It’s hard not to wonder when watching this series just how good it might have been if Five had never been introduced. Probably not a masterpiece, as there were still some holes in the writing and it never really connected emotionally, but a darn sight better than it’s turned into since she showed up. Rarely (though not never) do you see a case where so many of the problems of a show can be directly laid at the feet of a single character. Not only has Five made Zankyou no Terror a whole lot less believable, but he’s made the main cast (less Shibazaki) a whole let less effective as characters by her impact on their stories.
We’re definitely getting some glimpses of what this series might have been, and the A-part this week was a prime example. Apart from Hamura’s annoying and unprofessional outbursts it was pretty riveting stuff. Shibazaki’s interrogation of Aoki Souta (Hashi Takaya) was one of the best scenes of the series. It was beautifully framed, deftly written, and gave us a taste of just how interesting this premise could have been if the series had stayed focused on it. The Japanese government testing out the most brilliant among the nation’s unclaimed children and trying to turn them into a secret weapon using an experimental drug? It’s probably never happened, but it’s not so far-fetched that it doesn’t have enough resonance (no pun intended) for a fictional story.
I totally bought this scene, right down to Aoki’s reasoning for finally coming clean – indeed, being relieved at having the chance to do so. The conspiracy, Nine and Twelve’s irresponsible plan to expose it, their duel of wits with Shibazaki – whose own life was coincidentally derailed by the conspiracy – perhaps slowly turning into an alliance against the forces that have mistreated both of them. That’s a pretty damn good basis around which to build a psychological thriller that touches on the sense of alienation in modern Japanese society.
So why then did Watanabe or whoever’s writing this series not stick with that – why push it aside so far that it can barely even see the back burner, and turn Zankyou no Terror into a conventional Hollywood fantasy? Who knows – laziness, perhaps, or a distrust in the audience to find that premise compelling enough without padding it out with a lot of flannel – or a desire to get in some subtle-as-sledgehammer broadsides against American imperiousness and Japanese spinelessness. The second half of this episode epitomizes the derailment of this show every bit as well as the first half does its potential. The ferris wheel scene is gorgeous – incredibly beautiful and overflowing with Watanabe’s boundless sense of style. But the content is so silly that the scene feels utterly false, and every time Five opens her mouth it’s a reminder of just how absurd everything about her character and what she’s being allowed to get away with is.
Despite all my reservations, I still care about the premise Zankyou no Terror established in the first five episodes, and the first half of this one gives me hope that it will command enough attention in the final two to carry the show to a successful conclusion. I liked Sphinx better when the boys were brilliant and a bit menacing than the basically hapless dupes they’ve turned into, and if we see a return to form for them that will go a long way towards salvaging the finish. It’s easy now at least to see why the Americans are so interested in what they’ve been up to, with the knowledge that what they’ve stolen is a full-fledged A-bomb developed by Japan in secret. I can’t see any way Five’s direct involvement in the resolution can be a good thing – I’m certainly not interested in seeing her redeemed. But if she’s incidental and the focus is on Sphinx, Shibazaki and they secret they now all share, Zankyou no Terror still has a fighting chance to end on a strong note.