Zankyou no Terror (or Terror in Resonance) is a new series that just began airing this summer. It is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo fame and one of my favourite directors of all time. A lesser known studio – Studio MAPPA, is making this series. They had previously worked on Sakamichi no Apollon, another great series by Watanabe san. What really drew me to the show though, is that the music is done by Yoko Kanno!

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Ok, I’ll have to admit upfront – Zankyou no Terror is the most anticipated anime for me this year. Having previously watched and loved other Watanabe-Kanno anime series such as Cowboy Bebop and Sakamichi no Apollon, my expectations are sky high for ZnT. At the time of this review, 5 episodes have aired so far (out of a total of 11).

Story

Within a span of three adrenaline pumping minutes, right at the beginning of this series, two masked characters steal a container full of radioactive material.

Now wait a fucking second…aren’t those two the…did the kids on this show’s poster just steal a bunch of plutonium? WHAT?! Are they the bad guys?!

“Am I supposed to empathise with these protagonists?”


Zankyou no Terror breaks new ground in anime narrative by making two terrorist teenagers as its lead characters. Their motives are unclear, but you know who steals Plutonium in movies, right? By the end of the first episode, you know for sure that these kids aren’t playing around and have decided to declare war on Japan.

But why?

Why did Shinichiro Watanabe make an anime about terrorists? Didn’t these kids just pull off a 9/11 in Tokyo by the end of episode 1? Am I supposed to empathise with these protagonists?

It is rare to come across a TV show these days that raises such questions in a viewer’s mind. Breaking Bad was the last show that made me actually feel guilty for liking a protagonist who was primarily evil. Will this show go as far as Breaking Bad did in terms of creating moral ambiguity on what we find as justifiable or tolerable violence?

You're goddamn right

Without giving too much of the story away, the terrorists begin a systematic attack on Tokyo by planting bombs and posting riddles on YouTube for the police to solve in order to stop them.

It’s refreshing to see a show that actually uses real life websites and technology to advance its plot. References are made to Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Tor (anonymous networks) ,thermite reaction bombs, iPhones (with an OS that actually looks like iOS instead of fake fucking OSs ala Dexter). For fuck’s sake man, they even reference muhfukken Bitcoin as a means for the terrorists to purchase the chemicals required to make home made explosives!

The YouTube clone in the anime is called MeTube (possibly to prevent copyright infringement)

The YouTube clone in the anime is called MeTube (possibly to prevent copyright infringement)

Zankyou no Terror has excellent pacing and direction. Little to no explanation is given to why certain things are happening and exposition comes in the form of flashbacks, cryptic dialogues or police briefings. Recently, Digibro did an excellent job in his breakdown of the first episode of Zankyou no Terror in explaining why such subtle exposition is an excellent way of revealing a show’s plot. I highly recommend watching his video as it does a much better job than I can, in highlighting what good direction is and why Shinichiro Watanabe is the master of exposition.

Major characters and plot elements are revealed between episodes 1 to 5, and the viewer is left to piece together snippets of information that start to point towards something bigger than the sum of its parts.

Characters

The character design for Zankyou no Terror is done by Kazuto Nakazawa, who has previously designed characters for Samurai Champloo. If you know Champloo, you should know not to expect any anime clichés in ZnT. “Nine” and “Twelve” are the show’s protagonists, who are high-school students by day and terrorists by night. “Nine” is the more serious of the two and appears to be the brains behind the operation. He has a serious Jin from Samurai Champloo vibe going on. He goes by the name of “Arata Kokonoe”. Clearly, this is an alias as the two refer to each other by their numbers in private and never by their Japanese names.

I will kill your family after I finish eating breakfast

Nice to meet you. I will kill your family after I finish eating breakfast.

“Twelve” is the more light-hearted one who goes by the name of “Toji Hisami”. He appears to be extremely cheerful and fascinated by the daily lives of high-schoolers (possibly something that he hasn’t experienced himself…dun, dun, dun!).

Twelve being his cheerful self

I like swimming pools and puppy dogs and unicorns…

Don’t let his happy-go-lucky demeanour fool you though. Twelve is highly intelligent and has some downright terrifying dialogues.

Twelve being his creepy self

…and murder!

You are given a scant outline on their past through flashback sequences that suggest that they’re escapees from some sort of Akira-esque facility that does experimentation on children (to create super soldiers, perhaps?).

In high-school, they meet troubled teenager, Lisa Mishima. She is immediately drawn to Twelve when he saves her from being thrown in the school swimming school by her bullying classmates. At the same time she is terrified of Nine’s disapproving and “ice-like” gaze. It is unclear as to how Lisa fits into the story of Zankyou no Terror, but it is implied that she’s a pivotal character in the show. In an otherwise stellar cast of characters, Lisa seems to be the weakest link at this time.

Yes, Shinji. Ok, Shinji. Now quit whining and pilot the EVA.

I wish everyone would just die

One of my favourite characters in this show so far is the smart and charming detective, Shibazaki Kenjirou. Shibazaki is the archetypical, cool and collected, cigarette smoking, seemingly lazy but highly intellectual, “loose cannon” of the show. He is a worthy opponent to Nine and Twelve and soon becomes obsessed with stopping whatever plans they may have. Another layer is added to his character when it is revealed that he’s a second generation Hiroshima survivor and knows the horrors of nuclear weapons.

