Terror in Resonance

Bad

Lazarinth from Fantasy and Anime  asked why I don’t like Terror in Resonance.  Terror in Resonance is a fairly popular drama anime, so why does it deserve a Bad rating?  Coming at it from a Japanese perspective, it seems like a very different kind of anime – a dark thriller with a very foreign concept.  As an intro to terror-themed shows, it’s probably fine to watch.  As an anime, however, it’s plagued by several structural flaws, both in the underlying source material and in the execution.  Really, the show appears to have been written (or as re-written by editors) as something that was afraid to take risks – afraid to take the anime to the dark places it promised.

*WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*

Purpose: Bad.  Where the anime begins and where it ends are in two wildly different directions.  Actually, this divergence marks its descent from Excellent to Bad.  It starts on a pretty strong note, making the anime appear to be a terror-themed drama, with the main focus on the villains.  With that particular focus, it was setting the anime to be almost like a cat-and-mouse game, made all the more intense by limiting the viewer (mostly) to the bad guys.  The closest comparison would have to be found in Death Note.  Unfortunately, Terror in Resonance wasn’t what it promised to be.  Ultimately, the path the story took ended up undermining everything that happened earlier.  That’s not to say that this particular structure itself was bad, only that the way it was used was bad.  As the story looped in against itself, the actors’ roles in the story became unfocused.  As that happened, the various elements started to collapse in upon themselves, resulting in something of a mush.

That aside, the anime’s ultimate message takes a little bit of digging around, plus a helping of context.  Ultimately, the anime’s something of a commentary against Japan’s more recent move to try to re-militarize itself to keep up with the “big boys”.

Characters: Bad.  The characters were all flat, although the main characters ended up folding in upon themselves.  The single worst thing that they did to the character development was the “twist.”  Essentially, they decided to turn the main characters from appearing bad to appearing not-so-bad, then “good.”  In doing so, they negated all of the early character development, and then reversed it.  That’s not to say shifts in perspective or appropriately humanizing the “Bad Guys” is wrong, quite the opposite.  It’s rare to see an appropriately humanized villain, humanized so that the audience thinks, “you’re not wrong.  I understand why you did what you did, but you’re doing it in a bad way.”  It’s the way Terror in Resonance tried to accomplish this task that made it truly Bad.  The entirety of a single character, Lisa, was designed to humanize our main characters.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t handled in any delicate way.  Part of the problem is that Lisa’s also a bit of an awkward foil that artificially creates character conflict, both external and internal.  So, we get little bits of forced character dilemma within the context of goal-oriented “terror”, contraposed over a little bit of mystery and cat-and-mouse game.  In other words, those particular character relations, both in the role they served as well as what they were ended up being, were out of place for the setting and the story.  The other bit of the equation, the cop, also failed spectacularly in this regard.  Of course, he was set up as a hard-boiled, down-on-his-luck detective who ends up being the “cat” of the story.  His role is supposed to be that of a clever detective, finding the right clues to catch the bad guys.  Instead, he gets to find the solution that was basically spoon-fed to him, making him sadly unimpressive as a detective, ruining the setup. Another large problem with the characters is the noticeable lack of a villain.  Sure, we get a sort of antagonist, 5, doing some bad things, but due to the setup of the “twists,” you’d be hard pressed to find a villain.  (other than America, perhaps).  Again, the characters devolve into mush, having no clear role in the story other than the fact that they end up being sort of mannequins mouthing lines on a fairly straightforward trajectory.

World: Weak.  This is a prime example of a setting that is completely robbed of any vitality due to flaws in other elements.  The main culprit is the astounding lack of terror.  There’s an awful lack of anything that creates any sort of tension or exigency outside the first little bit of the anime.  There’s no reason why our terrorists need to be stopped, other than rampant property damage and some slightly scared citizenry.  Beyond even that, everything that happens has an startlingly nonexistent impact on the setting – bad stuff happens, but the world keeps turning on, unimpressed.  Even the terrorists’ ultimate goal was very small.  The issue was something that didn’t really impact anyone other than the main characters and a double handful of others.  While it could be described as “not very nice,” it lacked the necessary quality to warrant the terrorists’ actions.

