Terror in Resonance displays Shinichiro Watanabe’s directorial precision and Yoko Kanno’s brilliant composition skills haven’t dulled over the years, and the series succeeds handily as a political thriller on a superficial level, though the incoherent plot direction and lack of character development prevent the series from being as engaging intellectually as it is viscerally and emotionally.
Plot Synopsis: Set in modern day Japan, Tokyo is in fear under the terrorism of the group “Sphinx”, an underground organization that consists of two members, “Twelve” and “Nine”, who seem invincible until teenage girl Lisa joins them and finds herself in the struggle of her life.
From the very beginning, it was clear that there was no way Terror in Resonance could do everything it wanted to do in the space of 11 episodes. It wanted to act as a social critique regarding Japan’s lack of any strong identity as a result of international interaction and the inability of its citizens to believe they could make a difference, while also serving as a high-octane political thriller complete with shoot outs, car chases and last minute rescues. It also wanted to serve as a coming of age story for Lisa and a Death Note style cat-and-mouse chase all wrapped up in an ending that’s both tragic and uplifting. One some levels, Terror succeeds, in particular as a political thriller. The chase scenes are very well designed and well-paced, similar to those in Bebop, though they are fewer here. The atmosphere is tense as a vice when it wants to be, and each episode carries with it substantial plot development, and as a result Terror never feels boring, even when it doesn’t make much sense. The set pieces are plentiful and elaborate, the sense of tension is palpable and omnipresent and the ending gives the perfect bitter-sweet sensation the series was aiming for.
However, the series crumbles under any level of scrutiny, be it regarding themes, character development or even something as basic as story structure. Terror in Resonance tries to establish itself as a smart commentary on the problems with Japanese society and their lack of ability to believe in themselves, but this is only lightly touched upon, making the series attempt at justifying its beautifully coloured and rendered explosions fall flat. To add to that, Nine and Twelve didn’t really express this when Lisa, the pinnacle of self-doubt, joined them. The potential of the themes explored here offending anyone are negligible because of the shallow way in which they are handled, and that they’re rarely brought up. The referencing of Greek names and historical figures feels neither here nor there, other than to illustrate that Nine and Twelve smart, which was already pretty obvious. These games also require extensive research, so the audience can’t figure out the answer with detective Shibazaki, though they are nonetheless entertaining. Playing games with the public, causing millions of dollars of public property damage and more likely that not unintentionally killing people along the way all feels unneeded, which problematically makes up the first third of the series. It’s difficult to swallow that Nine and Twelve actually value the lives of the public, because they’ve proven their knowledge with explosives and should be aware that the inhalation of the subsequent dust can also lead to death.
Lisa’s motivation is also confusing. She starts off shy and helpless, only goes along with Twelve because the alternative is death, and then joins them for no reason other than her dislike of her mother. The stutters, stumbles and failed attempts at being helpful go on for far too long given the short length of the series, and for every one thing she does right, she does ten wrong. She’s a token damsel in distress, and often she gets into horrible situations by her own decisions. It would have been so easy to have her show some signs of development; have her kill the lead villainess, or better yet, have her be the one to find a resolution. Even one of these would have made her earlier lack of contribution forgivable, but she was more-or-less deadweight. Shibazaki is actually a fair character, as a hardworking man and father who really feels like both of those. His colleagues all know of his obsession with cases and display great personal trust in him, going so far as to put their own careers on the line, but even without them, he is very intriguing and watchable. Through him, the backstory of Five, Nine and Twelve is revealed, and his generally calm and professional nature provides a good contrast to the loud bangs and explosions of the series. He is the only consistently good character, and the most consistently bad character, maybe even more so than Lisa, is Five.
Five started out very well, with her introduction being deduced before it is seen by Nine, serving for one of the best moments in the entire anime. From her strut from her jet to the way in which the police refer to her as “higher up”, it looked like Terror could have really had someone special here. However, her dialogue, mannerisms and motives brought her crumbling down to mediocrity. For a start, she keeps applying nail polish and lip stick, though it’s depicted in a way that makes her feel more unintelligent than cold. Also, when she has her prey right in front of her, she decides to play with them, and even when she knows their address and could easily arrest them, she proceeds to muck it up. She flits between wanting to kill them, wanting to emotionally destroy them by driving them apart and even wanting them for herself, but this makes her more of an inconsistent character than a multifaceted one. The way in which the story ends for her is particularly unsatisfying, as she never really gets her comeuppances. In contrast, the earlier cat-and-mouse chases were more interesting, as was the Nine-Twelve relationship and their history. Terror is ultimately a style over substance series, but to have such average and underwhelming substance really ruins its ability to function as a social critique.
