First Impressions – Zankyou no Terror

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Mappa.  Watanabe.  Kanno.  NoitaminA.  You were expecting anything less?

OP: “Trigger” by Yuki Ozaki

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The last of my top tier of summer anime in terms of anticipation weighs in, and like the shows that came before it, Zankyou no Terror lived up to the billing for the first week at least.  Given the truly awesome caliber of talent involved in this series it would have been both a surprise and a cruel blow if it had fallen short – it’s the kind of series that can make or break a season.  Looking at the schedule there were only a few shows that looked like they had a realistic chance to be great, and this was certainly one of them.

Watanabe Shinichirou and Mappa have good karma with NoitaminA after 2012’s Sakamichi no Apollon, a very good show that was somewhat overshadowed in a truly great season.  That show too got off to an impressive start – even better than Terror in Resonance, in fact – but was ultimately hamstrung by the 11-episode format being inadequate for even Watanbe-sensei to do the manga justice.  Unlike Sakamichi this series is an original, so the format shouldn’t be an issue.  But there’s one interesting omission from every staff list, and that’s the writer – I’ve seen no mention of who’s handling series composition, and the first episode screenplay was credited to the obviously invented “Shoten Yano”.  That lends a bit of mystery to things, in terms of what we can expect.

In terms of what we actually got, it was an episode that excelled on pretty much every level without any one single element wowing me.  With Mappa you know you’re going to get excellent visuals (treasure the studio, because they can’t keep up this business model much longer), with Watanabe superb direction, and with Kanno a pleasing and memorable soundtrack that’s well-matched to the content. Zankyou no Terror looks and sounds great, and the narrative flow is smooth and urgent at the same time.  As with many Watanabe Shinichirou series, it’s one of those episodes you feel as if you could use as training material for a graduate-level class in anime production.

Content-wise, the premiere was more about style and scene-setting than anything – a lot of intriguing clues were dropped about what’s really going on here.  The prologue features two thieves stealing nuclear material from a reprocessing plant in snowy Aomori, leaving behind a calling card of “VON” spray painted in red letters.  It soon becomes clear that the two thieves were a pair of teenaged boys – Kokonoe Arata, known as “Nine” (Ishikawa Kaitou) and Hisami Touji, known as “Twelve” (Soma Saitou).  We catch up to them six months later as they’re starting attendance at a Tokyo high school.  Nine is stone-faced, stern and brooding – Twelve is mischievous, irreverent and seemingly impulsive.  He soon comes across Mishima Lisa (Tanezaki Atsumi, who was so wonderful as Natsume in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) as she’s being bullied – five girls are trying to force her to dive into the school pool with their clothes on.  This has the air of a fated meeting written all over it.

Some things are indisputable – we know these boys are terrorists of some sort even before they launch an attack on the Shinjuku Government Building.  They seem to have escaped from some kind of “institution”, while their at least some of their fellow child inmates died in the attempt – a day Nine still has nightmares about.  There are strong hints of superhuman abilities here, and we get a look at a couple of other members of their group via a Youtube video watched by a police detective (or former detective) named Shibasaki (shounen anime legend Sakaya Shunsuke) which enigmatically brags about the attack the day before it happens.

Nine and Twelve are interesting enough in their contrasting personalities – it seems a safe bet that the genki and ever-smiling Twelve is the really dangerous one – and Lisa dubs them “A smile like the sun” and “Eyes like ice”.  But I was actually more intrigued by Lisa, who hides in the bathroom at lunchtime and experiences random bouts of nausea (morning sickness?), and endures an endless string of blathering texts from her mother (“How was class?  Will you be home soon?”) by wishing “everyone would just disappear”.  But when the chips are down she doesn’t want to die, at least – and when she’s involuntarily drawn into Nine and Twelve’s terror attack in Shinjuku, she chooses “accomplice” over death where she stands.

I’m not quite emotionally vested in what’s happening here yet, but certainly intrigued as hell.  More than loving the episode it would be fair to say I admired it – watching a master class in action is a privilege, and Watanabe is arguably the best in the business.  The terror attack will of course resonate strongly with those of us that remember 9/11, and it and the prologue in the snow are magnificently choreographed, drawn and animated.  Kanno’s BGM is appropriately driving and unsettling, and the OP (especially) and ED are excellent.  There’s room for Zankyou no Terror to become a little more engaging, and I hope it does, but it’s already bringing enough to the table to make it a near-certainty to be one of the best series of the season.

