My experience of the anime series Terror in Resonance started with an explosion and a mystery. It was the same sort of mystery which surrounded the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A mystery which affected the lives of so many people, the motive and outcome of which will always hold some form of mystery regardless of what resolution has been decided. I saw the chaos and ambition in the teenage protagonists which could have potentially rivalled Death Note‘s Light Yagami. As I watched the series I became aware that the nature of the crimes were different. They were less polarised in good and evil, more human in their actions. Terror in Resonance is a short series, only eleven episodes, but that’s all that were needed to tell the full story.
The basic concept for the series is about a pair of terrorists (named Nine and Twelve) with unknown motives setting bombs and riddles for the Japanese police to decipher. It’s set up as a potential anti-hero story, but it was not confined by that model. Instead, the series was determined to blur the lines of morality and bring subjectivity into question. Ultimately, it leaves you wondering, what makes a terrorist?
The series was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe with a soundtrack composed by Yoko Kanno, who have previously collaborated on the 1998 cult classic Cowboy Bebop and again in 2012 on the jazz-centric school drama Kids on the Slope. Watanabe has proven himself a director of great style with particular attention to character development. It should be noted that Kids on the Slope marked his departure from a genre-driven aesthetic, going for dramatic realism instead. While Kids on the Slope was intensely personal in its own right, Terror in Resonance has increased the intensity tenfold. Where Kanno’s soundtracks have in the past been utilised for their style and genre aesthetics, here the music is entirely dedicated to mood and atmosphere. All focus is on the story and the characters, and I think it is because of this shift in style and purpose that we get this ultra-intense and deeply personal connection to the series.
So, returning to the question: what makes a terrorist? It’s a matter of perspective and identity. You could say that a terrorist is a person who is defined by their threat to a nation’s identity. Whether the threat is real or imagined, the label is there. It comes with the patriotic unity of a nation remaining, surviving, growing stronger, even if these things are only ideas, even if only it exists in the perception of the masses. If you examine dictionary definitions of ‘terrorist’, you will find that the focus is on the use of violence, threats, and intimidation as a political statement or means for resisting government.
While the acts of violence in Terror in Resonance seem like terrorism, the mystery of the series lies in the motives of the protagonists. They make no demands. Their threats are targeted at the Japanese government but they show no intention of wanting to change it, only wanting the government to participate in their game. As far as politics is concerned, you could argue that there are no politics motivating Nine and Twelve, which would suggest that they are anarchists or nihilists or something along that line. But I don’t think that’s so. No, they’re not motivated by a specific political agenda, but they do have their own personal politics motivating their actions. They’re terrorists of an entirely different nature.
Though terrorism may implicate a different set of connotations in Japan compared to the United States (the story would likely be completely different if it were set in the United States), Terror in Resonance doesn’t waste time on national identity, instead shifting the focus of the story towards the characters’ actions and intentions. A small bomb, no casualties, is a shadow of something bigger and more catastrophic. The concept of terrorism is so shocking because it’s an unknown factor. It’s a faceless enemy. It’s a wildcard. Terrorists are unseen, so they could be anywhere. They could be capable of anything. The public doesn’t know the terrorists are two Japanese teenagers or that they have no intention of harming innocent people. The identity of the masked terrorists is a presentation of a particular aspect of themselves specifically constructed to incite fear and chaos.
One thing that weighed heavily on my mind as I watched the series was the thought of complacency and a false sense of security in Japanese culture. The generations of Japanese who lived through World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fading away. Soon they will all be gone. The United States was the land of the free, and then September 11, 2001 brought about a new age of uncertainty which spread throughout a wide portion of the western world.
Terrorists are people driven to extremes by one reason or another. They call into question the safety of our lives. They call attention to themselves, but also call attention back onto us and the people who we believe to be protecting us (i.e. our government). Sometimes they can be constructed from something they’re not. Sometimes our government will use the identity of terrorists to construct an enemy to place blame upon. To unify a nation in fear.
In Terror in Resonance we see both sides to the story. We see the motives behind the terrorists grow and evolve, becoming more clear with each subsequent episode. They share a backstory and their goals are identical. They work seamlessly together. Their personalities are distinctly different, but they are essentially two halves of the same whole.
It is only when a third protagonist finds herself accidentally involved in their terrorist agenda that conflict comes between the two. They are both motivated by perceived ‘good’ intentions, but Twelve is compelled to reach out to the poor, hopelessly lonely and depressed Lisa Mishima, where Nine sees her as a burden and a risk. Through these characters, and through the character of detective Shibazaki, the larger story slowly becomes filled out. We want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing, why they’ve been driven to such extremes.
The government responds without raising alarm. They’re human, and they understand that widespread panic will not work to their favour. Sure, there is panic and hysteria at first. They don’t know exactly what they’re dealing with. The threat is real, but the threat is also human. Not a terrorist in the ideological sense, but mask-wearing individuals trying to sort their own lives out. Are their methods questionable? Definitely. Is their violence baseless and chaotic? Absolutely not.
With tight action scenes and careful plotting, it’s easy to become so attached to the characters in such a short space of time. Terror in Resonance is desperate and haunting. The characters exist in the darkest spaces of the human condition. They’re honest, beautiful, and genuine. They’re dangerous because they seem so real, so easy to connect with. Terror in Resonance gives us characters to truly care about, while exploring the larger concept of what it means to be a terrorist.