A bomb goes off in Tokyo and a YouTube video of two masked men, who call themselves Sphinx 1 and Sphinx 2, are traced as the culprits who announced the bombing. There’s panic in the Land of the Rising Sun, but who are these people and what do they want?
There are a lot of things to love in Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance), or the latest series from Shinichiro Watanabe. You may know him as the acclaimed director of the influential Cowboy Bebop and the cult hit Space Dandy. Essentially, though, there’s also a mixed bag of inherent flaws that may ruin your engagement in this otherwise very thrilling animated take on what may happen if terrorists ever actually wreaked havoc in the shining city of Tokyo.
But let’s get to the good stuff, first.
From the get-go, the obfuscation of the motives and the mysterious origins of his main characters are what drive the narrative.
Someone steals what’s believed to be plutonium from a remote nuclear plant in a very elaborate heist and leaves the word “Von” as a clue. Then we segue to two young men who call each other Nine and Twelve, who are enacting a bombing attack on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. We don’t know these guys but, oh boy, we sure are intrigued; and, man, for a duo they sure do work like professionals with clockwork precision.
Make no mistake, Nine and Twelve are of the intellectual terrorist type, carrying out their subsequent terrorist attacks through announcements of riddles that the authorities need to solve to have a chance at defusing the bomb (like real Sphinxes), with an eye towards maximum panic but minimal casualties. They execute their missions with surgical accuracy—it helps that they’re agile, have well-rounded expertise in demolitions, security systems, driving, and even firearms.
Still, am sure any kind of bombing will leave collateral damage in its wake and the boys must learn to live with that.
As they enact their operations, we are shown, during the first 4 episodes, glimpses of who they are, where they came from, and how they came to be motivated for their mission. What is the point of their terrorism? We find out most of the reveals in episode 5, and we won’t spoil them for you. So we’ll stop there.
“Do you want to destroy it? Do you want to blow it all up?” the shocked but giddy Lisa asks Twelve in one scene, a harrowing motorcycle ride down Tokyo’s highways as they escape a police pursuit.
With references to Greek mythology abounding, there are also moments like this throughout the series that feel indicative of emotive metaphor, but I am unsure what they refer to exactly, so they’re hit or miss. They feel contrived at times and so the high notes that Watanabe seemed to want to hit come out rather as dissonant filigree.
The soundtrack by Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Macross Frontier) helps a lot during these moments, feeding us the emotional cues that we need to when the going gets too vague. At times, it is amazing how haunting and full of gravitas it can get, a definite plus in a series that wants you to take it seriously, even often too
While Lisa bathetically, and often infuriatingly (kill her already!) tries to find her rightful place in the conspiracy, it’s the supporting ensemble that gives this one the kind of platform and needed frisson that props up the sophistication and outlaw heroism of the two terrorists.
There’s disgraced Detective Shibazaki who figured out the Sphinxes’ early puzzles and has been working to prevent further attacks. And who are the cryptic agents from the US CIA who’ve been called in to consult on the case, among them the equally enigmatic Five?
Watanabe’s new series may be a very engaging thriller, but there’s a mixed bag at the end of flaws, stray narrative threads, and even downright head-scratching moments that will make your suspension of disbelief suffer like a Guantanamo prisoner.
For one, Nine and Twelve are smart enough to outwit most of the Tokyo police force and Japan’s federal agencies, but their resources are woefully thin compared to the giant net of the CIA and Japan combined. It’s the First damn World, with cameras everywhere. Hello!
While I appreciate the action, explosions, and how the setup of two teenage boys working through terror attacks to bring attention to a much larger, complex, and radically monstrous atrocity may just be the key to waking the people from their forced slumber of porn and social media, there’s plenty lacking in attention to detail. Did Watanabe and his cohorts simply get tired in carrying out the knitting together of their disparate stories to form a coherent and believable whole? Who the heck knows?!
The binge-worthiness of this one may stop when you get to a point where you just can’t enjoy it anymore because of all the flaws and lack of common continuity. But then again you can choose to voluntarily ignore it alland just power through the 11 episodes to an undeniably dramatic and surprising finale.
There’s no second season on this one. So, enjoy while you can.
'Terror in Resonance' is now streaming on Netflix.