“It is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.” —Howard Baker
An offering from the Summer 2014 season, Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) is a thriller set in present-day Tokyo, following Detective Kenjirou Shibazaki of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and the two youth, known only as Nine and Twelve and calling themselves “Sphinx”, who are responsible for a series of terror attacks in the Tokyo area. After managing to solve the Sphinx’s riddles, Shibazaki delves deeper into the mystery behind Sphinx and learn that they were once a part of Project Athena, a top-secret government initiative that aimed to produce super-intelligent individuals. Sphinx’s objective was to grab the headlines, and through their riddles, pull a worthy investigator to unearth this past. However, both Sphinx and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police are troubled by the FBI’s decision to involve themselves in the case: with them come Five, another individual with origins in this test program. A harrowing game of cat-and-mouse, and in the end, Five perishes after confessing her feelings for Nine, while Shibazaki finally solves Sphinx’s motivations for their bombing and Project Athena is ultimately uncovered, fulfilling Sphinx’s objectives.
Terror in Resonance presents two terrorists whose objectives are political in nature, and whose modus operandi is unusual compared to most contemporary forms of terrorism; rather than maximising casualties, Nine and Twelve plan their hits to maximise psychological impact to catch the authorities’ attention. Once Shibazaki draws this conclusion and begins an off-the-books investigation of Project Athena, Terror in Resonance shifts thematically towards the idea that even if an immoral project could be successfully covered up or dismissed, the consequences themselves may linger. Terror in Resonance also touches on human experimentation and an off-the-books nuclear weapons programme as such projects, and use Five, Nine and Twelve to illustrate that the results of said projects have come back to haunt its creators. This might be a very subtle reminder of one perspective on Imperial Japan’s own involvement in human experimentation back during the Second Sino-Japanese War (most infamously, in the Harbin area of China, where Unit 731 was stationed), and while the perpetrators were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for data, it remains a very controversial topic. When everything is said and done, Terror in Resonance suggests that in general, past atrocities could very well mark an unwelcome return in the future, necessitating that justice be dealt accordingly to minimise any trouble future generations may encounter as a result.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Here’s a bit of a fun fact: this post has been sitting as a draft for quite some time, primarily because of the fact that it was quite difficult to come up with the figure captions for each image. It’s done now, but owing to the fact that it’s been nearly a year since I first saw this, I cannot vividly recall all of the details. However, I’ve done my best to keep this post up to my usual standards: this one was requested by one of my readers, and although I’d watched Terror in Resonance, I was not sure if I would write about it.
- Thus, if there are points I have not covered in my discussion, feel free to drop a comment or two below. These unidentified individuals turn out to be Nine and Twelve, the principle members of Spinx; the former is a secretive young man with a bright mind and calm demeanor, while the latter is childish but skillful at operating vehicles. For brevity’s sake, I’ll refer to Nine and Twelve as Spinx from here on out.
- Spinx’s first attack evokes imagery of the September 11 attacks on New York, although there are numerous differences, most noticeably, that Sphinx’s planning results in no casualties. Their continued adherence to this means that it becomes apparent even early on that Sphinx are no ordinary terrorists, and therefore, must be embarking on such actions to attract attention, and perhaps a mind capable of piecing the clues together to solve their puzzle. I’ve got a friend who enjoys employing puzzles and dropping clues for his followers to solve regarding an online series, and while I consider myself reasonably capable of solving his puzzles, I usually only do a few of them, given that my occupation isn’t to solve them.
- Kenjirou Shibazaki is the a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department who used to be part of the police force’s investigations division, but now works for its records division after an incident several years ago. With an uncommonly good eye for riddles, as well as ancient Greek and Egyptian narratives, he plays a critical role in acting as a foil to Spinx. The allusions to The Tragedy of Oedipus Rex and obscure Japanese cultural relics is brilliant, although those unfamiliar with them may find their mention to be quite obfuscating in places.
- A part of the brilliance in Terror in Resonance is the fact that Spinx’s initial motivation seems completely haphazard and irrational: why would anyone perpetrate a terrorist attack while deliberately employing means to keep casualties to an absolute minimum? This approach thus forces the audience to wonder, and in doing so, builds their curiosity to see how the story unfolds.
- The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD from here on out) holds its meetings in a room reminiscent of the one that was last seen in Death Note. I consider Terror in Resonance to be remarkably similar to Death Note on its initial premise, with uncommonly good minds squaring off against one another, orphans playing a major role within the story and the FBI’s eventual involvement. However, Terror in Resonance also does numerous things well that Death Note was unable to, and consequently, the pacing and focus in Terror in Resonance means that I consider it to have a superior execution relative to Death Note.
- The American involvement with the Spinx case foreshadows their interest in the missing plutonium, and might be interpreted as a commentary on the Japanese perspective on American influence within their country: the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan states that America may continue to maintain a military presence in Japan and has an obligation to provide full support in the event of any domestic conflict.
- While such a treaty has led the Abe administration to act belligerently, some Japanese residents (especially those in Okinawa) are opposed to the American presence, citing the military as polluting the coral reefs in the area and producing excessive noise. Other Japanese citizens believe that having the Americans provide armed defense minimises the Japanese need to remilitarise. The artwork in Terror in Resonance is quite impressive, making use of both vivid colours and a consistent palette to bring out the moods in each scene.
