadly the anime has a few quality drops during its duration of 11 episodes and often likes to use 3DCG to animate even two background characters, which is really cheap and effortless if you ask me. Characters tend to lose a lot of detail once they move away from the screen too. Nothing new, but when the show does want to look good, it certainly does. The other thing I want to mention is the soundtrack by the famous Yoko Kanno (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Cowboy Bebop, Jin-Roh), which was done very well and especially during the show’s high points in the last couple of episodes, the soundtrack really stood out. One particular scene being one scene in a Ferris Wheel, which was in all honesty my favorite moment of the show. The voice acting was solid, but no performance really stood out or caught my ear.
But even with all these flaws, Zankyou no Terror was one of my most anticipated shows each week during the summer 2014 season. The whole thrill of how things can turn out, what will happen next, really thrilled and captivated me, only to be let down again and again…
Okay, let’s get to the verdict.
Zankyou no Terror was such a huge letdown for me in multiple aspects. This begins at the flow of the story, tons of unanswered questions and thin writing, the flat and weak characters and the unsatisfying, yet complete, conclusion of the show’s plot. Zankyou no Terror could have been a great comment on terrorism and a huge controversial thing to talk and discuss about, but sadly it turned out to be a cheap and forgettable popcorn flick with fancy visuals and good music. Don’t worry, Sphinx. I will remember you. I will remember you for being in a show with the first good English I heard in a long time and in my biggest disappointment of summer 2014. Zankyou~
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 1/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (solid)
Complexity 1/2 (has some nice attempts)
Plausibility 0/2 (completely unrealistic)
Conclusion 1/2 (overblown, but well presented)
CHARACTER SECTION: 4/10
Presence 1/2 (fairly typical and not memorable)
Personality 1/2 (generic and some completely bland)
Backdrop 1/2 (some is shoehorned into the plot)
Development 0/2 (non-existent)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown, but it's there)
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (very detailed)
Character Figures 1/2 (quite generic but very detailed)
Backgrounds 2/2 (very realistic)
Animation 1/2 (sometimes good, sometimes average)
Visual Effects 2/2 (quite good)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (quite good but no outstanding performance)
Music Themes 3/4 (good tracks and very well used)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok, I guess)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 1/1 (looks great)
Sound 2/2 (sounded good from top to bottom)
Story 1/3 (interesting hook, but that's it)
Characters 1/4 (Shibazaki was not that bad...)
Before you roll your eyes and point your finger at the obvious “Terror” emblazoned in the title, I am serious on this one. While the topic is addressed at times, the crime thriller genre is merely a tool the show wields to sculpt out its socio-political commentary on Japan. If you are expecting a deep-seated exploration of the subject of terrorism, this show will not satisfy you. So please chuck those expectations into the trash and enjoy the show for what it is. Zankyou No Terror tells an engaging tale of generational conflicts, post-war nationalism, isolation
from modern society and the hopeful rebellious spirit of youths.
The story kicks off in a grounded, realistic setting of present day Tokyo. 2 teenage terrorists, who go by the names of Nine and Twelve blow up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, and in the process accidentally involves a girl called Lisa Mishima. Flashbacks reveal Nine and Twelve to have escaped from a mysterious institution when they were children, hence cloaking their motivations in mystery. From then on, the show continues its crime procedural routine that lasts for a few episodes: Nine and Twelve would plant a bomb, release a video on Youtube under the name ‘Sphinx’ and challenge the police to solve a given riddle before the next bomb explodes. All the riddles are based on the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, and interesting choice that gives the audience parallels to think about- especially the idea of patricide and sacrifice in the pursuit of truth. We also get introduced to Shibazaki, a detective who gets caught up in the cat and mouse game against Sphinx. He is a character whoe has been casted out from society just like Sphinx and Lisa. These first few episodes are thematically condensed and provide solid insights into modern society.
The characters of Zankyou No Terror are not complex, after all, the show is more thematically-focused as compared to being character-focused. Zankyou No Terror is not condoning the main characters’ acts of violence, rather, it wants the viewers to reflect about why they were forced into committing those acts. The show does succeed in evoking the emotional depths of its main terrorist duo and Lisa: the need to escape from the clutches of modern society, the youthful drive to challenge the world that rejected them, the yearning for human connection. This would not have been possible without the brilliant aesthetics and production, which are definitely the show’s strongest point. The polished direction is among the best in recent memory, taking the viewing experience to a cinematic level at times. The show efficiently manipulates camera angles and colour palettes to heighten atmosphere, while the lighting frames the scenes purposefully, stirring up a sense of alienation. Yoko Kanno absolutely delivers when it comes to the Icelandic-inspired soundtrack- the music is a blend of acoustic and electronic that sets the mood perfectly, constantly evoking the melancholy felt by the characters. It brought in the pathos needed to execute the best moments of the show.
