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Friday, 26 September 2014

Zankyou no Terror

Oh, hey, non-techno versions of the Aldnoah.Zero soundtrack. Neat.

And now, to review that one anime about cyberpunk police.

Zankyou no Terror.

[Warning: Contains spoilers.]

I feel personally victimised by this anime. Personally victimised.

It's a good old fashioned Shakespearian tragedy, except unlike in tragedies, I actually cared about the characters here. But I want to take a moment, before we push on with this review, to properly clarify what a tragedy is like.


Aristotle describes tragedy as the 'imitation of a noble and complete action […] which through compassion and fear produces a purification of passions.' In short, tragedies are plays which revolve around a single, noble action – often doomed to failure – and by the audience's engagement with the character, their fear for said character, and their sorrow at the usual outcome, are given a catharsis.

It would be the Romans who would later adapt the tragic form into a morality play of a sort, in which a hero would be struck with some moral failing and find himself railroaded towards certain doom. While Roman tragedy (and Greek tragedy) often used revenge as a theme, the idea of the revenge tragedy exploded with popularity in Renaissance Britain, with The Revenger's Tragedy by (ostensibly) Thomas Middleton and Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

In the Renaissance tragedy, noble action and fatal flaw were one and the same – in the tragic hero, they are found inextricably tied together. Hamlet's noble pursuit of justice for his father's murder is tangled up in a base desire for revenge that plays at his sanity and ruins the people he loves. In The Revenger's Tragedy, Vindice's noble desire to avenge his beloved's death at the hands of the diabolical Duke cannot be separated from his treachery. Even in Macbeth, Macbeth's murderous ways, his madness, his utter obsession with personal power, stems from the basis of his being a noble lord and soldier who loves his wife and his country.

What a charming young woman.

Zankyou no Terror, firmly in the last of those styles, is the story of two teenage boys, Nine and Twelve, who have become terrorists, launching bombastic and sinister attacks against the nation of Japan. Rescuing a girl, Lisa, from one of their attacks, they inform her that she is now their accomplice. Meanwhile, Shibazaki, a detective from Hiroshima, seeks to uncover the two's identities. But as time goes on, it seems more and more like Nine and Twelve have a deeper goal, and are seeking revenge on some greater figure.

It's a typically Renaissance tragedy, because Nine and Twelve's noble pursuit of justice is tied up in their critical flaw: Naivete. What makes this story tragic – more tragic than Hamlet, even – is that their entire plan ultimately amounts to a shout into the void. Everyone who suffered at the hands of their enemy is dead. They are dying, and nothing can stop it. Everyone who could be punished for it, who they could seek justice against, is past the point where it would matter: They are either dead, or old and sick and bitter with life anyway. From the moment you know the boys' plans, it becomes inescapably clear that their noble and complete action is pointless.

Even Hamlet eventually gets his man. Vindice murders the Duke and reveals to the world the man's excesses. By the end of Nine and Twelve's story, they have almost nothing: Just one man and one young girl who recognise that they were alive. The story ends with the question of whether that's enough, and it doesn't even try to hint at an answer.

Nine is the only person who has ever looked good in a baseball cap.

Mechanically, the anime is gorgeous. The washed out greys, beiges and browns of the characters are set in stark contrast with almost sickly bright backgrounds: The daytime shots are nauseatingly bright, giving an impression almost of delirium. Even the night-time shots are marked by bright lights everywhere. The animation is smooth, clever and always striking. The soundtrack might be the best of the season, warring with Aldnoah.Zero for that goal – those two might even be some of the best soundtracks of the year, although I can see Nobunaga the Fool having something to say about that. The episodes are well-paced, too: I harp on about pacing a lot, primarily because it's important, difficult, and when it's well done, often isn't noticed. Zankyou no Terror nails its pacing.

(Note to either the writers or Lisa: Iceland is not that cold.)

The plot is excellent, but there is a period around the middle where it starts swinging off the rails. The introduction of Five, Nine and Twelve's evil fellow super-genius, was not a well-handled move: While the injection of a genuine threat to Nine and Twelve was what the show direly needed at that point, Five is played up as a cartoonish supervillain, to the point where if she had broken out a giant evil robot and gone rampaging through Tokyo I would have just accepted it with a faint 'huh' and continued on. She also dies in a strangely abrupt fashion – abrupt and, to be honest, a bit out of character. While the show slides back into greatness in its final through episodes, there's a chunk of about four episodes where it seems to abandon any sense of tone and restraint.

Five is also 50% more anime than anyone else in this anime.

Lisa, too, is a little odd. I like the character, and her backstory is set up well: But she never does anything, except for becoming a damsel-in-distress at one point. While that leads to one of the best scenes in the series, Lisa's primarily role seems to be to serve as witness to Nine and Twelve, and Shibazaki serves that role more than adequately. While I wouldn't want Lisa to be removed, I would have liked her to be a more active participant in her own destiny, especially as her relative passiveness (and tone breaking cooking shenanigans) creates some unpleasant implications when 'passive, good Lisa' is contrasted with 'active, make-up wearing, evil Five'.

I might be being a bit niggly there, but I'm okay with that. This was an anime that deserved a perfect execution, and it didn't really get that. It was still a great one, though, undoubtedly one of the best of the season (I will fight anyone who claims otherwise). 

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