Zankyou no Terror – 05/06 Review
Sure, but some cautionary tales really work better without any empirical evidence.
What does this series actually want to appear like to its audience? The thing that really confounds me about this series isn’t what is going on or what character fulfils what roles, it’s the simple question what the purpose of all this is supposed to be. At the beginning the series was too mysterious to answer that question. The series really just pondered about its own meaning for four episodes without reaching a conclusion or some other form of answer. Instead, this evil girl gets dropped into the action and now everyone’s panicking that the price to actually finding the answer to that mystery may be too high. At least, as long as it requires for someone really villainous to hunt down the “terrorists”. I don’t know… Nine and Twelve aren’t exactly hero-material and they aren’t anti-hero-material either because it isn’t clear what their deal is. So, right now the series really just wants you to cheer for the lesser of two evils here. And maybe this would be interesting if the series had actually already addressed the important question of what the hell is going on in this series.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Well, that phrase certainly is easier to understand when it’s just about some men being jerks and a woman exacting revenge. But hey, let’s face it: nothing’s ever easy when it comes to women, right? That’s why the policeforce has no women, that’s why Lisa has been designated as troublesome by Nine and that’s why Nine’s ex-girlfriend isn’t just your run-of-the-mill pouting-pudding-pot.
After Nine and Twelve have done their best to be the most cryptic terrorists imaginable, Five enters the playfield to hunt them down and crush them. And she’s not just doing her civic duty here, this one is personal.
After all, she was trained in the same weird-ass facility like Nine and Twelve (her very “inspired” name should be a dead giveaway as well, I think). And because of that she’s a formidable enemy who knows exactly how to defeat Nine and Twelve: By being even more of a psychopath than they are.
Also, Lisa’s voice has a nice color.
It’s still a mystery to me why Lisa feels so compelled to help Nine and Twelve. The whole thing feels like she’s just being sentimental but… there should be more, right? She’s supporting people who may not want to hurt people… but they still cause destruction on a rather big scale.
They say adversity builds character and that certainly holds true for the storytelling-intentions of Zankyou no Terror’s second half. It seems strange to watch this show become something very different with the appearance of Five as a villain to oppose Nine and Twelve. Once the series was a slowly paced mystery-box kept alive by its atmosphere alone, now the focus is clearly on a contest between “good terrorists” and “amoral US-people”. And the Japanese police-department is sort-of caught in the middle of this power-struggle.
I haven’t been a real fan of this series so far. The plot was slow, the characters were unnecessarily obtuse and the whole point of it all was too intangible to have any dramatic weight. Zankyou no Terror was an atmosphere-driven mystery for its first four episodes and it didn’t deliver a lot of answers for why anything in this series is happening or why anyone should care about these things. But that’s all about to change with the arrival of Five, a new character.
In some ways I’m glad a character like Five has turned up. It’s obvious that she’s someone better than Nine and Twelve or at least, someone as good. She’s an obvious antagonist-figure. And in this series where Nine and Twelve are good guys who have a plan, someone who can thwart that plan is an obvious choice for an antagonist. This character can actually enter a contest with the heroes and with that the dynamic of the story and plot changes completely. The series still doesn’t want to solve the mystery but the focus is now more on the action than ever before. Where before the series had this nebulous feeling of people searching for something obscured from everyone’s view, the series has become a series of rushes and spontaneity where people deal with the present and immediate future. Before it was all about the question why anything in this series is happening but now it’s all about what is about to happen and what should be done about that.
With Five’s arrival there isn’t this disjointed contest between Shibazaki and Nine/Twelve anymore. Now a character is introduced who’s capable of being a counterforce. More than that, the last two episodes demonstrate that she’s capable of being a villain. Before her arrival, the moral position of Nine and Twelve was ambiguous but now the series discards all sort of pretense as to who’s good and evil.
Nine and Twelve act the same way I’ve expected them to act since the second episode. This may be a more personal grievance but any time the series reveals these bits about how Nine and Twelve aren’t super-evil terrorists, I’m mostly like “Uhm, duh…”. After all, this series started with a focus on those two teenagers and the series was very concerned with showing how those bomb-attacks didn’t hurt anybody. The same way I think I had a good grasp of Nine and Twelve early on, I also didn’t care about them that much. After all, it was mostly just me guessing and deducing what their deal is. Meanwhile the series never tried in those first four episodes to deliver some meaningful characterization or character-developments for those two characters. Even now those two characters don’t feel alive yet to me. And stuff like telling the audience that Twelve has Synesthaesia? That’s just information. Especially when it comes to characterization the ‘show, don’t tell’-rule is VERY important.
