This hasn’t been a particularly good season for anime, in fact, the year as a whole hasn’t been all that great so far. Despite a strong start, Tokyo Ghoul failed to keep my interest (although I hear the ending was great) and the only real appeal Sword Art Online holds for me at this point is its hilariously awful writing. Of all the things that immediately come to mind, It’s become one of the few that I can only enjoy on an ironic level.
And my last post was about how I genuinely liked Deadly Premonition.
Zankyou no Terror, or Terror in Resonance, is easily the show that I enjoyed the most this season. While I intend to finish SAO, right now Terror in Resonance is the only show that I felt compelled to finish. So, lets stop beating around the bush and give it the review it rightfully deserves. Spoilers.
In some respects I wish I was Japanese when it comes to reviewing this show, or at least, I wished I had more detailed knowledge of Japan’s political situation. I say this because Terror in Resonance is a show primarily about Japanese politics. In fact, discussing politics is basically the extent of its thematics, because in terms of plot, this show is a mess that never really provoked a physical emotional reaction from me. For all the ire I can pour on SAO, it does make me laugh in disbelief.
So lets get the bad out of the way first, or at least, the ‘not good’. The show is about two teenage terrorists named Nine and Twelve (a digit short of 9/11, obviously) who have started planting bombs and blowing up buildings. The first episode is particularly well done, featuring the demolition of a building and how an innocent bystander, Lisa, is caught up in their deeds. The show gives very little detail into Nine and Twelve’s past, as following episodes are largely about Lisa’s situation and the boys throwing out Oedipus themed riddles to the police. However, the show makes it fairly obvious that the pair are from an institution of some description, from flashbacks and other foreshadowing elements. I frequently found myself wishing that the show would just give us their background, and it eventually became irritating. The exposition explaining their time in the institution doesn’t come until towards the end of the series, by which point I’ve already stopped caring in favour of other developments. This leaves the main characters feeling very empty in personality and motivation for much of the plot, which got boring at times. On top of that, the only thing that held them back from being outright villain-protagonists was how they were so completely against killing people, and the steps they took to ensure that no harm came to the public.
This leads on to my largest complaint about the narrative- frankly, it feels poorly structured. Specifically, it feels poorly ordered. I can see why in some cases. For example, they wanted Nine and Twelves past to be a mystery, a hook, a secret, a twist. Except it really wasn’t. My other complaint was with the handling of Lisa- the first episode makes it clear that Lisa has crossed a boundary she can never return from by choosing to be an accomplice to the pair’s terrorist acts. However in the next few episodes, she is at home and at school as though nothing has changed, and Nine and Twelve seem to want nothing to do with her, and apparently aren’t the slightest bit worried that she’ll tell the authorities. For some reason, she doesn’t, either, possibly because her poor home and school life causes her to empathise with their cause. I was expecting Lisa to join the terrorists in fugitive status during the second episode, but it doesn’t happen for some time. As a result some of the early episodes simply feel like they’re stalling for time with no real purpose. These early episodes were fairly well structured at least- riddles inter cut with scenes about Lisa and scenes about Shibizaki, the aging detective assigned to dealing with the terrorists during the early episodes, and arguably the most important character. Then we have the character of Five, and here’s where the real problems start to surface.
Five feels as though she walked in from a completely different show. Namely, Code Geass or Death Note, though Death Note specifically. In those shows, she could probably work as a decent character if you upped her melodramatic delivery. Terror in Resonance is a much more nuanced show however, completely devoid of melodrama even as it uses elements from other shows, again, like Death Note, to fill out the parts of the plot that aren’t simply scenes of Shibizaki talking to colleges about Japan’s political environment, Shibizaki talking to representatives of the Japanese government, and Shibizaki talking to retired politicians and researchers who have strong links to the Japanese government. But I’ll get back to those. The tale I’m reminded of when it comes to Five is that of the gourmet chef who tried to recreate a fast food burger without knowing its recipe. After all, being much more skilled at making more delicious food, anything lesser would be easy for him to make. So goes the tale, he couldn’t do it. Much like that Chef, Resonance can’t quite capture what makes a character like Five so engaging in other shows. The direction and writing lacks the ability to capture the smugness, the unpredictability, the tension, and melodrama that makes a show like Death Note so fun to watch. Much of her character feels completely perfunctory despite her unnecessarily extravagant design, (at least when compared to the rest of the show) and her relationship and supposed obsession with Nine feels completely perfunctory, especially as she has very few scenes alone with Nine, not even in flashbacks to the institution wherein her obsession blossomed. Everything about her character and her narrative function frankly feels like a miscalculation on all accounts- she just fills in the space between the parts of the show that the creative staff appear really interested in. She’s a poor man’s Lelouch.
So, these scenes with Shibizaki, then. They were the best scenes, not because they were enjoyable as entertainment, but because they were critical, honest, and angry discussions about, yes, the Japanese government. Not just about how it exists today, but also about how Japan still hasn’t fully healed since events that go as far back as Hiroshima. Frankly, these scenes speak for themselves, especially as the end of the show draws ever closer. To examine Terror in Resonance’s arguments in detail would be to claim that I have anything more than surface level knowledge of Japanese politics. I would, however, like to know what the Japanese thought of this show- Resonance gains many of its emotional highs and best spots of writing from its themes of nation wide emasculation, guilt, and the shifts in thinking that will be required in order to truly grow from its own experiences. At the very least, those vague concepts were what I gleamed from the show, and I think they are the critically important factor that keeps this show firmly in the ‘good’ category. The parts I disliked weren’t completely separate from these parts, either. Five represents the foreign oppressive force the USA has on Japan in the show, and the institution itself is a metaphor for the dark secrets Japan would rather forget and not admit to (bear in mind that I’m not trying to make any statements from any point of authority- I’m speaking purely on the terms of how I believe the show frames them), and their treatment of Japanese youth, what with the institution trying to raise a small army of super geniuses from a young age who would bolster the country’s status. Everything ties in nicely to the political statements, but the political statements rarely work their way back to the main plot in a way that significantly develops the characters or enhances the emotional catharsis of the viewer.
Terror in Resonance is well directed, well written, and well animated, it has an excellent score and some notable standout scenes. (Ferris wheel anyone?) Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hit the mark as a viewing experience. As a political discussion however? Yeah, I think the show hits the mark, even if I’m far removed from its target audience. Ultimately, this a show that I appreciate more than enjoy.