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.