Easily THE BEST opening episode if not one of the best for Summer 2014 (Tokyo Ghouls is another). Brought to you by director Watanabe Shinichiro partnering with composer Kanno Yoko, the same duo behind cult-classic Cowboy Bebop and most recently, fellow noitamina anime Sakamichi no Apollon, Zankyou no Terror is in a class of its own with just the opening episode. If this keeps up, it’s definitely a front-runner for best anime of the year. It’s a psychological thriller (my favourite genre) with an interesting premise and plot, the characters are full and multi-dimensional, the art and animation is top-notch gorgeous, the seiyuus nuance their roles very well and with Kanno behind the music, what else more can anyone ask for? I feel so so spoilt watching Zankyou and so should you.
OP “Trigger” by Ozaki Yuki (of Galileo Galilei)
Everyone’s taste in anime is different of course but you know a good show when you see one. It hits you in the gut instinctively in a way that you don’t immediately feel, until you watch it a second time maybe. More often than not, the good ones are those that make you think, to actively participate and engage with the show, feel for its characters or emphatise with its themes. Zankyou does all of that in just 22 mins.
Pull the trigger on this world
Before the premiere, what we gathered from MAL, the trailers and official website is that Tokyo had just been under a terrorist attack, with the only clue to the identity of the culprit being a video of “Sphinx” uploaded onto the internet. Sphinx comprises two mysterious teens – children who shouldn’t exist, who have masterfully carried out the heinous attack. They’re cursed to walk through this world with the names Nine and Twelve and as Sphinx, they are determined to wake the people from their slumber and pull the trigger on this world. That makes for an interesting premise already because (1) who would expect a couple of teenage boys to be terrorists, (2) why are they cursed and (3) what do they mean by wanting to wake people from their slumber? We know the world’s chaotic but what makes it such that these 2 unassuming boys feel they have to take it upon themselves to do something about it? Are they the antagonists? Or are we actually watching the real protagonists?
Nine + Twelve = Sphinx
Here’s what we know about the 2 main male characters – they were both in a facility of some sort from which they escaped. What facility is this that kept young children? Are the names 9 and 12 their given numbers? What were they escaping from and how have they survived up till now? We know they’re smart and highly intelligent in an espionage kind of way – Twelve could remember the full names of classmates who’ve taken an interest in Nine, within the first half of their first day in school. They can strategise and plan an attack on a nuclear facility and 6 months later, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. They know their way around bombs and perhaps uranium/plutonium, both its explosion and its making. They can get pass high security – did Nine have a contact lense to get pass the biometric iris scan or…, and Twelve can drive and ride a motorcycle to launch the perfect escape. In school they’re known as Kokonoe Arata 九重 新 (Nine), 九 being the kanji for nine, and Hisami Touji 久見冬二 (Twelve), 冬 being phonetically identical to 十, the kanji for ten and 二 is the kanji for two so 10+2=12. I suspect the boys came up with the name for themselves and it’s rather clever actually.
It seems Nine (Ishikawa Kaito) is the cool, calm and composed Sphinx no. 1 スピンクス一号 who remembers blueprints and can calculate the precise number of footsteps Minami Lisa needed to escape, even if he’s a terrible liar (the mobile phone scene). But he suffers from nightmares of the time he and Twelve escaped from the facility, reliving in his dreams the moments where he wanted to reach out and help the other children get over the fence – ‘those who couldn’t escape died because they were weak but we were just as weak for not being able to rescue anyone else.’ Isn’t that great scriptwriting right there? Twelve (Saito Soma) is the cheerful guy with a sunny disposition that throws anyone off from suspecting he’s Sphinx no. 2 スピンクス二号. But the guy’s got a (deliciously) sadistic side and when he smiles, you should hope he’s smiling genuinely and not that he’s hatched a fatal scheme in his dark mind. He reminds me of characters who do wrong by society’s definition but doesn’t see it that way – i.e. Psycho Pass’ Makishima or a psychopath who’s morally apathetic. He’s not the outlandish kind of sadist and that’s what makes him so interesting – the way he thinks over the way he acts. The boys live together in an apartment full of books – first time I’ve ever noticed a background as leading to speculation over a character’s personality as evidence these boys are very clever and well-read, depending on one another to carry out their little game on Tokyo. But while it seems Nine is the leader of the 2, perhaps Twelve is the strength that carries them forward as he tells Nine he should stop being afraid of that dream.
