Dir. Kenji Kamiyama
[Note: This is a review of all the parts that make up this property – the original eleven episode television series (2009), and the two feature films King of Eden (2009) and Paradise Lost (2010) – as one single entity. I will not include spoilers, but the bigger issue of reviewing this in these terms is how the opinion one has for the work contrasts from just reviewing the television series by its own and the whole together. It may also mean you will have to acquire more than a single DVD set to get all the parts of the entire narrative, so take note.]
If there is one virtue to Eden of the East that stands above all else, it’s how different in manner and tone this is from most anime that is released in the West. Its prime focus, whittling it all down, is its director-writer scrutinising his country’s sociological and economic situation and, through a science fiction, political thriller premise, offering up his own hope for the future of Japan through entertainment. Missiles are a motif of the work, but it is just as likely, if more so, for a major plot turn to take place just from a piece of internet technology or a mobile phone, military hardware having less effect than ordinary consumer technology in a country where such things of mobile communication has its own urban legends and pop cultural connections. Envisioning its world through the eyes of restless youths, shut-ins and NEETs, the latter young adults not in employment, education or training, it’s a story where a single specialist phone can make the Prime Minister of Japan say “uncle” on public television. It’s very much a creation of the late 2000s and of this decade, even at five years old now, still relevant now for Japanese and non-Japanese viewers, and fascinating storytelling of the period only a few years ago you can view from a distance.
On an improvised trip to Washington D.C. by herself, the young Japanese woman Saki Morimi (Saori Hayami in Japanese, Leah Clark in English) has an odd encounter with a Japanese man her age, completely naked and welding a pistol in one hand and a phone in the other, outside the White House, finding herself becoming enamoured to this mysterious person calling himself Akira Takizawa (Ryōhei Kimura in Japanese, Jason Liebrecht in English). With no memories of who he is, Takizawa discovers that the phone is a specialist one where, with up to ten billion yen only accessible on it available for his use, he has the ability to do almost anything through a mysterious female contact called Juiz (Sakiko Tamagawa in Japanese, Stephanie Young in English), who proclaims him as a savour of Japan. With such power in a single phone comes great responsibility, realising he is in a game where he has been fostered into trying to save Japan with this phone at his disposal, slowly recovering his memories with the help of Saki and her friends while dealing with the consequences of this predicament, both what he may have done before he lost his memories and the other users who have these phones as well, all called Seleção and trying to win the game or do what they desire with the resources they have. Wanting to literally punch the person who set the game up, Takizawa has to deal with the consequences of having a whole country on his shoulders and doing what he feels is best for it.
The original television series juggles political drama, latent romance, comedy and this mild science fiction idea together in a way that succeeds by its end. The only real flaw with it, by itself, is that it was clearly halted from having enough episodes needed to tell the whole narrative that was planned out. It goes with a considerate beat, and makes a full narrative arch, but with the following theatrical films afterwards, it’s clear that Eden of the East needs more than those eleven episodes to fill out the wider storyline. This causes the whole project to have some flaws with its pace and presentation. The series itself is perfect in structure baring a couple of episodes surrounding a character known as the ‘Johnny Hunter’, which in a second viewing works for characterisation but has a contrived wrap-up of that scenario. It suffers a lot more in the first theatrical film King of Eden; it is needed as it is structurally, but it repeats the beginning of the series somewhat pointlessly and feels like it covers less in eighty minutes than what a single twenty minute episode from the series did. Thankfully Paradise Lost, as the ending, corrects this problem.
It’s amazing how subdued Eden of the East is over these different pieces. It is very idiosyncratic, far from a Dragonball Z-likw work or a major fad series usually based on a Shonen Jump manga. This series is anchored down by its emotional core, specifically around the character of Saki whose handling as a character perfectly symbolises the whole project as a whole. In the wrong hands, she could have been all the worst stereotypes of the passive, waif-like female character, Kenji Kamiyama writing all the characters, even minor ones, well. Even if she could still be accused as being a one dimensional character, getting perilously close to this in the first half of King of Eden, there are two factors that prevent this and also solidify the narrative. One, that despite Takizawa being the cool, confident male hero of the story, everyone including the antagonists have their moments to speak in the spotline and that the events that take place are not pushed forward by coincidence, but by a single word utter at the right time or an available laptop which levels the playing field for every character to contribute something. It’s also clear, having her open and close the whole story narrative wise, Saki is the clear protagonist even if she’s not in every scene or has the final-final sequence of the entirety of Eden of the East. Reversing the usual trope in anime where it’s a male in this position with a mysterious female love interest (or two or three or a whole illicit boudoir of high school girls and foreign exchange students), she is the audience surrogate who is having to understand this all and weaves the proceedings for us together around a concise arch she can learn from and we, the viewer, get the best from with her as the placed narrator of the series. At the centre of Eden of the East, she works perfectly as the anchor to prevent the entire story from becoming vague and float off into ramblings about Japanese economy; the growing love story works in this, rather than being an arbitrary contrivance like in another anime, making sense to flesh the whole story out and to make sure everything – from the political talk to the oddest Dawn of the Dead (1978) tribute you could ever see – work together fully as a single tale.
This emotional core allows the original TV series to (potentially) work by itself as it concludes a solid character arch, and allows, even with the faltering pace in the first film, for everything in the entire proceedings to keep consistent. The closing films do not, in any way, top the ending of the final episode of the TV series, which will disappoint some, but this work from the beginning is an immensely talky, leisurely paced work when you loosen the genre tropes wrapped around it. It’s more difficult to pigeonhole than a lot of anime, and by the final film, it is clearly the creation of a director-writer who wanted to explore his feelings about his country, old enough to have absorbed any the political strife in the Seventies in Japan when he was growing up as a child, and also see the country’s economy blossom and burst in the eighties. He can also look forward, through what he concentrates on in this story, while staying entertaining and comedic even in its more serious parts. He follows in the same distinct school of director-writer Mamoru Oshii in expressing his philosophies through these genre films, and that he is famous for his spin-offs of the Ghost In The Shell films, which I need to see, is befitting him.
The fragmentation of the whole project mars it slightly, which is the only real fault of Eden of the East. Beyond the annoying issue, as always been the case with anime, of having to acquire every part of it, and having to contend with expensive prices and DVDs not being available, it does have a real effect in making it drop in quality with The King of Eden film. Everything else succeeds. The TV series caps itself off well, despite only having eleven episodes and leaving you wanting more, and by the end of Paradise Lose it successfully closes the story off if you don’t view the story as being the ending of the TV series but a drama. It manages to survive the potential chaos of splitting off the whole story into three pieces and it still shines from it, so much so that even the series’ end credits is a great pieces of short film making by itself in its stop motion, paper animation. The desire from the animation company Production I.G. to make something different is clear to see and they all really put their hearts into this, flaws or not. That its not based on a manga, a videogame or tie-in, but an original creation that was fully thought out, makes it even more refreshing.
|And this is strange even to the characters in the series. |