I’ve never considered anime to be an especially political medium. Oh, sure, it’s political in the sense that all art is political – as a product of and commentary on its time and social context – but most of the anime that I’ve spent my time with tends to avoid explicitly addressing global and local politics in favour of action, or comedy, or fanservice, or character or whatever.
Terror in Resonance’s first episode swiftly disabused me of my misconceptions about anime. Over the course of 20 minutes, what seems to be a show about enigmatic highschoolers (like every second anime, let’s be honest) reveals itself to be a bracing terrorist drama. The episode, “Falling”, has as its climax the bombing of a Tokyo government building by a pair of teenagers. Per their mysterious aura, they’re only known as Nine (Kaito Ishikawa/Christopher Bevins) and Twelve (Sōma Saitō/Aaron Dismuke), while their motivations for the bombing remain abstrusely opaque until late in the 11-episode series.
Terror in Resonance frames itself as a contemporary reflection on Japanese politics, specifically considering issues like protest – and its proximity to terrorism – and the nation’s relationship with the United States. Many of the more pointed references to recent history went over my head – this piece on the eighth episode does a good job of summarising them – but the way the show incorporated contemporary themes, imagery and technology into its schematic resonated.
Where most shows centring on such touch issues tend to sidestep into an alternative universe similar – yet emphatically distinct – from our own, Terror in Resonance never lets us forget that terrorist events are a reality in our world. There’s an emphasis on new media and technology: photos of burning buildings are taken via iPhone, while bombs are monitored over webcam and threats are publicised through YouTube. In one the series’ most effective moments, an abandoned cell phone rings helplessly in the aftermath of a train bombing. Along with a precise control of tone and sombre yet gorgeous animation, the show has much to recommend it.
Unfortunately, it never quite reaches the jarring potential of its first episode. The challenging moral ambiguity gives way to a kind of cops-and-robbers structure that ill suits the underlying political themes. Specifically, when Nine and Twelve take on a sidekick of sorts – a young girl named Lisa (Atsumi Tanezaki/Jād Sexton) – the show swiftly softens their terrorist trappings into something more sympathetic. This isn’t to suggest that terrorists can’t be sympathised with, but rather to note that Terror in Resonance’s insistence on avoiding civilian casualties – even in the most implausible circumstances – drains its commentary of any real effectiveness.
“Ah, the irony. A couple of terrorists – heading out to prevent a bombing.” Indeed, the mid-season sees our antihero protagonists shift into a more heroic light, rushing out to try and stop a disaster they instigated. I mentioned the show’s precise control of tone before, but while it’s able to sell the shift into a more adventurous mode here – with riddles and everything – it’s unmistakable to the detriment of the series as a whole.
The gradual reveal of Nine and Twelve’s backstory – which includes in its sweep an FBI Operative called Five (Megumi Han/Jamie Marchi) – has clearer intentions: to make the political personal. However the emphasis on what is, frankly, a fairly clichéd bit of plotting similar erodes the points about American co-operation the series is trying to make.
Terror in Resonance isn’t the series I expected after watching the first episode. Part of me is relieved – that direct an interrogation of the blurred boundary between protest and terrorism would’ve made for a difficult watch – but mostly I’m disappointed that the show isn’t what it could have been.