Well, this is pretty much the definition of putting all your eggs in one basket. If Zankyou no Terror can put out a fantastic episode next week, the show will have sold me. If next week ends up in the dumps, the whole show will suffer the repercussions. To be honest, I’m torn about this—endings are always critically important to me, but this almost seems to be a case where the ending is going to be disproportionately important to the other 10 episodes that came before.
I kind of wish things weren’t this way. But they are. Anyways, the episode.
The detectives were wrong this time—Nine may be a criminal, but he’s a one track mind without any ulterior motives besides the ones he’s expressed. It was apparent immediately by the frighteningly serious look on Nine’s face that this was the final stage of the plan. I have to wonder if the process would have been the same if Five had not appeared or if Twelve had stayed with him, but either way he’s holding a trump card much stronger than the demands he’s making. This is the constant danger of obsession (and Nine is certainly obsessed)—that you can lose perspective. This has been Nine’s world, his isolation, his revenge, for a long time. And now he’s steeled himself to do whatever it takes, even if that means wiping Tokyo off the face of the planet.
As Shibasaki says, kids can become adults in the blink of an eye, and that is the point to which Nine has come. Of course, the funny thing about becoming adult is that you’re no less capable of making awful decisions than you were as a kid. Except when you’re a kid, you can plead ignorance. When you’re adult, that excuse disappears. Nine has taken that step, because the moment he removes his mask he takes full and personal ownership of his actions. I’m reminded of World Conquest: Zvezda Plot and how masks were a symbol of childhood. Without his mask, Nine is no longer a child. He has decided that, for him, the stakes are the revelation of the Athena plan or destroying an entire city and himself. That’s not a child’s decision.
That, for me, is the most devastating thing about this show. Nine, Twelve, Lisa, and even Five should still be children. They should have never been here to begin with. It’s an terrible, tragic thing that things have come to this point. And, to some degree, they still are, as Twelve pouts like a child in front of lake, he and Lisa go on a date, and Five speaks of Nine as a child would of a toy. When Shibasaki shows up at Mamiya’s house and announces that he’s come on behalf of the 26 children who disappeared…it’s not only for those children who perished in the experiments. It’s for the three remaining children who have had their childhood violently truncated.
It’s enough to make me tear up as I sit here and write this post. Despite the scorn I often see contemporary society heap upon innocence, I still consider it to be an incredibly valuable, beautiful thing. Children are potential incarnate, innocent beings with the ability to become creatures of incredible strength, goodness, and creativity. Comparing them to weapons, inherently destructive and inhuman inanimate objects…that’s yet another tragedy. This isn’t about the potential to become something useful. It’s about the potential to become something good. Just being good ought to be good enough, but the Athena Project was all about turning goodness into utility. That is the tremendously sad context of Zankyou no Terror—that three children who could have been just good had to be mutated into solely useful existences.
That, I think, more or less covers the first half of the episode. But I’ll come back to this idea of innocence when we get to Five’s final scene. Twelve’s reaction to the news that Nine has surrendered is more than a little heartbreaking, and his immediate suggestion to Lisa of going to the amusement park indicates a desperation for escape that his words later confirm. Lisa’s reaction to this is equally sad, as even of Twelve’s falsely happy face can’t distract her from the reality that someone she cares about (despite Nine’s lack of expressed affection towards her) is in need. Her reflection on her own emotions when Twelve came to save her and her confidence that Nine would feel the same way despite Twelve’s betrayal is a cognitive motion we haven’t really seen from her before. It’s an understanding of humanity beyond herself, and that’s not something you can do when you’re totally disconnected from others.
And now, it’s time to talk about that final scene between Nine and Five, which I think is a sad case of wasted potential in this show. I know Five’s always been a point of contention for a lot of people in this story, and while I never felt she was a terrible addition narratively, I do desperately wish someone had thought to do some serious character writing before putting her on screen. While I’ve mostly focused on the aspects of Five that I felt were consistently and relevant in my past write-ups, this episode was a jarring reminder that Five’s always been a bunch of contradictions, and not in a good way.
I’ve always seen Five as a misguided child. From the chess game, to her possessiveness of Nine, to the juxtaposition of her blindingly white hair (white is, of course, a traditional color indicator for innocence) and her violent personality, to her singing of “London Bridge,” to her jealousy of Lisa, this has always been the best part of Nine as a character. Sadly, it was never well-reconciled with her psychotic villain persona, but this has been the side of Nine that I’ve focused on and in which I think dwells the most potential. “You should steal the things you want,” she tells Clarence, which seems to me to be a statement of naivety. It’s, of course, never that easy.
All of this is just to say that the final interaction between Nine and Five really didn’t make much sense at all. Five more or less just monologues a bunch of scattered lines that don’t amount to much of a statement on anything at all (I dunno why she was holding Nine at gunpoint) or at all build to her suicide. Disappointing? Yeah, very much so. And even so, her facial expression as she stands amidst the flames struck me far more than any of her words had and far more than I expected to.
Five should be pitied, and not just because her character was messily written. The one thing I was able to distill on an emotional level from her final minutes on screen was that she was a person desperately searching for something totally out of her reach. Whether that was connection with other human beings or simply a desire to live a full life, Five was never going to be able to find the thing she wanted. And why? Because her potential to become something good was destroyed by the experiment. That’s what I think, amidst all the nonsensical blundering of the writing, we can find in Five’s character.
And so, that leaves us at the end of the episode with Nine removing his mask publicly (something he would have done either way) and an atomic bomb floating over Tokyo. So, yeah. I think Zankyou no Terror has staked an awful lot on this final episode—the conclusion to Nine, Twelve, and Lisa’s emotional arcs, the plot point of the bomb, Shibasaki’s ending, the consequences of the terrorists’ actions. That’s a lot to cover. Personally, I’m hoping they solve the bomb problem quickly (can they just shoot the balloon down?) and move on to the characters quickly.
In the end, I guess I did think this was a good episode. There was some great animation from MAPPA and, as always, some great cinematography (loved the direction in camera work when Five got out of her hospital bed). However it all wraps up, Zankyou no Terror is still a well-made anime. I’m hoping the writing can hold out for just one more good episode. Until next week, then!