Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anime Review: Terror in Resonance

Sorry for the delay here, I seem to write two kinds of reviews: quick ones where I can get one done in half an hour and then monstrous ones that take two hours to do a rough draft and usually I need to sleep on it to edit, guess which one this ended up being? So with that, no introduction this time around and let's just get down to Watanabe's latest series that's not Space Dandy, streaming on Funimations's website and hulu.

Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror)

Modern day, Tokyo, life is normal for all of it's inhabitants, for better or worse. But then one day a terrorist group consisting of two young men in sentai masks appear on youtube promising destruction on the city and inviting the police to try and catch them. They are Nine and Twelve, two high schoolers with a dark past and, while they want to be stopped and for the police to understand why they're doing this, that might be harder than even they expected.

This is a very ambitious series right from the get-go, the premise might seem basic but the show makes a story about two boys who have every reason to hate the world and want to destroy it in many ways feel epic in scope even though, as the title suggests, ultimately the story and it's characters are confined to just Tokyo. The cast doesn't seem particularly huge either but it's filled with ideas, both from character motivation and with what the characters represent in the real world. We have Nine and Twelve, the movers and shakers of this story who grew up in something akin to Mawaru Penguindrum's child broiler and they escape have no reason to ever trust adults or even society as a whole. They want people to know what happened to them but they don't want to tell the world in order to prevent this from happening again, they want revenge, a public shaming. This also means that curiously enough that even though they're committing acts of terrorism to convey their message they're always careful to keep innocent bystanders out of it. That is one of the harder things to swallow about this story, that their plans mostly work but that there was one time when they were willing to hurt someone, a classmate at their new school named Lisa who at random they offer a choice, become an accomplice or die when she should have been able to escape, ignorant and unscathed, with everyone else. 

Lisa is the show's audience point of view character and starts out as a rather interesting character. She's bullied at school and in a toxic relationship with her mother at home so she also has no reason to love the world. She ends up falling in with Nine and Twelve when she has nowhere else to go and she really does half-want them to destroy the world since there's nothing good in it for her, but once she has a chance to become part of this surrogate family she changes. I am completely fine with the idea that once she's in a safe(er) environment she's able to be herself and "revert" back to what her normal personality would be, except that she becomes this boring, almost moe-blob of incompetence kind of character, there's no longer any point in keeping her in the show, she's not contributing to it which is what a character does. Her effect on Nine and Twelve also doesn't make as much sense as the writers clearly thought it did, these two have been together for years and know each other even more than best friends know each other, and yet with just the introduction of Lisa, Twelve is completely ready to not only question their plans but to also leave Nine behind to a degree. I am to believe that they not only have this deep bond but will also start questioning it after a fairly short time (in series) that they've been exposed to another character? This felt doubly strange to me since I was expecting the series to go with the standard "dark character who turns out to be slightly-less-of-a-jerk and a light character whose actually a bit crazy" tropes and was confused when it didn't happen since the series was hinting at it very strongly with both the imagery in places like the opening and in Twelve's actions. Nine's lack of change I understood, especially since the show "pairs" him more with the insane Five than Lisa, but I think that again the writer's were going for a certain kind of character development with Twelve ("when given another option they hesitate, just like a real young person does") but the way it was executed was terrible. I expected this trope because it would mean that the audience would learn more about these characters and they would become more fully fleshed out, that didn't happen and by the end of the story Nine and Twelve felt more like ideas than real characters, much like Lisa and Five.

I haven't even talked about my biggest problem with the series yet, Five. As one might guess from the name, she was another child in the experimental facility like Nine and Twelve and, given that she shows up in a story about them, she has a complicated relationship them, Nine in particular.  The facility's only success, she now works with the American government* who have immediately decided that the Japanese police are incapable of capturing these two and makes it all worse. As an aside, while I do think that Lisa and Five are two of the worst parts of this show they're bad for different reasons, even if they were both male characters they would still be bad so I think this is just a coincidence (although, Watanabe has never had a show with a female "lead" before, female main characters yes but never one where a girl has been the main driver both emotionally and plot-wise for a show). In Five's case, there is no reason she should be in charge of finding Nine and Twelve, absolutely no logic is presented for this in-story and given her behavior there's a lot of reasons against it, by the time she shows up I was already starting to notice that this show wasn't as solid as I hoped and this just completely broke my optimism for it. The story uses her as a chance to indulge in plots that would be better suited for a American action B-movie that would be completely forgotten three months later (terror chess, how did that even work?!) and I also feel like there was enough material that the show could have easily worked without her, it's only 11 episodes after all and four other main character arcs to get through.

