Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay is meant to take the place of a previous review on the show.
I want to address a rather easy prejudice people end up giving in to: Terror in Resonance is about terrorism. No, Terror in Resonance is about the terrorists. It was about empathizing with the two terrorists of the show. Well, I suppose now it’s a bit reductive to fully separate “terrorism” from “terrorists,” not least because both terms have “terror” in their names. I’ll concede that show is parts “terrorists” and “terrorism.” What I do want to divorce from the conversation is the inordinate attention people pay towards the morality of terrorism. Should terrorists deserve our empathy when, to us, they show none for their victims? Many, if not most, of these victims are “innocent people,” innocent people insofar as they have no direct connection to the causes they are committing terrorism for. Many terrorists know they are targeting “innocent people.”
Well, now we’re talking about the morality of terrorism. Conflating the motivations of one particularly amoral terrorist with the motivations of all terrorists is problematic. It’s just as dehumanizing to the terrorists as to the people they terrorize. And yet, this kind of oversimplified heuristic still operates on a public level. Terrorists are people. The people who are inspired to terrorism are people. The people who are vulnerable to becoming terrorists are people. Most terrorism doesn’t happen spontaneously because most terrorists don’t decide to become terrorists spontaneously. This drive to terrorism comes from somewhere on the lines of freedom and faith, somewhere filled with grievance and resent. It comes from somewhere human.
Nine and Twelve are human.
Too many people (and too many governments) seem to believe that everything will be fine if those terrorists were just dead. Terrorists are human though, and as social creatures, human beings possess social connections and belong to social networks. They have friends. They have families. Both friends and families take kindly to their companions and kin being killed. They also have people who are sympathetic to their causes. These cultures, communities of violence, once established, support terrorists and may replace the terrorists who are caught and killed while going about their business. You end up with something of a hydra situation where you lop off one head and three more seem to pop up in their place. You can dice up the hydra’s entire body by going after the support networks, but the hydra might be a bit large for that to be possible. You’ll just make the hydra angry. You’ll have the hydra sprout more heads in places you didn’t expect. You might just alienate more people, who then, aggrieved, enraged, and desperate, might support terrorism and maybe even become terrorists themselves.
I don’t like terrorism on a personal level, but discussing the morality of terrorism is a sure-fire way of preventing crucial discourse behind what exactly causes terrorism, what causes people to become terrorists. Terrorism is not an ideology. It is a tactic utilized in service to an ideology. Some ideologies morally justify terrorism while distinguishing themselves from separate ideologies, like mine, for instance, that morally reject terrorism. Another example of some of these ideological can be illustrated with a cliché: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter or faith defender.
Even if freedom fighters and faith defenders acknowledge that they’re terrorists themselves, many probably wouldn’t ultimately mind committing terrorism if that is what it takes to achieve whatever goals they happen to hold dear enough to commit these acts in the first place. Is there any room for moral arguments by a preacher removed from their circumstances and worldview by that point, to people dedicated enough that they are willing to go to these extremes for their causes? Then there’s all the politics that accompanies the designation of who is or who isn’t a terrorist, not least when the power of that decision is appropriated by governments. More potential dehumanization abounds. It’s a messy and bitter state of affairs.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say for now that Nine and Twelve committed terrorism in the show. I’ll go into why that’s the case later in this piece.
Japanese ultranationalists prompt the Japanese government to requisition stockpiles of children (yes, children) from orphanages throughout the country. Renamed, relabeled, dehumanized to a mere number, these children were then experimented to become superhumans who would then be used for their country. It’s a superhuman experimented program comparable to the Captain America one, though for the smart instead of the strong. Captain America consented to being experimented though. He didn’t die by the end of it. These children were forced into the program. Most of them died. All them, deceased and survived, suffered. The survivors continue to suffer from the direct residual effects and post-traumatic stress of the whole ordeal.
The program was ultimately shelved as a failure. Out of the three children who somehow survived the experiments, two escaped from the program’s facilities. The mental damage of these experiments would haunt these two, Nine and Twelve, even as they lied low years after. Years after, they rose up when they realized that the ultranationalists were concocting something dubious yet again. This time, instead of developing the theoretical superperson, they went for manufacturing the already proven nuclear bomb. The narrative of the show begins when Nine and Twelve clandestinely steal the clandestinely government-produced nuclear bomb. They launch spates of bombings to publicly expose ultranationalists for their two crimes:
1. Their crime of making a nuclear bomb.
2. Their crime of creating Nine and Twelve.
As aforementioned, a lot of people had to suffer and die in the latter process, and a lot more have the potential suffer and die in the former.
