Zankyou no Terror – 07

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At what point do we judge art by an objective standard, and at what point by that of its creator?

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.

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  1. R

    Man, they took way too many leaps into the fantastic in this episode.

    One thing that really nagged me since last week's ep is how the heck does the chess "game" even work? Okay, so Five can show her move through the screens, but how the heck does Nine show his? Just running to a certain "square" won't completely tell Five what exact "piece" he moved (there could be several chess pieces which could land on that square). It's just as if Nine was just running to random places. They could have at least shown the audience what exactly is going on this this one.

    And, oh, boy, the plane. Don't get me wrong, it is possible to commandeer a plane via remote, but it just felt a bit too over the top.

    I guess my worries did end up being realized. I was hoping that they would at least go back to the institution storyline with that brief encounter between Five and Nine.

  2. S

    Enzo, are you an old man? sentences like "And as the anime landscape gets more and more barren" pop up every now and then in your reviews, and it's always a boring read. There's so many good anime airing every season that you have a hard time deciding which to blog or even keep up with. I have the same problems (minus the blogging), and I think being thankful is in order.

    This particular whining whenever a director goes in a direction you don't like is petty, and you're better off without it.

  3. S

    Also, I should say that this review was stellar. I had mixed feelings about it before reading, but boy did you tear Terror, no Zankyou a new one! And I realised that I totally agreed. Except the "more and more barren anime landscape" shit.

  4. You have your views, I have mine. Fall looks like the worst season in years – on paper. They don't play the games on paper, as they say, and anything can happen once the whistle blows. But given the usual delta between how seasons look and how they turn out, it would be an upset if Fall didn't turn out somewhere between dismal and apocalyptic. And if it does, that will make 2014 probably the weakest year since I've been an anime fan.

    And frankly, I'm sick and tired of people immediately defaulting to name-calling and petty insults whenever they see something they disagree with. But whatever floats your boat.

  5. t

    That was tearing it a new one? That was a loving peck on the cheek. Almost every critique was followed by some flavor of "But it's still pretty good." I'd hate to see what you'd think of any actual scathing review. Or someone who wasn't constantly hedging their opinions.

  6. E

    I am surprised that Enzo hasn't deleted your comment and instead answered calmly.
    Some great temperament there, I have to give to him.
    I don't see anything wrong with his writing.
    If anything, he's totally correct.
    I, too, think this anime is a disappointment ever since Five's appearance.
    In episode 1, we saw some kind of anti hero, some kids who have been mistreated by government agency, take revenge on them by stealing plutonium and setting bomb, without regards to innocent. Even though they give some time before explosion, who could guarantee that everybody evacuate safely. What if somebody tripped and unable to move in there? Sphinx 1 even tried to kill Lisa by giving her the bomb doll. I approve of that, as a good writing.

    But what do we have here? Some super good people who risked their lives for innocent lives. They will be most likely getting disposed if they are caught by Five's group, mind you. I call bullshit. Where are the kids that I saw in episode 1?

    The writing itself is awful, now. They said that the control tower is brimming with special defense force, yet some old police detective managed to break through. Shouldn't the genius girl order her men not to let anyone pass at all cost? Including shooting him in the leg?

  7. Z

    And so he should. People should be allowed to express opinions freely without godmod style censorship. Nobody likes that. What was written said is hardly offensive anyway.

  8. S

    "Name calling and petty insults", that old man comment? that's a bit of a stretch for a friendly jab, don't you think?. There's a lot of great things that aired in 2014 (including HxH), and a lot of good intentions that maybe didn't succeed so at most you could call it a mediocre year. That's not a trend. You're very quick to take refuge in your abysmal world-view of how all things anime are going down the drain, though. That is an actual trend, not the anime landscape. It leaves a bitter and stale taste after reading. Sort of like the alzheimer care center near-by (they're not all old and some are women, so I hope you won't take offense)

    @Eternia. You first recommend censorship for disagreeing, and then you follow it up with ramblings, that only show that you completely missed the topic (hint: it's not about one anime, it's about all anime). Not a great conversation starter, are you?

  9. 5

    I agree that the chess game felt kind of silly. It reminded me of something straight out of Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle, and god that anime was terrible. I'm kind of interested to see if Lisa will start to have mixed feelings about just what she's gotten herself into after nearly dying, but I get the feeling Lisa's just going to continue to digress as a character instead. And I really just don't see the point of Five being there at all.

  10. S

    I guess this episode settled it that this anime will not go into the row of awesome examples for the psychological/crime/thriller anime genre a la "Monster" or "Death Note", a shame really.

  11. E

    Yup. Past half way and nobody died.
    Also, we can already see it from miles away that neither Lisa or any innocent people will die.

  12. m

    I don't think it's unfair at all to call this show a bigger disappointment based on the staff. If your name and previous body of work earn you the benefit of the doubt when being judged on your work, or if people would watch your show solely based on the fact that you are the creator then it's entirely reasonable to assume that you must then be judged on those higher standards. You can't just have the positive aspects of being well respected in the industry, you also have to accept that you now have a higher standard to be judged by.

    I'm not saying this show is bad, it is bad but that's not my point, it's just that after Watanabe has built up his reputation and to hear that this is something he's been working on for quite a long time makes it a huge disappointment. If I wanted something that looked nice there's countless things in the world that have that. I could go to the art museum for that, but I want to watch something with at least a semblance of an entertaining story and ZnT is not doing it for me at all. To the degree that anything Watanabe does that doesn't have a specific writer listed has moved from "I definitely must check this out" to "It's not even worth watching unless I hear a lot of good things"

  13. h

    It's fun for me to be able to agree with you for once. This show is not making sense to me any more.