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ED: “Dare ka, umi o.” by Aimer

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  1. V

    My money's on Lisa having anorexia or something like that. That said, pregnancy could also work – it's a bit of an edgy move to have a pregnant teen in anime, but this IS an anime about teenage terrorists, so edge can be expected.

    Or it could be foreshadowing her having ties to the same institution that once housed Nine and Twelve. Or it could be some sort of radiation sickness. Or just a regular disease she's hiding from her parents because she doesn't want them to worry.

    …I've got nothing.

  2. j

    I see this show going in a more psychological route rather than focusing on specifics. At least I'm hoping for that…I want to see what drives these boys, and what drives the girl to keep living in a world she doesn't seem to belong in.

  3. b

    It's weird to listen to Sankaya here after his previous noitamina role last season. I watched last week's event and Tanezaki suffers from the Yoshitsugu Matsuoka syndrome, a really good seiyuu who gets very nervous and panics when she has to speak in public.

    The premier was excellent although my main complaint is that the ending was a bit abrupt to me, as if they stopped in the middle of the episode.

    P.S Weren't Nine and Twelve the ones who made the youtube video? Even after the episode Ishikawa and Soma cosplayed them for that quiz game they're making

  4. J

    Yeah, I thought 9 and 12 were the ones in the video as well. Sphinx number 1 and 2 are just pseudonyms right? Sphinx does imply riddles after all.

  5. A

    I could have sworn Faye put the Teddy Bomber away. Now there's two of them?

    With Kanno, you knew it would be a feast for the ears. Not a big fan of the OP/ED, but those drums…

    With Watanabe, you knew it would be a feast for the eyes. That opening sequence didn't disappoint.

    All that remains is to discover just how much of a feast for the mind this series will be… and enjoy the ride.

  6. B

    The names "Kokonoe Shin" and "Kumi Fuyuji" seems to be mistranslations made shortly after the second trailer was released. The boys are actually introduced as "Kokonoe Arata" (I seriously got Chihayafuru flashbacks- doesn't help that both Aratas are black-haired and bespectacled) and "Hisami Touji" in the show itself.

    First, the animation and cinematography are jaw-droppingly good, as its the music. The Watanabe-Kanno-MAPPA trio delivers again- at least on those fronts. I can't say more because I'm hardly an expert in those fields, but wow.

    Especial kudos, also, to the voice cast. I've never seen any of her previous work, but I can say with certainty that Tanezaki Atsumi was brilliant here. Nothing more needs to be said about that. I like Saitou Souma (whose voice, I believe, is best described as a mix of Irino Miyu and Ohsaka Ryouta) much better in this show than in Akame ga Kill; his soft voice captures Twelve's boyishness wonderfully, and the scene on the stairs with Lisa/Risa was fantastically done. Ishikawa Kaito is proving to be a formidable talent- I daresay he was last year what Amamiya Sora is this year- and I like that his take on Nine seems to be a mix of Tsumugu (mostly) and Kageyama (a little bit- he's got that hard edge to his voice).

    That said, I'm a bit worried about the ground the show is treading. The terrorism theme aside, Nine seems depressed, and Twelve's emotionally unstable as well. Lisa is heavily hinted to have a lousy life at home (I think she might be bulimic) in addition to being bullied at school. There are a lot of heavy themes to be dealt with, and I hope the show doesn't collapse under its own weight (especially with regard to pacing), or deal with these themes in a way that causes an uproar- I've already seen people accusing it of glorifying terrorism.

    I know I should have more faith in Watanabe, but after Apollon (which was very good for the most part, but I had a lot of problems with the last quarter of that show) I can't help but be a little wary.

    As for the screen composition- honestly, I just think it's a team of writers working under one pseudonym.

  7. E

    In order to avoid that accusation, I think it's a given that these terrorist boys will meet their demise in the end. At least, that's what I hoped so.
    They might have tragic pasts and hatred toward normal humans, but it doesn't justify them blowing up a random building in Shinjuku and killed ton of innocent people.
    This will be a great story if Lisa is the main character, the later back stabbed them and cooperated with Shibasaki. I am sick seeing a teenager become the hero in anime all the time. What's wrong with making an ex detective the hero once in a while?

  8. b

    They didn't actually kill anyone, as i understand it. Which keeps me from immediately leaning towards disliking them, personally.

