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.
ED: “Dare ka, umi o.” by Aimer