Zankyou No Terror is not a show about terrorism.
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.
Dec 20, 2014
I suspect that the writer for Psycho Pass 2 created the script after surfing through conspiracy theorist sites written by potheads, followed by using the most hackneyed checklist of what constitutes a ‘dark, edgy thriller’: Somewhat sympathetic villain. Devoted, eye-patch wearing female accomplice in a red cleavage-baring outfit. Innocent puppies being killed mercilessly. Mutilated human faces hanging on walls. People being burned alive while ‘Nessun Dorma’ plays in the background. (No, I am not joking about the last one.)
Psycho Pass 2 is a terrible sequel. By ‘terrible sequel’, I do not mean a mediocre sequel that paled in comparison to the original but served ... as a solid continuation of the story otherwise. I mean a sequel that ripped out all the things that made the first season interesting and shoved the pieces up its ass.
Let’s start with the distinguishing factor of the Psycho Pass universe: the Sibyl System. An utilitarian system that valued the collective happiness of everyone, viewing certain strong emotions as impediments to its ideals. Although it suppressed free will and denied space for self-actualization, it was successful in creating a stable society that escalated levels of happiness. It was not evil, it simply prioritized values differently - and this, interestingly, was what made it such an unsettling system. However, the Sibyl System in Psycho Pass 2 is clearly evil. Its once cold, calculating nature has been replaced with a comically wicked persona that involves itself in all sorts of conspiracies for selfish reasons. It might as well be a maniacal, moustache-stroking dictator plucking sandwich crumbs from his beard.
The writing decision to make the Sibyl System act too human ruptured the thematic axis built up by Season One. The original delivered a compelling critique of utilitarianism by highlighting the dark side of optimized rationality, but season two depicted a form of broken irrationality that didn't even resemble utilitarianism. The chaos did not stop there: the show abandoned its allegory on individual-society relationships and delved straight into a conspiracy thriller plot. The result was a mess of nonsensical conspiracies that ignored the rules established in the previous season. The writer seems to think that the more complicated the villain’s scheme, the better the story. The main villain, Kirito Kamui, is an expert programmer, hacking into several security systems, pulling convoluted tricks on the police, brainwashing people into becoming his cult followers, carrying out multiple organ transplants, and God knows what else. The twists and new details created too many logical gaps in the story to keep the viewer’s investment. It only got more pretentious towards the end with all the theories that have no substantial contribution towards the show’s themes.
As for the characters, the main Inspector Akane Tsunemori started off promising and confident. However, she displayed no real growth by the end of the series, even after all the tragedy she witnessed, after how Sybil System was revealed to be a corrupt dipshit. Her pacifist beliefs did not shake one bit, neither did she offer any new insight. The new characters were nothing interesting either, although Sakuya Tougane, the Enforcer with the highest Crime Coefficient ever recorded, had potential. Of course, he eventually descended into self-parody along with the show. There’s also Mika Shimotsuki, the new Inspector whom everyone wanted to electrocute since episode 1. It was obvious that the show was trying to make her a poster child of the Sibyl System, but her character was utilized very poorly. Lacking initiative, useless, with cow manure for brains, it is hard to imagine how she even qualified for the job. Even after witnessing violent accidents that were partially her fault, she did not come to any realizations, her behavior painted her more like a caricature than an actual person. Yet, the show continued to focus on her childishness, which only served to annoy the audience further instead of articulating any interesting points.
In regards to the art and music departments, the animation is passable, although it took a slight dip in quality compared to the first season. I’ll give extra props to the music department though, for giving us the comedic gold that was the ‘Nessun Dorma’ scene.
In conclusion, Psycho Pass 2 had me questioning if the writer paid any attention to the first season at all. In fact, the show seemed to undermine its audience’s intelligence with the sheer stupidity of its plot and made-up fictional details, every episode in the second half did a good job of destroying half of my brain cells. To put it straight: Psycho Pass 2 failed to add anything meaningful to the original. It tried too hard to be ‘deep and edgy’ by throwing in shock and violence, even though it lacked thematic resonance of any sort. It’s like trying to improve the taste of burnt buffalo wings by pouring a bucket of hot sauce on it: not only does it still taste terrible, you are probably going to end up with a bad case of diarrhea, idiot.
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