TERROR IN RESONANCE Review
To say that “terrorism” is the buzz word of the century is a bit of an understatement. It’s no doubt that post-9/11 America is obsessed with the subject. This is clearly evident in our exorbitant national defense budget and the plethora of US news media outlets solely dedicated to fear mongering. But many find it difficult defining the word, much less properly identifying what makes a terrorist. Is it the use of violence? Where then, do those involved in the Irish “Troubles” land, seeing that they leveled buildings but never took a soul? Could it be “dirty tactics”? Isn’t that a matter of subjectivity, considering the perceived “dirtiness” of United States’ foreign policy and the country’s very foundation? All of this echoes the fact that terrorism has merely become an umbrella term used to demonize so-called enemies of the state, and how the world has come to realize that one man’s terrorist could be another man’s freedom fighter. Thus, famed director Shinichiro Watanabe (COWBOY BEBOP, SAMURAI CHAMPLOO) looks through a similar lens to bravely craft an anime that tackles this heavy subject matter head on.
Beautifully animated by Studio Mappa (KIDS ON THE SLOPE, TEEKYU) and scored by the incredibly talented Yoko Kanno (GHOST IN THE SHELL: SAC, WOLF’S RAIN, COWBOY BEBOP), TERROR IN RESONANCE (ZANKYOU NO TERORU) centers around a terrorist duo simply known as “Sphinx” as they set bombs around Tokyo and gleefully post internet videos containing riddles (much like the Sphinx of Greek legend) that the metropolitan police force must solve. Named by numbers, Sphinx consists of Nine and Twelve. Nine is the stern, no nonsense brains of the operation, while the playful and quirky Twelve serves as explosives expert. Our two protagonists, however, are far from being sadistic mass murderers. The show strays away from glamorizing the terrorist life. More importantly, Sphinx always take precautions in making sure that blood is never on their hands. They evacuate buildings when necessary and in turn keep the audience from empathizing with madmen.
Though their true motives are not fully revealed until later on in the series, Sphinx’s desire for things to go boom obviously emerges from rebellious roots. Early on it’s clear that these two are absolute geniuses, with most of the show recalling the intricate mind games of DEATH NOTE sans any fantastical elements. As children stripped of their humanity, Nine and Twelve were part of a Nazi-like experimental super soldier program performed on gifted children in the hopes of bringing back glory to defeatist Japan. Refusing to set these horrors aside, Nine and Twelve seek revenge. Keeping the relationship interesting, Nine comes off as cold and unfeeling as he colors his woeful view of the world with his past to such a degree that his flashbacks are preceded by extreme headaches, while Twelve suffocates these traumas with an eerily light-hearted disposition. While Nine intensely exercises his hacker skills, exposing areas of vulnerability in Japan’s tech-reliant society, Twelve stuffs bombs in plush toys with a constant smile reminiscent of Mistah J’s Harley Quinn. The two rarely ever butt heads, knowing their respective strengths, and always seem to reach their goals as efficiently as possible, with even hints of homosexual tension abounding.
Nine (Ishikawa Katio) and Twelve (Saito Soma) refer to themselves as “Sphinx 1” and “Sphinx 2” in their videos
During one of Sphinx’s bigger operations, the taking down of a skyscraper, a wrench is thrown into their machine. A classmate of Nine and Twelve’s, the innocently clumsy Lisa Mishima, finds herself at an impasse within the doomed building. She must choose either to die or become an accomplice. Of course, she chooses the latter, secretly hoping to milk the pair for shreds of excitement her overbearing mother would not approve of. Lisa would be an interesting character if it wasn’t for the fact that she increasingly becomes a liability for Sphinx. What is supposed to be a gateway for the audience to relate to turns out to be nothing more than another distressed damsel looking for an escape. An interesting and intense moment happens between her and Twelve wherein he threatens to silence Lisa permanently if she is ever to squeal, but that is quickly dropped after hint upon hint is brought up of a supposed attraction between the two. Lisa’s attempts at proving her worth only end up serving as awkwardly forced comedic relief. She carefully aligns herself with established gender roles by preparing Sphinx’s meals, yet still fails when she burns their food. Lisa merely is the stake in Sphinx’s pot which keeps them from being untouchable, and for the most part that role works. An innocent life hangs in the balance as Sphinx tries to adhere to their strict murder-free principles, but there are even bigger obstacles in the way.
Tanezaki Atsumi voices Lisa Mishima
Sphinx’s real challenges lay with the ever vigilant former investigator Kenjiro Shibazaki. The grandson of some of Hiroshima’s atomic bomb survivors, Shibazaki’s ears perk every time Sphinx posts a cheekily cryptic video riddle. He proves to be Sphinx’s only intellectual equal, always close to solving said riddles yet confined to police archival duty as punishment for turning over too many stones leading to government corruption. Shibazaki is an engaging character almost entirely throughout, and one of the series highlights occurs when Sphinx discovers his efforts in stopping them and address Shibazaki directly.
Sakuya Shunsuke voices Shibazaki
Those on the police force exhibit depth as well, despite their limited screen time. Shibazaki’s bumbling partner in the records department, Mukasa, unknowingly provides keys to solving riddles as Shibazaki lapses in thought. Hamura, the overconfident rookie, accuses Shibazaki of being just as bad as Sphinx for playing along with their game in lieu of getting the jump on them by utilizing police force. Hacking expert Kinoshita is just as good at procuring information as Nine, but has a wife and child to keep from danger. And, of course, there’s the stern, elderly Chief of Police Kurahashi, who hesitantly lends an ear to Shibazaki while keeping him on a tight leash. The way the metropolitan police department interact with and work with each other is consistently amusing to witness. Once in a while Shibazaki comes to a conclusion in a convenient manner, but most of the time he’s just a few steps behind. As terrorist attacks continue, he realizes he must forgo the law and take matters into his own hands, just as a much more powerful entity does the same.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department
About halfway through the series, the world’s leading hegemonic power comes into play. Yes, the United States points attention to the actions of Sphinx, and take drastic measures to eliminate them by bringing in an old friend of equal caliber. Five, who was taken as a child in the custody of the US after the aforementioned experiments, is through and through a carbon copy of DEATH NOTE’s Near (but definitely female rather than male edging on androgynous) and incredibly evil. Five fiddles around with chess sets and sings nursery rhymes, adopting the inflections of a child (much like Near), which greatly clouds the perception of her being the improved Nine and Twelve (being as sharp as Nine yet as playful as Twelve). Wanting to get caught up in the cat and mouse games of Sphinx, Five challenges them to bomb-filled puzzles of her own, letting the public know they are in Sphinx’s name. But Five has no qualms about killing the innocent, so it’s pretty easy to guess who she eventually ends up taking hostage.
Han Megumi voices Five
Five is somewhat of a let down of an antagonist, seeing as how her intentions are all over the place and padded over with insanity. One moment she’ll be laughing maniacally as Nine runs through her mazes, yet minutes later she will get the very same potentially lethal headaches Nine does for nothing more than added drama. The worst of it comes in her showing off her bilingual skills, amounting to unintentionally hilarious “Engrish” moments made more apparent thanks to absolutely unnecessary dialogue. Five does, however, serve her purpose as being a suitable match for Sphinx, and what happens between her and the duo towards the end of the series is worth the wait.
TERROR IN RESONANCE is one of those few animes that gets better as it goes on. Viewers find themselves invested in more than a few characters as the show creates an overwhelming feeling of tension, building and building on itself before culminating in a magnificent finale.
TERROR IN RESONANCE is available in its entirety on Hulu