Director: Shinichiro Watanabe, Character Designer: Kazuto Nakazawa, Music: Yoko Kanno, Main Theme: Yuuki Ozaki,
Soma Saito as Twelve/Touji Hisami, Kaito Ishikawa as Nine/Arata Kokonoe, Atsumi Tanezaki as Lisa Mishima,
On a quiet summer day Tokyo was rocked by a massive terrorist bombing. Nobody knows who did it but a strange video uploaded to the internet was trending online before the attack and provides the only clue. The grim truth is that the culprits were two high school boys who go under the codenames Nine (real name Arata Kokonoe) and Twelve (real name Touji Hisami), both of whom have an agenda against the state that is fuelled by a tragic background. They become known as “Sphinx” and start to play a deadly game with a nation that was once complacent but now lives in terror of them… One girl, mercilessly bullied by classmates, finds herself becoming close to them as she finds resonance in terror.
This was the last of my selection for the Summer 2014 and probably the one that I liked the most that isn’t Tokyo Ghoul and doesn’t have the words Space and Dandy in the title.
It certainly had the most hype out of all of the series in the season what with Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno reuniting at Studio MAPPA. The last time the three got together was in the well-received Kids on the Slope but I was expecting more from this because of the story and the look of the animation witnessed on the PV and I was not disappointed.
The visuals are excellent, the art was detailed and the animation was fluid. I was wowed enough by the robbery conducted in the snowbound nuclear reprocessing plant in Aomori in the pre-credit sequence.
I was impressed by the details when the story was brought into the heart of the city of Tokyo which started off in a school that Twelve and Nine infiltrated and ended in a meticulously planned and audacious terrorist attack in the centre of the city.
Nobody could accuse Shinichiro Watanabe of lacking style and he gets the animators at MAPPA to do some of their best work yet. The settings may not be unique but his direction is strong enough to was establish a strong and fast moving. That combined with the sort of contemporary setting gave off the sort of Christopher Nolan (Inception) vibe, all shiny and sleek and technical.
What makes it different is that there were numerous shots which stirred the imagination, some beautiful,
others very ugly.
This last one with its graininess and desaturated nature hints at the sort of trauma that the kids suffered in some “institution” where children perished. It’s something that has traumatised the central characters and gives them a reason to commit terrorist acts.
One gets the sense that these two may be escapees from some sort of school for the super-gifted like in Akira – why else would kids be killed in such a manner? How could teens be so driven to commit an act of terror and so skilfull at doing it if not for being powerful in some manner?
They are still kids physically and the way they react to the world – using social media, playing with toys – but they have the standard behaviour of sociopath (Nine) and psychopath (Twelve). It’s probably too early to start throwing labels like these around and pretending I’m clever but the sense of detachedness and self-centred and pretentiousness is one I recognise from my teen years.
Kazuto Nakazawa’s character designs coupled with the writing and seiyuu lived up to expectations and the cast were definitely memorable if not totally original.
Arata Kokone (Nine) is definitely the cold as ice guy who seems to be the brains of the operation. Kaitou Ishikawa voices him in a dry, almost monotone way that gets across the cool and calculating nature of the character but he is plagued by the nightmares which his partner seems to have overcome.
Touji Hisami (Twelve) is the live-wire of the duo as could be told from his intro where he storms into the reprocessing centre in a police van listening to rock music and then crashes out of the back of the van with a snowmobile.
He’s definitely charismatic and prone to doing and saying odd things but one can sense that this must be a front as he always seems aware of his situation and how others feel, his goofing around is an act.
Nevertheless, it manages to hook Lisa Mishima who we first meet being bullied by a gang trying to get her to jump into a pool with her school uniform on.
Bullying is a subject that has been growing large in Japan over the last few years due to some suicides and it has popped up in multiple dramas and films than is normal. It is pretty starkly depicted here.
She’s the complete outsider, seemingly ignored by all and keeping the bullying to herself. She seems to have a mother who smothers her. Perhaps there’s a dark history – maybe a connection to the institution that Arata and Touji escaped from.
Despite knowing that Touji is a budding terrorist, one feels sympathy for her and when he and Arata offer her a way out of the bombing and her mundane bully-blighted life,
Probably, the most interesting character is Shibasaki, a former police detective who looks like he. He watched Arata and Touji’s YouTube video warning and twigged that they were going to pull off the terrorist act. He definitely has a grizzled look that reminded me of Koji Yakusho in The World of Kanako.
Perhaps all former detectives look like this in Japan…
Another aspect to mention is the strong OP and music from the episode. Yoko Kanno is in form (I don’t think she ever loses it) with the music which is a combination of haunting electro themes mixed with drum n bass, jazz piano and drum scores and haunting vocals. It’s beautiful stuff and I’ve already ordered the album (as well as some video games) from Japan.
Overall this one has a lot of potential for a great story about contemporary times. The use of social media, high school kids with very real trauma of bullying and the characters finding some understanding of what each and every one is going through thanks to the resonance of terror that they have all seemingly suffered. That, and there’s a cool looking detective who will ferret out the connections. It’s not the most beautiful show of the season – that award goes to Tokyo Ghoul – but I cannot wait for the rest of the series!