This anime series is as dark as any gritty Hollywood drama as it follows two young men terrorizing Japan.

Hope, cynicism, international politics, militarizing Japan, post-World War II, and post-9/11: the anime series Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror), directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, could not be made at a different time and have the same impact it does.

The story begins with two boys shocking Japan with a terrorist bombing six months after they stole a plutonium bomb from a nuclear facility. Calling themselves Sphinx, the two boys say Tokyo will be enveloped in darkness and sparks. The 11-episode series follows the two terrorists and challenges the audience to empathize with them… which isn’t always easy.

If this sounds like an interesting conceit, you can watch Terror in Resonance online. Though the show hasn’t been broadcast in the U.S., it is available to watch on FUNimation and Hulu with English subtitles.

Otherwise, read on for our full review of the show’s first season — though, be warned, spoilers follow.

Terrorism has become a buzzword, especially in the United States and its foreign policy since September 11, 2001. Much of foreign policy involves dealing with people who choose to spread terror to get a message across — and most of the time, that means spreading destruction and pain. In Terror in Resonance, Sphinx uses bombs and videos to attack a complacent Japan while minimizing the physical harm to people, and the majority of the 11 episodes ask the audience not to categorize Sphinx the way we would to the majority of terrorists.

Considering the subject matter, it’s no surprise the show has heavy 9/11 influences, with imagery showing the towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building on fire that’s reminiscent of the attack on the World Trade Center. The two boys of Sphinx are named Nine and Twelve, possibly referring to the shock Americans had when coming to terms with the day following 9/11. Here, instead of letting people forget about their fear, Sphinx continues to use shock tactics to lead the police on and force the media — and the public — to pay attention.

Terror in Resonance takes place in an alternate reality Tokyo, but much of the show reflects current events. In this alternate Japan, a nuclear facility has made a plutonium bomb, which Nine and Twelve steal, putting both the Japanese American governments on high alert. In our reality, Japan isn’t allowed to have an armed force. Article 9 of the country’s constitution, which was drafted under U.S. occupation following World War II, states the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes… Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet are currently working on reinterpreting Article 9 to relax constraints on the SDF. Abe’s actions have strained relations with the rest of Asia, but relying on U.S. forces for protection appears less promising every year. But in Terror in Resonance, we see a Japan that’s already gone beyond this step: making the leap to nuclear weapons and trying to become a world power.

To strengthen its position, Japanese government in the show comes up with the Athena Project: a plan to create a generation of savants. By testing orphans across the nation, the project leaders find young children with the most potential to then kidnap and modify. These children are stripped of their individuality, named after numbers, challenged, tested, and seen as tools to further the nation more than children. Many die in the process as Athena Project leaders manipulate the youth until there’s nothing left. The Rising Peace Academy where the project is based is an obvious metaphor for the lost generation, abandoned by its leaders. For 20 years, Japan has been under economic and political stagnation. Today young adults graduate with little to no prospects, low pay, and no security. Nine and Twelve manage to escape from the Rising Peace Academy and have decided to tell the world about it.

The problem is no one seems to care, and the project leaders intend to take their secrets to the grave. Nine and Twelve decide the only way to make people pay attention to them is to shock the country.

Part drama and part detective thriller, Terror in Resonance doesn’t tell you what the pair’s endgame is until the other characters figure it out. Nine and Twelve’s background is a mystery for much of the series, which follows a former detective investigating Sphinx. Shibazaki, now working in the records division for the police, was removed from his detective position when he looked into a supposed suicide and discovered that the victim was murdered — but after he’s transferred back to the agency handling the Sphinx investigation, he discovers the link to the plutonium theft. As a Hiroshima native, Shibazaki knows well how growing up in a town torn by an atomic bomb affects townspeople with fear. Shibazaki becomes the police’s point of contact for Sphinx as he’s the one who catches on that Sphinx’s goal isn’t simply terrorism, but to convey a message. He’s the only one who solves Sphinx’s riddles, but instead of a bitter rivalry, by the end of the series Sphinx and the detective have formed a bond Shibazaki will not allow himself to forget.

