Zankyou no Terror – 04 Review
What a witty metaphor! Seriously, this series desperately needs some self-awareness when it comes to referencing present-day-stuff.
Zankyou no Terror isn’t a series I hold in high regard right now. It’s competent, it’s ambitious, it has a good direction and it clearly has something say to the audience (who knows at this point if anyone actually wants to hear what that message is) but the story… It’s not very complicated. And it’s not because there aren’t layers to this series’ story, it’s because the series shies away from embracing its own story. It languishes in the presentation of its premise while not really moving forward to the next stage of that premise. The series doesn’t have any deep drama or characters being able to push the plot forward. The pacing is VERY slow so far and even if the series gets better at nailing all the facets of its themes, there’s still an obvious lack of story-development. Also, I’ve already said that this series’ finale will ultimately decide whether all this will be worth it but watching this on a weekly basis shows that that’s more something you should do in a movie and not in a series. In a movie you can have over an hour of seemingly insignificant plot only to make it all seem important with one really good plottwist. But with a series you have to build up attachment and investment in smaller doses instead of going for the one big reveal that completes the whole puzzle. But I don’t think Zankyou no Terror is aware of that.
Shitty, hysteric mother, boring school-life, no friends: Who can blame Lisa for becoming a fugitive living on the streets? She has only one salvation and that’s… joining a terrorist-group! Yep, sounds like a good idea, mostly because for some weird reason said group only consists of two kids who are the same age as her. Also they somehow manage to find time to appear at school AND to prepare their little games with the police. Those DO sound like great guys to hang out with, don’t they?
The policeforce is as incapable as ever to put their overabundance of testosterone to good use. Naturally Shibasaki is the only one who wants to do actual investigations instead of hanging around that dick-illuminati-meeting and so Shibazaki finds out that kids… are a mystery. Seriously, they speak in a code or something. A kid opens his mouth and out comes some obscure reference to an internet-sensation that has become popular only a few minutes ago. How can an old person ever hope to keep up with such references?
Naturally there’s another riddle this week and it’s an… uhm, rather convoluted one that basically results in “Know Thyself” being the important part which meant that Shibazaki had to put in his own name to solve the riddle… which he did in time. But his colleagues ran into the trap by being given the chance to break the rules set up by Nine and Twelve.
With the rules broken, Nine and Twelve release all the secret reports of the investigations… you know, like WikiLeaks, Snowden and whatnot. It’s SO up-to-date, RIGHT?! Only kids could come up with such crazy shit naturally.
That sounds like the opening-line for some observational-comedy-bit… Seriously, why does he act so incredulous?! What does he think an explosives-manufacturer does with its products in a capitalistic economy…?
By what should people be judged? Their actions or their motives? Zankyou no Terror shows that the clear difference between the two isn’t a question of morality but a question of empathy. While it’s easy to denounce actions as crimes within a structured society that has laws, it’s empathy that allows judging the criminals’ motivation instead of just their actions. Criminal activity doesn’t start with an action, it starts within the head of the criminal. There’s a practical side to this as well as empathy allows to predict what a criminal will do and make it easier to catch him.
And yet neither Shibazaki, Lisa nor Nine and Twelve receive any empathy from their environment. All these characters are misunderstood but also feel unable to clearly communicate with the rest of the world to invite understanding. The theme of “imprisonment” and lack of freedom is still aesthetically present in this episode with many shots of people being surrounded by walls, being in the shadow and a lot of close-ups. There’s a very isolated feeling to how the police-force and Nine/Twelve work.
Especially the policeforce feels like it’s stuck in a way. Instead of questioning Nine/Twelve’s motives they are deemed terrorists because of their actions and all the actions of the policeforce seem aggressive and uncompromising. And they turn against Shibazaki as he tries to understand Nine and Twelve. It’s very fitting that at the police-meeting the police-force seems simply incapable of catching up to Nine and Twelve confined within that darkened room while Shibazaki is in this big open space as he ventures out to find someone who had contact with Twelve.
Meanwhile, Lisa is actually the one that’s the least “imprisoned” of the characters in this series. By fleeing from her home, her mother and school she leaves the confinement these things enforce. And for the first time really sells this notion of freedom that this series adores. There are precious few moments in the series where a character is in a shot that doesn’t feel confined. Lisa’s dialogue with Twelve adds another element of this symbolic freedom and that’s movement.
Just in general, I feel like this episode had a much tighter direction than the previous episodes. This episode actually shows more movement instead of having this almost brooding atmosphere where any activity seems almost pointless. With Shibazaki going on a journey and Lisa’s dialogue with Twelve as well as when Twelve later rescues her really help in making those confined scenes feel more poignant.
Really the element of movement that has been added to the Lisa-scenes in terms of cinematography is the standout-element of this episode. It really sells the elation of abandoning her normal life and living free of its restraints. So far, most scenes of the series as I’ve described have a confined feeling and here come these two scenes that are all about movement. It’s a really good directorial choice. I really felt a bit worried for this series because as good as it was in selling its confined atmosphere, I always thought back on that opening-sequence of the first episode. But after that the series never really quite reproduced that elation of movement coupled with the tension of the action.
Naturally it also helps that this series has rather good soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. If you listen to her soundtrack you already get a good sense of how this series has this slow pave that step by step builds up until it bursts into action from one moment to another (nc17). It also has these pondering moments that have this feeling of serenity as a slow moving quiet guitar and drum sequence is accompanied by a vocal that slowly opens up more and gets more expressive as the track picks up its space as it then finally transitions yet again into this burst of action (birden). And that burst of action is something the second and third episode didn’t quite manage to sell. It’s becoming clearer that this series is about the characters’ mindset.
