Zankyou no Terror – 07 Review

[C12] Zankyou no Terror - 07.mp4 - 00004Actually, why ARE Nine and Twelve called terrorists in the first place…?! Time was when you needed a cause to become a terrorist.

I really don’t have the patience anymore to put up with this series’ bullshit. After seven (of 11 or so) episodes I’m still not sure what the story is supposed to be. Sure, I can guess. There are a couple hints –  but there’s nothing definite. And if a series does SO little to explain its story, I really don’t feel like doing the work for it. Even if my experience with various tropes would help me to fill in the blanks for this series flawed storytelling, I really wouldn’t think that this would be an excuse for what this series is doing. And yet here we are: 7th episode – and still there’s no significant story-beat to put all this nonsense in order. One thing I suspect is happening here after reading this interview of the series’ director Watanabe is that this series wants to be like an US-action-TV-show – except that it’s in Japan and that it has anime-elements like its reliance on teenager-protagonists for example. But due to the fact that Watanabe (or one of the other writers) don’t really understand what makes the shows tick that inspired this series, Zankyou no Terror has become the shallow affair that it is.

Synopsis:

Everything in life that deviates from the straight and, so to speak, normal line, makes people first curious and then indignant. In other words: When shit hits the fan, you’re first too shocked to know what the hell is going on but then you realize you gotta do what you gotta do. And so Sphinx 1,2 AND 3 deal with the trap that Five has set up

And they do what they gotta do. Why? Idealism? Plain Heroism? Pride? Who knows… The point is: With the help of Shibazaki (yep, THAT Shibazaki, weird just how quickly allegiances change in this series) Five is stopped from framing Nine/Twelve for a massacre at the airport.

And Lisa doesn’t die! Although she does come close to dying… She isn’t the most logical addition to Team Sphinx, I would say.

That’s an assumption. Stylistically I understand why the series would treat this as a fact but it really shows how needlessly elaborate the mind-games of this series are that it needs to establish facts this way.

Review:
Attention has to be earned. A boring show is a show that can’t hold your attention. So you would think that naturally all series would strive to keep your attention. After all, any kind of medium that demands of you to sit still for a certain amount of time better be worth it when usually a lot of other stuff will demand your attention in life. Zankyou no Terror isn’t a boring show. But neither is it one that holds your attention. In fact, this series seems to demand patience instead of attention. At this point Zankyou no Terror is one of the most stylish action-animes I have seen in a while – but practically everything surrounding this action and impressive cinematography lacks impact.

Zankyou no Terror is a very broad story. And it’s less about what it wants to say because I assume there is something it wants to say to the audience. It’s the way it evades depth that makes it such a frustrating experience. Yep, it’s frustrating. I don’t know how else to describe the forceful kind of storytelling that’s employed here, storytelling that not even bother with hiding, it just straight-up ignores what’s going on beneath the surface. And because of this method the characters, the story and the plot are all delivered with very broad strokes. Characters fulfill only certain roles, the story is straightforward to the point of being non-selfaware and the plot has things happening without rhyme or reason (or at least that’s what it feels like). This series is literally falling apart by desperately relying on something that it equally desperately doesn’t want to commit to.

Seriously, this is the seventh episode, the seventh fucking episode! I assume this is a 1-cour-show which means we are PAST the midwaypoint. And the plot may act like the story has moved forward so the “stakes” are raised, a villain is introduced and so on – but story-wise barely anything has happened since the first episode. This little arc in the airport could’ve been the second and third episode. Lisa just would’ve had to join Nine and Twelve right away at the end of episode 01 and it would’ve been fine.

Last week someone graciously offered a link to an interview with Watanabe and it was kinda revealing to see how he talks about this series. He REALLY wanted to do this series – and yet he seems unable to offer a concise description for this series. At the end of the interview he even jokes how he comes up with bullshit-comparisons to various Western shows like 24 or Sherlock. Those comparisons don’t mean anything. Because in the end the nicest thing you could say about those comparisons is that Zankyou no Terror has some elements that are kinda similar to those aforementioned series but really it’s a stretch. The story of this series is a murky mess that feels shallow because of its weird storytelling-decisions.
I encourage everyone to read that interview and I’ve already said a few things about it in the comments but let me restate some of the key-things to take away from this interview: The series is supposed to show the effects of terrorism in Japan (sort-of in a post-9/11-paranoia-kinda way, I guess). The series is about teenagers being able to do a lot of shit with the help of today’s technology. And finally it’s about action. Only ONE of those three the series does kinda right and that’s the action.

