Is Shinichiro Watanabe the next Hideaki Anno? I don't say this lightly. Anno, in an industry that was becoming increasingly full of inanity, followed up a string of fantastic shows (Gunbuster and Nadia) with a true, bonafied masterpiece in Evangelion. Almost singlehandedly, after toiling away in the industry for years, he kickstarted a revolution, inspiring legions of imitators and making anime good again. Plenty of great shows followed in its wake, but it was arguably because of his magnum opus that they were able to exist at all.
Looking forward to now, we see an industry full of crap. Some of it is harmless, some of it caustic, most of it is moronic and annoying. Studios with promise have started to plumb the depths, fantastic shows get shoved under the bus in favor of flavor-of-the-week otaku-pandering and fujoshi-bait, and by and large, I've felt like the industry has become largely awful with a few great exceptions every year. But there's been a glimmer of hope brought about by a man who helmed two of the greatest shows in the past two decades, Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. Aside from his utterly sublime project, Space Dandy, which is thankfully getting an amazing amount of popularity, he and his partner-in-crime Yoko Kanno have one more ace up their sleeves. That ace is Zankyou no Terror, and if it keeps up this quality... we could have a serious masterpiece on our hands.
Two boys, codenamed Nine and Twelve, are terrorists. This isn't a spoiler, it's made readily apparently right out of the gate in the literally explosive opening. They attend high school in order to keep up appearances of a normal life, all the while uploading videos detailing their attack plans. Through a series of odd events, meek bully victim Lisa gets caught up with them, and eventually agrees to become their accomplice in the middle of their first large-scale attack. While giving any more details would be a crime, the attack itself is one of the most unnerving parts I've seen in anime for a bit, thanks to the immediate (and most likely intentional) echoes of 9/11 that are given off by it.
The thing is? I think Zankyou no Terror is what the industry desperately needs more of. It's raw, unnerving, and obviously meant to make people uncomfortable. If you're sort of triggered by 9/11 imagery, this show is going to upset you. If you like shows where the protagonists are likable, this show is going to really upset you. And if you're expecting an uplifting tale of fighting against the establishment, I can almost guarantee you that this show is going to exponentially upset you. From the looks of it, Nine and Twelve are characters who we're not supposed to like, doing terrible things that we're not supposed to cheer on. And I like that. There aren't enough things like that out there, today. Think the pacing and style of Eden of the East and the uneasy tone of Flowers of Evil, and you're halfway there.
And the rest of production is top-notch. Mappa, who is easily one of my favorite studios in the industry, does a stellar job with the animation here. Everything is fluid and beautiful, the characters are expressive, the action is fast and furious, and even the slower bits bleed atmosphere. Part of what makes everything here work so well, too, is Yoko Kanno's fantastic fucking soundtrack. This woman is one of the best living composers, in my mind, and frankly, this is her best work in ages. In a few of her latest projects, she's been a bit tied down by the material at hand, whether that be with Macross Frontier or Kids on the Slope, but here? She's back to the glory days of Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, tapping into the style of her work of that latter series especially. It's jazzy but brooding, haunting and thrilling all at once. Oh, yes, and the OP and ED (also composed by her) are beautiful.
My only reservation here is that Terror could easily veer off the rails. Shows that are about political intrigue and espionage and other such subjects often walk a tightrope with each episode, and one slip can lead into either boring diatribes, muddled political messages or (in the case of Eden of the East) overly elaborate non-endings with ludicrous deus ex machinas. Now, Watanabe is a masterful creator, and I honestly don't feel like he could even begin to make something awful, but there's a first time for everything. Just because I think this is the best first episode I've seen since I started watching Rainbow back in 2010 doesn't mean that it can't go wrong with each passing week. Also, I'm a bit worried about Lisa's characterization, and I'm hoping it evolves into something more than "terrified girl getting dragged into things."
Regardless. It's hard to hide my enthusiasm for this show. Zankyou no Terror, with the first episode, managed to excite, scare, chill and sadden me, all in the span of under 30 minutes. And I think that speaks volumes to its quality, and with the potential this show has. Here's hoping it doesn't blow it!