The elation of not being bogged down by society that’s mostly shown as confining in this series is what should accompany every burst of action. Nine and Twelve toying with the world around them and the police, Shibazaki solving one of the riddles and Lisa choosing her own path in life. Those need to be joyous sequences. All three are these irresponsible, selfish actions that are all about finding happiness. But right now Nine and Twelve’s mindset is still treated like a mystery and Shibazaki isn’t very open about why he’d rather play the game presented by Nine and Twelve than do traditional policework. Although there was a sequence where one of the other policemen questioned Shibazaki’s willingness to commit to the game instead of following up on a lead but Shibazaki didn’t really give an explanation for his behavior. Lisa’s sequences were actually the best in this episode for a change as they were actually expressive on a character-level. The drama surrounding Shibazaki at his workplace is hardly noteworthy and rather one-note. Lisa speaking her mind and being honest about her feelings is a rare thing in this series but it definitely improves her scenes that we have a character who’s honest and aware of her feelings.
Bitcoins funded terrorism! You heard it here first!
But there’s another theme at work in this series and that’s the generational conflict. I’m not really sure that the series has sold me on it so far. It’s a rather bizarre affair where the policeforce’s rigid state of mind is tied to their awareness for 21st century news-buzz. From 9/11-imagery to a Snowden-esque leaking of secret reports, the policeforce always seem completely baffled by these actions. Look, in simple terms those things are simply references. But here’s the thing: If you reference a thing happening in the same world the characters live in – then someone should be aware of those. You can’t just put references into a story without any sense of self-awareness. References are story with an in-built context and that context needs to be addressed. Characters within the story shouldn’t look at references and do a fucking Seinfeld-routine à la “What’s the deal with…?”. There needs to be a sense of self-awareness and commentary.
But maybe the writers aren’t that aware of what they’re referencing. That’s certainly the case with the bitcoin-reference. Maybe someone should’ve told the writers that bitcoin haven’t replaced actual currency. Some Japanese company that deals in explosives wouldn’t allow bitcoin as payment. As long as you’re not in the military-business, explosives are meant for demolition and stuff like that, which means that there are certainly regulations that would keep random people from buying that stuff. And even if Nine and Twelve had used a fake-identity the whole bitcoin-thing should’ve made the explosives-company suspicious. Obviously you could all reason it away with the company not really caring about where the money comes from and in which form as long as the minimum-requirements are fulfilled but that’s the kind of suspense of disbelief the story has to spell out to make it work. Suspense of disbelief is something a story arranges and not something it leaves in the hands of the audience in the hope that they feel merciful.
Also, I don’t like that all these present-day-references are tied to terrorism-stuff. Showing policemen (because policewomen don’t exist for some reason) being ticked off by Nine and Twelve employing those references in their little games gives those references a very judgmental feeling. Is Bitcoin bad? Is the whole affair of leaking of secret files bad? Is 9/11-imagery something you can just nonchalantly throw into a story? That’s why references need to be accompanied by some self-awareness. Those aren’t easy Yes-Or-No-Questions. Stuff like that needs to be debated. So it’s weird for this series to use those things in such a trivial manner.
And the generational conflict just gets silly when the series explains that one of the main-reasons why Shibazaki doesn’t understand Nine and Twelve is because they’re young. The whole silly thing with the references Shibazaki is ALWAYS baffled by because only young people (and his buddy in the archives-department) would get those. Also, the third episode had this ridiculous moment where that other old policeguy asks Shibazaki whether he doesn’t like Nine and Twelve’s actions because they have a nuclear bomb and he’s related to victims of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan by the US. Look, I get that it’s a relevant reference but this series clearly wants to show that young people reference stuff from the 21st century while old people naturally reference something from over 60 years ago. Old people aren’t THAT ignorant, especially since none of the older characters in this show are old enough to qualify for Alzheimer.
This series needs to change, though. Riddles and games aren’t enough to keep this stagnating plot going. Lisa’s involvement with Nine and Twelve certainly will create some plot-developments but this series needs to become more active. I’m still not sure where exactly the series wants to go with Nine and Twelve’s terrorism but the series really needs some good justification for what’s happening. And that story certainly can be revealed pretty soon, I think. After all I would like to believe that it amounts to more than just Nine and Twelve having a few bad childhood experiences.
- When the police-force meets in this darkened room with the big screen… Aren’t they mostly reusing animation-sequences from the 2nd episode? Even if they didn’t, it shows just HOW uninteresting of a set-piece that room is.
- I know the series tries to go for a confined feeling with its story and atmosphere but… As ineffective as the police has been until now, wouldn’t there be some political manoeuvring to give someone the blame and give someone new the responsibility to deal with this mess? But the series rarely ever portrays the general public’s feelings about what Nine and Twelve are doing.
- Shibazaki just can’t quit smoking – because he’s an old man who’s stuck in his ways. An acceptable metaphor except… why exactly did he want to quit smoking in the first place?
- Who knows what’s going on in Twelve’s head when he suddenly decides to help Lisa out instead of killing her or abandoning her. I mean, it’s not like the first episode had shown the complete opposite in regards to what Nine and Twelve are thinking of Lisa…