What makes it work much better as a political thriller, however, is its hyper realistic style. Among recent anime, Terror in Resonance is almost in a class of its own regarding cinematic quality and realistic stylisation. The backgrounds are bold and beautiful, brimming with detail, with the harshly painted city scapes possessing a grim edge reflecting Terror’s dark overtones. The colour palette is extensive, with ambient green and red lights dominating the intense night chase scenes, but the calmer lush greens of grass and cornflower blue sky setting a calmercalmer tone for the conversational or even light-hearted scenes during the day. The CGI for the backgrounds and planes is integrated gracefully, blending in naturally with the realistic setting and often heavy tone. It wasn’t just the static shots of the backgrounds that impressed either, with the pans, zooms, shadowing and reflection of natural light also making the background art stand out. While the subtle colour choices of Terror set the tone, the explosions are where the animation shines. The debris and fire create an almost opaque fog almost identical to those seen in reality, and the ensuing reactions from civilians to the detailed sites of the explosions shown afterwards, the team at MAPPA clearly pulled out all the stops to replicate the impact of large scale building damage.
The character designs are striking because of how different they look from your run-of-the-mill anime series, with the facial structure and hair colour making the characters look authentically Japanese. The skin colours turn paler than usual to create a sense of vulnerability, and the characters eyes carry a sense of intelligence and awareness without the typical accompanying moody or sarcastic gleam that’s often seen on intelligent teenagers. Terror’s animators also show a level of attention to detail that’s rarely seen in anime from any period, such as the lines on faces, anatomically correct cheek bone curvature and even creases and folds on shirts. Twelve’s usual smile and youthful exterior provide a strong contrast to when he threatens to gash someone’s throat, though remarkably it feels consistently in character. Nine has a harsh, calculating face, with dark glasses frames and a sharp chin, though he successfully straddles the line between comic book villain and regular person trying to survive. Lisa, for better or worse, looks as beaten down and out of place as her character is in the story. Five is the most unusual looking character in the cast, with stark white hair and an earring on one ear, but she seems a bit too much like an owl to be taken as a serious threat. Aside from her, the aesthetics in Terror are excellent across the board, with very high quality animation bringing it to life, and small hiccups being so few, so far between and so well covered up that they almost don’t register.
Much like with all of Shinichiro Watanabe’s other works, the strongest component of Terror in Resonance is its outstanding soundtrack. Yoko Kanno returned in full force to give what may be my favourite soundtrack by her, though Cowboy Bebop is still arguably superior. The tracks employ what Shibazaki himself refers to as music from the cold land, with vocalist Arnor Dan lending his high and emotionally rich voice to tracks such as Birden and Bless. Walt and Fugl are delicate piano pieces that express curiosity and sophistication, with an overtone of optimism through the upward inflection of the pitch. Watanabe applies the incredible soundtrack like few others could, with the calmer piano pieces playing as Lisa contemplates what she can contribute to Sphinx, and the blaring, alarm-like “lolol” roaring to life in flashbacks to the pasts of Nine and Twelve.
The magnum opuses of the series, however, would have to be Arnor Dan’s breathtaking “Von”, played during arguably the most emotionally powerful scene of the series, and “Is”, which plays when Lisa finally decides to take decisive action. Yuuki Ozaki’s OP “Trigger” has both layered lyrics and layered visuals, with the calculated use of overlays presenting visual metaphor within a context that makes them more memorable, and Yuuki’s cold, distant voice echoes like the frosty winds of winter. Even better is Aimer’s brilliant “Dareka Umi O”, a parable about falling from the sky with wings clipped, which ties together the symbolism of birds and feathers very well, and Aimer’s deep voice sounds almost like its echoing from under water. The sound effects during the explosions are harsh and carry with them the sound of crumbling rubble, snapping metal and keep up with the high quality visuals beat-by-beat. The OP is essentially Nine’s song, with him getting the money shot and the lyrics applying most specifically to him, though the ED is shared between Twelve and Lisa, foretelling a great downfall. In terms of sound, everything in Terror in Resonance is outstanding, except for the voice acting.
Five proceeds to ruin another category, with her inconsistent vocal mannerisms and immersion-breaking Engrish not only decreasing her intimidation factor and believably as a genuine physical and emotional threat to Twelve and Nine, but making it difficult not to laugh at her. Atsumi Tanezaki’s portrayal as protagonist Lisa is also questionable, with her voice seemingly only having one volume and pitch, that being a defeated kitten waiting to be told what to do. She wasn’t exactly given a golden opportunity to show off her range, but even so, Lisa is both boring for the eyes and ears. However, performances from Nine’s Kaito Ishikawa and Soma Saito’s Twelve brought a layer of calculated professionalism and deceptive playfulness against shocking brutality, respectively. Strongest of all, however, would have to be Shunsuke Sakuya’s aged and experienced Shibazaki, giving the strongest character of the series a layer of emotion that makes him the most watchable of the cast. The modifications to the voices were also a nice touch, with echoing and choking really adding a layer of authenticity to the performances