Terror in Resonance
by Gabriella Ekens,
In this Terror in Resonance episode, the band breaks up, the world spins off of its axis, and regular-Tokyo is about to explode. It's good, is what I mean - possibly the best episode yet. This is where all of the series' careful emotional orchestration starts coming to a head. Lisa's presence has caused a rift between Nine and Twelve, Five attempts to exact revenge on her replacement, and Shibazaki begins the hunt for VON in earnest, shedding his ethics along with his badge. This is all accompanied by some ace cinematography that emphasizes the growing distance between the characters. It's a shame that these articles are all-text, because I could write short essays on a dozen different stills from this episode. It's full of incredible shots of elongated space between characters in the foreground and background. The music even reaches a new high, opening the show with a Beach Boys-esque english pop track that perfectly embodies the childlike innocence that Terror in Resonance uses to underpin its violence. It just keeps getting better.
This episode also finally spills the deets. Apparently, the Rising Peace Academy that serves as the commonality between all of SPHINX's targets is connected to something called the Athena Project, which spirited away a number of Japanese orphans in the early 2000s. This fully contextualizes the elaborate Oedipus allusion that Nine and Twelve built up earlier in the show. In some versions of Sophocles' Theban plays, the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena gave Oedipus the problem-solving skills that both lead him to glory and castigate him to his tragic fate. This episode's other purpose was to reassert the characters' weaknesses before the final confrontation. Five is childlike, unstable, nearing the end of her leash with her foreign handlers, and seems to suffer from the same painful episodes that Nine does. Lisa still thinks that she needs to prove her utility to Nine and Twelve in order to be accepted by them. Twelve, now devoted to Lisa, is beginning to forget about his time at the Institute as well as his plans with Nine, causing the two to go in different directions for possibly the first time ever. Nine's trauma and heroic convictions box him in, while Shibazaki and co. remember that they're still anchored down by vulnerable human relationships. This show is full of pathos, as heartwarming and pitiful as it is dark and righteous, built on an essential human foundation that more shows should emulate.
Terror in Resonance is an extremely bitter pill. It asks us to question why we condemn people like Nine and Twelve in relation to the hushed atrocities that underlie society. Most morally upstanding people need to suppress this history in some way - either mentally or in the public discourse - in order to function in everyday life. Dredging it up can be self-destroying, perhaps even world-destroying by annihilating our conceptions of ourselves as Good People Living In A Just World. It's no wonder this show kicks people's defense mechanisms into high gear.
It occurs to me that I haven't put much thought into Terror in Resonance's title. The "terror" part is obvious at least. Nine and Twelve are terrorists, trying to spread fear throughout Japan. That's probably where "resonance" comes in too - all things considered, they're a tiny cell of two people, so they amplify their voice by having it reverberate through society's media echo chamber. They won't attack everywhere, but they can attack anywhere. But I think there's still something unexplored here. What is terror? The significant thing that Nine and Twelve are spreading is fear rather than destruction. By itself, fear doesn't hurt anyone. Fear is the expectation of pain. We experience it in response to lots of things that we know can't actually hurt us or are even good for us, like meeting someone for the first time or getting vaccinated. On the contrary, we often get injured when we aren't afraid. Our lack of fear around a hot stove got us burned the first time, and taught us fear and safety around them for the rest of our lives. This is because we prioritize immediate cost over long-term benefit - the meeting's awkward first few moments, the seconds when the needle pierces our flesh. These fleeting, tangible pains can even overwhelm our desire to keep on living. How many people succumb to substance abuse because they can't take withdrawal? Our minds aren't good at cost-benefit analysis, but they're excellent at confirming their own biases. So if continuing to live a certain way is beneficial - because it's easy, or normal, or whatever, no matter how wrong or unhealthy it is - our minds will find a way to justify it. That's what Nine and Twelve are fighting against. They're the victims of one of society's deeply set ills. They're a hot stove that we haven't learned to fear, and they want us to touch it.
Are Nine and Twelve "bad guys"? According to the common conception of what constitutes "bad people," yes. They terrorize the public, cause millions in property damage and risk mass murder with every attack. How bad are they in comparison to what they fight? They'll spread fear and knock down buildings, but they're doing their best not to kill anyone. This is in contrast to VON, which is willing to do all of these things, just so long as it doesn't foot the bill in terms of publicity. Still, Nine and Twelve are jeopardizing innocent lives every time they plan an attack, and that's inexcusable. If they were real, I'd condemn them, but that doesn't mean I can't understand them. The important thing is that the narrative doesn't side with SPHINX's actions, only their intent. Nine and Twelve perceive themselves as heroes of justice because their attacks are intended to alert the public to a greater, silent evil lurking in society's backdrop - the people behind VON, who take children, strip them of their identities, and turn them into puppets who will gladly commit mass murder if it suits VON's obscure aims. What's more evil: the people who spread fear without the intent of harming anyone in order to reveal a greater evil, or the people embedded in society who conduct invisible human sacrifices for the benefit of "all"? (All except those sacrificed, of course.) It seems like Terror in Resonance wants you to ask just how many have been sacrificed.
Then again, why do morals even matter in this battle? Shibazaki fought and was absorbed by the system because he drew a moral line. Nine draws a finer moral line and is harder to catch, but he's still on a leash. VON doesn't draw lines because they don't need to. They're invisible, they control communication, and anything that they do can be hidden or justified. Their enemies do not have that luxury. They're already discredited to the public eye, so their argument never has a chance to take root. Terror in Resonance suggests that the key to taking them down lies with taking communication itself out of their control. The internet decentralizes communication. There's no hierarchy, so there's nothing that VON can seize in order to control the spread of information. Strict hierarchies were established as the Tokyo Police Department's weakness earlier in the series. They allowed for VON, with their international clout, to waltz right in and shut down the investigation, citing their allegiance with the world superpower of the United States, making this show prescient in light of current events. In the United States, the question of whether retaliatory violence is justified as a voice for the oppressed has recently been thrust into the public spotlight. Social media and personal recording devices have also put the production and dissemination of information straight into the people's hands, revolutionizing how institutional injustices are fought. The powers-that-be have previously controlled all of society's channels for observation and vocalization. Now it seems like the balance is evening out, and those seeking to combat injustice have to take advantage of that before the institution does, because they're sure trying.
All the lines have been drawn. What remains to be seen is whether Shibazaki will come to terms with the darkness of Nine's methods or whether Nine will acquiesce to the standards of a society that abandoned him. I'm not sure which one I'd prefer.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. She writes at animeintrospection.tumblr.com.
Terror in Resonance is currently streaming on Funimation.
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