In Episode Eval, I take a look at a singular episode from one of the eight series I’m watching this season. At the end of the week these will be collected in the weekly Streaming Anime Round-Up for easier consumption.
The central problem with Zankyou no Terror is how quickly the show drops out of your consciousness once the last minutes of the series flash before your eyes. It’s pretty simple really; the series doesn’t seem to care about dipping too deep into any one particular message or thought system, leaving the audience with a show that’s a great thriller but that also lacks in the profundity which has been more synonymous with Shinichrio Watanabe in the past.
After Nine and Twelve prevail over Five in the 7th episode, she and her American cohorts work to put an end to Sphinx, once and for all. Will the two young men get their message out to the world, or will Five and the Americans use any piece on the table to stop them?
For all it’s action, political intrigue and well paced storytelling, Zankyou no Terror feels lifeless by the end of the series, leaving the audience empty and thoughtless. What are we to parse from the storyline? America bad, independent Japan good? Maybe so–and I’d certainly like to see the country lose it’s quasi-dependence on the U.S. military if that’s what it wants–but that’s not where this series started at. We started with a girl, Lisa, who seemed lost, sad and lonely. She was bullied at school and her mother’s severe anxiety disorder effected her quality of life at home. Enter Nine and Twelve, two young men who offer her an escape from her problematic life into a tense and morally ambiguous world of domestic terrorism. Not much of an escape, no, but Lisa took it because she too was an outsider in her own way. Now we’ve a character in Lisa that represents the outsider viewpoint of the audience, finally getting a behind the scenes look at what causes people to want to terrorize. Maybe we can even get a glimpse into the situations that got these young men to this place. Maybe we can… *gasp*… understand them. By it’s fourth episode, however, Zankyou no Terror largely throws much of this potential out the window by putting action over character development, and by continuing–up until these last handful of episodes–to shroud Nine and Twelve in darkness, even from Lisa. This mysteriousness–rather than a consorted effort to delve into the why of these boys’ actions–becomes one of the calling cards of the show. It’s terrific for the suspense of the show, and as mentioned earlier, the pacing is near flawless for what it’s trying to do. I just wish Zankyou no Terror strove to accomplish so much more. Even in the finale, when there is still a good chance to right this ship some of the way, we get all the wrong scenes; characters of great importance disappear, papier mache answers to series-long questions are pasted together and our three protagonists kick around the ol’ soccer ball to kill some time. I won’t be delving into the various plot lines which flesh out these last few episodes, but they simply didn’t work for me and my high expectations of what Watanabe and his crew had the ability to do.
And yet I read that last paragraph, and I realize how unfair I’m being to this series. As an anime convert from the Cowboy Bebop days, I place Shinichiro Watanabe–creator of this series–on an amazingly ornate pedestal. It’s funny that a creator can only have a handful of titles to his name, and yet we as viewers and audience members are quick to assume what type of art said creator will be regaling us with for their next project. Zankyou no Terror was really never it’s own series in my mind, but instead the little brother of Cowboy Bebop with some terrorism mixed in. Woah, Watanabe nailed one aspect of terrorism in the Bebop movie, so not only can this not fail, but I know just what to expect out of it. That’s the problem with expectations, especially of art; having our own ideas of what something will or should be going into it, blinds us from seeing what the creator is truly offering up. We look so hard for the message that we pre-built for the series, or movie, or book, that we can so completely miss out on what it was getting at in the first place. With that idea in mind, though I can’t recommend this series on its handling of characters or the way it squanders the very messages that I’d like to see, it’s beautifully animated by MAPPA studios, and the direction on the fight scenes–actually every scene, individually–is pretty outstanding. Say what you will about its purpose, but Zankyou is certainly one of the best looking shows of the summer season. Beyond that, the soundtrack is great, though not as memorable as some of Yoko Kanno’s previous work. I’ve constantly got the theme song for the series echoing through my head, haunting really. The voice acting is great too. Call me an idiot, but I have absolutely no problem with Five’s voice actor’s “engrish” pronunciation of some words. The character is Japanese and there’s no set amount of time for which she’s been in America, so I don’t understand what’s so crazy about thinking the character could have a defined accent when speaking english. But that’s neither here nor there.
It’s not an easy task with the new season just around the corner–not to mention several other projects availing themselves of my time these days–but I’m intrigued to return to Zankyou no Terror somewhere down the road. I can’t detract my opinion, but I can say that analysis and critique of cultural artifacts don’t have to be frozen in time. There’s no interest here in becoming some sort of Watanabe apologist, because even completely subjectively there are plenty of flaws to find in this series. But to decide before we’ve even finished the first episode of a series exactly what we want from the creators, is not only to rob those creators of their impact, but to deprive ourselves of the pure experience of interacting with a piece of art in real time. On a re-watch, I may find that I hate Zankyou no Terror more than ever before, and that’s fine. At least that interaction will be free of expectations.