Characterization doesn’t happen with the help of exposition or scene-context, instead it all happens in the little details. But Twelve is just chipper all the time and Nine is just this stoic asshole. And there really is nothing more to them this far.
Until now the dynamic of the series concentrated on the riddles of Nine/Twelve plot-wise. The riddles were mostly tests, though. None of these actually delivered any serious story-bits. It was all about the atmosphere and I’ve talked a lot about how each of the shots had these thematic connections and this is still present in the fifth episode – except it seems less important. And with the sixth episode the whole symbolic angle of the various scenes becomes more of an after-thought as the series heads full-on into action-territory.
There’s a reason why I complained about this series being slow. This series was a meditation without meaning for four episodes. And yet, it had a certain elegance in terms of how it consistently employed its themes in its subtext. This was a series more concerned with its ambience than its plot and while this sort of thing would work better in a movie, the series did have a chance to redeem itself by delivering some serious pay-off at the end.
This is one of the most annoying characters of this series. He’s impulsive to a degree that just makes him seem stupid. Also, for a guy who constantly whines about Shibazaki not rushing foolishly into whatever seems like a good idea at the moment, he’s certainly quite ready to support Shibazaki’s disobedience.
But none of that matters now. It’s poignant for this change of heart how Shibazaki’s usual pondering riddle-solving-sequence ultimately turned out to be pointless in the fifth episode and who knows what role he will play in the future. The action in the fifth episode was frantic and panicked but this time around it was Nine and Twelve feeling powerless. In this way that fifth episode has rightly put its focus on Nine and Twelve this time around as their reactions to Five’s involvements are what matters here. At the same time, though, their roles change from victims in the fifth episode to heroes in the sixth episode at such a speed that it makes me wonder what the point of the first four pondering episode has been. What happened in these two episodes doesn’t build on what has happened before really, it’s more like the series is doing a sudden gearshift.
More than making this series potentially more action-heavy, Five’s involvement also delivers a dramatic change. Because more than just being an antagonist, Five is someone Nine and Twelve know very well. They have a shared history and from what the flashbacks shown so far it’s a rather emotional one. And this changes the nature of the drama in this series considerably! Previously there was a very detached feeling to the drama and all the interpersonal interactions delivered basic storytelling or they indirectly portrayed the themes of the series until then. But with this emotional stake in the confrontations the whole thing becomes far more straightforward. There’s now a tangible dramatic angle to the plot and all the sense of mystery gets blown away by the obvious confrontation-setup in the sixth episode.
I’m not sure yet whether this change is for the better or whether the series will ultimately suffer by concentrating on this confrontation between Five and Nine/Twelve. It’s really too soon to tell but I have to say: Right now I’m kinda disappointed. For all my complaining about the slow pace and obtuse mystery-plotwork in the first four episodes, I was way more interested in seeing where that series would go than finding out now how this battle with Five will turn out. But maybe that’s the general problem with doing a mystery-box-setup: Whatever the story turns out to be it can never live up to that mystery-buildup of expectations.
Lisa’s storyline also gets some development as she has found a new home at the hideout of Nine/Twelve. Also, very slowly she’s becoming a part of the Nine/Twelve-team. Lisa is still a character that serves more as a story-device than a plot-device, though. Her presence and really all she had done until now as well, nothing of this really had an impact on the “terrorism”-plot so far. Before Five’s arrival her presence in this series was more baffling than meaningful. With the fifth and sixth episode, though, it becomes apparent that she’s supposed to be this x-factor that Five doesn’t know exists. More than her just being this idealistic, naïve person who tries to help Nine and Twelve while Nine does his best to convince her that they are evil terrorists, in the end her role within the story is more practical than symbolic. Nine and Twelve can’t win against Five since she has the backing of the FBI but Lisa will probably be the decisive element in this confrontation as a sort of trump-card. Again the characterization falters here as her character to lacks the depth to appear as anything but a plot-device in this regard. First of all, she has no real agency since her newfound freedom is basically used to become obsessed with helping Nine/Twelve for whatever reason. And her personality is rather bland. Also, it’s kinda disturbing that all Lisa can think of when she’s trying to help two guys is cooking and washing their clothes. And naturally she isn’t good at cooking because moe. Her character still feels very inessential and useless. There are so many ways the series could create drama in the plot and deliver solutions for whenever Nine/Twelve are in a pinch without her being around and any of those possibilities sounds better right now or at least as good.
Whatever this series is trying to do with its new direction, it better lead to something better than what was shown in the sixth episode. Otherwise, I really feel like this series could end up being a kinda good series when it could’ve become a great series.