Plot: Bad.  The plot is fairly straightforward – bad guys who aren’t really bad do some bad things to bring light to a particular issue.  The saddest part is that the plot actually had some really interesting potential.  I know what they were doing – they were trying to bring things into a little bit of a moral gray zone.  Normally, this is accomplished by perspective shifts.  You have events that change the viewer’s understanding of a situation.  Instead, the plot required a wholesale re-writing of the characters to change them from “Bad” guys to “Good” guys.  But how did they do this?  By introducing the not-really-good “good” character.  Now, you instead flipped both the situation and the characters on their head.  So you have the formerly “bad” characters (who never were really bad) who now have to stop the “good” character from using the “bad” characters’ actions to actually do bad so the “bad” characters don’t get blamed for doing bad things.  When you strip away all the niceties of animation and reduce the plot to what actually happened, it really ends up being nonsensical.  Even at that, most of the plot elements ended up being contrivances of convenience that forced things to happen.  Frankly, there were more holes than plot, which contributed to the mushy happenstance.  This, in turn, robbed greatly from both the overall story and the setting.

Storytelling: Poor.  This anime is an example of what happens when you write a story with an extremely dark subject matter but are afraid to take any risks whatsoever.  The result is that you stray away from exploring the darkness, using it only as a general setting for some bad things to happen.  In other words, the story was using a difficult subject matter without adequately dealing with it.  But a much more fundamental problem arises when you ask, “but what story were they trying to tell?”  Rather than clearly focusing on what they were doing, they allowed the characters’ stories to blend together without supporting each other.  That aside, another of the largest problems with the storytelling was that the anime consisted almost entirely of telling rather than showing.  The biggest (and clearest) offender in this category is anything involving the cop trying to catch the terrorists.  That ended up robbing any strength and tension in the cat-and-mouse game.  Basically, we got a story of Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs instead of a tense hunt.

Pace: Poor.  The pace is another sad victim of other weaknesses.  Since much of what happens involved rewriting characters that were already developed, the pace suffered.  In order to do the rewrite, you have to then re-develop the characters, which is something that can’t easily be done in a short period of time.  In addition, we get bizarre lulls in what’s happening that ends up being a surprising amount of filler, given the anime.  In the end, the errors stack up to get in the way of a proper pacing growth.

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Psycho-Pass 2-

Bad

Make no mistake, I love Psycho-Pass, rated MasterpieceHeck, I even bought the season box set so I could share it with people.  However, this installment is just bad.  Don’t bother with it.  Just pretend it doesn’t exist.  Really. It even seems to treat itself as a “throwaway.”  Fortunately, there wasn’t really any significant impact on the world.

I would attribute the entirety of the problem to the fact that Gen Urobuchi, the creator of Psycho Pass, was absent from this anime to work on the Psycho Pass movie.  In the first Psycho Pass, he wrote the scripts, but this installment had several different writers.  The writers were clearly unfamiliar with the way that Psycho-Pass 1 worked.

Purpose:  Bad. Gen Urobuchi’s purpose was clearly there in the backdrop – some themes in the beginning, end, and a couple of plot lines in the middle were reminiscent of him.  However, all the delicacy and nuance from the first season was lost – this season lacked the intelligence of the first.  The effect was to change the anime into more of an action-focused cop-drama show.  Roughly the first third of the anime was handled in the cop-drama style, and it was fairly competently done.  I started off in the “Good” category, but recognized a definite, constant leak as the elements fell apart.  As the anime tried to wade into deeper subjects and discussions, the wheels really came off.  In sum, it was clear the writing didn’t really understand how to connect the beginning with the end properly.  In turn, this lack of connection probably stemmed from  a failure to understand Gen Urobuchi’s original purpose and the world with which they were dealing.  Without a clear purpose, many elements seemed to be thrown in there haphazardly.  The best way to sum them up is “just because,” and that theme pervades this anime.

