Well, there’s just no doubt about it – Zankyou no Terror is anime royalty. While I still find it to be more a cerebral than a visceral experience (less so than after the premiere, though) what an experience it is. This series reminds me a bit of Kon Satoshi’s Paranoia Agent, which coming from me is high praise, and it’s no coincidence – that was a Madhouse series from the time when MAPPA founder Maruyama Masao was the dominant presence there, and his stamp is all over this show as well.
Like Paranoia Agent, Zankyou (dou itashimashite) no Terror is the work of a superlative director, and these series are about as cinematic as it’s possible for a TV anime to be – like watching a 22-minute movie play out every week. The great missing piece of information here is still who’s writing it – perhaps it’s Watanabe himself, which wouldn’t be a shock as the material he’s written as well as directed has tended to be more intellectually than emotionally-driven. There’s a coldness to Zankyou no Terror, a sense of remove – and I think it works very well with the type of story it’s telling. But that remove seems to disappear when the camera focuses on Lisa, when everything becomes more gut-level and unhinged.
I take some issue with the fact that there were supposedly no casualties in the collapse of the Tokyo Government Building (half of it, anyway). This could be a plot point, of course – but if not, and it’s an attempt to cast the teen terrorists at the heart of the story in a more morally ambiguous light, I think it’s a failed one because fire alarms or not it’s absolutely incomprehensible that there would have been no fatalities (or even serious injuries) in such a disaster. Not to mention that Nine and Twelve unmistakably killed several people in stealing the plutonium from the Aomori processing facility. If the story is to be cast in a morally grey light once the revelations about the boys’ past are revealed, so be it and all the better – but let’s not deceive ourselves about the nature of what they’re doing in Tokyo in the moment.
We have a story, then, that’s developing on two parallel fronts. There’s the chess match brewing between the boys and the “First Division”, who’ve been put in charge of catching them. And there’s Lisa, who gives the events in the series a personal impact. “You’re an accomplice… But you’re not one of us.” Twelve tells her, fittingly for a girl who clearly feels alienated from the rest of the world. Her mother has been abandoned by her father and now seems to be quite unbalanced, frighteningly possessive about her daughter, and she seems to be either bulimic or pregnant. Lisa is the human face of Zankyou no Terror – only when she’s on-screen do I feel rather than think the story, and I believe that’s quite by Watanabe-sensei’s design. His direction in her scenes is starkly different – much more claustrophobic and immediate, all close-ups and unexpected voices and events. Touji’s interest in her is fascinating – he’s toying with her, clearly, and enjoying the disorientation he causes her, but he sees something in her than connects with him in a way I would assume very little has.
Shibasaki is clearly destined to be the opponent in this life-and-death game, the most capable brain in the ranks of the “good guys”. There’s a lot of political intrigue here, naturally, with the police and military quite concerned with not being blamed for whatever else might go wrong. The First Investigative Division is put in charge and their leader, Kurahashi, is clearly enough of a veteran to be wary of being made a scapegoat. But he seems a genuinely capable and responsible sort, and he definitely has a prior relationship with Shibasaki – even pleading with him to “come back” at one point (after sharing confidential information with him). Why is Shibasaki toiling away in the basement with the archives department, and why does the notion of coming back cause him to break out in a cold sweat?
It seems fitting that the Sphinx is a recurring theme of Zankyou no Terror, because this is a series that’s very good at riddles. Touji and Arata’s second Youtube video (yes it was them in the first one, my mistake) offers a message to the police in the form of one of the Riddles of the Sphinx: “What walks on two legs, then on four legs, then on three legs?” Kurahashi correctly makes the connection to the Sphinx, and correctly (based on pronunciation) to the Greek and not Egyptian legends, which connects the riddle to Oedipus (which itself is likely connected to the boys’ dark past). But everyone makes a crucial mistake and interprets the riddle in 4-2-3 form (four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night) which is not what Arata says in the video. Shibaraki connects this to an alternative version of the riddle which concerns Oedipus himself (which I confess I’m not familiar with, and therefore cannot verify is an actual thing), and warns Kurahashi that this implies an attack at the Roppongi police building – but to late to prevent the explosion or clear the building. I’ll be very interested to see whether this event is likewise implausibly said to have caused zero casualties.
This really is a fascinating battle of wits and wills playing out here, and for the most part it hews close enough to reality to make events in the series that much more unsettlingly realistic. I have no idea how feasible it is to use thermite bombs to cause phreatic explosions in a terror attack (there’s always the part of you that wonders if this kind of thing might give real bad guys ideas) but the explanation given by the forensic investigator makes it sound utterly plausible. I’ll have to use the term “master class” again because that’s really what MAPPA is giving us here, just as Kon-sensei and Madhouse did with Paranoia Agent. It’s a privilege to watch this kind of brilliance express itself through anime, and we’re lucky to have visionaries like Watanabe and Maruyama to keep the tradition alive.