Episodes 2 of 11 (Streaming on Wakanim UK)
The prologue takes place in wintery Aomori, a prefecture in northern Japan. Snow blankets a lonely road that an armoured truck is travelling on. Behind the wheel is a young man who is wearing a hazmat suit and humming an upbeat song. His destination is a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility which is where another young man in a hazmat suit is coolly and calmly stealing nuclear material. Nobody in the guard room is on alert for anything until the truck nears the front gates which the security team attempt to close but the driver in the vehicle is way ahead of them and crashes through in the truck and then takes to a snowmobile to pick up his partner with the nuclear material. The two evade the guards and head off into the snowy wilderness.
Tokyo, six months later. It is the height of summer and two teenage boys walk towards school complaining about the heat. They refer to each other as Nine and Twelve and Nine orders Twelve to “act as much like a normal student” as possible. As the two make their way to class it becomes clear that these are the two who raided the nuclear facility and thus they are highly skilled terrorists. It is something they cover up by joining school under normal names. Nine is Arata Kokonoe, the one who stole the nuclear fuel. He is a cool and calm brooding type, the brains.Twelve is Touji Hisami, the driver of the truck who is clearly an impulsive and capricious type, the joker.
When the two reach school they stumble upon a fellow pupil, Lisa Mishima, being forced to jump into the school pool with her uniform on by bullies. Touji interrupts the scene by leaping in himself. This meeting is clearly destiny because the two recognise something of themselves in Lisa and when the three meet again it is during a massive terrorist bombing of a government building in the heart of Tokyo. Lisa is in the building but when Arata and Touji offer her a chance to escape by acting as an accomplice, she follows them.
The nation is stunned and nobody knows who orchestrated the attack it but a strange video uploaded onto the internet by “Sphinx” was trending on social media before the event and provides the only clue. As the police respond to the attack, a detective named Shibasaki in the archives division starts to keep watch for further clues as to what “Sphinx” might do next in their deadly game and a nation that was once complacent now lives in terror…
Even before the first episode aired, Zankyou no Terror had garnered a lot of anticipation and for good reason considering the high quality of the staff and studio involved with director Shinichiro Watanabe teaming up with familiar collaborator, the famed composer Yoko Kanno at MAPPA. Watanabe has the sort of oeuvre that makes other directors in whatever visual entertainment medium you care to name look like hacks. His works include Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Kids on the Slope, and Macross Plus, all of which reviewers love to highlight as being examples of anime with excellent direction, characters and world building. After one of Watanabe’s periodic short absences from anime, 2014 saw him pick up the pace with two shows, the highly strange but genius Space Dandy and this, an original show that has got off to an excellent start in every department from visuals to story and soundtrack.
Zankyou no Terror does a lot to define itself from other anime and the quality of all involved weighs in heavily. The visuals are spectacular without being showy. In examples of intense art design and animation, the animators at MAPPA and Watanabe are determined to root the audience in locations and lives. Locations and characters are brought to vivid life, from the intitial terrorist incident in snowy and grey Aomori, a location replete with forests of trees which are buffeted by flurries of snow, where flakes collect on the windshield of the truck and people shiver in the cold, to the events in sun-drenched Tokyo, a veritable forest of buildings, where windows are wide open to invite a breeze indoors while reflecting clouds scudding along the sky and people storm across the famous Shibuya crossing or shelter in the shade to escape the unrelenting heat. It extends to the way that the “camera” catches all of these details and helps dictate the rhythm of the story, with movement being fast and fluid in the opening action scenes in the prologue, then slowing down to a slow boil as the action shifts to Tokyo. At points it feels as if the camera is sun-sick and lolls around locations and the visuals are defined by this intense heat as can be sensed from a slight haze that distorts shots and a general washed-out look.The well-observed atmosphere is tangible and it aids in giving the show an air of realism and embeds us into the shocking events that take place in the first two episodes.
The terrorist attacks have the sort of believability that makes one wonder if they would unfold like that in real life. Details are well thought out and displayed with elaborate plans put into play and the results revealed in gruelling and jaw-dropping detail. The action is managed with the sort of ease that Watanabe is famous for as he controls the rhythm and flow of the show, using excellent choreography, animation and editing to make them as realistic as possible as well as having Yoko Kanno’s sterling soundtrack stirring emotions. The intitial terrorist attack is a fast-paced demonstration of Arata and Touji’s physical skills underscored by pulse-pounding percussive music punctuated with thudding sound effects such as submachine guns blasting away and the drone of the snowmobile’s engine as Touji and Arata escape the facility.