First of all, the terrorism-element is the worst part of this series. It’s such a superfluous element. After all, this series has literally nothing to say about terrorism. I mean, except if you count “terrorism is bad” as an insightful comment, I guess. Characters in this series throw the word terrorism around without actually giving it any meaning. Just imagine yourself trying to explain what terrorism is to some random person and then you would show that person this series. Do you think they would understand what terrorism is? No, of course not! After all, to begin with I’m not sure the series actually understands what terrorism is. The series was very quick to introduce the word terrorist to its setting-vocabulary but it’s really only as meaningful as some spell from Harry Potter. The punchline is of course that Nine and Twelve are NOT terrorists. You know this moment when you think something is this specific thing but then you find out it’s not? Like you drink a glass of water but you find out it’s vodka, you know, that sort of thing. Yeah, that’s what terrorism is in this series. Well, actually it’s even more confusing because it’s not entirely clear why they’ve jumped to the conclusion of those two being terrorists in the first place. You don’t see Batman call Riddler a terrorist just for planting a bomb somewhere that can be stopped by solving a riddle. Because that’s what Sphinx is all about. Especially after 9/11 terrorism is a very loaded term that needs to be discussed within the story. And Zankyou no Terror isn’t some American series like 24 for example that can quickly label some bad guys as terrorists while pointing to 9/11 as if to say “It’s more of those guys!”. Also, I would like to think most of Western TV has moved past such paranoia-fueled storytelling. At this point using the word terrorist as a “hip way” to describe bad guys is just lazy.

One other interesting thing about the interview with Watanabe is that he talks a lot about Western shows. And maybe that’s the crucial flaw of this show: It uses genre-tropes from Western shows without really understanding them. For example, terrorism. The reason why US-shows can so easily label bad guys as terrorists is for one because of 9/11 like I’ve mentioned but also because of the idealistic image of the US as a force of order and freedom in the whole world. The story takes that and just shrugs saying: “Yeah, of course the bad terrorists would attack the US, right?”. But you can’t use that same narrative shortcut with a Japanese setting and Japanese characters of course. Also the hinted at involvement of some shady government that had trained Nine, Twelve and Five is exactly the kind of hip enemy-imagery a US-series would use nowadays. Since the post-9/11-paranoia has died down somewhat, like at the beginning of the 90s the government is back as the big bad guy. And the whole NSA-thingy made it seem more appropriate than ever. Zankyou no Terror also has elements of this theme with how Shibazaki & Co are basically kept away from doing their jobs by their superiors. Again, though, this is a story-beat that has no meaning and the series doesn’t really seem to want to say anything with it. The series just uses that theme – and nothing more.

And you can really see the series losing its grip on the story in this episode when Nine calls Shibazaki to ask him for help. Nine’s all like “Hey, you’re a police-guy… Act like one!” and Shibazaki’s like “Shit, you’re right. But you really don’t act like a terrorist, you know that?”. These characters are so broadly characterized that there’s no subtext or drama in that dialogue. It all just gets blatantly spelled out. A series with a better grasp of what makes the characters tick would never do stuff like Shibazaki being convinced by a simple reminder that he’s a policeman. Stuff like that should be subtext! And the stuff this dialogue spells out to create some sort of logic that would convince Shibazaki to help Nine is SO broad. There’s really no personality present in this dialogue. I mean, the writing itself isn’t bad per se, it does the job but it’s all surface-level stuff. There’s no depth or individuality in this dialogue. And you could say that about really the whole episode. The series doesn’t have a distinct voice. For all the story-beats this series nails, it overall fails to bring those together to create something compelling.

[C12] Zankyou no Terror - 07.mp4 - 00002The series continues to use technology in a way that’s not imaginative enough to be considered sci-fi but not mundane enough to be considered realistic.

