In an alternate version of the present, Tokyo has been decimated by a shocking terrorist attack, and the only hint to the identity of the culprit is a bizarre video uploaded to the internet. The police, baffled by this cryptic clue, are powerless to stop the paranoia spreading across the population.
While the world searches for a criminal mastermind to blame for this tragedy, two mysterious children who shouldn't even exist masterfully carry out their heinous plan. Cursed to walk through this world with the names Nine and Twelve, the two combine to form Sphinx, a clandestine entity determined to wake the people from their slumber and pull the trigger on this world.
I’m going to keep this review shorter than most of my other ones because I feel the show we’re going to look at, Terror In Resonance, does a better job explaining itself that I could. Created by Studio MAPPA, forged from the famed Madhouse Studio (REDLine, Summer Wars), and helmed by Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe the show is a fantastically light and yet complex political thriller.
Set in a fictional Tokyo (where else?), two teenage boys named only Twelve and Nine arrive at school in the city after stealing a nuclear device from a power plant in Aomori, Northern Honshu. From there, they start to plan and carry out a series of bombings in the city to get the police and authorities attention. They do this by posing riddles to the police dressed in masks and called themselves Sphinx. Along the way, they find Lisa, a girl who goes to the school they use as cover in one of their plots. Lisa’s home life is self-destructing so Twelve takes her in with them. This means she’s a part of the plot even if she didn’t take part to the bombings. Strangely, and it’s not explained until later, she doesn’t have a problem with their plot. This might have something to do with the fact that they go out of their way to not kill anyone. But I’d be giving points away by explaining what the real reason is. Into this comes maverick Tokyo PD detective Shibazaki who begins tracking the boys down by playing their game instead of trying to cast aspirations on the two before even catching like the rest of the Tokyo PD do.
Both lead characters run in tandem with each other but the arrival of an outsider in the form of a girl that Twelve forms an attachment with changes how they implement their plan. The three are then tossed into a political nightmare as various unseen elements try to stop them while the police try to arrest them for holding the city to ransom with random bombings and incidents. Watanabe comes off of Space Dandy and turns intent completely on its ear. I love how we slowly learn about Twelve and Nine and not in a tired "And now, we have the introspection episode" way. In fact, the show eschews using Lisa to learn the facts and just has Shibazaki find out the facts away from the boys. That way it’s the audience that learns the facts because they're the only ones who don’t know. But at the centre is a deeply personal story of two boys who just want the world to know that it failed them and others so badly that to continue to live in ignorance of the facts is too monstrous a crime. Rather, the only way to get people’s attention is to hold the proverbial knife to society’s throat and make them notice.
Watanabe’s use of motion and stillness together is one of the highlights of the show. His cast take its time talking or engaging with their opponents but in a flash, they can race through scenes and locations on foot or on motorbikes while Yoko Kanno’s music pulses through your ears. There’s an energy to these scenes that makes the plots reveals sweeter because those take place in near total silence. It’s around the halfway point to the show that you realise the show plays with global talking points like what defines terrorism, who gets to decide what morality looks like and why people abusing power are often more dangerous than those who seize it. Twelve and Nine are dangerous but only to people who don’t want people to learn why they’re doing what they’re doing. Shibazaki isn’t interested in learning about the morality of their actions except where it reveals what their next move is. At the same time, the upper management of the Japanese government are shown to be the corrupt, indifferent cowards that Twelve and Nine know they are. As well as that, we get blended into the actions and intentions of Twelve and Nine by their use of Greek mythology in their riddles to the police as Shibazaki realises it isn’t just being used as a tool to beat the police with but actually is something they’ve thought about in their plans to gain revenge on people who wronged them.
One thing that does change in the show’s run and I can’t decide if I dislike it or not is about halfway through the show, the tone changes and it stops being a cat and mouse game with Sphinx. Instead, it turns into a political drama which robs some of the tension and energy of the first half even with the introduction of Five, a girl who came from the same background as Twelve and Nine, who challenges the boys in ways the regular authorities couldn’t and wouldn’t. Five has her reasons to defeat the boys but in a way that the lads are doing illegal amoral things for moral reasons, Five does legal amoral things for amoral reasons for her employers. Her employers are legally empowered arms of government working for the Japanese and American governments so it becomes that age old question: where does legal force used to protect the citizens become illegal terrorism to further the goals of a citizen’s government? The show does struggle to answer in terms of Twelve and Nine’s fight, instead leaving the moral indignation to Shibazaki and his new junior officer Hamura who learn the full final horror about who the boys and Five are and why they’re so driven to accomplish their goals.
I liked Terror in Resonance and even though Lisa is a bit of a passive observer rather than the main character she’s supposed to be, I understand Watanabe’s reasons for crafting her in that way. Anime Limited’s release of the show comes with some decent commentary tracks from the English cast (which is an OK translation but isn’t as deep as the Japanese track) and the Ultimate Edition comes with blu-ray’s, DVD’s and a 120-page hardback artbook. It’s also available on Netflix if you’re trying to decide if you want to buy it or not.