Questions of conventions and their entrappings in Zankyou no Terror

From left to right: Nine (Kokonoe Arata), Mishima Lisa, Twelve (Hisami Toji)

This is not a picture of the Twin Towers. It is a different tower that’s located in Tokyo. But that’s not pertinent to what I’m interested in. Let’s instead talk about the three people shown here and what you should expect going into Zankyou no Terror.

To put it in a few words: No, they’re not tropes. And yes, they are tropes.

You wouldn’t tell at first glance. I mean, look at them. You have Glasses DarkMcBroodington and Genki Happy-go-Lucky-kun as two prominent figures between a shy, timid, and comparatively plain-looking high school girl. Quick, what are your anime senses telling you? That the girl is the main character? That the two bishies are gonna be fighting over her for no reason? That they’re all friends? Well, prepare to be disappointed. All three of those guesses are completely wrong. And they may end up being completely right. At this stage, I can’t tell.

That was the attitude I has going into Zankyou no Terror, to be honest. From just looking at my history, anime has a poor track record of churning out non-juvenile stories when highschool-age kids are involved. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Let’s say that stories that feature high schoolers, or worse stories set in high school, are conventional. You know what happens in anime when you stick to conventions? A lot of shit happens which is taken for granted: school uniforms, girl bullying, weak-willed main characters, at least three possible love interests, and the motherfucking transfer student just to name a few. It’s not inherently bad to stick to conventions, but it certainly puts a damper on expectations because, well, you know, you end up knowing what to expect.

“You may be an accomplice, but you’re not a friend. One false move, and I’ll kill you.”

~Twelve

Now this is going to sound a bit disappointing, but Zankyou no Terror doesn’t introduce itself with a particularly unique plotline. Shin and Fuyuji are transfer students at Lisa’s school (Arata even gets the second to last seat next to the window). Lisa herself is the shy, timid, weak-willed girl you expect her to be. She also gets bullied a lot. Holy shit, Arata and Toji aren’t your ordinary transfer students either, and Lisa’s mixed up in their shenanigans! Gee, golly! What an original setup! Why am I even watching this show when I can get the same thing in practically every other anime ever?

That’s the kind of reaction you get when you only look at Zankyou no Terror at first glance. Thing is, however, Arata and Toji aren’t JUST the transfer student trope. Lisa isn’t JUST the shy and plain schoolgirl trope. All three are equally, and rightfully, fucked up in their heads. And that’s the reason why I ultimately don’t mind that this anime seems so conventional.

“They were weak, so they died.

We were weak, so we couldn’t save them”

~Nine

Being reductionist about these kinds of anime conventions runs the risk of failing to read between the lines. Sure, we can focus on the genericness of the characters and then proclaim that the anime industry is truly dying if Shinichiro Watanabe is lazy enough to stick to conventions. Sure, Lisa’s just your run-of-the-mill poor, helpless high school girl with near-impervious plot armor and a bishie magnet for no particularly good reason.

But let’s be real here.

What makes tropes so incessantly usable in storytelling, and most definitely in anime, is how those said tropes are played with. In this case, it’s more of a question of how these personalities, these appearances, are justified in the confines of the story. It’s about what actions these characters take in order to validate their behaviors, whether that happens to overlap with other personalities from other anime or not. Is it justified to say that Rei and Asuka from Evangelion are your typical kuudere/tsundere? Yes, because their behavior fits the criteria to a T, and No because the story cites their fucked up mental states as the primary reason for that behavior. You could say the same thing about Zankyou no Terror.

Do Arata and Toji act like typical transfer students? Yes, yes they do. Do transfer students grow up in a test tube and blow up buildings for a living? No! Yet those same actions are the basis of their respective personalities. Likewise, does Lisa behave like the shy and timid high schooler that we all are too familiar with? Fuck yes. However, did any of those other girls have an atrocious eating disorder, a shittier-than-shitty home life, and become an accomplice in terrorism? At the same time? I’ll just wait for you to admit “No”.

“But appropriant,” you might say. “All you did was attach different actions to the same personality. Are you claiming that this is significant at all?” Yes I did and yes I am. That’s the point.

TWGOK

I believe that this show is aware of its conventional setup. And instead of running parallel to its preceding anime, Zankyou no Terror instead uses that same setup to springboard something completely interesting, something to chew on. What we get as a result of this is the familiar elements inherent in convention, mixed with a more exciting and intriguing method of justifying them. All three characters shown here fit their respective tropes to a T, but their circumstances and actions beg for us to imagine how the two elements are able to connect. How do people like Arata and Toji become terrorists, and to what extent are they out of touch with society? To what depths does Lisa’s mental health truly go because of how she’s treated on a daily basis? What does this anime do to answer those questions in the most natural, non-gimmicky way possible?

Perhaps my ponderings will be completely wrong about the fate of this entire anime. I mean, I only watched the first two episodes. But what I was given in that short amount of time was an interesting storyline despite being set up in the most familiar way possible. When you get your chance to see this anime, keep those same conventions in mind. Think about how other shows look to explain the same things that Zankyou no Terror does, and ask yourself, if you end up liking the first two episodes of this anime, if you would let that same shit fly in another, possibly lesser anime.

Addendum

  • You’re damn right the world premiere of Zankyou no Terror was two episodes long. Get fkin rekt, m8s.
  • Also this anime is Most Anime Ever Summer 2014. I cannot imagine anything else topping this on my favorites list for the rest of the season.
  • Thank you based Yoko Kanno for doing more post-rock music for your OSTs.
  • Get it? Conventions in anime? Because I watched it at an anime convention?
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4 comments

  1. Also want to point out the hidden spring-boarding joke, since you could see that as being related to ep1. :p

    RESONATING IN TERROR ABOUT TERROR IN RESONANCE. HYPE HYPE HYPE.

  2. ganymedeelegy · · Reply

    Yeah, I’ve constantly argued that Watanabe’s shows aim to play with conventions and the basic foundations of narrative, ranging from genre to storytelling structure. Bebop was a hodgepodge of everything from the French New Wave to film noir to kung-fu cinema; Champloo juxtaposed the old and the new in terms of cultural conventions — the Japanese reliance on chanbara as period pieces and hip-hop as a means of defining modernity; and, well, Space Dandy does everything it can to be as wild with its foundations as possible.

    Judging by these first impressions, I’m really curious to see where he goes matching up the typical high school anime drama with a terrorist thriller. Thanks for the impressions, Appropriant! (You should know how ridiculously excited I am for this show at this point.)

  3. I have not seen terror in resonance bought it earlier last month but after reading your post. Still makes me excited to see it. I liked your view point about common troupes and that it may seem a familiar plot line but depends on how it is used and played with. Something I’ll bare in mind when watching anime from now on :) great post !!!

  4. […] Questions Of Conventions and Their Entrappings In Zankyou no Terror By Appropriant  […]

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