    And in the larger picture, although I generally think there are a lot of good shows every season, I do find myself losing interest in most of the shows I started watching last month. However, the fact that I consider Glasslip a masterpiece — so far, it's one of the best TV anime I've ever watched — makes up for a lot of fails.

  14. h

    I agree 100% with you Enzo however I find znt to be one of the best animated series,it looks awesome and the entertainment value is pretty high

    I'd love someday to see Togashi hired to write an original anime

  15. How about he gives up the ghost on manga serialization and just writes new H x H episodes every week?

  16. h

    there is a certain charm/spirit to Togashi's manga that I'd like to keep ,its pretty awesome to have the anime adaptations. to view the material I like by the mind of different directors (ps I still think you should try the first anime up to yorkshin ova) but I'd like to have the original papers that have togashi's soul in it ,its the real soul of HxH,some people recommanded that togashi should hire someone to do the art but I really won't like that,I just hope togashi can finish it,as megumi-han said the manga feels as if it just started

  17. Z

    Judging by reactions I think many people had misconceptions about Watanabe from the start, as if if was some kind of anime genius. Based on what? Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Sakamichi no Apollon, Space Dandy? It was name checking without actually having a full understanding of previous works.

  18. Y

    I don't get what you mean by that. You didn't like any of those series? (2 out of 4 are in my top 5 😉

  19. R

    I guess he was referring to how many people tend to put creators into pedestals based solely on their more popular works, even if they had yet to look thoroughly into those or the creator's other works.

  20. H

    It wasn't as bad as I'd been hearing, but I think episode Five distorted my expectations for this anyway. Lisa is confirmed for effing-useless-tier!

    All up, disappointing season. Maybe I'll watch a classic. Any recommendations?

  21. Seirei no Moribito?

  22. H

    Pretty show that. I saw it shorty after it first aired, though it's probably due for another look in. Just remembered I also have an untouched Boogiepop Phantom dvd lying around, so might give that a spin when I'm fresh…

  23. Y

    I still had hopes for this series… Until the chess thing. That made no sense whatsoever. I'll probably finish it anyway, mainly because there are so few series I like this season, but… Wat a shame! Non-expectation really is the key to happiness I guess 😉

  24. D

    For me, it's less about the creator and more about the expectations set in the early episodes. For example, I'm (for the most part) pretty happy with Aldnoah.Zero, despite the fact that it doesn't contain quite the ambition I've come to expect from an Urobuchi Gen anime, but that's because A/Z never pretended to be anything more than an entertaining popcorn flick from the get-go.

    But ZanTero's first three episodes were borderline masterpieces. They filled the game board with a lot of intriguing characters, themes, and plot lines, and gave the audience the impression that the story was going to be smart, dark, and psychological. So for the series to set all that up and then just knock the pieces onto the floor in favor of an increasingly absurd, increasingly soulless action/crime "thriller"… *sigh*

    I still have this faint hope that the ship will right itself for a proper Third Act. If the series can start answering some questions and moving people towards a finale instead of getting mired in these bizarre bomb plots, maybe that'll happen. Fingers crossed.

  25. In general I agree, although as I think was clear in my posts I never thought ZnT approached masterpiece level because it never connected with me on an emotional level. But those early episodes sure showed a lot of promise that's yet to be fulfilled.

  26. D

    (Sorry, just saw this. Blogger doesn't alert me to replied comments.)

    It didn't really connect with me emotionally either, but I didn't see it as a weakness because it felt like an intentional choice, as if the audience was supposed to be kept at arm's length at the beginning (perhaps to echo the feelings of disconnect the characters felt, or maybe to help us see Nine and Twelve from Lisa's "outsider" perspective). After that magnificent motorcycle scene where Twelve picked up Lisa, I figured that was the trigger for moving us into emotional territory and developing the characters as well as the story. But then THAT didn't happen, so now I'm worried that "intentional choice" to avoid emotional connection was actually because there was nothing to connect TO. Which would be such a disappointment, given how well this project began.

    But hey, Watanabe turned in an absolutely stunning episode of Space Dandy this week, so he could certainly get Zantero back on track, too. I'll try to withhold judgment for at least another couple of episodes.

  27. Z

    I think the whole emotional level thing is an overrated bias for qualifying something as masterpiece level or not. Something can be emotionally cold and brilliant at the same time.

  28. D

    I suspect that you're right – not to mention that emotional resonance is pretty much impossible to gauge objectively. Hence why, if I was forced to do a top 10 list of "favorite" and "best" anime, there'd be some overlap, but they wouldn't be identical.

    Still, though, if I had to pick between a flawed series that connects emotionally and a technically brilliant series that leaves me cold, I'd probably pick the former. Diff'rent strokes, I guess.

  29. S

    Am I the only one who wonders why the hell would the FBI be ready to blow up a plane and potentially kill hundreds of Japanese civilians only because Female!Near said so? I do realize Japanese don't seem to hold an high opinion of Americans, but man, that is harsh. And as you pointed out, if they WERE so cynical, then why not going all the way and simply kill Shibazaki where he stood?

    Plus it doesn't make any sense as well because even if FBI's objective was to capture Sphinx at any cost because of the stolen plutonium, playing along with Five's games is still a tremendously inefficient way to get to the objective. They had both of them pinned down in the airport, just capture them already.

  30. Once you start dissecting the plot holes here, it's down the rabbit hole and you'll never get back. If you're to have any chance to enjoy this show, I think suspension of disbelief is the price of admission.

    The problem, of course, is that when shows make pretenses at being "realistic" the plot holes are a lot harder to swallow.

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