Terror in Resonance
by Gabriella Ekens,
SPHINX has been dragged into the light. Although their hands stained Tokyo's skies an apocalyptic red, the judgment days aren't for Nine and Twelve, but Japan's leaders in the public eye. They manage to stop the atomic bomb unleashed at the end of last week, but, after one final idyllic day together, United States troops arrive to take the boys out. And they succeed - first with Twelve, who is sniped through the chest, and then Nine, who succumbs to his conditioned illness after having been talked down from destroying the rest of Japan by Shibazaki. Lisa and Shibazaki live on, altered by the boys and seemingly content that their nation's exploitation of its own citizens has been unearthed. However, they don't forget, reuniting by their graves one year later.
Terror in Resonance is, ultimately, both a muddled and prescient critique of Japanese neo-nationalism. The show is important because it's a direct condemnation of a dangerous political trend going on right now in its country of origin. Although the details can be picked at, the fact that famous, internationally renowned artists like Hayao Miyazaki (with The Wind Rises) and Shinichiro Watanabe are creating works that sign their names against the attempt to repeal Article 9 of the Japanese constitution - the one that bans war - is important and admirable. This will probably earn Terror in Resonance a footnote in the history books. It's unfortunate that the show, however, doesn't entirely come together with this ending, which seems to misjudge the emotional and thematic trajectory its been building towards all along.
Many people have described its hand at characterization as "cold," and while I didn't feel that for a while, it finally hit me here. The concluding scene of Nine, Twelve, and Lisa playing for a day was so unearned it reminded me of that part at the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion where Shinji hallucinates about what his life would be like in a normal anime. They run around, laughing, and spraying water on each other, ignoring the fact that they just detonated a nuclear bomb in the skies above Tokyo. I get what they were doing with that scene - showing children who were denied a childhood enjoy pastoral serenity for the first and last time - but it could have come at a better moment.
In particular, the growing warmth between Nine and Lisa was poorly articulated. Last thing I remember, their feelings towards each other were "liability who I tolerate because of Twelve" and "Twelve's intimidating friend." The show doesn't do the emotional heavy lifting of developing this relationship and instead assumes that there has been growth where there hasn't, why is lazy and annoying. It's a shame, too, because other emotional strands work - both Shibazaki's journey out of the darkness of obscurity and the love story between abandoned children have moments of genuine poignancy. But this climax was built around Nine's story, the one that sort of… set itself on fire in the wreckage of its own broken construction. Oops.
Technically, the episode is also hurt by some of the clumsiest plotting so far. Terror in Resonance already had suspension of disbelief as a barrier of entry (teenage super terrorists take down Japan! their attacks don't kill anyone! only Shibazaki knows enough about rudimentary Greek mythology to know who Oedipus is!), but this episode took it deep into asspull territory. The series' climax depends on the reveal that SPHINX has more atomic bombs ready to detonate throughout Japan - information that's only given right before the minute or so that it's relevant and incongruous with their established resources. It also indulges in a lot of "let's explain the already obvious symbolism." Nine straight up tells Shibazaki that he was their Oedipus. That hasn't been relevant since around episode 5, and it was hammered in so much by the cinematography that anyone who didn't get it should be sent back to remedial anime watching school.
Other than that, Terror in Resonance dulled its thematic impact by building the climactic moment around a United States assassination attempt. This show's strongest thematic thread was about getting over World War II, and yet they still pull out Japanese cinema's classic international war-paranoia baddies - The Americans - for this. I think I know what they were trying to do - integrate the US as a portent of the bullish war state Japan could become - but the difference between that and the US's more established tradition in Japanese film is slight, and never clarified. I'd like to see this show again from the beginning to see how it gels during a complete viewing, but right now it seems to have lost track of the subtleties of its message. This episode was really the climax to what the show wanted to be - a better-integrated critique of both Japanese neo-nationalism and American intervention - rather than what it is - the latter attached to the former like a decrepit extra limb on the back of a malformed infant. Terror in Resonance should have ended after last episode's sequence where Shibazaki confronts the mastermind behind VON: the bedridden specter of a public official who never got over his wounded national pride.
I fully admit that Terror in Resonance will not work for most people as well as it did for me for most of its run. I am in the somewhat unusual position of already mirroring the characters' worldviews to a significant extent, meaning that my mind easily slides past moments where there might be gaps in their characterizations as recognizable human beings. However, speaking from experience, when Terror in Resonance clicks it clicks. Although it makes some narrative stumbles (most notable in Five's storyline, which didn't even quite work for me), it's otherwise an interesting articulation of an intelligent - if adolescent - sense of dissatisfaction with a crooked world. I enjoyed the journey, but the destination isn't what it could have been.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. She writes at animeintrospection.tumblr.com.
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