それは、とても暑い夏の、太陽のような笑顔、氷のような瞳… That was, on a very warm summer’s day, the smile of the sun and the eyes of ice…
Just when we think we’re dealing with a couple of teenage terrorists, they rope in Minami Lisa (Tanezaki Atsushi) who’s now an accomplice. She’s a victim of high school bullying and it seems she’s bulimic as well, on top of having family issues. Basically, Lisa’s weak. And yet somehow within just 22 mins, ZnT has painted her in such a multidimensional way that she’s actually interesting. Because at the very end, in a split-second decision, she made a choice to live, trusting Nine and Twelve by jumping off from the 4th floor. Like Nine said, she recognised she’s got a choice and took it. That’s not what a weak person does; in a way, the boys saved her in more ways than one. It’s going to be interesting watching her interact with the boys and witness first-hand whether their actions are deranged or ironically justified.
The other character we’re introduced to is Shibasaki (Sakuya Shunsuke), who also appears in the OP. He’s just as interesting too, what with being an ex-detective now stuck at a desk job playing shoji with himself but being the guy who joined the Sphinx video to the blackout at 3pm. Just his character design and personality setting alone tells you he’s got a backstory that’ll be interesting to watch unfold as he unfolds the mystery behind Sphinx.
Production wise with studio Mappa, the illustration and backgrounds are gorgeous and sharp. The animation is fluid especially with the expressions of all the main characters consistently throughout the episode. I was particularly impressed with the ski jet escape scenes on not just its animation but the fact that we the viewers got a first point view as though we were the ones riding our escape and watching the world through Twelve’s helmet. Then there was when Lisa ran down the staircase – you have to remember this is animation and not actual camera work so when the scenes shook and bounced along with her, it just subconsciously added a level of urgency for viewers. Special mention must go to Saito Soma. I was already rather impressed with his work in this season’s Akame ga Kill but here, his breezy take on Twelve reminded me of Ishida Akira. He truly shone through with that scene going down the staircase, turning back to Lisa and with a voice laced with sadism, wondered if she’s intentionally there or truly just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Definitely a seiyuu to look out for this summer 2014 apart from fellow relative newbie Hanae Natsuki (superb in Tokyo Ghouls).
Last but not least is the music. From beginning to end, Kanno lends her composition prowess with the OP, OST and ED, with both OP and ED sounding jazzy psychedelic complete with soulful but melancholic singing by and Ozaki Yuki and Aimer. Composing goddess Kanno Yoko has gifted us with yet another spectacular OST. In a rare move for the anime industry, the Zankyou OST was released a day before the show’s premiere. So have a listen (it’s also on youtube) to the piano, electric guitar and voices used atmospherically in a way only the Icelanders can – she’s roped in a couple of them to provide vocals. It’s soft and has her signature slight jazzy feel but with the Icelandic collaboration, pardon the pun, is quite chill but not in a laid-back way. Listen to it now and trust me, you’ll appreciate knowing those familiar tracks as they appear in the anime (that last scene’s piano track – 05. fugl) – more studios should release OSTs first!
As the title of this episode goes, we’ve seen Tokyo fall into panic watching the building literally fall. We’ve also seen Lisa not fall into the swimming pool but choose to fall into the waiting arms of Twelve. Are the boys themselves fallen individuals? The storyboard and scriptwriting is so tight I really do feel very spoilt – Nine’s nightmare mid-way was very unexpected, I thought it was an OP! This review has been very long and I do applaud you for getting through it all the way past my ramblings. I’m a fan of Watanabe-Kanno so you can hopefully understand why I’d dissect things down the way I seem to have. It won’t be this way for the rest of the reviews (fingers crossed anyway) but with an original story in a season filled with adaptations and sequels, I can’t wait for more intellectual guess work and spine-chilling thrills.
ED “誰か、海を” by Aimer