In conducting these spates of bombings, there are two reasons for why these two would commit terrorism and, well, become terrorists:
1. Revenge, revenge for themselves, revenge for their fallen children comrades, revenge against the people responsible for doing these terrible things to them, to all of them.
2. Protest, protest against what drove the people responsible for doing these terrible things in the first place, protest against the ideology that justified experimenting on children and acquiring nuclear bombs.
It might be understandable to say that Nine and Twelve resorted to violence for retribution. After all, violence is far from an atypical reaction to violence. I don’t think the feeling of obtaining personal gratification, the sentiment of getting back at someone, was not factor in why these two committed violence, however nonlethal that violence may be. How their violence manifested itself the way it did, particularly where their violence’s nonlethal nature is concerned, suggests a more complex picture of these two than the standard eye-for-an-eye explanation can properly elucidate. A more rigorous examination of the idiosyncrasies of their violence is needed to really bring to light what they holistically wanted to accomplish.
Those personally responsible for the experiment program weren’t assassinated one by one, in the V for Vendetta formula. Assassinations that may or may not also visit various degrees of suffering on those being targeted were absent from Nine’s and Twelve’s plans. It’s curious. Perhaps their bombings were an attempt to draw the people directly complicit out of hiding for a personal confrontation. You can’t personally kill them, personally make them suffer if you don’t know where they are, can’t go to where they are. Perhaps the ultranationalists were in hiding and Nine’s and Twelve’s terrorist bombings were the means to flush them out. By the end of the show, however, those ultranationalists weren’t personally confronted by Nine and Twelve, let alone tortured and murdered. They were approached instead by a Kenjirou Shibazaki, a detective, who took them in according to the strictures of his profession. It’s curious. Nine and Twelve were doing illegal terrorism so that Shibazaki can do legal law enforcement. If Nine and Twelve were doing all this just for vengeance, they’re certainly going about it in a soft and roundabout manner.
Additionally, those two planned their bombings in ways that sought to avoid casualties in general. Surely it would be easier to force the ultranationalists’ hands out in the open if those hands kept being soaked in blood the longer they remained in hiding. Bloody hands are noticeable to the people who they have to come in contact with them, such as government officials who aren’t ultranationalists. More than the ultranationalists, although they were the driving force behind the experiment program and nuclear bomb program, the government, albeit through its ruling coalition, is also complicit in providing the approval and marshaling the resources to make both experiment and bomb a reality in the first place. If word leaked out to the rest of the officials of the government that the ultranationalist pet projects they (according to how the public will inevitably see it) tacitly stamped their seal on were responsible for a massacre of citizens as a response to and result by an already questionable superhuman experimentation and nuclear bomb program, there’s bound to be at least some intragovernment conflict.
Certainly, the other factions in the government wouldn’t stand for the ultranationalists to remain in hiding for long, if either because of ethical responsibility, political opportunity, or personal dissociation. Where personal dissociation is concerned, there might be attempts by the government, or at least some government officials, to bury or burn the evidence. Nine and Twelve were ultimately assassinated for their troubles. However, intragovernmental power struggle will occur regardless if public pressure, instigated by Nine and Twelve beforehand but taking a life of its own thereafter, prevents the government from hushing it completely up.
But wouldn’t these terrorist bombings distract the public from the ultranationalists’ and government’s crimes anyway? After all, the government could easily direct any blame away from itself and towards Nine and Twelve, shaping public reaction through media manipulation. It’s freaking terrorism after all. That option for the government is hampered by the fact that Nine’s and Twelve’s terrorism been deliberately nonlethal. It provides space for the public to consider the message behind their terrorism when it’s not coated in what might appear to be bloody senselessness. Then there’s the scenario where Nine and Twelve use the nuclear bomb the government manufactured. The government would get a host of hard to spin potentially incriminating inquiries in the aftermath, such as:
“Where did they get this bomb in the first place?”
Why do I consider the violence that Nine and Twelve commit throughout the series terrorism, despite the fact that their violence (with the possible exception of the nuclear bomb and the resulting radioactive fallout and electricity blackout it possibly and undeniably inflicted over Tokyo) has been nonlethal, despite the fact that these two went above and beyond to keep their violence nonlethal? The reason is rooted in the understanding that terrorism is a tactic of political violence for the weak. The scale necessary of wars and insurgencies are impossible for just these two to wage on their own. These two are both the only opposition to the ultranationalists’ machinations. They’re the only living witnesses to their designs, and as such, they can’t really hope to raise the manpower and resources needed to raise armies and conduct guerrilla campaigns.
