Review: Eden of the East

I cried the rain that filled the ocean wide

Catch the wheel that breaks the butterfly…

Background

East of the Eden is one of those anime you hear about quite a bit.  Extremely popular, well-recognized, and probably has a bit of a reputation proceeding it. It’s quite interesting to see where my lines fall in comparison to those of previous viewers.

Strangely, unlike the other anime I have reviewed, there isn’t much that really stands out from the production side. Production I.G is a fairly large organization and it sticks its hands into quite a few anime though it has got some great roots in the science fiction anime.  Ghost in the Shell, in this case, is its baby.  Actually, this franchise is probably key to understanding a bit of the background of Eden of the East since Production I.G went in-house to Kenji Kaniyama, the director of many parts of Ghost in the Shell (in specific, the Stand Alone Complex pieces), to take over the same roles he had in those anime: Director, Screen Composer, Script, and Storyboard.  Basically, they wanted to tap his brain again.

But of even larger interest is the character designer, Chica Umino.  Though this is mostly because of the similarities between protagonist Akira Takizawa, and Honey and Clover‘s Shinobu Morita.  As in, it’s obvious they wanted to draw lines between the two.

Aside from that, it’s key to note the composer.  Kenji Kawai has a hugely prolific career as a composer and while I can’t say he’s my favourite composer, it’s important to in mind his vast career as I approach the music comments.

Story

Three months before the anime begins, several missile strikes hit Japan in an event called “Careless Monday”.  It probably took place on a Monday, but that’s just a guess.  Anyways, Japan fell under attack by several missile strikes which, while dealing extreme damage to the infrastructure in the vicinity, did not actually kill anybody due to a large string of freak coincidences.  Protests and reaction sparked after the launches but quickly died down because of the real lack of leads.  In a similar stretch of time, 20,000 NEETs (“No education, employment, or training”) vanished from Japan.

Jump ahead to the first episode.  Saki Morimi is a university student pretty much set to graduate and take off into the work force.  This is a pretty big thing so her and her friends run off to USA for a little bit of time.  But she decides to abandon them fora little and visit DC.  While she’s by the White House, attempting to throw a coin into the fountain for god knows what reason, she meets Akira who at this point in time has no memories of anything, is stark naked, and is holding a gun and a cell phone.  And when I mean no memories, I mean nothing about himself; He apparently has a great recollection of Hollywood movies and is able to pinpoint even obscure films out.  Oh, and did I mention his cell phone seems to be connected to an all-powerful assistant named Juiz?  She can seemingly do anything she wants, up to and including making the Japanese Prime Minister say “Uncle” for no good reason.  Oh, and did I also mention Akira has an 8.2 billion Yen bank account for Juiz to carry out these orders with?  No?  My apologies.  I meant to get to that.

After some antics around DC, they decide to return to Japan together.  The story follows the adventures of the two as Akira attempts to restore and rediscover his past and his memories while Saki continues on in her old world and gets them and Akira to mix/integrate with each other.  The events of the past are tied in and we are left with an explanation of the world we have just witnessed.

That’s some lovely wreckage there.

The world itself and the hypothetical it poses are actually by far the most interesting part of the story.  The world they actually tell you creates a whole host of opportunities to stop and think.  The show is highly charged from a political point of view and while I’m not an expert in Japanese politics, can certainly understand and even relate to the problems that they speak of.  The topic of youth status, cultural development, and political issues rise very frequently.  A recurring question later on becomes, “If you had 10 billion Yen to change Japan, what would you do?”.  And, after transferring currency and country, this becomes a brilliant hypothetical to any nation and any individual.  From this aspect, it’s a well and extremely interesting product.

However this is also mixed in with the pacing of the show and exposition method.  It’s terrible at best.  An extremely short anime, 11 episodes, it fumbles between so many different arcs, characters, and situations that it barely gives much depth or interesting thought about any of the above.  The ending of the show is probably the most egregious as, while it answer our questions, it does it in an info-dump sort of method at the start of the episode and then leaves us with many other questions left hanging.  The movies are hardly much better and, while they do provide closure on the narrative arc, leave a lot of questions unknown.  And it’s unlikely they’ll ever be answered.

Actually, let’s take an aside to discuss the info-dumps.  This cheesed me off.  It really cheesed me off.  Maybe it’s a bit of my own idiosyncrasy though – I enjoy having to put together the intricate elements of the story itself.  For example, one of the greatest games I’ve ever played was Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.  This game basically just let you piece together some of the background yourself.  Want another example?  Look at the blog’s name.  That show probably host lecture on how to hide the story.  At any rate, the fact that the key aspects of the show presented the information in nothing more than lengthy monologues really killed the fun for me.  Especially when it came from characters who show up and begin throwing out exposition.  Hey, at least Martian Successor Nadesico had the balls to call that character “The Exposition Lady” halfway through the show.

