Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anime Review - Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance, Terror in Tokyo)

The poster for Zankyou no Terror.

    Zankyou no Terror (psychological, crime drama) is an anime original by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy). It aired in 2014, from July 10 to September 25, and is comprised of eleven 25-minute episodes.

     Set in an alternate version of present-day Japan, two undocumented young men who go by "Nine" and "Twelve" begin terror strikes in Tokyo, dragging an ingenuous high school girl along with them.


Twelve and Kururin.
    Zankyou no Terror starts off with Nine and Twelve stealing a secret weapon from a nuclear power plant in Aomori, Japan. Flash forward six months, and they enroll at a local high school and, taking advantage of a power outage, begin planting explosive "Kururin" toys around a nearby government building.  While planting Kururins, Twelve runs into Lisa Mishima, a student at the school, and leaves her with a Kururin.  Threatened with her life, Lisa agrees to become an accomplice to Nine and Twelve.  In the blink of an eye, Lisa went from being bullied at the poolside to leaping out of a crumbling building into the arms of a terrorist.

     Meanwhile, the police set about analyzing a cryptic video posted on the Internet featuring a pair of young boys in masks who refer to themselves as Sphinx 1 and Sphinx 2.

(L-R) Sphinx 1/Nine and Sphinx 2/Twelve present their
riddle to the Japanese police.
     That's just the first episode, and I feel like I'm selling it short.  Every single episode is filled to the brim with action, drama, mystery, and enough suspense to tear a rift in the space-time continuum. It is in no way short of moments that make your palms sweat and your hair stand on end while your gluteus maximi clench as you levitate just slightly above your seat.  And while it uses cliffhangers, it doesn't need to rely on them to keep you interested, because the tension alone is more than enough to drag your lifeless body into the next episode.  Furthermore, there is always a nugget -- a round ton, rather -- of mystery dangled right in front of your nose, but it doesn't rip you off by never giving you any answers.  It dispels the mystery in bits, and in the end, it answers every question it presented.  The plot moves swiftly, and it gets right down to business.  However, as briskly as it moves along, the plot is gracious and pauses to allow you a short respite; a moment to catch your breath, take in the eery, beautiful atmosphere, and brace yourself for the storm to come.  The plot is complex, cohesive, believable, and has a natural, steady progression.

Twelve and Lisa in the grand finale.
     The grand finale comes down on you like a ton of bricks, ending the show as strongly as it began, or stronger.  In the finale, all the tension that had culminated over the course of the episodes came to a head and exploded onto the screen in a grand symphony of questions finally answered, goals met, fears confronted, character arcs concluded.  It is a grand spectacle that lifts you up and throws you down and tucks you in bed as it hums "My Fair Lady" softly in your ear.  The finale is conclusive.  It is somber. It leaves hope for tomorrow.

Plot: 10 Kururins


Lisa Mishima.
     While the cast is relatively extensive, Zankyou no Terror focuses on five main characters: our antiheroes, Nine and Twelve; our tormented point-of-view character, Lisa Mishima; the disgraced police detective Kenjirou Shibazaki; and the hella crazy FBI agent Five, who has strong childhood ties with Nine and Twelve.  

     Of these five, Lisa is the point-of-view character.  She is the fly on the wall -- the really real character that gives you an anchor in the story.

     Each character has backstory, flaws, and wounds that make them believable.  Every one of them has a screw loose, some more than others, and every one of them has moments where either they are redeemed or they show a side of them that's worthy of at least sympathy.  However, Zankyou no Terror doesn't need to spoon-feed feels and hormones to make you care about the characters.  It very respectfully hands you the characters, shows you what they're like, and allows you to make of them what you will, and reevaluate as they are developed.

Shibazaki mulling over Sphinx's riddle.
     Zankyou no Terror develops its characters with subtle power.  Slowly it warms you up to a character, revealing a flaw here, a virtue there.  Then, at the very end, you come to realize just how much you care about them, even if you don't particularly like them.  

     One of the greatest debates I've seen concerning Zankyou no Terror is about Lisa, and her importance to the show.  Some argue she's just a damsel in distress, while others argue that she's there for character development, to balance out the heavy plot.  I will not burden you with my opinion, because Lisa's character, as with all the characters in Zankyou no Terror, is not to be taken at face-value.  You have to watch her character develop from beginning to end before passing judgement.  