Characters: Poor.  There were tremendous flaws in character development, both in the characters we knew and the new ones they introduced.  Part of the problem stems from the loss of purpose.  Without the characters’ depth and personality representing a particular view of the world, they lost a great deal of their place within the story.  They defaulted to “cop.”  In order to compensate for this, the characters’ personalities were somewhat reset.  To be more precise, the complexity of the characters was reset so that the growth that happened in Psycho Pass 1 seemed to be reduced to a particular phrase or tagline instead of a guiding principle of the character’s actions.  This problem compounded storytelling problems because characters were then telling us why they were doing something instead of it being shown through the characters’ actions.  What’s worse is that for a great many actions, the reasoning behind those actions wasn’t explored – it was “just because.”  What this created was a character that was easily reducible to a couple of phrases.  Fairly true to cop drama form, the characters remained relatively unchanged and were merely static fixtures reacting to the crazy events going on around them.

Now for the new characters.  Aside from the main villain, they didn’t really serve any purpose in the story whatsoever.  On the one hand, we have a person that suffers from “small dog syndrome” – constantly yapping and biting at your ankles, but easily intimidated by the slightest attention.  The other was a Norman Bates wannabe.  If you took those two out of the story, really nothing would change at all.  Thus, their purpose wasn’t to drive or affect the overall story.  The biggest problem is those characters were used as cheap attempts to artificially create pressure upon the main character – a substitute for proper character development.  What it created was a situation for our known characters to react to, rather than as an opportunity for growth or discovery of the world.  Again, “little dog” contradicts our main character’s view, but without exposition, reason, or explanation… it was “just because.”  In sum, the new characters’ only purpose was to drag our main character down, literally, figuratively, and metaphorically without adding anything to the world.

World: Bad.  In comparison to the characters, the world was the real victim of the lack of purpose and storytelling.  Since this is a sequel, it used the world developed in Psycho Pass 1 as a foundation to build upon.  However, every time the writers wrote themselves into a problem, they undermined the world’s foundation by contradicting world developments in Psycho Pass 1.  Everything from hues to the psycho pass, to the Sibyl System itself were misunderstood and used in a manner completely inconsistent with how they were supposed to work.  As painful as that was, what is more unforgivable is how they created significant world inconsistencies purely within Psycho-Pass 2.

Plot:  Weak.  The main plot involving the main villain was very straightforward, almost 2-D in what it was.  While amusing, it amounted to little more than a “this statement is false” situation that’s supposed to short-circuit logic.  Aside from the main villain, we had two other plotlines that did nothing for our main goal.  What is completely incomprehensible is how many plot holes they employed in these simplistic plot lines.  Really, it comes from a lack of understanding of the material.

A plot hole can best be described through the animation process. (For an example of making Key and In-Between animation, watch this) Plot works like key animation – the big, more detailed pictures that represent important stages of movement.  Storytelling is more like the in-between animations – many more pictures that constitute movement to get from Key animation to Key animation.  A plot hole is like a missed key animation or two – it creates a significant “skip” or “jump” that is a little jarring.  In that way, a plot hole is a missing step in the logical progression of those plot “pictures.”  In this case, they later attempted to “fill in” the plot holes by undermining the world.

Storytelling: Bad.  On a broader note, the storytelling really was simplistic and straightforward.  However, the biggest problem is that they were mostly telling us things, rather than showing us things.  For example, the professor’s role in the anime was to tell us what was going on.  It wasn’t through discussion or exploration of how people and events intersect, like Psycho-Pass 1.  In many cases, the storytelling was serving as a substitute for proper character, world, and plot development.  Think back to the first scene with the main character’s grandmother – it really served no purpose except for her to tell us something about the character.  Something that wasn’t even really necessary.  Perhaps the best example of this is Norman Bates’ backstory. This was the cheapest and laziest way to tell us about the character – literally killing puppies.  This doesn’t count as a “show” because it has no depth or reason behind it – it was a “just because” moment to tell you he’s bad to the bone.  And on that note, all that was told was the story of relatively generic cop-show type villains without any real motive behind their action – they were “just because.”

Pace: Good.  If you don’t know how you’re getting from A to B, can you really fault how fast you get there?  The pacing overall was fine.  Taking into account the irrelevant portions, they did manage to get the story worked out in a relatively efficient manner.  Perhaps it was because the plot holes served to accelerate the pace where it would stall out due to lack of understanding.