“Remember that we lived.”
I really wasn’t sure what we were going to be getting with this episode. I mean yes, I knew that an atomic bomb was going to go off, and needed to be stopped. Simple enough. But that could play out in a lot of different ways. I guess I was picturing something like the series’ seventh episode “Deuce,” a brilliant, boiled-down episode about tracking a bomb down in an airport.
Boy was I wrong.
The city is of course evacuated, which makes sense, and based on Sphinx’s tendency to avoid casualties in their other attacks, Shibazaki adopts the reasoning that they will detonate this atomic bomb, but that maybe that can be done without hurting anybody. And apparently a high-altitude explosion, putting the bomb in the stratosphere seems to be the most plausible answer. Frankly, it’s pretty smart on Shibazaki’s part and it’s actually logical, rather than something that feels like more of a cop out or convenience, like that the bomb is a dud. There’s still consequences though, like the electromagnetic effects of the bomb causing all of Japan’s electronics to be decimated, and basically cripple the country, which is perhaps a lot more dangerous and terrorist-y than simply killing a ton of people.
Knowing this information and actually stopping the bomb is a different story, with some pretty engaging, realistic troubleshooting, like the bomb floating above the jets’ altitude limit. It’s kind of wonderful that such a grounded, as authentic as possible approach is taken to try and fix this crazy situation that hasn’t had to be dealt with in real life, just so we see if it could be stopped, and with a show as dour as this, I found myself thinking that it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the atomic bomb go off, Shibazaki and co unable to stop it, but aware of where it was the entire time. It’d be a very crushing choice. A devastating one even. And then exactly that is what goes down.
They blow up that bomb.
I found myself kind of speechless that half way through the episode, they pull the very tremendous trigger on this thing and actually blow up that damn bomb. Time and time again this show hasn’t taken easy exits or cheated their way out of messes, and so this ballsy choice shouldn’t have been that surprising. But goodness does it work. Seeing everything go black, including the phone running the countdown for the bomb itself, is brilliant.
So it’s kind of amazing that what comes next is largely just Nine, Twelve, and Lisa playing around as if they’re the last people on earth. There’s an extended ball game sequence, and circus-like music bounces the scenes along. It’s the series’ lightest material and it follows immediately after their darkest. We’re told that “Von,” the title of the episode, means “Hope,” and so it’s pretty enlightening that the idea of obtaining this hope is after tearing down so much.
There’s some really deep material going on in this aftermath section that could definitely feel manipulative under a weaker team. Nine adding a gravestone for Five, along with the rest of the Athena test subjects is really touching and beautiful. “Shibazaki, you are Oedipus” also hits pretty hard and a satisfying callback to the humble beginnings of everything, as well as the final layer to what Sphinx’s plan was all along.
Ending on this would have been fine, with Sphinx’s plan being realized. But of course this show couldn’t do that. The final five minutes of the series are among the best they’ve ever done in every regard. The beautiful purple-pink sky that highlights everything, the heavy music crescendos, as deals are made and characters die.
Zankyou no Terror was definitely a slow, contemplative show that was absolutely more interested in machinations and planning than its characters. It feels like a tremendous departure for director Shinichiro Watanabe, as the show blending fear with realism was one of the series’ strongest aspects. Zankyou no Terror goes out with a bang here, but it’s got nothing to do with the a-bomb they’ve detonated.