A new Shinichiro Watanabe show is out, so it is my duty as an Important Anime Blogger™ to tell you about it. Terror in Resonance (also Zankyou no Terror [literally Terror of Echoes], also Terror in Tokyo, also That Show Made By Those People You Like) is the sole occupant of this summer’s noitaminA block (re-airing Psycho Pass doesn’t count), and if the first episode is any indication, it is indeed about terror happening in Tokyo. Stolen nuclear fuel, motorcycle chases, shadowy institutions, exploding toys, and collapsing buildings pepper the scenes of this thriller set in contemporary Japan. The seriousness of its mood could not be any less like Watanabe’s other currently airing project, the goofy and anthological Space Dandy. Even Cowboy Bebop‘s most serious moments were tempered by its episodic nature, where tone rarely flowed from one episode to the next, so Terror in Resonance‘s apparent commitment to a grim eleven-episode narrative is a departure for the director. Yet this first episode proves Watanabe has as keen an eye as ever for storytelling, and his influences, attention to detail, and prestige within the industry might make him the perfect fit for executing Terror.
One of the most noticeable facets of Terror‘s aesthetic prism is its commitment to photorealism in the truest sense of the word–not that it looks like reality, but that it looks like a live-action film. Backgrounds are slavishly detailed, the character designs are naturally-proportioned, and the camera shakes and racks its focus from time to time. It’s not a surprising set of tools coming from Watanabe, who considers himself indebted to American films from the ’70s, and whose love of film should be obvious to anyone who has watched anything else he has directed. But if we are to consider American films from the ’70s, and particularly American thrillers from the ’70s, an interesting parallel emerges. Many thrillers from that era were politically charged reactions against a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam government in which there was much distrust and for which there was much distaste. Although it’s early to tell, I think we may consider Terror to be a similarly and politically charged reaction to contemporary Japanese issues. This controversial, bombastic approach may also be why the screenwriter is choosing to use the pseudonym Shoten Yano.
With this photorealistic and political approach, we might then wonder if animation is the best medium to tell this story. If it’s going to be this serious and hit this close to home, why not make it live-action? The simple answer is that Watanabe is an anime director, so he is going to make an anime. While I’m sure he’d jump at the chance to direct a live-action series or film, he possesses great clout in the anime industry, and the team and budget he pulled together to make this show happen is probably leagues ahead of what he would be able to scrounge together for a live-action venture. There’s also the consideration of what animation can accomplish that live-action cannot. Consider Flowers of Evil, which was shot using real sets and real people, but utilized rotoscoping to enhance the nightmarish and uncomfortable nature of its narrative. While Terror‘s art design is not nearly so uncanny, it is using a real city, real buildings, and real areas populated with lots of real people. By animating it, it’s making a statement that this is not reality (the official press release calls it an “alternate version of the present”) while simultaneously using photorealism to make sure the audience is unable to divorce it from reality. Terror wants to hit home, so it echoes reality.
Prophetically, Terror in Resonance spends much of its time dwelling on architecture. Static establishing shots of the Tokyo skyline or individual buildings are used throughout the episode. Exteriors are sunbleached and reflective; interiors are dark and suffocating. While not featureless and not exactly ugly, there’s still something starkly utilitarian about the look of the school or the design of the government building. They are not welcoming, all harsh angles between blocks of cement and rails of metal and panes of glass rising far into the sky. Even Nine and Twelve’s apartment looks beak, sharp lines and lattices contributing to the cramped, moody atmosphere, where a single spiral staircase winds defiantly upward. While our main characters are terrorists whose motives are not yet apparent, we are able to perceive how Tokyo may look through their eyes–not a testament to humanity nor a beacon of prosperity, but perhaps a prison.
This sense of being boxed in extends to our other main character, Lisa. We are introduced to her as she is surrounded on both sides by a set of girls tormenting her. She cannot escape their jeering in class either, and her only safe haven is the bathroom–a cruel and ironic haven, as she locks herself away rather than let the girls trap her somewhere else. Nine, too, becomes surrounded by girls, albeit for a very different reason. His reaction is the same, however, as he escapes to another part of the school. It’s our first hint that Lisa, Nine, and Twelve are all kindred spirits, ostracized children whose response is to seek further retreat and, eventually, possibly, revenge. Nine and Twelve steal power for themselves, while they provide Lisa with her own power and the choice to use it. Entombed within the building, she uses the bomb to make an exit for herself, for the first time taking a proactive action towards freedom. As she jumps into the arms of her savior, however, she and the audience have to wonder whether she would have been better off staying inside the bathroom. By mimicking Twelve’s leap into the pool, perhaps she will only continue to sink deeper into the boys’ bloodstained hands.
Terror in Resonance ripples with this narrative twinning, these aesthetic and thematic echoes. Two tense and beautifully-animated motorcycle scenes bookend the episode. Lisa retreats to the bathroom twice, where twice she looks at the messages her mother sends her. Nine and Twelve meet on a roof twice. Nine repeatedly directs his attention outside a window, gazing at the city with his ice-cold eyes. Twelve sets Lisa up so that Nine can relive and redo the past that haunts him. Visual cues repeat themselves. Even the opening song “Trigger” utilizes the literal echoing of its vocal melody to reinforce this resonance.
But echoes are not mirror images. Echoes are distorted afterimages.
Twelve uses his motorcycle first to steal, then to rescue, but one is not more noble nor more sinister than the other. Lisa’s behavior is self-destructive when she first enters the bathroom and flushes her lunch away; it turns outwardly destructive on her second retreat as she wishes for everyone else to disappear. Nine’s final look towards the city is not through a window and not inside a building, but through his phone and outside in a park, immortalizing his moment of triumph with a snapshot of the collapsing skyscraper.
The episode is called “Falling.” Ravens, likely avatars of Nine and Twelve and their flight from the institution (Von?), fly throughout the OP and ED. But what is falling if not an echo of flying? The only difference comes when one hits the ground.