I want to get out some thoughts on Zankyou no Terror since episode ten left me a bit… ambivalent.
Specifically, I’m ambivalent about the final scene between Five and Nine. I’m not happy with that kiss and I’m not happy with Five’s dialogue. That her motivation boils down to Nine and Nine alone throws her into a damning category of female characters. You know, the kind whose entire being is shaped around a male character, that typical story of a woman only existing on the terms of a man. Worse, a woman existing for romantic subplot.
I’ve seen some people say that this development ruins her in prior episodes for them, but I’m more forgiving. In fact, I don’t read the kiss or anything about their relationship as romantic. There are several things that come to mind.
I don’t like to treat a character’s motivation as though it forms in isolation. That is, Five’s backstory is essential. I’ve been thinking about Rising Peace Academy and how those children were raised. What notion of “normal” did those children learn there? Apparently not all of them were indoctrinated enough to helplessly and happily endure, considering that Nine and Twelve actively escaped.
What notion of companionship and love could there be? As a researcher, I certainly wouldn’t see teaching them such things necessary. Nine and Twelve had time to adapt to society’s trappings and overarching ideas shared within Japanese culture. Plus, they were together. Five presumably had nothing. She was used as she was made to be used, in fact — as an exceptional human weapon.
Five never had the need or the time, probably, to immerse herself in the world. What she now knows of it is likely the result of dispassionate training from the US government. It’s knowing, but not understanding. Unlike Nine and Twelve, she is never humanized and never receives the message of what humanity is. It’s a message Nine and Twelve must have encountered along the way, the kind of message a person learns through osmosis.
Regardless, Five is human. There’s no way she doesn’t realize how incomplete her position is, how precarious her being is. Identity is formed in relation to others. Considering who else she has, I’m not surprised that she latches onto Nine. Five needs a way to not just maintain her sense of self, but also to minimize all the fragmentation and emptiness.
Living for the sake of something grand is a kind of salvation that makes life more bearable.
For Nine, his driving force is revealing the truth, at least in my interpretation of his actions. It’s getting justice for what happened to him and the other children. He can’t let go of that sense of retribution because what would he have then? What would he do? What could he do? Considering the heavy implications that the drug the Academy used is killing him, he might not even see a point in trying to shift his goal. After so many years of living just for one thing, one outcome, how can he just abandon it? Who would he be?
Twelve, on the other hand, becomes more distanced from that lofty motivation. It’s larger than he is, intangible, and while he’s worked towards it, he’s let himself rest, moreso than Nine, who never lets his eyes or mind wander from the fixed point he’s decided on. Twelve has looked elsewhere, however, and seen people with less horrendous pasts than his stare at the world with the same dead eyes he knows well. And he’s seen them fight on with faith in the notion of change. He’s seen Lisa. With Lisa there, he might finally have a sense that he can move on from his past, he can survive without the need for stubborn resilience. He can survive for the sake of surviving. He can heal, even.
Five has nothing in comparison. Taken by the US, she wasn’t in a position where she would be encouraged to nurse any ideas about revenge for herself and the others, as these thoughts would make her less useful as a pawn. She probably never interacted with others on any grounds except cold, detached ones. The time when she had any sense of camaraderie, empathy… it was at the Academy.
Her memory of the Academy is all she has to cling onto. So she finds purpose and meaning in the thought of Nine, who she could never beat. Nine, who understands. Nine, an existence that anchors her down because without the thought of beating him, finally getting to beat him, finally achieving something on her own terms, she loses her ties to any intact sense of self. So, she raises him up in her mind and, however twisted, relies on that image. Anything is fine, as long as she can have that. Otherwise, she’s just falling apart, nothing, nothing, a fragmented being.
I don’t read the kiss in episode ten as anything remotely close to romantic. It’s desperate, childish, and speaks volumes about the splintered relationship with humanity Five has. She knows little of life without needing to chase something with all of her being. She knows little of what a genuine connection feels like. She connects as she can — it’s incomplete. It’s so incomplete, which she can sense, just as she senses the same emptiness in Nine. She kisses him having finally reached a conclusion for herself, a conclusion that allows her some peace.
Five’s kiss carries sorrow, empathy, recognition, regret, acceptance. She reclaims herself from those who have always interfered with her existence. She lets herself act as a human and nothing more.