  9. They certainly killed people stealing the nuclear fuel.

  10. S

    I'm honestly surprised by the… rather subdued reaction this show is gathering. I mean, for all the good first impressions, I guess I'd kinda expected everyone to be gushing over it today. Yesterday, as I watched it, I thought "wow, this is done MASTERFULLY!". And yet at the same time I was slightly less enthralled than by Aldnoah Zero's exposition laden first episode. There was something COLD about this show – like it knows what to do and how to do it, but not as much how to make you CARE about it. I thought it was just me. Oh well. Still, this is definitely very promising.

  11. A

    This is a case of tremendous expectations simply being met. Let's not forget we're getting the same glorious Watanabe/Kanno combo in two series at the same time.

    I can't think of a better word than bipolar, here. Space Dandy is, in a word, mania.

    I find myself somewhat hoping ZnT won't be as good as it probably will, because there's certainly going to be some depression.

  12. I don't disagree that it connects more with the head than the heart, at least for one episode. As I said I admired it more than actually loved it.

  13. S

    Yep, that's the word, Enzo. I hope it's a purposeful thing. The police guys seem like they could grow on me a lot – if the story focuses more on them, I'm probably going to relate much better than with this Lisa girl.

  14. S

    I did connect with the heart at one point. I kinda fell in love with the character design of Lisa. She's beautiful even when she's not.

    Also, ZnT is too confusing, I'd rather call it "Thank you, no Terror". or TYNT for short.

  15. t

    one of my highest expectations to the summer and it really was fantastic, as expected from calibers like Watanabe and Kanno. indeed looks and sounds great.

    the only thing that bugged me was that…how easily 2 teenagers commit two major terrorist attacks (stealing the nuclear bomb and setting the terror attack later on).
    sure, the world is dangerous and everyone, even teenagers nowadays, suddenly might turn to do a terror attack or something crazy (today it's too easy for someone to get a gun. USA still struggling about it and some other countries as well). but not in such a way.
    I don't know what those 2-3 MC had been through, or the training they got, but committing these two mega-terror attacks for only 2 teenagers? it just seems unreasonable and absurd.

    let's take death note as an example of 2 teenagers (though college students but never mind). in death note we had Kira and L, two genius. but even they…didn't do anything alone. L was a prodigy detective and he had the police/secret service trust so he leads action but others around him helped and took care of execution. as for Kira, well, he also had an "execution unit" using the supernatural element of the death note.
    here in ZnT (it's Zankyou no Terror, not Zetsuen), it's seems way too bizarre for 2 teenagers doing everything alone (it's not that easy to plan and execute 2 mega terror attack with only 2 people) whatever the circumstances they had for doing it.

    I think having a bit more older MC would have been great and help this series. sometimes the Japanese series stuck to much with the school people and environment. maybe it's there way to access the audience..but here it's a disadvantage I am afraid.
    I imagine this series with older MC…this could almost be like those american series like "24" or something, but in an anime way. it could've been even greater. not that it's bad now. obviously Terror in resonance is not only looks and sounds good, but also has something fascinating behind these characters' actions and behavior that really makes me wanna know more about them and what drives them and everything.

  16. s

    This show is showing a great deal of potential and seeing as this is watanabe's dream anime, im very positive that he is going to be very particular about how he lays things out. It might get a bit controversial with the whole terrorist angle (then again terrorism in media isnt anything new) but the psychological thrill ride is what im most anticipating and ive seen a sprinkle of that with Lisa. I have to disagree with kids on the slope having the stronger first episode. As a thriller, Zankyou no terror laid out its pieces with mostly a great deal of polish and the fact that this series feels more serial than kids on the slope means that a great deal of its strength lies in how the following episodes build on the previous one. I will say that Kids on the slope did a better job connecting you with the characters (but then again it didnt really have a busy plot like how Zankyou does). Each one had its strengths and weaknesses in my opinion but both had so much polish you could instantly tell it was watanabe's work. This was the best premiere for me followed by Barakamon, space dandy, Aldnoah, and then Tokyo Ghoul

  17. b

    I adore Kids on the Slope, and i am enthralled by Zankyou no Terror so far. But i don't think there is any way you can compare the two (besides the gorgeous animation) because of the completely different plots and genres.(But i really hope to love it as much as i loved kids on the slope.

  18. w

    Watching this was amazing, yet at the same time, as someone above me said, it felt cold. I guess it's because they weren't glamorizing the terrorist attack itself, and these teenage terrorists are not the usual-I'm-super-crazy-and-I-hate-the-world guys. They are simply…apathetic. The story was also presented in a matter of fact way for me, and I think it works because for one this is heavy stuff. Yet everything done by these characters need careful planning and a sane mind. These guys acted like experts beforehand, and I'm interested in how Lisa comes in and probably disrupts their activities at some point. Not in a romantic way but in the moral or emotional ways. Will these two guys waver?

