Terror in Resonance
by Gabriella Ekens,
In the beginning, Terror in Resonance is about two teenagers who want to blow up Japan. Nobody knows why - not even the viewer, for a couple of episodes - but they seem to have some unspecified grievance against Japan's leadership and the abbreviation VON. They call themselves Nine and Twelve, and the first episode begins with them stealing some plutonium and ends with them knocking down a building. It only gets worse from there on out. Calling themselves Sphinx, they embroil the police in a game of cat-and-mouse to stop the subsequent bombings, leading them on a trail towards their own obscure purpose. Through his manipulations, chilly Nine forms a connection with Shibazaki, the jaded police detective who solves all of their riddles. Meanwhile, radiant Twelve hits it up with Lisa Mishima, a timid schoolgirl on the run from her terrible home life. She joins in with them right before Five, a girl from Nine and Twelve's past at a mysterious, dehumanizing institute, arrives on the scene to put a stop to them, as well as resolve her own issues with Nine. At this point, although their methods are reprehensible, Nine and Twelve are demonstrably heroic. The pieces are in place for them, Lisa, and Shibazaki to unite against Five, the FBI, and the cabal of Japan's powerful who presumably make up VON and are thus responsible for the grievous human rights abuses that took place at the institute.
Terror in Resonance is an upfront show. It's upfront about its social commentary, its literary allusions, and its influences, which most obviously include Mawaru Penguindrum, Gatchaman Crowds, Flowers of Evil, and Patlabor 2. Like those anime, this is a show that demands viewers untangle it. (It's almost like it was designed for nerds to make episodic blog posts about it.) Per episode there's almost too much to say about it in a single writeup, since so much information is being conveyed through the cinematography, mise-en-scene, dialogue, etc. All of its channels are open.
On a visual level, Terror in Resonance is the outstanding show of the season. It's funny that Shinichiro Watanabe is heading Space Dandy at the same time as this because the two shows are polar approaches to animation. Space Dandy takes Dandy and co. to the plastic extremes of recognizability. It's reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein's ideal for animation upon seeing Mickey Mouse cartoons in the 1930s - this manipulation of form and motion is something that only animation can do, the crux of its art. Terror in Resonance, on the other hand, puts a lot of effort into not only resembling reality – forms are rigid, settings are confining – but also replicating the look of live-action film, and to equally good purpose. This is most visible in the cinematography, which includes filmic techniques that don't normally exist in animation, like racking focus, heat distortion, and tiny camera movements. The show's emphasis on recognizable branding also makes it clear that it's trying to hit home. Nine and Twelve announce their plans over what's recognizable as Youtube while dressed as Tokusatsu heroes. Much of this show takes place in front of screens, which are all photorealistic. It seems like some of this show's themes are alienation, transparency, and barriers of communication.
So what's the benefit of making this animated over live action? This show is apparently building towards such a harsh critique of something – Japanese society, United States' international bullying, probably both - that the writer pens it under a pseudonym. For one, the inherent distance from reality provided by animation might be a necessary buffer for people to swallow the bitter pill. Also, the fact that this show dresses itself up as live action doesn't mean it can't also indulge in animation's forms of expression. The character designs are both the most cartoonish part of the show and important for conveying information about the characters. (Terror in Resonance has the good habit of conveying character information obliquely, through their behavior and appearance rather than dialogue.) It also allows the director to make occasional expressionistic choices, like exaggerating the heat around Shibazaki, surrounding Twelve and Lisa with feathers, and distorting Five's face as she laughs maniacally in Nine's flashback. It's a well-made show. Watanabe is a master at utilizing animation in the best way possible to achieve the desired effect, be it a nuanced social critique or a joyous celebration of life and art. Yoko Kanno's score is, unsurprisingly, sublime. It's used particularly well during a sequence in episode four, where the smooth jazz playing over alternating shots of police swarming a building and Shibazaki solving a riddle beautifully build up the anticlimax. I savor this show like a rare dish.
The most surprising thing about Terror in Resonance is that it isn't a cold show. I've seen a lot of comparisons between this show and Death Note, but I think they're superficial. While Death Note is a nihilistic show, Terror in Resonance is one with its fingers on the pulse of a social ill and enough love for humanity to try to steer us towards a better path. Twelve and Lisa are in the middle of a genuine, heartwarming love story between two abandoned children, while Nine and Shibazaki are brothers in arms in pursuit of truth and defiance of obfuscating social mores. The show even seems to want you to pity rather than loathe Five, the victim who became complicit with the system. The artistic work that this show reminds me of more than anything is Japanese live action director Sono Sion's Himizu, so fans of this should check that out.
Terror in Resonance isn't perfect. There are a couple of minor pacing issues. The structural transition between episodes four and five is jarring at first and they dawdle at integrating Lisa into the storyline for about an episode too long. However, this is a unique, exciting show that will appeal to people who care about our societal trajectory or values animation as an artform; for that I'll give it an A.
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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