The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Terror in Resonance
Review: That Cowboy Bebop helmsman Shinichiro Watanabe has been so productive of late is one of the great pleasures of the current anime moment. That he's perennially restless, testing wholly different creative waters with each new project, just heightens the pleasure. He turns here, after the unrestrained comic madness of Space Dandy, to the chilly nihilism of the political mystery-thriller. Think The Day of the Jackal with teen terrorists and an endgame that is shrouded in mystery but clearly complex and terrifyingly large-scale. Like Jackal, its black twist is that it comes at the story from the terrorists’ side. Named simply Nine and Twelve, the young operatives first pull off a daring heist of fissionable materials and then several months later spectacularly torch a skyscraper. Why? That's the mystery. It's in the latter attack that they acquire a reluctant accomplice—bullied classmate Lisa, who recognizes Twelve during the attack and is given a choice: join or die.
With Watanabe in charge, naturally Terror is made with superlative craft. He lends the series a washed-out anomie, a cold tension that fits it perfectly. He orchestrates terrorist operations whose machinelike precision and cleanly communicated complexities would do Michael Mann proud. There isn't a wasted frame, a stodgy cut, or a recycled image. He nails the nauseous unpleasantness of being bullied in Lisa's scenes, economically communicates Nine and Twelve's dynamic, and obfuscates and reveals with equal grace. This is smart, hard-edged, expertly-delivered stuff.
So why do I feel so unsure? Maybe it's because, for all its general excellence, the show is just jam-packed with things I absolutely loathe. Teen geniuses with evil genius plans. Self-conscious darkness. The callous use of 9/11 imagery. Intricate schemes where everyone behaves like good little automatons. The smiley-on-the-outside, twisted-on-the-inside boy villain. (A character type I hate with a pathological passion; I couldn't even look at Twelve's face without feeling physically ill.) The show is bound to be fascinating, but I'll have a fist in my stomach the whole way wondering if it'll be the good kind of fascinating or the please-god-make-it-stop kind.
Terror is Resonance is available streaming at Funimation.
Review: Terror in Resonance is style over substance, and yet it isn't. It's not that the substance is light or poorly conceived. On the contrary this first episode lands like a brick in your stomach, and seems to be going some fascinating places. The keyword here is "going." The substance of Terror in Resonance is all half-veiled character details drifting through scenes of terrorism without clear motivation yet explained. Something about child experiments. Something about persecution of the weak. Some 9/11 imagery and heartless bullying to let you know what kind of harsh material you're in for. This is a show about teen terrorists in a modern-day setting, using modern-day issues and situations that are meant to make you a little uncomfortable.
All of the story details take a backseat to the style of the show, however, and that's what had me in rapt attention at Terror in Resonance's first episode. For now, it seems like the "substance" we need to know is simple: children have been wronged by a mysterious system and are fighting back, perhaps at the expense of innocent targets. So the show keeps it simple and focuses all its attention on atmosphere, clarity of editing and shot composition, playing with style occasionally in some dream sequences and subjective perspective shots, and just being all around excellent from a cinematic standpoint. Shinichiro Watanabe is an impeccable action director, but he's proved with Kids on the Slope that he can tackle lackadaisical atmosphere and adolescent ennui with the best of them, and without letting rosy pastoral nostalgia take over the honesty of his slice-of-life.
Terror in Resonance in particular will certainly not be a platform for rosy pastoral nostalgia, and it will be interesting to see the show combine harsh and bloody ugliness with milder and more introspective sensations. Most of this first episode is priming the audience for what to expect from the combo. As an exercise in style and direction, it's the best of the season. Every shot tells us so much about the world and characters, with hardly any spare lines of dialogue needed. The details can come later.
That said, all this style over substance makes it so we can't be sure of the quality of the show's writing yet. As it progresses into thicker plots and more complicated characters, will it be able to hold itself up? Who knows! But the way there is sure to be directed with a steady, artful hand. In a landscape where filmic grace of this high caliber can be scarce sometimes (TV-budget anime), that's enough to make this show a high priority follow for the summer season, even if the subject matter isn't much for "summer fun." Bring a ready mind, a steeled heart, and probably a strong stomach.
Terror in Resonance is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: The series known in Japan as Terror in Tokyo is the second original anime creation of the season and this season's Noitamina offering. It certainly packs an impressive pedigree, with Shinichiro Watanabe directing and Yoko Kanno doing all of the music, and it certainly has grand ambitions in opening with an episode about the bombing and partial collapse of a skyscraper which might be eerily reminiscent of 9/11 if it wasn't for the fact that the perpetrators seem more interested in wreaking chaos than actually killing people; in fact, they deliberately wait until the building is almost entirely clear before setting off their explosives. The execution is also good, as the episode is briskly-paced, distinctly better-animated than normal, and has some very pretty building shots, and the musical score, while not Kanno's finest work, nonetheless shows her doing what she does best. It throws out a lot of potential hooks, too, such as figuring out what motivates the two boys with dramatically contrasting personalities to do what they are doing (something concerning badness happening at a research institution is implied), what their ultimate goals are, what they need the nuclear fuel they stole at the beginning of the episode for, and how the girl Lisa, who essentially gets shanghaied into being an accomplice by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is going to fit into this. There's also a teacher who is a former detective who is the only person so far who may suspect anything about what's going on.