Of course the show is not without its faults, which mostly lie in the script. The show takes a generic popcorn thriller route at times, and when you have a show that is rooted in realism (even referencing Tor and virtual currency), many events ended up requiring suspension of disbelief, which might put off some viewers. This fault appeared with the introduction of the show’s antagonist, Five, an agent deployed by the U.S government. The intervention of the US highlighted the problematic relationship between Japan and U.S., but Five came off too cartoonish. As a childhood friend of Nine and Twelve from the mysterious institution, her abnormal upbringing might have been the reason for her hugely childish behavior, but she often went overboard with her dramatic theatrics. The setup of her plans were ridiculous and Hollywoodesque, which led to silly contrived scenarios that clashed with the tone of the show. When her arc came to a close, she was cast in a more humanized and sympathetic light, but her character did more harm than good to the show. Thankfully, the show picked up again afterwards, where it made an interesting choice in joining the narrative with the ongoing issue of Japan’s rising nationalism.
In spite of its shaky narrative, Zankyou No Terror is a show that presented relevant themes and concluded with an emotional ending. The show does not fully dig into its themes or answer the questions raised, but it articulates its reflections on society well and its best scenes are truly memorable and affecting. It is an ambitious and passionate production with plenty of substance to appreciate.
I'll start this review by saying I started watching this show with no prior knowledge about the writers and the premise, so I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a mature and compelling story that kept me entertained throughout the season.
Even in such an amazing season, it managed to shine through as the anime that defined the summer of 2014. Even compared against such great shows as Gekkan shoujo, Tokyo Ghoul, RE:Hamatora and Aldnoah;Zero, Zankyou no Terror stood on top.
There are many stories taht focus on anti-heroes and terrorism, yet none have come close to the level of maturity found
in ZnT. This shows succeeded in areas that other shows such as Death Note faltered. You will find no edgy character development here; no shonen-esque elements. This is the kind of show that you could quite happily show to any non-anime orientated friends with confidence that they won't leave mid-way through, or that you will have to justify why so-and-so is making unnecessary fanservice.
The art style of ZnT perfectly fits the tone of the show. There are many still-life scenes in ZnT, and each one perfectly captures the essence of Tokyo. After seeing Tokyo rendered in both Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo ESP, the realistic calming images in ZnT were a breath of fresh air.
The character design also mirrors the art style: realistic enough to provide a sense of severity, yet different enough to give the show an underlying artistic element.
Despite some background characters lacking detail in some parts, this is expected for the first release of an airing show and does no detract from the overall excellence.
There are very few shows in which I decide to buy the OST, and even fewer in which I will continue to listen to the songs many weeks later. These songs bear a strong resemblance to 'songs from a cold country' which is a phrase that will become clear if you watch ZnT. In short: the sound is beautiful, elegant and very melancholic.
Both 9 and 12 have starkly contrasting personalities: 9 being blunt and mature with 12 being childish and playful. Lisa describers them as having'a smile like the sun and eyes like ice'. However it goes far deeper than that. Underneath 9's calm exterior lies indescribable grief, and under 12's smile lies a form of severity to match 12s.
At this point many watchers would criticise Lisa fir being 'bland' or simply a plot device. However it is impossible to imagine the show without her. Not only does she create a contrast, with her troubles with her mother against 9 and 12 orphan statues, she shows a great deal of development over the show's progression.
Finally I will touch on the characters in the police force, and how ZnT manages to capture adults in such an appropriate way. The police are neither shown as mindless soldiers, nor as clumsy un-organised oafs, and although the duo play along with them, the police are never antagonised.
From episode 1 I was hooked. No other show kept my interest like ZnT. Now that it is over I feel as if I have gained something from the experience
To summarise, Zankyou no Terror showed a level of maturity and elegance I never expected from anime, and it is my hope that other shows in the future will learn from ZnT.
In a season filled with giant robots, teenage dramas and supernatural violence, Zankyou no Terror stands out from the usual crowd with its focus on the rarely explored subject matter of terrorism. Shinichirō Watanabe, renowned director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Kids on the Slope, once again teams up with Yoko Kanno and the newly formed Studio MAPPA to delivers one of the highlights of the summer season 2014.
Zankyou no Terror or Terror in Resonance, opens up with two mysterious male teenagers named Nine and Twelve, carrying out a heist at a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility and ends up stealing
a device that contains plutonium. Six months later, in the sweltering heat of summer, both of them, call themselves Sphinx, commit a series of terrorist attacks on Tokyo under and caught up in their schemes, is a teenage girl named Mishima. Through a series of circumstances, she willingly becomes an accomplice in their plans to pull the trigger on the world.
Having spent their entire lives together, I felt that Nine and Twelve are two sides of the same coin with the same intentive goals in mind but exhibiting different mannerism as they go about their terrorism business. Nine is your emotionally distant teenager in glasses and approaches the work of Sphinx in a business-like manner. The Ying to Nine's Yang, Twelve more like a playful cat than anything else by the way he plays with a grenade as if it was a ball and prefers to drive a motorcycle when speeding his way through traffic. Both of them are extremely intelligent and physically capable and they soon make short work of anyone sent to apprehend them. The catch is that, while their acts of terrorism causes an enormous amount of damage, they are setup in such a manner that no fatal causalities occur. It is to the testament to Watanabe's skill that viewers can relate to characters like Nine/Twelve instead of the psychopathic monsters that the mainstream media often demonize terrorists as.
