Netflix's Terminator Anime Has Encountered A Hilarious (And Bleak) Problem Thanks To Its Japanese Setting

The first two "Terminator" movies are amongst the greatest works of science-fiction in American cinema — which makes the fact the original "Terminator" almost did not happen baffling. These films gave us groundbreaking special effects and iconic lines of dialogue, along with some rather scary predictions of the future.

Of course, the "Terminator" franchise has also given us some very mediocre sequels. Now, after six movies and a live-action TV show, the property is finally entering animation, with "The Batman 2" writer Mattson Tomlin spearheading the anime "Terminator Zero" for Netflix. After the streamer, Skydance, and Production I.G decided they wanted the show to have a Japanese component, Tomlin decided to set the anime in Japan. That decision brought with it a big problem, however. As Tomlin told Entertainment Weekly, "I was aware that there aren't really guns in Japan, and I don't think I quite appreciated how real that was."

That's right. It wasn't the complicated timeline of the "Terminator" movies or the so-so legacy of the latter films, but the fact that Japan doesn't have guns that created the biggest challenge for the anime. In early versions of the show's scripts, Tomlin wrote a scene where violence breaks out over Tokyo, prompting people all over the city to pull out guns.

"My partners at Production I.G came back and said, 'Hey, so...there are no guns [in Japan]. If we needed a gun, we don't know where we would get it,'" Tomlin explained. "It was just such a stunning moment for me, like, 'Oh, wow, I am an American.'"

What is the Terminator anime about?

The solution to the problem? Simply eliminate all guns — if only it were that easy — and rely on other weapons like sword fights against Terminators with blades for arms. "If I was going to fight a Terminator and I don't have guns, what are the weapons that I could concoct?" Tomlin said.

As for the story, "Terminator Zero" takes place in Japan circa 1997, right around when Skynet's AI network becomes self-aware. The anime promises to be familiar for fans of the franchise — there will be a soldier from the future sent back in time, plenty of Skynet talk, and a Terminator disguised as a human sent to the past to assassinate a scientist (this time working for a Skynet competitor). Oh, and there are a couple of kids in peril.

This was important for Tomlin, who wanted to tell both a time travel story and a multi-generational saga (a la "The Godfather") centered on the family with kids. "What I wanted to do, if we get to do multiple seasons, is to see these kids grow up and see who they become," he explained.

The idea of a "Terminator" story without guns is fascinating. A big part of the appeal of the original movie was seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger as this unstoppable killing machine who could carry a massive machine gun like it was nothing. But taking the guns away also means the Terminators are scarier, as they can attack with anything, becoming assassins more than brutes.

"Terminator Zero" premieres August 29, 2024, on Netflix.