Twelve Days of Anime – When Good Ideas are Squandered
December 21, 2014 3 Comments
Zankyou no Terror, an anime that could have been brilliant, one that explored particularly fascinating elements of Japanese culture and society, such as Japanese relationship with nuclear power, youth rebellion and dissatisfaction with the political oligarchs, and the realities of broken and dysfunctional families in a society that attempts to maintain a vision of social hegemony. All of these themes have been explored before in one form or another, sometimes producing fascinating stories, other times being merely interesting. But, Zankyou no Terror did none of this, and instead of focusing on these potentially fascinating subjects, the series simply becomes a standard thriller with terrorists attempting to blow up buildings, and then suddenly stop the American government who wants to blame them for other atrocities. Zankyou no Terror is a failure, and a spectacular one at that, but, unlike Guilty Crown, or Valvrave, it did not go off the rails gibbering and cackling into the gorge of madness and stupidity, inhabited by the likes of Code Geass R2. No, Zankyou no Terror did something far worse, it did nothing, and squandered the themes and character relationships introduced early on, either forgetting they ever existed, or ignoring them.
There are moments throughout the series when you get the impression of how easily normality can be overturned, where the abnormal quickly becomes part of everyday life, and the ghosts of a country’s past may eventually catch up to it. Many of the characters go about their daily lives, initially giving the impression of perfectly normal high school students and government employees. And yet, we soon find out that some are as far from normal as it is possible to be, instead they are extraordinary, and quite dangerous (at least we are led to believe that). Furthermore, the character of Lisa has her whole world turned upside down, and is forced to reassess what she wants from life and how she should approach everyday situations that until that point were banal, even inconsequential. Having your world turned upside down has been used before, specifically in Battle Royale where the central cast wake up to find themselves involved in a deadly game used to control the populace. By following these characters we see how disconnected they are from society, moving through it without really noticing the things around them. Such characters can be used to explore some of the absurdities found within society; they are outsiders for precisely that purpose.
The theme of social dislocation has been used in anime before, and links with contemporary moral panics and dilemmas surrounding Japanese youth, and their place within an every ageing society. Young people are expected to work hard for society, following the rules, and getting into a good company so that they can have a respectable job. Those who choose otherwise are ostracised from society, labelled as delinquents, and effectively abandoned, while society as a whole wrings its hands, and worries about how Japan will continue in its current state. However, there is also a long tradition within Japanese popular culture of the lone hero, someone who has to remove themselves from the formalities of society in order to save others, or even show us how silly certain ideas are. Such heroes can be found in any number of Samurai and Yakuza films, the nihilists and wanders, people who cannot be part of the crowd, either through their abilities, or background. While such figures represent a certain ideal within Japanese society, they are also to be pitied because they cannot be a part of the warmth of the group. In many respects the characters of Nine and Twelve share many of the common traits found in Samurai and Yakuza film heroes, they represent disaffected youth, and a darker side to Japanese society, one that is hidden behind the façade of the peaceful and calm exterior which is projected to the rest of the world.
The introduction of Lisa and her unstable mother further reinforces the existence of Nine and Twelve as traditional loners, unfortunately, nothing is ever really done with them, or Lisa for that matter. This comes to the crux of my issue with Zankyou no Terror, it has all of these themes and ideas, just sitting there to be used, but does nothing with them. Japan’s complicated relationship with nuclear power as the only country to have a nuclear bomb dropped on it (two in fact), alongside the more recent Fukushima disaster are contemporary and historical themes that could have been explored. Arguably we are led to believe that they will be explored given how the series begins, but they are ignored. The series also continuously brings up Oedipus and the Sphinx, often quoting lines from Sophocles three tragedies: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. We are lead to believe that these re all essential details regarding the motives of Nine and Twelve, yet it amounts to nothing, and doesn’t really tie in with the story and its other themes in any meaningful way. Lisa is also a pointless character, which is really quite annoying given the potential that she, and her family life had when put with the circumstances of nine and Twelve.
Ultimately I was left with the feeling that this story was full of wasted potential, and that the production staff weren’t up to the task of dealing with such complex themes. All of the ideas were there, but they were never truly used or dealt with within the series narrative. I like Shinichiro Watanabe, some of my favourite anime have been directed, and written by him, but in Zankyou no Terror I was presented with a series that either didn’t deal with the issues it raises properly, or couldn’t. Instead of a story that explored the underside of Japanese society, one that broke through the façade, we re ultimately presented with a fairly standard thriller, with lots of explosions, and the face of evil America behind the eventual conspiracy. But nothing is resolved, nothing is explored, nothing is questioned; the characters seem to simply show up, occasionally blow things up, and then either leave, or die. Sadly it has become one of my more memorable moments in anime, not because it was brilliant, but because it was a disappointment, a series that could have been so much more, but chose to squander its potential.