For this post, I’d like to talk about Zankyou no Terror. Specifically, I’d like to talk about how it handles its narrative visually.

*I’ll just refer to the show as Zantero hereafter.

It should hardly warrant saying that Zantero revels in excess. The premise stretches believability. The interactions between the characters range between being absolutely ridiculous to overly understated. The dialogue tends to employ symbols that no watcher can overlook in their significances, and often crosses the line into being silly. Normally, all of these would clash to create an experience off-putting and entirely dislikable. Yet, our show manages to avoid the pitfalls of overstatement, and comes together as an engaging narrative. The paste that holds all of these separate elements together is the show’s strong sense of visual and aural composition.

While in most anime irrelevant to the visual style of the show itself, Zantero signs its opening sequence to great effect. Specifically, the main visual themes for the show are the interplay between light and dark and the use of blue and orange. These are, both of them, rather meaningless in a vacuum, but serve to accent and drive the narrative.

Light and Dark, but really, just light.

Why is

Perhaps the simplest of all cinematographic symbols, the contrast between light and dark features heavily in Zantero. However, as opposed to the traditional dichotomies (good vs evil) often attributed to the shades, Zantero’s approach is far more personalized. I mean this in its most literal sense: each character reacts to lights differently than does another, which in turn helps to flesh out their motivations and personalities in an incredibly effective “show don’t tell” manner. [1] For Lisa, the light is a glaring, oppressive presence. From her bullying sessions and constant text messages from her mother, Lisa’s learned to, if not fear the light, prefer the dark. She prefers libraries and her bed over busy crosswalks. Emily over at For Me in Full Bloom writes that “it was crucial that [the person Twelve met at the staircase be] Lisa,” and the show’s visuals support this. Why must Twelve have met Lisa on the stairs? Because of this:

this show so

Lisa, Twelve and Nine all view light as the same painful experience, although from different sources. They can understand each other. While Lisa’s pain comes from the bullying and her mother, the numbers’ comes from their past. Zantero uses a unique audio-visual cue to communicate this: the “creepy” music only ever plays when one or more of them is in the presence of strong light. This exact cue plays separately for each party: once while Lisa is checking her phone, and once while Nine has a flashback. While the light itself serves only as the visual metaphor, the light-music cue allows the viewer to more readily frame the characters’ motivations against one another: dissatisfaction. [1] The only time that “happy” music plays for when Lisa is in the light is when in the company of Twelve. 

This applies, too, to detective Shibazaki. In his memories, the old town in which he claims to have learned to “hate summer” is stark with light. However, unlike the main group, despite any troubles in his past, he seems to have overcome any overwhelming grudge or obsession with the past, as demonstrated by the smooth music that tends to play in his presence. [2]

Light is far from a positive symbol for the characters in Zantero, but it allows for a more emphatic viewing of their actions and characterizations that may otherwise be lost in the show’s more verisimilitude-straining developments.

Orange and Blue.

much better


Perhaps a more tangential point that should’ve been left to the Light and Dark section rather than its own point, along with white and black, Zantero uses other, heavier colours for intermediate effect. [3] Blue has been coded as a distancing structure, green as a placeholder, and orange as an uncomfortable tone.

Blue as a distancing structure can be understood readily by the various shots including the colour. From the very beginning of the show, we start with a scene of whites and blues. We first see Lisa as an unfamiliar character across a pool of blue. Ants speech and introduction to our main character has a blue fence. Lisa’s mother’s texts are blue. Blue. Notice where Lisa’s standing?

Orange, however, signals elements of foreboding nature. Nine repeatedly has dreams involving menacing orange shades, a colour that Lisa wears in her casual dress and Twelve wears during his riddle videos. And then finally, episode three marks the true start of the story, with a strong composition of light, distanced, and coloured elements.

Alnoah Zero?

And then we get perfect shots like this, with everything.



[1] — I fear that I may have not made my point clearly enough. I think some clarification of this technique comes best by comparison to literature’s homologous technique: third person affected perspective. Take for example, this sentence, taken from Bernard Malamud’s “The Loan”: “Her glance questioned him but he signaled with a deprecatory nod of his hatted head he would wait… though his face glittered with misery”. Compare it now to “She made a questioning glance at him and he nodded that he understood… though he looked troubled.” Obviously, the second sentence is awful, but I feel like it makes the point: the first communicates experience and sense whereas the latter simply details. Zantero takes the former approach with its cinematographic techniques. It’s the difference between the viewer seeing characters on screen and sharing in a part of their experience.

[2] — He also serves as the weight for the thematic dichotomies of adult|child, past|present, society|outcast, repetition|single event or the more complicated anger|sadness|acceptance trichotomy that this post doesn’t focus on. Some of these, especially the question of repetition, are fascinating in their own right.

[3] — Technically, this post ended at the white and black segment. But it came to a point that I thought “wait but Zantero also does THIS cool thing” and decided to include it anyways. So the result is a significantly less packaged ending but some further (albeit somewhat elementary) observations. 

If you enjoy character studies or Penguindrum (I know I do), I highly recommend that you check out Emily’s full post on For Me in Full Bloom.

Also, as a side note, you may have noticed that besides orange, black and white, Zantero uses blue. Compare this and this. It’s all part of the fact that orange and blue make for a very satisfying contrast (which accounts for why Hollywood uses it for everything). Luckily, Zantero avoids that overconstrastic aesthetic but still maintains a soft tone by employing the gallons of  digital white and black.

Personally, my favourite shot of the series so far is the first shot of Lisa in profile, above. It’s too good. And the subtitle is a reference to this. 

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