There are problems with Zankyou no Terror, don’t get me wrong – and I mean general problems, independent of any bias one might have by reading the staff list. But in a vacuum it’s a pretty good show on the whole, I think – not great by any stretch, but pretty good. It’s only when one digs a little deeper that the real issues begin to take over. Is that fair? I don’t know – but as the sign above the desk in my office (when I had an office) used to say, it is what it is.
A couple of things struck me as I watched this episode play out. First, that no matter who’s involved, you can’t get great original anime without a great writer. And Watanabe Shinichirou is not a great writer – a great director, yes, but not a great writer, and there are no other great writers on the staff list. And second, while it’s not Zankyou no Terror’s stated intent to be a beacon of quality, the fact that it’s not as good as it might be is a huge blow to anime. If serious anime (drama or comedy) with a mixed-gender cast are an endangered species, then “art for art’s sake” Watanabe-Maruyama collaborations which are basically engineered to lose money are surely on the very brink of extinction. And when one fails artistically, an angel gets its wings ripped off in a spray of blood.
The reality I see with Zankyou is basically this – Watanabe-sensei hasn’t exactly turned into Michael Bay, but this show is quickly abandoning any pretense at being anything but a pretty popcorn thriller. And frankly, this season already has Aoki Ei and Aldnoah.Zero doing that better – with a plot that’s only slightly less realistic and viscerally more believable (and I mean that sincerely). I think things have gotten rather silly here, to be honest – the disconnect with realism seems to be growing wider every episode, and with only four left it’s hard to see any reason to believe that’s going to change.
I’m not going to re-hash my issues with Five – blah, blah, I’ve already stated them. But the turn in the plot since her arrival isn’t doing much for me. Setting aside the fact that her character itself is rather cartoonish (and while it’s petty to say so, Han Megumi’s Engrish is bad enough to be an unintentionally comic distraction) the whole chess-match gambit was preposterous and contrived – the kind of thing that would only happen in a cheesy action movie. And there’s no damn way Shibazaki would ever have gotten as far as he did under the circumstances – not to mention the fact that Five wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if Shibazaki had blown an air traffic controller’s head off. “Go ahead – pull the trigger!” is what she’d likely have said – no way one rogue cop with a gun is going to be allowed to derail her entire scheme when she’s already proved she has no regard for innocent lives.
What gives me hope here is the possible development of the relationship between Shibazaki and Sphinx as they get to know each other better, which we got a teasing glimpse of in their marriage of convenience this week. That’s genuinely interesting, at least potentially – Shibazaki’s evolution of thought as he learns more of their mysterious past (and that past itself). Lisa isn’t looking like much more than a plot device at this point, and Five isn’t even a likeable plot device, so I’m not seeing too much else to grasp onto.
The fact is that, happily, Watanabe is a good-enough technician and MAPPA a good-enough studio that an episode like this is still going to be entertaining even if it’s intellectually off-putting and emotionally flat – the pacing is excellent, the cinematography top-notch. It had narrative drive and some nice tension, and given the folks involved I don’t think ZnT will ever be less than superficially entertaining. But damn, I sure would have hoped for more, and to call the show a disappointment because of the people behind it might not be completely fair, but from my perspective it’s a reality that can’t be avoided. And as the anime landscape gets more and more barren, seeing a series with huge potential fail to achieve it becomes a crueler and crueler blow.