Terror in Resonance is very male-dominated. Nine and Twelve are both young boys, Shibazaki is an older man with a wife and daughter, and it’s rare to see a woman in the police department scenes other than at the front desk. While Nine, Twelve, and Shibazaki are all well-developed characters, it would have been nice to see more women in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to combat the idea that police work is only for men. Even so, there are two female characters who have some level of influence on the plot.

Lisa is a high schooler struggling with her relationship with her classmates and her home life — another stand in for the lost generation. She’s easily swept up into Sphinx’s destruction, welcoming it. While Lisa first appears she’ll be the audience surrogate, when Nine threatens her she becomes their accomplice. Having witnessed what Sphinx did to Shinjuku, she prefers to be quiet and comply with them without asking too many questions. Though we learn a bit about Lisa’s background in the first episodes, her family relationship isn’t explored after she runs away from home and stays at Nine and Twelve’s hideout.

Lisa is primarily a passive character who lets things happen to her. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s a part of her character, and it makes her ending appearance all the more worthwhile, but it means Lisa’s role in the show is primarily tied to her relationship with Nine and Twelve, especially as she becomes dependent on them for her living situation. Nine considers Lisa a burden; Twelve ends up spending more time with her, helping him change his cruel demeanor in the beginning to one of compassion. It’s no surprise that when Lisa characterizes Twelve as a boy with a warm smile while only remembering Nine’s icy eyes.

The second woman of plot significance shares the same background as Nine and Twelve. Five is the only other survivor from the Rising Peace Academy, left behind by Nine and Twelve, and now works with the U.S. government.

Five fully comes into the narrative halfway through the show when the U.S. becomes involved with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, shutting down the detectives for Five’s gain. Five ties her entire identity to Nine and is obsessed with defeating him. She’s emotionally stunted and turns Haneda Airport into a chess game over a bomb, later singing nursery rhyme “London Bridge Is Falling Down.” She’s the example of what the Rising Peace Academy’s Athena Project turns children into. Nine and Twelve both have problems, but Five has been isolated for so long she doesn’t know how to interact with people. She doesn’t have relationships like Nine and Twelve or Twelve and Lisa. She’s their ideal, extremely clever and intelligent, but childish. Five has the potential to be a great character, but like Lisa, we don’t get to know much about her beyond her ties to the men in her life.

The show’s animation mimics live-action in many ways:. The “camera” follows Lisa as she dashes down stairs, lines are blurred from heat, and backgrounds are heavily detailed. But despite this attention to detail, there’s a fair amount of suspension of disbelief the audience has to go through to properly empathize with Nine and Twelve’s actions.

When you get down to it, they are extremely dangerous and placed people in danger, no matter how careful they were to force people to evacuate before they detonated any bombs. Destroying bombs and setting off a nuclear bomb in the stratosphere just to get attention lacks a lot of subtlety. It’s unrealistic to think Nine and Twelve couldn’t have leaked this information to a journalist or via something like WikiLeaks. On the other hand, detective Shibazaki was removed from his detective position whenever he got close to knowing the truth about the Rising Peace Academy — and perhaps a leak would have been killed just as efficiently.

Even if Nine and Twelve’s methods are inexcusable (which they acknowledge), it’s hard not to cast the blame on the people who initially put them in their position. Abandoned and isolated, all they wanted was to be needed. In a climate where people can’t find jobs or fulfilling work, we need hope and change. From episode one, Nine and Twelve tried to work toward hope for a country that tried to silence them.

Bottom line: Terror in Resonance is both a game of cat and mouse and a harsh look at the political ills of modern Japan. While it sometimes misses its mark, it’s a gem that isn’t polished to perfection but leaves you stunned: just as Nine and Twelve intended.

Recommendation: Terror in Resonance isn’t a perfect gem, but it’s worth a close watch for anyone dissatisfied with the way the world works.

[rating=4.0]

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