    All in all, I'm just glad another anime with potential brightens my Thursdays.

    Thanks for the review~

  19. S

    I think the dialogue's also a part of it. Lots of important-sounding lines, ("a smile like the sun", "she has the same eyes as those kids") but ultimately it was kinda empty and stock. It didn't do much into making these characters feel like real people. This seems to be the kind of story that works overly well if plot driven, but the show seems framed as if it strives to be character driven. It will be great if it becomes a breathless chase between police and terrorists, with high stakes, people changing sides, and true suspense. If it turns into teenagers we can't care about angsting around while blowing shit up because nobody understands them? Ehhhh…

  20. s

    See but i highly doubt that its going to turn out that way. This ep was clearly set up, and i thought it was intriguing setup at that. The character stuff is going to start building up as the tension rises…at least that's what i got out of the premiere. I never expect a series to play all of its cards in one ep as i find it unrealistic. What i do expect is for a series to build enough intrigue in regards to what its going to be about a give a glimpse as to the direction it will be headed and i think this first ep did a fine job at doing that. All the pieces from the characters, plot, and drama will coalesce even more with each ep as this really seems like a serial thriller series to me

  21. w

    @Simone: True. There's more we need to know of the characters yet, and for now, all we see seems to be one or two layers of them—and yet their true motives were not revealed yet. Sonicsenryaku has a point that as of now it creates intrigue. However, I think the characters exhibit typical general characteristics—the "ice"-eyed guy, sunny guy, the bullied girl—that may not appeal too much since we've had these kinds of characters before, but as of the moment we 're not really given much as to the whys of how they came to be. So I guess that will be the work for next eps, hopefully. But this will probably be one of those slow reveal kinds of anime.

    As of now, it seems these first ep is just out to run our imagination with the hints they gave us as to the motive of these terrorists. Could the institution they came from be a place for children like them to be trained like spies ? Or super-intelligent, highly skilled individuals/soldiers? Why do escapees get killed? At some point, the reasons we may think of may be limited to typical or predictable ones because they appear to be so. But it could be something unpredictable. As of now, it seemed to be some kind of anti-government project, but there 's too much uncertainty with this ep. As this is a 20+ minute ep only, all it shows is just the frosting of the cake. To grab us, I think it would have served as a 30+ OVA first. But unlike some premieres, only a few days went by since the main characters met. We're like Lisa, confused yet going with it anyway. But again , this seems to be a slow reveal kind, and they 're aiming for the air of mystery, although they may be so vague or what we see is not-so-novel or interesting yet. It will take time…

  22. Z

    Lisa's pseudo poetry was taking me out of the show a bit too if I'm honest.

  23. w

    I'm inclined to agree with you and most of the comments above me. Completely excellent all around, but I'm not emotionally invested yet and no single moment stood out enough to wow me. It almost feels disappointing to say it was exactly as good as I expected it to be. It's weird when I compare it to Aldnoah Zero I feel like this was the better episode, and even shows more potential for greatness. But it just didn't quite excite me the way Aldnoah's did. I can't help but wonder how I'd feel about it if it wasn't such a big name production..

  24. w

    Also I know it's early, but I can see this turning out to be Lisa's story in the end. Assuming it doesn't go too dark, I can imagine a lot of focus being put on her personal growth throughout the series.

  25. Z

    Aldnoah Zero didn't excite me in the least. Of all the potential story paths they could have taken they chose the least interesting one.

    Also Zankyou was a classic case in show don't tell. They left the audience to gather what the characters were doing unlike Aldnoah which had that alcoholic guy basically tell the audience everything from the start "exposition exposition blah blah I drink too much exposition exposition".

  26. w

    The difference for me is that Aldnoah managed to engage me emotionally (I'm aware I'm on a bit of an Island there, though). I also thought the pay-off at the end of Aldnoah was done much better.

    I didn't have any problem with the exposition either. I thought t was fairly naturally interwoven into the story an I was already interested enough that I wanted to hear it. I also think the premise for Zankyou lends itself easier to the "show, don't tell" method than Aldnoah.

