“Thank you for not exploding” – Terror in Resonance

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For anime director Shinichiro Watanabe, destined to forever be ‘the Cowboy Bebop guy’, it’s been a busy year.  Having helped bring episodic comedy-adventure Space Dandy to screens in the spring, he’s now moved on to directing Zankyou no Terror, or “Terror in Resonance” (to use the awkward English title), a new thriller series about about two mysterious young men conducting a methodical terrorist campaign against the Japanese government.

The announcement of a new Watanabe series is always greeted with great enthusiasm in the west, and even more so this time, due to his re-teaming with soundtrack composing icon Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex).  Nevertheless, I’ve been skeptical of this one all the way along; early trailers revealed little, other than the blandly handsome art design and a faint whiff of over-familiarity in the contemporary high-school setting.  With the show now four episodes in, however, I’ll try to keep an open mind and take stock of things so far.

Beginning with the theft of a plutonium sample from a fuel reprocessing facility, the story introduces us to Nine and Twelve, two teenaged surrogate brothers who, having escaped from testing in an (apparently) government-sponsored research centre, have now formed a terrorist cell named ‘Sphinx’ and are seeking revenge against the authorities.  Assuming the identity of ordinary high-school students in Tokyo, they draw up plans for the (non-nuclear) bombing of a local government building, before inadvertently pulling a bullied classmate into their schemes as they carry out the attack.

Straight from the off, something about this show just didn’t appeal to me.  The ‘genius teen-terrorist’ schtick isn’t all that prolific in anime, but the series that have attempted something along those lines have endured.  With the likes of Code Geass and Eden of the East still firmly lodged in the fandom’s consciousness, I wasn’t convinced there was anything else this series could really add.

Things have improved as the show has developed, however.  The first episode, with its opening raid followed by scenes from a high-school, is faintly silly, but the Number Brothers’ subsequent plans do feel convincingly plotted.  Pleasingly, the mood and tone thus far have also been closer to V for Vendetta than something like Death Note, although I have occasionally questioned whether elements of the story may be in poor taste.  It’s not explicitly referenced, but as the police analyse the government building’s collapse in the aftermath of the bomb, it’s hard not to think of the September 11th attacks.  It is explicitly stated that the manner in which the fictional attack is carried out causes the building to be emptied of people prior to the bomb going off, but you could read this as the story’s credibility being sacrificed in favour of a moral whitewash.

In the last couple of episodes, the focus has actually moved away from the bombers to Shibazaki, a laconic detective who is being quickly established as their main adversary in the police.  While his character seems fairly conventional so far, his efforts to decipher Sphinx’s video warnings are the parts of the show I’ve enjoyed the most.  It may not be anything groundbreaking, but serious detective drama in anime is pretty rare and I find it quite a welcome thing to see.

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Visually, the high production values also shine throughout, with smooth, glossy animation and plenty of attention to real-world locations.  The character designs, however, I’m far less keen on, with jobbing staffer Kazuto Nakazawa building main players around the thin, angular silhouettes often seen in manga aimed at adult women.  Terror in Resonance airs as part of the prestigious ‘noitaminA’ programming slot ostensibly aimed at such an audience, so this isn’t surprising, but nonetheless, I feel the look here is calculatedly generic.  It’s bland and inoffensive enough not to put anyone off, but distinctly unmemorable at best.

While I’ve seen a fair amount of praise heaped upon the soundtrack, I’d actually accuse it of the same crime.  Yoko Kanno’s work is famously diverse, but in her apparent quest to constantly reinvent herself, I feel some of her stylistic experiments have been less successful than others.  The nature of the story likely demands something unobtrusive, but with the exception of a neat little guitar piece that filters through Shibazaki’s scenes, I’ve found the score equally unremarkable.

Overall though, I don’t mean to be unduly negative about the series thus far.  Whether it’s something we’ll still be talking about in years to come, I’m not so sure, but it seems a very watchable, glossy and competent thriller, and, if the subject matter appeals to you, I’d certainly recommend giving it a shot. At worst, the series is only scheduled for 11 episodes, and it looks likely to wrap the story up inside one season, so it shouldn’t be a huge commitment.

Terror in Resonance is currently available streaming in the UK from Wakanim, with episodes remaining free to view for the first month after their initial broadcast.

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