Shibazaki

Shibazaki is also known as “Razor Shibazaki” by his peers

Of course, nothing is ever what it seems in Zankyou no Terror. With every episode, you are given a snippet of the characters’ pasts and you slowly start to piece together the reasons for their actions. In the case of Nine and Twelve, this is done through the cryptic dialogues between them and Nine’s recurring dreams of his childhood. Lisa’s past is revealed through constant text messages from her overbearing mother and their minimal dialogue. Shibazaki’s past is shrouded in mystery as well as he is an excellent detective but for some reason, he is not in the field any more. Much of his past is revealed through gossip about him amongst his peers.

“Zankyou no Terror’s characters aren’t just complex, they are real.”


In this way, the character exposition never seems forced and relies on the viewer’s ability to piece together information. It would be a disservice to label Zankyou no Terror’s characters as “complex”. In real life, everyone is complex. Zankyou no Terror’s characters aren’t just complex, they are real.

Art & Animation

The animation in Zankyou no Terror is gorgeous! There were many times during this anime when I felt like I was actually watching a high budget anime movie instead of a TV series. Tokyo is brought to life through the extremely detailed background art work.

And this is just the first episode!

And this is just the first episode!

“…the most beautifully animated TV show I’ve ever seen.”

Shadows, colours and reflections are painstakingly recreated to look as real as possible. The lighting is similarly realistic; cramped office spaces are appropriately dark and dingy, classrooms have blazing summer sun streaming in and muting the colours inside, much like in real life. The character animation is so fluid that there’s a jarring contrast at times when the show actually switches from a high framerate to a lower one. But that is to be expected from a non-CGI heavy anime and is not really a point of complaint for me.

If I had to pick one thing that I didn’t like about the animation, it’s that the scenes that are darkly lit are really dark!

This scene is too dark. And by dark, I don't mean emo. Although it is also emo.

This scene is too dark. And by dark, I don’t mean emo. Although it is also emo.

It’s a minor caveat for a show that is otherwise the most beautifully animated TV show I’ve ever seen (Shigurui being a close second).

Unlike some other shows where most of the show’s budget is used up in its first episode, the quality of artwork is consistently top-notch here.

Some of the imagery in Zankyou no Terror looks oddly familiar, doesn’t it?

911 and Zankyou no Terror

The similarities are frightening.

Music

Zankyou no Terror’s soundtrack is composed by my all time favourite composer – Yoko Kanno. One of my biggest fears before starting this show was that Yoko Kanno’s latest work would pale in comparison to her past portfolio of musical brilliance. This is not something uncommon; I’ll probably get a lot of flak for this, but as an example, A.R. Rahman’s music nowadays is a mere shadow of his earlier works.

Fortunately though, Yoko Kanno pulls another Cowboy Bebop in Zankyou no Terror and composes some of the best music I’ve heard in recent times, all media included!

Right from the electrifying opening song to the sombre yet beautiful ending theme, Zankyou no Terror is a constant series of eargasms. The music doesn’t just “set the mood” for Zankyou no Terror, it is the show’s third protagonist. The OST consists of Icelandic, Japanese and  English songs, along with Kanno san’s signature piano/string compositions that could make a blubbering mess of you within seconds.

But that’s not enough. Not for me.

Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno have worked together in the past to create anime moments that can only be described as magical. Take for instance, the church fight scene in Cowboy Bebop or the piano duet in Sakamichi no Apollon. These are scenes that are staple of any Watanabe anime and have been etched in my mind forever because of the perfect way in which story, direction and music blended together.

“Yoko Kanno pulls another Cowboy Bebop in Zankyou no Terror”


So, are there any magical moments like these in Zankyou no Terror?

The answer is…yes, almost.

Two particular scenes that come to mind are from the fourth episode of the show when Shibazaki is on the cusp of solving a riddle and Twelve escapes the police on a bike. The reason why I say “almost” is because even though these scenes are extremely powerful, they just miss (by a fraction) the punch-in-the-gut-emotional-rollercoaster-ride that I’m so used to with Yoko Kanno. Having said that though, there are still 6 more episodes to go and I’m convinced that there will be a moment when Yoko Kanno will make me fall down from my sofa, roll up into a ball and contemplate the meaning of life.

Here’s the full soundtrack (minus the opening and ending).

 

Conclusion

Five episodes in and Zankyou no Terror is shaping up to be one of the best animes of this year and quite possibly (hopefully), Shinichiro Watanabe’s best work yet.

Making a show about terrorism is no joke. Lesser still when you tell the story through the terrorists’ point of view. Watanabe san has laid down the foundation for an epic story and the next 6 episodes can either make or break the entire series. Key players that will now decide if the show reaches perfection, or falls short of it, are the characters of Lisa and the mysterious figure introduced in episode 5.

I will probably update this review once the rest of the episodes are out, but for now, here’s my rating of Zankyou no Terror –

Rating

Story: 10/10

Characters: 9/10

Art & Animation: 9/10

Music: 9.5/10

Final Rating: 9.4/10

 

Edit: Having now completed the show, I’m sad to say that ZnT turned into a gigantic ball of disappointment after episode 5. That’s all I had to say.