  27. s

    there definitely was quite a few ways aldnoah could have handled it's exposition without it coming off as obvious exposition (show hints as to the history behind what's going on in the world within the premiere to generate intrigue; then with every episode, you let the character dialogue and situations fill in the blanks. Viewers can piece the story together and have it feel coherent without the need for dedicated moments of self-aware exposition) but regardless it didnt bother me too much and didnt really take too much away from the premiere for me. I do however feel that the sequence of events in Zankyou had a better flow than aldnoah. Honestly, this is why i dont make assumptions and nitpick first eps (or at least hold them against the overall caliber of the series). I feel like for series' such as aldnoah and Zankyou, one really needs to see a set of eps to fundamentally grasp how the story-telling mechanics will weave themselves. Some series like laying out the groundwork right in the beginning and then aim for the stars throughout the run.

  28. Z

    To me the story was ripped straight out of Yoake mae yori ruri iro na (2006 VN adaptation: I don't recommend) although here we have Mars instead of the Moon. It's a bland premise either way

    It was disappointing that the MC ended up being a pussy-whipped tutor instead of a 2nd Lieutenant stationed somewhere, and that obvious warmonger bad guys are obvious. I've noticed an increased need for this emotional engagement among viewers these days, although usually in spite of having an interesting premise.

  29. s

    Ive noticed that as well, to which i say as long as your characters are driving your plot, the emotional investment will always come. While i strongly believe in characters taking precedence over plot, I dont think it is necessary to be emotionally invested in characters right off the bat. There are times when the gradual build in emotional investment has a bigger payoff than being instantly attached. I also have this thing against using heavy exposition to garner emotional attachment from viewers or using a great deal of flashbacks to create character development. I think having confidence in an intelligent premise and allowing that to sow the seeds to great character introspection is the best way to go about telling stories; just let your plot do the story-telling for you. But yes, i see where you are coming from; you dont need to be emotionally engaged in the characters of a story to love it and care about what's happening. You can love and care about the situations in a story just by the fact that they are interesting in and of itself. Still, I think a story is at it's strongest when it combines the two. Intelligent plot and premise with characters that drive that plot. And even if you dont seem to be invested in the characters in the beginning, you will before the journey is over.

  30. Z

    I don't even think it's necessary to relate to characters either. I don't have to relate to Hannibal Lecter to find him interesting. I don't like that heavy exposition and multiple flashbacks to create character development either. It's lazy and contrived – as if the writers are telling you this is the main character and you must accept it because poor them! I've seen too many promising premises ruined by cliche character moments.

  31. H

    I dug this opener quite a bit, definitely more gripping than Aldnoah tbh (that opening scene was crack). It had a committed dour 90s/early 00s feel that you very rarely get in anime, tonally especially. The character designs sang out to me and the premise is promising. The BGM didn't stand out much but did fit the look well. The action pieces sounded a bit like Hans Zimmer's work actually. My only quibble is the slightly contrived union of the characters. Easily overshadowed by everything else.

    This jives so well with Tokyo Ghoul and Psycho Pass re-watch. Winning day for anime!

  32. Y

    Felt pretty much the same way. I can't say the first episode got me invested in any of the characters so far. But It looks so good! Even if the story was awful (not gonna happen…), I'd still watch it 😉

    The only thing that didn't work for me was the OP. I can't stand the singing and that song is just really weak. Visually, it's pretty slick though, even if conceptually not very interesting.

    With this, Psycho Pass, and Tokyo Ghoul… Thursdays are going to be anime heaven for me this Summer 😀

  33. m

    Not a fan of terrorist shows but the direction of the show is really suteki, and i love the art as well (those close-up face shots are sexy). The premise is gripping at least, even if the plot (and characters) doesn't sound the most original…

    I love the ED too. Aimer <3

  34. M

    The first moment when they met I just reminded of Watanabe's Samurai Champloo for a moment with the main cast also a trio of two guys and one girl. This and Aldnoah Zero gets the same reaction to me – I'm not overly excited but both premises really shows great potential that if done correctly could turn to be two great anime. I also love it more because they are originals, the speculation and plot twists are more fun when there is no source materials. Wish both of them will enjoy commercial success so that there are more originals, especially Zankyou no Terror because it's a noitamina series.

    Oh and Ishikawa Kaitou is in the danger of being typecasting here (if not he already is), the amount of stoic characters he's playing is increasing now.

  35. Z

    Aldnoah Zero episode 1 was disappointing and this was better. Let's stop pulling punches.

    Also watching the Psycho-Pass specials reminds me how cinematic that show was. It turns out Akane was pretty green after all, hence why Masaoka had to explain everything to her. 😉
    It's nice to have shows that don't reduce everything to caricature for a change.

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