All they can do is commit terrorism, and one of the benefits that terrorism offers for Nine and Twelve is that it tends to attract a lot of attention. The theatrics of terrorism glue people to their news screens and newspapers. Coverage on terrorism is an exciting thing to report on, and an inciting thing to follow what better way to really drive the sensationalism home than through spates of bombings, fantastic bombings organized around a game, a puzzle, that engages both police and public. Nine and Twelve need to strike a public relations balance in how they handle their bombings, because a deadly bombing risks alienating people, distracting people from their ultimate goal of publicly exposing the ultranationalists for their crimes. They need to remain pop culture idols instead of pop culture pariahs. If all goes well, the public as well as other outraged or opportunistic figures and factions within the government will demand that ultranationalist programs be reversed. At least prominent ultranationalists will have to step down from power and face the fallout of their actions.
What would certainly make Nine and Twelve’s plans fail is if the ultranationalists in the narrative basically controlled the government from the shadows. They certainly operate within the government’s shadow. As is the case with how the narrative is actually written, however, the power that the ultranationalists wield is not absolute. They still have to bow under public and intragovernment pressure. Shibazaki was able to arrest some of them himself.
Fictional though the superhuman experimentation and nuclear bomb programs may be in Terror in Resonance, the tune of Nine’s and Twelve’s grievances are not, and those grievances revolve around the ultranationalists. I’ve mentioned “ultranationalists” more than a few times already throughout the essay. For those who aren’t fully cognizant of who ultranationalists are, let me assure you that they aren’t a figment of the show’s imagination. In the context of Japanese politics today, they extol the exceptionalism of Japanese culture at its nationalist and martial height pre-1945, the end of World War II, and lament its economic stagnation, political paralysis, and cultural degradation in the face of the pressures of globalization and liberalism especially post-1991, the end of the Cold War.
They wish to rid the Japanese psyche of the uncertainties, inadequacies, and unease it feels over its place in a world turned topsy-turvy for it now that it is no longer the world’s rising sun. They want to restore Japan to its prior status as the hegemon of at least the Asia-Pacific, keeping threatening enemies like China at bay and existing rivals like the US at a distance. To do that, they need to transform Japan into the military power, beyond popular and constitutional constraints, it once was so it can utilize the military power it once commanded to become the great Japan it used to be. They are unapologetic about past Japanese militarism, and they certainly have few qualms about launching dubious, questionable projects if its for the greater good of Japan, a Japan of their own vision.
Child experimentation, as the kind suffered by Nine and Twelve, is a possibility under a ultranationalist regime free from the checks of public scrutiny. Nuclear weapons development, however, falls under more than just a mere possibility for the Japanese government. During the Cold War, the Japanese government, under a conservative administration, previously considered building their own nuclear bombs before shelving those considerations aside to US pressure. In exchange for Japan being under the US nuclear umbrella, Japan would not contribute to nuclear weapons proliferation by becoming a nuclear weapons state.
However, in light of Japan’s decline from international relevance once its bubble economy burst post-Cold War, and the threat of a resurgent and aggressive China, ultranationalist sentiments persist that argue that Japan should reconsider its current stance on nuclear weapons. Running counter to these ultranationalist sentiments are the pacifist-leftist positions born out of the devastation of World War II and the American nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima who want nothing to do with either nuclear weapons or the ultranationalist ideologies led to the devastation of Japan in the first place.
In the middle of this is the US, who remain simultaneously adamant to preventing further nuclear weapons proliferation and maintaining the strength of the US-Japan security alliance, though for the sake of maintaining its own vision of regional order and stability instead of opposing a now defunct Soviet Union. The US sees the former interest as compromising of the latter interest. The US both welcomes Japan militarizing so they can contribute to its vision. The US is also wary of what might happen if Japan militarizes too much. In the show, while the US government may not be exactly happy with the Japanese government for their nuclear ambitions, they are not willing to let their security alliance fall apart. It is American soldiers that assassinate Nine and Twelve at the end of the show.
Terror in Resonance is about Nine and Twelve. It is about the cruelties and injustices of callousness and dehumanization that Nine and Twelve suffered, that their children comrades died because of, and that Japanese society will have to endure if it is not stopped, at the hands of Japanese ultranationalists, facilitated (and later partially covered up) by the Japanese and American governments. Without so much as an army or even band of guerrillas, with only just the two of them, they resorted to terrorism. Their violence was not senseless. Their violence was their attempts to make their voices beyond violence heard.