Completely opposite to the our males in every way possible is a female highschooler named Lisa Mishima. She comes across Twelve during their demolition of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and given a choice between dying or becoming a member of Sphinx, she chooses the latter. Casted out by society due to her broken family and being the constant target of bullying by her classmates, Lisa garners a fair bit of compassion from me. While I was sympathetic to her situation in the earlier episodes, as the series went on, my patience began to wear thin at just how inept this depressed teenage girl is at everything. It would be too much for me to expect that she would turn into a goddess of terrorism but a little more usefulness out of her would have gone a long way into fostering that emotional connection with the audience. I do admit, realistically speaking, for a bumbling depressed schoolgirl to be involved with such large-scale destruction, Lisa plays that role to a T.
Hot on the heels of Sphinx is Shibazaki, a former ace detective who comes back to active duty as he successfully decrypts the various riddles. He certainly doesn't fall short in the characterization department as I perfectly understood his motivations when comes to stopping Nine/Twelve. Being an old grizzled man filled with experience, he has the demeanor of a mature adult who is very committed to the idea of justice. At the same time, he does have these nonchalant moments that make him feel like a real investigative veteran accustomed to the norms of the world.
Even though Lisa did get a little on my nerves, I did genuinely enjoyed all the characters and their journey throughout the show for the most part.
For the most part.
Of course, even though the next major character is a bit of a spoiler, I cannot ignore the effect that Five had on the show when she is introduced partway through the story. Being the primary antagonist by working against Sphinx and subjugating the Japanese law enforcement agencies, she is, by far the weakest part of Zankyou no Terror. Clad in a sailor school uniform, she brings an wildly overbearing presence into the story with her antics and games. The first of two issues that I have with her is that she seemed too omnipotent when facing off with the already formidable Sphinx and damages much of the grounded realism that the show sets itself up as. Second, I could dismisses her bat-shit crazy actions if her character had an interesting motivation and background but Zankyou no Terror drops the ball in that aspect leaving only hints of what might have been a fantastic villain. It's not that I wish that Five didn't exist but I want to see her character be rewritten in a way that was more restrained and fleshes out her story. That being said, she was anything but dull and was at least entertaining, even when her actions didn't jive with the core plot.
Visuals and Sound
Accompanying our band of teenage terrorist on their quest for vengeance is the stellar soundtrack by anime legend, Yoko Kanno. Having worked on Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: SAC and Macross Frontier fame, she produces a sound that is insidious, subversive and unsettling for the viewers. With haunting guitar riffs, subtle electronic beats and jazzy undertones coupled with the occasional outburst of sound during action scenes, Yoko Kanno skillfully tailored her composition to suit the gritty tense atmosphere of Zankyou no Terror.
Studio MAPPA has done an absolutely breathtaking job when it comes to the animation quality and comes close to what is expected of an anime movie instead of an ordinary TV production. One of the first things that viewers will notice are the muted colors and attention to detail that is intended to sets up modern-day Tokyo to be as realistic as possible. Backgrounds are expertly detailed from the reflective sheen on vehicles in traffic to the cluttered mess of a former detective's office to a Ferris wheel glowing in the rainy night sky as it carries its passengers on a ride. When it comes to 3D CGI, which is often a tricky thing to balance out in anime, it done to support the various angles and scene composition to gives Zankyou no Terror its cinematic quality. Although Studio MAPPA is still a newcomer in the industry, it has demonstrated it has the talent and potential to become a powerhouse within anime.
Aside from the very pretty explosions, Zankyou no Terror has pretty of depth to draw from with its ideas of a increasingly modernized society and its pitfalls while alluring to ancient mythology. By incorporating fancy pieces of technology like Twitter, YouTube and virtual currency as well , it makes the viewers think about the fragility of our current reality. Although, it doesn't provide any answers, Watanabe's work is certainly more than capable of generating an immense amount of discussion as to what it all means for the characters and our current world.
From the very beginning, I knew that Zankyou no Terror was going to be one of the very top shows from the summer season and maybe even earn a very rare 10/10 score from me. The question was whether it would be able to maintain the standard set out by the initial episode and the answer teeter somewhere between an 8 and 9. Lisa and Five certainly didn't do the show any favors as they could have as they represented the polar opposites of either being useless or completely all-powerful and insane. If Lisa would have been a little more capable and Five was toned down while given a complete back story, I would be incline to award higher marks overall. Other than those two flawed characters, every other aspect of Zankyou no Terror, from the distinct soundtrack by Yoko Kanno to the cinematic visual direction of Watanabe and his take on the touchy subject of terrorism mixed in with a little conspiracy, is certainly not lacking in quality nor relevancy.
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