Part of the problem is that it tries to balance two worlds: Akira’s and Saki’s.  For much of the anime, they barely interact and do mostly in the most superficial of ways.  When things begin to pick up it gets better in its narrative handling.  I wouldn’t call it stellar in this aspect, but it at least works.  But this is what creates problems.  The already short anime is split even further into a world which kind of barely moves until the last episode or two and the world which we need to explore and solve.  Not points for guessing which is which.  And when things get so short you really can’t build much of anything.

I can’t say it’s all bad in the story telling methods however.  This same brevity also works to some small part in Eden of the East‘s favour.  In the same breath that it uses to tell us it’s short and you’re likely not going to get detail on any of Akira’s world, we also realize that Akira is rushing through society.  He’s hunting answers and he tries to get them quickly.  The show might have improved if there wasn’t any focus on Saki and her friends in this realm of thought.

This next part can go either way: the humour.  The show is unrepentant part comedy.  In good times and in bad it’ll always try to turn things to the funny.  Serious action sequence?  Probably got jokes.  Story is progressing?  Let’s toss in a little humour.

Oh, and before I forget, check your thoughts of humour before preparing to watch this show.  The show has two primary levels of humour: the slapstick and the Johnny.  I mean penis.  No, seriously.  The animation team seemed to have a fascination with it.  Let me give an example: in the first episode, a police officer was asking to see Akira’s Johnny, which is to say passport.  So he subsequently drops his pants.  Cue laughter.  Honestly, this type of humour doesn’t work for me but it might for others.  It’s all well and good for kids…kind of.  They put cute and cartoonish white squiggles over the fun bits.

Characters

The anime’s main characters are undoubtedly Akira and Saki.  However, we are also introduced to at least nine other characters who you should be familiar with at some level.

This pretty much, including the fact that there is less than 4 hours to explore the world, a strong indication of the level of depth of most of these characters.  Most have at most two faces to their personality and they are rarely explored in any deep or meaningful manner.  They are instead presented as an almost monologue styled exposition.  And while I kind of amused myself with Micchon’s antics, she’s hardly a deep character.  In fact I think a huge problem with the show is the fact that most of the characters are one note.  They seemingly populate a world just for the sake of populating it.  In my review of Haibane Renmei, I considered this a flaw even though philosophical questions could be to blame.  I think the same may exist here: despite the fact that we really don’t see most characters long enough to really get to a point where we can see them develop, it’s hard on a show when we basically see them as all flat characters.

Another major issue here is the static level of the characters.  With about exception to one aspect of Saki, the entire world seems pretty consistent.  Akira never varies from his happy-go-goofy self for example.  I mean, Akira and Saki are likeable people to most, sure.  Akira is a goofy guy and Saki edges very close to your average person. But at the same time, you’d expect them to change as the world impacts them.  Akira especially.  This really does impact the viability of character strength in the show in my opinion.

Animation

The animation has two primarily aspects: the CGI and the animation itself.

The CGI is used as a lazy effect.  I get that this show had a lot of put up and needed ways to save money.  Trust me, I understand.  DC (and New York City from the movies), from what I’ve heard, have some amazingly accurate details from what I’ve heard.  Much like how Bethesda put a lot of effort into accurately portraying the landscape of DC in Fallout 3, it seems time and effort was put into it for Eden of the East.  And with this they create some pretty great looking sequences.  However, it’s also important to note that CGI really stands out in this anime.  As in, eye rollingly so.  Buildings and vehicles, even to the eye of a newcomer, will seem fairly obvious.  Anything large will be put into CGI form typically.  And, while it helps because it did let large set ups be created which high frequency, it also detracts since it is so obvious.

The animation can break further.  We actually get a very clear distinction of foregrounds and backgrounds in Eden of the East.  You can tell, very quickly, what is recycled scenery and what is changing on the foreground.  Kind of the dual-sided nature of coming into the digital era of anime I find.  And this gets a little distracting for some people.  Maybe not you, but the more I’ve watched, the more this begins to bug me. I will say that there is a production value ramp.  This is kind of expected and par for the course though and these issues fade during the more important sequences…it’s just that these cover so little time that the filler animation seems necessary.

No discussion about Eden of the East and its animation is complete though without looking at its style of animation.  It is intentionally lighthearted and drifts to remind us of its jovial nature even at the most serious of times.  Blush stickers, empty eyes, and overall typical cute anime artistic choice is pulled.

Wait, what?

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

Sound. I can’t say too much about the background music itself.  You know how airport music and elevator music is music you’re not supposed to listen to?  Well, it works the same way in East of the Eden.  The tone and mood is driven purely by visuals and dialogue.  For example, how important the sequence is can be derived and determined by whether or not Saki’s eyes are the empty white circles shown above or if they are using the more serious art for her. I will say though that Kenji Kawai made some incredible decisions when it came to songs used in-show.  In particular, the closing piece, Brenda Vaughn’s Reveal the World, is excellently placed and really sets a semi-symbolic tone to the anime.