What’s even more frustrating is to see stuff in this series that’s simply excellent. In the interview Watanabe talks about the riddles of the series and then there’s the aforementioned focus on action. Both these things are really well done. You can see that a lot of thought has been put into those parts of the series. The mindgames of the series are really quite elaborate and kinda smart. This episode could’ve been a real thrill-ride with the back and forth of the battle between Nine/Twelve and Five.

Another exciting element of this series is its cinematography. Again, it’s apparent that a lot of thought has been put into each scene and how it’s “shot”. You usually don’t see this kind of dynamic approach in animes. The usual approach is far more pragmatic and bland while relying on art-style and animation more heavily instead. And I’m all for animes making stylistic choices like this one. Naturally it doesn’t mean it ultimately will improve animes in general but at least we would get away from this approach where the only dynamic shots are those happening for the sake of fanservice.

Ultimately none of those good elements can save the series at this point, though. There are parts of this series it actually pays attention to, that noticeably seem way better than the other elements. Sadly none of Zankyou no Terror’s elements are what dominates my impression of the series as a whole. Overall the series simply lacks a good story. The plot may have a lot of tricks up its sleeve to create thrills but none of those actually matter when the story itself is such an utter bore. I mean, more than not having a compelling story I still don’t know why I should give a shit about any of those events. Half of the story this series wants to tell is finished and the series has gone way beyond the acceptable limits of pretending to be mysterious. The series actively avoids creating any sense of depth or understanding rendering the characters bland and the plot ineffective.

Episode-Rating: 6.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • Here’s the link to the interview posted by in the comments by frenschelboo from the review of the previous two episodes. Also, I’ve already said a bit about it in the comments of the previous episode.
  • The believability of the train-bombing-scene from the fifth scene is somewhat dubious and the way the WHOLE airport seems to be oblivious to most of the action going on seems just as dubious. This series definitely happens in a stylized universe that sacrifices realism for the sake of characterisation and stylishness. Sadly the whole thing isn’t really put to good use by the series. After all, the story is obviously flawed by lacking any sort of depth that would render this stuff effective.
  • Lisa has no personality at this point. There was this one little moment in one of the previous episodes when she decided to escape from her normal life. That was the one moment where Lisa showed some hints of a personality. But since then she’s just been a ditzy, eager servant to Nine and Twelve. I really don’t think that should be considered a character-arc.

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on August 23, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, Zankyou no Terror and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m mildly surprised at the fact that this episode is being met with so much derision- not just you, but by the larger anime community. Though their complaints seem to differ from yours- most of the others seem to think that the show went downhill with the introduction of Five and the apparent loss of realism. The show never struck me as being realistic, but I kind of get where people are coming from. The series certainly requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.

    Maybe it’s because I interpreted the interview and the story a little differently, but I thought the series handled the individual themes quite well. It does falter noticeably when trying to integrate these themes together, but that’s really my only major complaint about it. And this is really good at visual storytelling- every little change in expression always says something, and I was struck by the character’ faces in this episode. So I semi-disagree with you about there being no subtext whatsoever, though I do think the dialogue can be a bit spotty at times.

    For example, when Watanabe said that he wanted to include “themes of adolescence”, I took it to mean that he wanted to deal with the emotional aspect of adolescence- the volatility of the young, and need for people to connect with each other. Shibazaki mentioned it in one of the earlier episodes, and it’s prevalent in Lisa’s attempts at fitting in with the Sphinx duo. She’s a lost kid trying to fit in with other lost kids, and she’s desperately craving the approval of those similar to her. That’s certainly an overpowering desire, but she also hesitates, because- despite everything she’s been through- she’s not as detached from world as she thinks she is. And then you have Five, another lost kid who’s stuck between girlhood and womanhood because she chose to isolate herself (Nine implied that her staying behind at the institution was a deliberate choice on her part), and has consequently become unhinged.

    …I think my inner Lit student just went into overdrive. I’m probably reading too much into the show.

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    • “It does falter noticeably when trying to integrate these themes together, but that’s really my only major complaint about it.”

