Terror in Resonance, the latest from the acclaimed director of Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy, had one of the strongest starts of any anime of the summer season. Sadly, it is an anime that completely falls apart into a contrived mess halfway through.
Before we dive into the plot, let’s look at the soundtrack. I rarely mention the music in an anime review unless it is particularly terrible or particularly excellent. In this case, the music is most certainly excellent. Written by Yoko Kanno (composer of everything from Cowboy Bebop to Macross Frontier), Terror in Resonance sports a soundtrack that is perfectly haunting and lends a strong measure of seriousness and tension to the events of the anime. Yet, at the same time, it changes up perfectly for the series’ more emotional moments. It’s really a great listen.
Terror in Resonance is an anime that starts strong as it follows two boys, Nine and Twelve, as they enact their terrorist bombing attack on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. However, midway through the execution of their plan, one of them is discovered by depressed school girl Lisa. Thus the two boys are left with a dilemma: kill Lisa or welcome her as a co-conspirator—and after some tense debate, they choose the latter.
From there, the first half of the series follows Nine and Twelve’s subsequent terrorist attacks, disgraced Detective Shibazaki’s work to prevent those attacks, and Lisa’s feeble attempts to figure out where she fits in with both the terrorists and the greater world in general.
All in all, the first half of the show is set up like a mystery-of-the-week cop drama, with hints of the greater mystery sprinkled throughout each episode to keep you craving more. Moreover, a lot of time is spent fleshing out Detective Shibazaki; and the police and other characters seem both intelligent and interesting in general. It’s a pretty darn good watch.
Unfortunately, the entire show falls apart at episode five.
[Note: This section contains spoilers up to the midway point of the series]
Before we get into the flaws of the anime, I feel the need to define the word “contrived” as it pertains to this review. In the most general sense, contrived means: “having an unnatural or false appearance or quality.” So when a story is contrived, it often alludes to the fact that parts of the narrative simply do not make sense—that the characters act in ways that seem unnatural or out of character for no other reason than to make the plot unfold in a certain way. In other words, in a contrived story, the characters are acting as they do not because of the situations in their world, but rather because of outside stimulus from our world—i.e., the whims of the author.
The key bit of drama in the first half is Nine and Twelve’s discussion on whether to kill Lisa or not. Knowing that killing her is an option worthy of consideration leads us to believe their commitment to their terrorist goals is solid, no matter the cost. Sure, they seem to aim for the minimum of civilian casualties, but it seems like they would kill to achieve their goals if necessary. Of course, in episode 5, we learn that this is not the case. Rather, they will do anything—up to and including sacrificing their own lives and their plan’s overall success—to prevent the death of innocents. Thus, in retrospect, the entire conversation about killing Lisa or not is completely out of character—it never was even an option. The only reason the two have that conversation is so that the author can trick the audience into believing Nine and Twelve are far more dubious than they actually are, thus coloring the viewers’ perceptions of the characters through the subsequent episodes.
Along the same lines, that means all of the terrorist drama and tension was false as none of the bombs were ever going to harm anyone—though it is foolish to think that leaving live bombs unattended in populated areas like a police station or a train couldn’t easily lead to an accident causing many innocents deaths.
However, perhaps this contrived writing trick would be forgivable if it were the only contrived drama of the series. Unfortunately, the entire back half of the series is completely contrived. After all, the “good guys” have basically won by the end of the fifth episode—only no one seems to realize it.
In the fifth episode, the secret conspiracy that the boys are trying to take down pushes back in a fatally stupid way. The conspirators call in help from the Americans, black out all cell phone coverage in the largest metropolitan area in the world, and hack into the public transportation bureau. But most damning of all, after the cops find the next terrorist bomb with hours to spare on its time, the conspirators pull them off the case, claiming a different group will take care of it—and the bomb goes off at the appointed time anyway with no civilians being warned or the train with the bomb on it being shut down.
That is a mountain of evidence with a huge and obvious paper trail for both the boys and Detective Shibazaki to go public with. And Shibazaki, a detective disgraced for taking down a corrupt politician, should have no problem going to the media.
However, bafflingly, both Shibazaki and the boys do not. This means that either (A) the government, media, cell phone companies, transportation bureau, and police (except for Shibazaki) are part of the conspiracy or (B) even these supposed genius terrorists and the police as a whole are simply incompetent and don’t realize all the evidence they have.
But of course, the real (read: contrived) reason Shibazaki and the boys don’t go public with all the evidence they have is because the story still has six episodes to fill out. Thus as the series continues on with airport terrorism and highway attacks, the heroes still continue to act as if they don’t have the evidence they need to bring it all down—even when it becomes time to enact the final step of their grand plan.
[Note: skip this entire section to avoid major spoilers about the ending of the anime.]
After making such a big deal about their unwillingness to kill innocents, Nine and Twelve kill an awful lot of innocents in the end—not that the anime even bothers to point this out.
Terror in Resonance comes to a head as the boys’ plan comes to fruition when they detonate a nuke in the upper atmosphere—causing an EMP that destroys all electronics in the greater Tokyo area. And while the anime makes a big show of the police grounding all planes within the blast area beforehand and acts like no one died because of the EMP as it flashes forward a year. This is obviously wrong if you even think about it for a moment. In just the first moments of the EMP, all power goes out in hospitals with the EMP likely frying the backup generators as well. Anyone on life support or in surgery is likely dead. The city itself plunges into darkness and even cars lose their headlights; accidents abound. No doubt looting and chaos soon follow and people die there as well.
Seriously, are the lives of 30 children worth such a massive body count? Remember, the point of the whole plan was simply to cause such a big spectacle that the boys and their accusations about the conspiracy couldn’t be ignored. But with the evidence they had already gathered and the fact that they bombed the most famous building in all of Japan in the first episode, they had already accomplished that goal.
But again, all of these implications are ignored because this is contrived storytelling where the author wants the heroes’ hands to be bloodless but also wants a nuke to explode over Tokyo—despite those wants being in direct contradiction to one another logically.
Terror in Resonance is an anime that only works if you are so enraptured with the story that you never stop and think about what is going on. And honestly, with the beauty of the music and visuals, I can understand if many viewers never do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the anime any less poorly written or lacking in common sense. In the end, Terror in Resonance is one of those anime whose second half fumbles the excellent set up of the first, making the anime overall into a jumbled mess.
Terror in Resonance aired on Fuji TV in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles in the US at Funimation.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.