“We shouldn’t criticize a sincere attempt to find answers. Still, this is precisely the point where a kind of fatal mistake can be made. The layers of reality begin to be distorted. The place that was promised, you suddenly realize, has changed into something different from what you’re looking for.”
-Haruki Murakami, “Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche”
Three episodes into Terror in Resonance, you may be wondering what Lisa Mishima’s role in all of this is.
In the first episode, Lisa is initially introduced as a victim. Cornered by her classmates, she stands barefoot, on a pool starting block, looking across the water. Terror in Resonance makes it clear that this is not an isolated incident. Lisa has been bullied by her peers for some time. Later in the episode, this is echoed when she jumps again, this time into the waiting arms of Twelve/Touji Hisami. This act cements her as an accomplice in the terrorist acts of Twelve and Nine/Arata Kokonoe – collectively known as Sphinx – having stumbled into one of their bombings.
Were this not a prepared narrative, it could have been anyone who came across Sphinx as they made arrangements to level the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. However, for Terror in Resonance, and for Twelve, it was crucial that this person to be Lisa.
The following episodes show that Lisa is still very much alone. She has yet to join the boys in their violent plot, and her classmates continue to bully her. On top of this, when Lisa’s mother expresses concern, it’s hardly motherly. Instead, Lisa’s mother is preoccupied with the idea that Lisa will leave her like her husband did. In episode three, Lisa does. Lisa’s one attempt to reach out to others is a failed phone call to Nine and Twelve.
“We will be crushing you into pieces now. There is nothing to fear. You will just become indistinguishable from another. You will just become invisible entities.”
-Child Broiler attendant to the abandoned children, Mawaru Penguindrum, episode 18
Like Lisa, Nine and Twelve cannot go back to their “home.” The scraps of memory provided by Nine indicate that the two were held in some sort of child research facility, most likely for intelligent children as both boys have proven to be educated and sharp. These scenes are eerily reminiscent of Mawaru Penguindrum‘s Child Broiler, a fictional place for society’s unwanted children. Keiju Tabuki ends up in the Child Broiler after he can no longer play the piano to the high standards of his talent-obsessed mother. He is rescued from it by Momoka Oginome’s love. Himari Takakura, with no parents in sight, takes a trip to the Child Broiler before her adoptive brother, Shouma Takakura, comes for her. When children are taken to the broiler, they are crushed into glass shards, indistinguishable from one another.
“Many children are turning invisible as we speak. The world is on the wrong track for allowing it to happen.”
-Kenzan Takakura, to his son Shouma, Mawaru Penguindrum, episode 20
When Shouma asks his father about the child broiler, Kenzan Takakura tells him that it is the destination of children who are unwanted by society. He then gives a small speech to Shouma that echoes the speech given to his own personal terrorist group. Kenzan is the leader of a terrorist faction much like the real-life Aum Shinrikyo, who attacked the Tokyo subway system with sarin nerve gas on March 20, 1995. Like Nine and Twelve, Kenzan came to the conclusion that domestic terrorism is the only way to change the world. Within the scope of Penguindrum, his attacks take the form of explosives that create a similar downtown scene to the smaller Sphinx explosions in episode two of Terror in Resonance.
“A name is usually a gift of love. But for you, who have been abandoned, love does not exist. Signs of pretense like that must be eliminated.”
-A research attendant to the abandoned children, Terror in Resonance, episode three
The first action shown by the facility attendants is to remove the names of the children and, based on the manner in which Nine and Twelve address each other, assign them numbers. This distances the attendants from the children, and makes the children near-indistinguishable from one another.
In Penguindrum, each of the three Takakura children are given a mystical penguin. Having no ties to the penguins, they number them one through three. However, Himari also names her penguin after the stray cat she and Shouma looked after when they were children: San-chan, meaning Sunny, and a word pun on the number three, “san.” Of the three siblings, Himari is the one who experienced the Child Broiler, and the only one to name her penguin.
“Don’t worry, I won’t get too involved. Because if I do, it’ll be more painful later.”
-Twelve, to Nine regarding his recent visits to Lisa, Terror in Resonance, episode three
Twelve makes it a point to call Lisa by her full name, Lisa Mishima. In a world of indistinguishable invisible children, he notices her presence. Speaking in Penguindrum terms, he could be the one to pull Lisa from the Child Broiler. The quote above exemplifies his weariness to get to know another, in spite of an outwardly extroverted personality, yet he repeats her name like a chant. While Touji Hisami is likely a false name that Twelve has no attachment to, Lisa is one of the few people who call him by a person’s name, rather than a number or under the collective umbrella of Sphinx.
Terror in Resonance and Mawaru Penguindrum aim to look at domestic terrorism from two different perspectives. The former, thus far, is focused on the process and execution of the crimes, where the latter examines the fallout after the events have taken place. However, both additionally address societal institutions that could drive one to violent resolutions, specifically the isolation of children in a society that wishes them assimilated into similar beings. Twelve and Nine are hardly playing the game that Shibasaki accuses them of. While we do not know where Lisa will end up, she is already a key part of the narrative.