Did I like anything about the show? Yes, aside from the visuals there's our last main character who I haven't mentioned yet, the police detective Shibazaki who, like Nine, Twelve, and Lisa, starts out as a fascinating combination of traits and motivations and comes much closer to fulfilling the promises made when he was introduced than anything else. Years ago he lost his position in the police department when he went after a particularly strange case and seems to have no motivation to leave his position in an obscure records section (because after all, it's hard to find work as a former police officer, making him another character who is trapped by society). With his own reasons to resent his coworkers one would assume he would be sympathetic to Nine and Twelve's plight and he is but to an extent, once he realizes that they are using terrorism as a means to communicate and reach out he immediately starts working behind his supervisor's backs to try and not only stop these boys but to see just what wrongs need to be brought to light to prevent further tragedies. I actually wondered when watching the show if he should be the main character instead, without the point of view of other characters the show would certainly be missing most of it's story and depth but there's a certain stability to Shibazaki that's attractive and his own arc has a much cleaner resolution than anyone else's (heck, even his coworkers were interesting and well-fleshed out, almost as well or better than Lisa ended up being!).

Finally, the other thing I really loved about the show was it's cinematography, Wrong Every Time has individual episode write-ups with loads of screenshots that are well worth a look, the show mimics a lot of techniques you see often in film but rarely in anime which at this point might become Studio MAPPA's calling card. I've mentioned before that I felt like I actually learned about composition and movement from Kyousogiga and Gatchaman Crowds since the visuals in those shows were so clearly planned out and this is another one, while I can't really recommend the show as a whole because of it's narrative and character problems I can easily recommend parts of at least a third of it's episodes for just the visual content (suddenly Watanabe's comment at Otakon that you have to watch more than just anime to learn how to make anime makes even more sense). As for the music, even though I do love Yoko Kanno's work I've noticed that with half of her shows I'll really notice the music and the other half they just don't leave an impression on me, this is one of those later shows. It was perfectly fine but honestly what stood out to me the most about the sound of this show is how Megumi Han, Five's voice actress, cannot speak convincing English at all and considering how unnecessary it was I wish those bits had been scrapped, it would have saved me from being thrown out of the moment in a couple of episodes (plus, the characters spoke English in a very Japanese way with how they responded and addressed each other, something that makes no sense since they were literally supposed to be Americans).

This is a show that made a lot of promises with it's premise and then did not fulfill them which reminds me of another noitaminA show about terrorism in Tokyo, Eden of the East. 90% of these two shows are completely different, the themes, tones, and even the references the shows make are completely different but they do have one rather large similarity, both of them play with the idea that change brought about through terrorism can make Tokyo a better place. Both ultimately fail with this idea but it bothers me more here than in EoE. EoE might not have succeeded there but it gave it's characters better arcs with more resolution and it's very premise was so large that I expected it to fail, I expected a bittersweet half solution and that's what I got so I was fine (plus, the very idea that the writer for a tv show could come up with a way to revolutionize society in a way that thousands of years of philosophers and sociologists could not would be too much for my sense of disbelief). But TiR existed on a much smaller scale and I thought it could work, I thought that the story could say something meaningful and make me believe in it, it failed and it also failed to make me care about any character except the one most different from myself. I have heard some rumors that even the small parts of the show where it did critcize modern day Japanese society/government received incendiary comments which just shocks me, I felt like there was rather little to be offended by in the show (especially with the reveals about the "child broiler" but that did come late in the series) and I do wonder if the show would have been different if they thought they could get away with something more politically charged. As it stands, I'm very frustrated with the writing in this show and don't see myself buying the show in the future, although I might look up some of those motorcycle scenes on youtube now and again to re-watch since all the other parts of the show really were stellar. Oh and I will recommend this series of episodic posts as well, Isn't it Electrifying? is a great blog in general and I was influenced by a couple of their posts as I watched the series and some if snuck into this review for sure.    

*while I do understand on some level why the American government comes up fairly often as a villain in anime, it's almost always in stories that have something to do with large scale conflict, war, etc, it's done so often that it always feels like incredibly lazy writing since look, we don't even need to establish why they are The Bad Guys, the audience can just fill it in! Which makes things all the stranger when you consider that Watanabe is very aware of his international audience, this choice isn't even explained until very late in the show.  

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