The events of 9/11 scarred the world and left behind a glut of stomach-churning images and sounds, all too familiar even over a decade later. However, as sacrosanct as those images are, they are not untouchable. At its most vital, fiction (or, in some cases, pseudo-nonfiction) can echo the images of momentous tragedy to great effect, elucidating through drama a story that would have been impossible to tell in a world unmarred by such an event. Over the past thirteen years, we have judged the works of fiction daring, smart, or stupid enough to invoke 9/11, on a case-by-case basis. Some were good (United 93, Zero Dark Thirty) and some were so bad as to seem insulting (Star Trek Into Darkness). It is clear from its first two episodes that Terror in Resonance is tactful enough to deserve the iconic imagery it aims to recontextualize; whether its subject matter can ultimately justify images of such power remains to be seen.
In modern day Japan, two young men set into motion a terrorist plot that includes the theft of plutonium from a nuclear facility and the bombing of an iconic government building. With their well-laid plans ensuring zero civilian casualties, the violence of their actions is clearly aimed solely at those in power. Flashbacks and allusions to an unethical “institution” for children and a mysteriously meaningful calling card of “VON” hint at a plot that will eventually incorporate government wrongdoing and national cover-ups.
Terror in Resonance is the new anime series by acclaimed series director Shinichiro Watanabe. Best known for the legendary Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe’s superlative direction has been celebrated as some of the most powerfully consistent in the medium. His mark on a series will make it eminently watchable, if not destined for greatness. It is no surprise then that the strongest elements of Terror so far are its visuals.
As a director known best for his action, Watanabe employs a sense of visual inventiveness and economy of shots in all things. The first episode opens with the plutonium heist – a sequence storyboarded to concise perfection – which allows just enough time to figure out what’s going on before snowballing into some great action. There’s not one wasted shot in the whole scene. As the protagonists escape by snowmobile, the camera swings vertically around the center of the speeding vehicle, capturing all manner of exciting angles in a single, fluid movement. This is the sort of animation that gives you chills. In quieter moments of drama, Watanabe uses a tense restraint, focusing on uneasy expressions, eyes, and sometimes even on feet, as characters shift in fear, step with conviction, or trip against each other in attempts to control or escape.
When the events of the first episode reach their climax, both halves of Watanabe’s style come into play at once. The devastating shots of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building being blown apart are frighteningly beautiful images of destruction, but they are rightfully presented with no sense of glamour. Characters involve themselves by reacting to it all: by trying to escape, trying to find the reason why, or simply by watching it happen.
It is no coincidence that the skyscraper depicted consists of two towers in close proximity. Every explosion is shown from below or from blocks away. One of the towers collapses straight downwards, showering concrete dust and debris in all directions. The second episode opens with an allusion to the iconic image of steel wreckage at Ground Zero. The series looks and feels like that horrible day, and it does so through genuinely evocative compositions and a constant, onscreen human presence.
However, images are only part of the equation and, in terms of character and plot specifics, Terror has yet to prove that its story can be as incisive as its imagery. Over these first two episodes we have seen many things happen, but character development seems to have largely been shelved for later. It feels like we have met all or most of our major players, but aside from some cursory (if admittedly interesting) introductions, we have been made privy to no real details. A point of annoyance is that the script seems to have immediately assumed a familiar and established dynamic between characters. By the second episode, there are a couple of scenes that forget that all we have to work with right now are mere outlines.
Additionally, the idea of a government institution where they experiment on children is an anime trope as old as time. The two young men driving the plot are also worryingly close to overused archetypes; one is cold with a conscience and the other is too cheerful, which is usually indicative of a not-so-hidden and generic psychosis. That their plans have so cleanly avoided any human casualties also seems like a naive tonal inconsistency. I am optimistic about Lisa Mishima, the bullied girl who inadvertently falls in with the two, but only time will tell. Terror in Resonance is currently only confirmed for eleven episodes, and I hope that its missing character moments start arriving on schedule.
That said, I am excited to see more. It is very much in Watanabe’s power to surprise with thematic depth where we can only see warning signs of cliché. I am optimistic about the potential of the series and I will admit that I am already hooked by its strengths. At the end of the first episode, there is a haunting and recognizable shot of a skyline filled with smoke and forever changed. As we land on another sobering shot looking up at the smoldering building, an iPhone calmly finds the right angle, autofocuses, and snaps a shot of its owner’s handiwork. It is an infuriating and chilling act of hubris and also the best bit of character development so far, all without a single word spoken. Terror in Resonance seems like a series that can only be accurately judged once we have every episode, but more sublime moments like that will go a long way to proving that it is the serious and well-rounded anime that it wants to be.
New episodes of Terror in Resonance are available to Funimation subscribers every Thursday and to non-subscribers the week after on both Funimation and Hulu.