Jan 9, 2015
waluigia (All reviews)
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.