Of course, the most famous part you’ll likely ever hear about Eden of the East is its opening.  Falling Down by Oasis.  That and the animation that goes with it are amazing.  I typically call it an arts student’s wet dream because, well, look at it.  Beautifully laid out decorations all over the place, a chaotic scattering of text, and a great song to go with it.  If you look hard enough too, it becomes a reflection of the anime in lyric and in animation.  Unfortunately, licensing issues (namely, Oasis caring about its distribution in North America as oppose to Japan and charging a boatload more for dubbing companies to distribute it) meant that this only appears on the first episode of English anime.  Please just pretend it was for all of them as the alternative opening is kind of generic and is much less interesting in its utilization.  This is where Kenji Kawai’s experience works in the show’s favour I think.

The closing, while not memorable, is catchy enough.  Though this section is turning more into a “review the opening and closing” section, I think it’s interesting to point out how nice the ending looks.  Pretty atypical work and pretty interesting to watch.

Watching this show is fine in either the dubs or subs.  Personally I didn’t notice a real difference between the two.  The only real standout for me were two VAs from the English side: Stephanie Sheh (Micchon…notice a pattern?) and J. Michael Tatum (Kazuomi Hirasawa).  Both provided voices that better suited their role…at least in my mind.  Actually, this was the first time I’ve ever recall any work dubbed by Tatum and I’m overall impressed with his ability.  Maybe I’m just getting old…

I will notify you though that English-speaking characters in the Japanese narrative are great at their jobs.  While they don’t work perfectly, it’s rare to see that perfect an understanding of importance of language being emphasized.  The characters speak effective English and those which would have unexpectedly butchered English speak with strong, though understandable, accents.  This works very well at the immersion of yourself into the show if you happen to watch the subbed version instead.

Synergy

The mixture of tension and character appeal tries to drive the show primarily.  Akira is a nice guy and we want to see him succeed to some fundamental level.  Similarly, Saki has dreams and goals we can relate to and want to see her do well in life.  But the tension and events of the show make this impossible.  So the elements begin to focus on how the show disrupts and prevents that from happening.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much relation or synergy between the characters and the events themselves; it becomes more a tool of “what is forcing our lovely protagonists apart” than “what happened and how is it influencing the characters?”.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I like this angle.  It’s a fairly fresh and unique take on the dramatic elements.

Why to Watch

Eden of the East is a show almost everyone can get into.  As much as I’ve critiqued elements of the show and have disagreed with the direction taken, it’s something that you can show almost anybody and they can get interested and engaged with.  The lighthearted tone makes it something you can watch without getting too emotionally invested and it gives you characters you genuinely care for…something that seems lacking at times in other anime.  The story gives you a good mix of a little bit of everything: a little action, a little comedy, a little drama…you name it, it has it.  It also asks questions relevant to society, in particular about apathetic youth, cultural identity, and how this all impacts the world around them.

And don’t forget about the incredible opening.

Why Not to Watch

The show, while it does everything, doesn’t do well at anything either.  It has comedy, yes, but it’s really kind of restricted to penis gags and a little staple humour.  It has action, but nothing extreme.  It has story, but it handholds you through the discovery process and doesn’t really let you do too much with it.  The animations, while a nice breather from what I typically watch, have a horrible tendency to reveal the obvious background/foreground choices that were made during the animating process.  If any one of those elements were the only draw, you’ll leave a little disappointed.  If you handed this to a newcomer to anime, you may wish to treat it as hor’dourves, something that will give them a light taste of what’s to come and may even give them extreme enjoyment but nothing that will sate their appetite.

And, of course, the ending never really summarizes in a really satisfactory manner.  Again, if I may compare to Martian Successor Nadesico, that show had the balls to point it out and say that they’ll be answered “in the inevitable sequel” (which…it turns out, they weren’t).

Personal Enjoyment

I like work where I don’t get to find out what’s going on fully.  The humour really wasn’t my speed unfortunately and it may be a sign that I’m out of my element in this anime.  I actually quite enjoyed a few episodes, but those were far apart.  I think the best way for me to put this was I found the show kind of chugged along until it ended.

Summary

I find the primary thing to remember when considering East of the Eden is that it’s not a hardcore thriller, comedy, or drama anime.  It does each of the above, but doesn’t do them to such a degree that it overwhelms the rest.  It has a great philosophical question too, but doesn’t explore it to as great a degree as you may wish for.  The primary protagonists are likeable but primarily static and the secondary characters are static.  Where this show really takes off is its ability to be approachable by fans of pretty much any genre.  Then it ties itself off with a beautiful finishing of sound…especially the opening.

Overall Rating

East of the Eden has 5.62/10 on my spreadsheet.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a fairly decent show and I would suggest anybody to test a few of the free episodes on Funimation’s YouTube channel in their spare time.  This may seem counter-indicative to the score, but consider the universal appeal of this show.  When given a free outlet, I’d suggest anything with that wide an appeal to give it a couple of episodes before making their decision.

The show highly excelled in its musical elements under my scores.  This and personal enjoyment as I could think long and hard about the philosophical questions raised.  However, the show’s story (in particular, depth of exploration) and characters (their static nature) kind of held the anime back in this raw score.

Advertisements

One response to “Review: Eden of the East

  1. Pingback: kirant’s Top Ten Anime Openings | Lain's First Law

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s