Characters: 9.5 Kururins
     -0.5 on account of Lisa controversy.


     The cast of Zankyou no Terror is led by Kaito Ishikawa, voicing the cold and calculating Nine, Souma Saitou as the playful Twelve, Atsumi Tanezaki as our slightly ditzy POV Lisa, Shunsuke Sakuya as the beastly awesome vigilante police detective Shibazaki, and Megumi Han as the more-than-a-little crazy FBI investigator Five.

     The voice actors in Zankyou no Terror did a terrific job of capturing the nature of their characters.  They delivered their lines with splendid loyalty to the characters, and with compelling emotion that conveyed all kinds of ulterior motives and suppressed truths with impeccable effectiveness.

(L-R) Nine and Twelve.
    However, another huge qualm many viewers had was with the unnecessary and poor use of English by Five and others, as they are with the FBI.  A lot of people found it irritating that the creators didn't simply hire native English speakers to deliver the lines that are in English.  Others consider it comic relief.

Acting: 9 Kururins
     -1 on account of unintelligible "Engrish." 


The dim lighting gives this scene a very edgy atmosphere.
     Zankyou no Terror has a very distinct art style.  It is highly detailed, using varying widths of black to separate objects.  It uses a lot of shadow and does a good job of conveying mood through colour and lighting. 

     The character designs are detailed enough that, though almost all of the characters have plain colour palettes, it's easy to tell them apart, as they all have unique facial features, clothing styles, and even body language.  The style tends to draw the faces with softer edges, and the general anatomy with realistic proportions.

#judgingyou #yourcookinggamesucks
     The detail of the facial expressions is rather impressive.  The artists did a fantastic job of conveying emotion purely through facial expression.  For example, in the first episode, you see a closeup of Lisa's eyes as she's about to jump into Twelve's arms, who's standing amidst the rubble far below her.  Though you don't hear her internal debate, you can see the conflict, the discouragement, and then resolve flash behind her eyes right before she jumps.  It's all in the brows. A few episodes later, Nine pretty much says, "Totally judging you right now" with his eyes.  It was beautiful.

     Every animated show has bloopers, however, and Zankyou no Terror is no exception.  One small hiccup was in episode 10, when one character is in an explosion, and, after the initial flash, the character's body just disappears.  It didn't show him/her hurtled ten meters from the blast or anything.  He/she just kind of went poof. Then there are moments where the anatomy skills wane.  

     Even with the mistakes in mind, the animation is superb, and conveys atmosphere and emotion far better than most animated productions convey those things through melodrama and yelling.

Visuals: 9.7 Kururins.
     -0.3 on account of bloopers.


     The soundtrack, masterfully composed by Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Darker Than Black), manages to capture the atmosphere of each scene flawlessly.  The intro and outro songs provide an eery frame that work well in context.  While the soundtrack really excels in setting the tone without distracting, there are moments when it stands out and truly makes the scene.

The cover for the soundtrack
   Sound: 10 Kururins


     Overall, Zankyou no Terror is truly a masterpiece.  It handles moral ambiguity with grace, is respectful to both the characters and the viewers, and is an incredibly powerful contribution to anime as we know it.  The plot is beautiful and excellently executed.  The characters are believable.  The voice acting is excellent, barring an ineffective use of "Engrish."  The visuals are stunning.  The music is superb.

     And now, without further ado, I grant Zankyou no Terror with a final grade of...

9.64 Kururins

     And, with that, I highly recommend this magnum opus of a show to anyone, regardless of their taste in anime, and whether or not they even watch anime.  It very politely places you on the edge of your seat, and then perches your seat precariously atop a ferris wheel with C-4 strapped to your chest with eery Icelandic music playing in the background.  This is one show that met and exceeded every one of my expectations, and by the end had me sobbing until my stomach ached.  Zankyou no Terror is a work of art that should not be missed.

If you like, you can watch the trailer here.

A homemade AMV for Zankyou no Terror can be viewed here.

Post Script

     Zankyou no Terror is not a show for impressionable minds.  Between the stark realism of Lisa's problematic home and school life and the anarchist, anti-American undercurrents, Zankyou no Terror should be viewed with adult discretion.  As with most animes, parents should be warned before allowing their children to watch this, or should at least guide them through it with wisdom and discernment.

(Updated on 10/7/14)

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