And yet for all of that the first episode does not completely come together. Perhaps it's because it tries to do a little too much or tries to throw out too broad a base to accomplish in a single episode, resulting in a rushed feeling. Or perhaps it's because none of the characters immediately feel all that compelling. In fact, that may be the main complaint: each of them feels like he or she is just going through the motions rather than being an actual character, especially Lisa. If the story is going to focus on characters who are going to be bad guys – and let's face it, no matter how wronged they may have personally been, endangering civilians through acts of terror makes them bad guys – then it's even more important to make them involving characters from the get-go, and this first episode just fails at that.
Terror in Resonance has enough potential on other fronts that it does not deserve a lower score than what I am giving it, and it has more capacity than most series to improve. But at this point it definitely has a few kinks to work out.
Terror in Resonance is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Terror in Resonance is not a nice show. It opens with an attack on a Japanese nuclear facility, the bomber giggling like a happy child as (s)he drives up to the gates, tossing a grenade from hand to hand as if it were a ball. Six months later, Lisa is being bullied at school to the point where she eats in the bathroom (or at least hides there during lunch and flushes her bento down the toilet) and ignores the constant stream of texts from an apparent helicopter mom. One day two new boys transfer into her class – their names are Kokonoe and Kumi, but they call each other “Twelve” and “Nine.” Kokonoe is cold and calculating. Kumi is always grinning, but that quickly goes from looking cheery to terribly deranged. Together the boys blow up a building in Tokyo on a school field trip. When Lisa stumbles upon Kumi setting plush bombs, she is offered a choice: be killed or become their accomplice.
I'm not entirely certain that I liked Terror in Resonance's first episode, but I was certainly drawn in by it. It deals a lot in perceptions, such as whether Kumi looks happy or psychotic or whether Lisa's mother's texts are meant to be reassuring or to harass her. A flashback shows us that the boys are escapees from some kind of terrible Institution, which gives them two possible motives for what they're doing: are they getting revenge? Or are they so damaged that they can't live normally? Presumably the answer lies in the gray spaces we haven't glimpsed yet.
The episode is done in primarily dark colors, which not only works for the content, but also makes the beige of the school uniform sweater and the pink of the stuffed animals stand out more. Some of the animation is also very striking; what got me personally was the slow melt of the plushies before they exploded. While there is some imagery that could be linked to 9/11, it isn't (thus far) quite as obvious as the promotional art made me think it would be, but people who personally experienced it might still have a hard time with certain aspects of this episode. As I said before, it isn't nice and it can be quite cruel, but Terror in Resonance's debut is captivating...and I mean that in the sense that it kind of holds the viewer captive.
Terror in Resonance is available streaming for premium members at Funimation.
Toji and Arata are two weirdos who just transferred into a new high school, and something's not right; they appear to have heightened senses, refer to eachother as "nine" and "twelve" and apparently escaped from some kind of experimental institution. Toji, the happy-go-lucky creepy-smile kid, takes an interest in Lisa, a bullied girl who has to eat lunch in the bathroom to escape her tormentors.
It isn't long before Toji and Arata's true ambitions come to light: they're going to blow up a building in Shinjuku, and they're going to do it with adorable little stuffed animals. They've left a terrorist announcement video on youtube, which doesn't go unnoticed by the authorities, but nevertheless, their plan goes off; a skyscraper explodes and melts, but not before Toji finds Lisa inside, giving her only one choice: die here, or become an accomplice. Lisa chooses life.
There are a few other things happening in this episode but that's the basic gist of it; there's a definite Eden of the East vibe going on (minus the NEET lifestyle social commentary) with a little Patlabor 2 thrown in around the edges, and the result is a pretty captivating first episode that mostly just left me wanting to know more about the story. They're not giving us much to go on yet and obviously the super-direct 9-11 imagery is intended to be shocking, but all I was left with was a desire to hit "next" on the DVD and watch episode 2. I have no idea if this thing is going to follow through - it could become sociopolitical gobbeldygook, or get mired in heavy themes about terrorism and global security delivered through long monologues, or just dive headfirst into uninteresting backstory stuff after the big explosions in the opening gambit, but I'm curious to know more. The pitfall with shows like this is that they're usually a hair's breadth away from becoming uninteresting very quickly, so here's hoping Shinichiro Watanabe knows what he's doing (I mean, normally he does, right?). I may wait until the end of the season and watch it in big chunks - week to week this might be a little frustrating if the story's going to move at this pace every time. Production-wise it's a very handsome show and Yoko Kanno brings her usual outstanding work to the table, but this is Heavy Stuff for A Serious Audience. We'll see where it goes.
Terror in Resonance is available streaming for premium members at Funimation.com.
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