If the first attack was fast and dynamic, the second attack is more intellectual, defined by sharp planning, one of a slow build up and massive pay-off as we understand that Arata and Touji are playing for keeps. It is gripping stuff since we know they are terrorists and we are about to see them strike but as the action continues there are more players in action with the likes of Lisa and Shibasaki brought into the fray and the sense of threat ballooning to agonising levels. Constant intercutting between the teenage terrorists, those around them and the unfolding action create the sort of blossoming horror that we feel when witnessing real life chaos and it’s all underscored by Kanno’s sly electronic score, the sound of blazing fire alarms and slowly unfolding explosions. None of this would be worth a damn if it wasn’t for all of the details in the world building, the animation and music and the characters feeding into the events and making us care. The audience will be fully engaged in the intellectual and emotional ride.
The people masterminding these events initially fall into familiar archetypes but one can sense depth from their fluctuating personas. Arata is as cold as ice, the calculating type and his seiyuu, Kaitou Ishikawa, plays him evenly with an even and patient voice that belies only a hint of supercilliousness in its tone but he is haunted by bad memories. His physical actions are contained and controlled, not a bit of energy is wasted. His co-conspirator Touji is more the livewire, irreverent and care-free, prone to vocal and physical outbursts which mark him out; he is playfully voiced by Soma Saito who is having a ball. The two work well together and their relative differences are only superficial since it is clear that they can work hand in glove and can read and support each other with the sort of ease that is forged by shared determination and familiarity. Interestingly it seems that Touji is also far more dangerous than his initial introduction suggests and there are moments when a bright tone can turn dark when he wants it to. The hints of their dark background tease at a past that shows them escaping from an institute, something that is reinforced by the fact they use monikers like Nine and Twelve and the traumatic dream that Nine experiences. Clearly, their super abilities (there’s no other way to describe them) were forged by their experiences at this institute.
The two have struck fear into the heart of the establishment with enough force and intelligence to ensure that, whatever grudge they hold for past wrongs, we know they are deadly serious and want to win. So far there have been no casualties but the sight of the destruction is disturbing. The authorities are not slow to react and there is the rapid ramping up of a response with elite teams formed and people ready to pass on the blame in game of terror which Arata and Touji seem to be skilled at. With errant cop Shibasaki, voiced with relish by a contemplative and authoritative Shunsuke Sakaya, there seems to be a broadening of the world building since he has a back story, and a connection to other cops which has resulted in a sharp mind such as himself being dumped in archives with a colleague who watches cat videos on YouTube. Is he connected to Arata and Touji somehow? In any case, he is now engaged in trying to solve the riddles the two terrorists release and prevent further bombings.
Despite the personality quirks and close dynamics between Arata and Touji, it is all part of a cold intellectual game. The real emotional heart comes with Lisa Mishima voiced haltingly and delicately by Atsumi Tanezaki, a girl who has been mercilessly bullied by her classmates and the product of a broken home. The details are brought to vivid life through neat moments of clever exposition such as an over-the-shoulder shot of Lisa’s phone which has been bombarded with messages from her mother, to a conversation emotionally fraught with anxiousness and hurt. Her introduction at the hands of bullies has all the air of despair and desperation and so when she makes a connection with Arata and Touji, no matter how dangerous it might be, we understand why she sees them as an escape. As much as the terrorist incidents are shocking, the emotional violence Lisa suffers is also very, very affecting.
This is an original show so there is no manga or light novel telling where this will go and that is fantastic because it means every episode will be a surprise. Despite having what some might consider a high concept story – teens attacking Tokyo – so many genre tropes have been overturned and so many surprises have been laid for the audience that it has bloomed into something more substantial. It has been an exciting ride where it is clear that the staff and cast are heavily committed and it is hard not to return that commitment. From the moment that thrilling OP “Trigger” by Yoko Kanno and Yuuki Ozaki to the ED, “Dare ka, Umi wo” by Aimer, the content and presentation has been excellent.
In a summer season packed with excellent shows Zankyou no Terror has marked itself out as a contender for the greatest. Indeed, the quality has been so high with the first two episodes it might be in the running for the best anime of the year if it can keep the quality high.