- I won’t go too much further into my views on the political landscape in Japan and return the conversation to Terror in Resonance. Five is an American FBI agent sent as part of the team to apprehend Sphinx, but her methods are dubious in both manner and efficacy. She has a personal connection with Sphinx, originating from the same program as they did, and treats their pursuit largely as an unfinished game from their childhood days.
- Thus, a chess game Five orchestrates turns into a potentially deadly situation, and the roles are suddenly reversed as Sphinx finds themselves racing against time to locate Five’s bomb. Terror in Resonance does not do much to provoke thought per se, since its message is quite clear: most “thought-provoking” anime must be those that are open-ended enough to encourage discussions, and things like Death Note would hold a small edge in this department, given that it plays out as a thought experiment.
- As the series wears on, Shibazaki’s persistence into his own off-the-books investigation of Sphinx and the eventual reveal of the Athena Project leads him to be suspended from duty. Undeterred, he pushes on in his investigation, and several of his subordinates risk their own positions to help him reach the bottom of the mystery. Shibazaki’s persistence soon pays off, and all of the pieces, including those past moments that haunt him, fall into play: the Athena Project was a human experimentation project that aimed at increasing human intelligence, but unlike the SPARTAN II project, was not successful and scrapped.
- Five’s efforts to undermine and intimidate Sphinx become increasingly brazen: following the airport incident, Lisa is captured and strapped to explosives. Against Nine’s wishes to carry out their plan properly, Twelve rushes out to save Lisa: Lisa’s played a minor role throughout Terror in Resonance, and initially encounters Sphinx owing to her own challenges. However, whether it be the series’ relatively short length or plot direction, Lisa winds up being the age-old “damsel in distress” whose presence is comparatively inconsequential.
- After saving Lisa, Twelve takes Lisa to an amusement park. Elsewhere, Nine decides to turn himself into the police, and reveals that he had stolen not plutonium, but a prototype nuclear device from the Aomori complex. With his plans crumbling before his eyes, he plans to detonate the weapon above Tokyo.
- The romance element in Terror in Resonance feels extraneous, and Five’s actions contradict her words from earlier; while jarring, it’s quite possible that this is done to show that despite their augmentations, the orphans from the Athena Project lack a proper set of social skills and have a difficult time expressing how they feel to one another, which could explain their prima facie irrational decisions and actions.
- With Spinx’s final message, the finale was quite a fitting ending to the series. Shibazaki, with Haruka’s help, quickly deduces that Sphinx’s non-killing practises are likely to be still in effect and predicts that the nuclear weapon is to be detonated aerially, generating a massive EMP wave that would disable all electronics.
- In the final moments before detonation, air traffic controllers scramble to land all airborne aircraft, and a squadron of JSDF F-15 fighters is launched to assess the situation, but lacking the means to stop the explosion, the F-15s are pulled from the airspace, as well. The final moments before detonation is marked by some of the tensest moments in the anime.
- With the buildings on the ground providing an approximate scale, I estimate the fireball to have a radius of up to 600 meters, which would roughly correspond to a maximum yield of 310 kilotons. As an airburst detonation, the fireball does not touch the ground, which dramatically reduces the fallout on the ground.
- In the detonation’s aftermath, Lisa, Twelve and Nine flee Tokyo, returning to the orphanage where Twelve and Nine once lived. With their message out, they’re free to relax a little and conduct themselves as youth would, immediately setting about playing ball and messing around with a hose in Terror in Resonance‘s most light-hearted moments.
- Unfortunately, this is short-lived, as American forces show up and executes Twelve to cover up the incident. Nine succumbs to his headache moments later, but their deaths were not in vein, as Shibazaki aided them in revealing the truth behind the Athena Project to the world, leaving the Japanese government under scrutiny. Such an ending is decidedly optimistic, and while unlikely in light of the current political landscape, Terror in Resonance might be interpreted that the possibility of Japan publicly acknowledging and fully apologising for their actions during the Second Sino-Japanese War nonetheless exists.
- In the year that passes, Lisa and Shibazaki become more familiar with one another and regularly visits Five, Nine and Twelve’s graves. Lisa reveals that VON is Icelandic for “hope”. This here post is now finished, and up next will be a the Summer 2015 season preview, as well as a talk on RWBY.
Stepping away from my thoughts on Terror in Resonance‘s theme (this seems to differ between viewers, as some find it to be a commentary on the dangers of nuclear power), and more onto a general perspective on the anime as a whole, Terror in Resonance stands out from the other titles I’ve seen with respect to the direction and structuring. Each episode serves to build tension and suspense, whether it be what Nine and Twelve’s next moves are, or Shibazaki’s choices as he moves closer towards the truth behind Project Athena. These two aspects come together in a haunting finale that answers all the questions and wraps up the series in a highly satisfying manner, and with that, I am quite inclined to say that this is a thriller done correctly, given that all of the pieces fall neatly into place. This anime is something that’s fairly easy to recommend to a general audience, and captivates its audience through suspense and anticipation, even where the characterisation feels limited.