      And that’s the part where we disagree because for me this isn’t just a major complaint anymore, it’s a big problem. There are moments when the themes are better integrated into the the plot and dialogue than others but overall the series hasn’t managed to establish any of those for the show. They just sort-of appear from time to time. There has been no discourse or reflection regarding those themes and not having that after seven of 11 or so episodes really isn’t good.

      The reason why Five’s arrival is often cited as the cause for this show going downhill is less about the loss of realism in my opinion (because you’re right, the series wasn’t THAT realistic to begin with) but more about how the plot moved forward into seemingly more dramatic and tense territory, even though the story hasn’t offered anything solid to get invested in yet.

      Also, the series was very slow-moving in the beginning and so it was easier to accept how the themes were established with little moments here and there. But with Five’s arrival the action has taken center-stage and there isn’t much space left for those evocative little moments.

      “She’s a lost kid trying to fit in with other lost kids, and she’s desperately craving the approval of those similar to her.”

      Yeah, but why does she need their approval? Wouldn’t be self-fulfilment her goal now since she has escaped the constraints of normal life? Especially episode 04 really made her seem way more independent, I feel like. But since then she’s just a ditzy servant that’s eager to please.

      “And then you have Five, another lost kid who’s stuck between girlhood and womanhood because she chose to isolate herself (Nine implied that her staying behind at the institution was a deliberate choice on her part), and has consequently become unhinged.”

      Could be right… Although the writing in this episode and the last one really wasn’t subtle enough to deliver a whole lot of characterization for Five, I would say. If anything, she just seems evil and kinda crazy. What exactly convinced her to be that way needs a flashback, of course. And the details of Nine/Twelve’s escape as well as what was even going on in the facility are still too vague at this point to be of any consequence, I think.

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      • I dont think Lisa was ever shone to be mentality strong enough to seek self-fulfillment. It’s propably because of this is why she was constantly bullied and lacking of self-confidence to even try to make the best of her situation. By leaving her home and entire Nine and Twelve’ lives, she desperately wants their acceptance so she can find a place to belong…because in her eyes, at least they wont bully her; In her eyes, their kindred souls like her, people she belongs with

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  2. This ep was fine in my opinion, but i do agree with you that the story doesnt feel like it has gone anywhere significant; i think we kinda talked about that last week so now im kind of curious if this series is going to get multiple seasons…because other than that i cant see why this sudden decision to have this Five-arc happened in the middle of the series when this show was benefiting greatly from its more nuanced story-telling (to which it should have started capitalizing on around the fifth ep).

    In regards to the complaints people have had with the five-arc, although i see where people are coming from, i certainly dont think those complaints make strong cases as to how the show has supposedly gone of the rails. In my opinion, the show lost a bit of focus with its story progression when entering this arc, which i do think hurt the show a little but it certainly didnt stop it from being good. This review makes a compelling argument that i think fits what has been lacking from the last couple of eps, but that is really the only issue ive had with the series as of late. Like i said, i can see where otheers are coming from with their complaints..but i dont think they are majorly important and i definitely dont think it has stopped the series from being good (and it certainly has not delved into michael bay territory…that comparison is sooooo unwarranted)

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    • “This ep was fine in my opinion, but i do agree with you that the story doesnt feel like it has gone anywhere significant”

      Yeah, on the surface the show is still very well-done (although the writing isn’t that great). What concerns me is the utter lack of development and depth beneath the surface of this show. And add to that the fact that the show has probably only five or so episodes left, I start to lose my patience with this show. That’s more a personal problem, of course, since I hope that ultimately the show will get its shit together for the finale at least, but right now I don’t think I actually still like this show.

      “(and it certainly has not delved into michael bay territory…that comparison is sooooo unwarranted)”

      Haha, if this were a Michael Bay thing, the whole Tokyo city would be in ruins already and the nuclear bomb would’ve been immediately established as some sort of macguffin. And there would’ve been mechas, of course, that would’ve caused even more destruction than Nine and Twelve’s bombs have already done.

      I agree with you there. That the show has “gone off the rails” with the Five-arc and that it has entered Michael-Bay-territory are really inaccurate descriptions for this arc. The series isn’t THAT messy.

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