Saturday, February 25, 2012

EDEN OF THE EAST: An Analysis

5 stars out of 5.

What does it take to instigate social change? A revolution of course, but how? When the elderly grow akin to old dogs unable to learn new tricks, and the youth grow disinterested in politics and retreat into hikikomori isolationism, who is going to take a stance and change the future? When your country has lost its significance in world politics and the nation is up to its neck in debt, where do people turn? Like a powder keg about to burst, Japan risked crossing the point of no return, where it could not restore its former post-war glory unless something drastic happened. Kenji Kamiyama's anime oeuvre expresses fantastic ideals for enacting changes in the social structure, and Eden of the East is another shining example of his revolutionary ideals.

Akira and Saki.


One Helluva Story

     The story begins in front of the White House, following a young girl named Saki as she vacations in the U.S. She is throwing coins onto the White House lawn, making wishes for conditions in Japan to improve through some form of American intervention. The police see this and begin questioning her. They, along with Saki, are then distracted by a man who stands across the street without clothes on, holding a gun and cellphone. The police pursue him and he manages to lose them. He later introduces himself to Saki; he does not remember who he is or why he is naked. She gives him her coat and hat and he runs off to where he believes he lives. Realizing that her passport is in the coat, Saki follows him. The two are soon spotted by the police, and so they sneak away from his apartment and make it to the airport so she can return to her home in Japan. Saki goes through the young man's passport, which he found within his D.C. apartment; he is Akira Takizawa, a Japanese citizen. He decides to accompany her in order to discover his identity.

Akira soon learns that his phone links up to a concierge named Juiz, who has been using a ten billion yen bank account in order to fulfill Akira's wishes. The reason he was given the phone is simple: he was chosen to become the savior of Japan, and must use his money to better the nation. There are other citizens who also have special phones, and if any one of them manages to affect real change in Japan before the others, the other phone users die. For anyone who isn't fond of spoilers, trust me, I've only laid down the foundations of the narrative. Watching the show unfold is an exciting and suspenseful experience, and full of surprises.


Akira Takizawa is the ideal human being, incessantly altruistic and willing to do anything in order to help others. This initially seems like an annoying quality for any protagonist to have; he's flawless. A lot of his appeal comes from the fact that the series focuses on discovering who he his and why he has been selected as a Selecao, one of twelve people with the mysterious phone. Akira's somewhat bland personality is stretched to its limits due to the absurd situations the competing Selecao place him in, and this is when Akira is most ingenious and enjoyable. Part of why he loses his memory in the first episode is related to an incident called “Careless Monday,” where missiles strike Japan but end up killing no one in the process. I'll let viewers discover what role Akira played in that incident for themselves.


One Helluva Theory

     One theoretical notion that runs through writer/director Kenji Kamiyama's works is the notion of the “vanishing mediator,” especially seen in Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society. A vanishing mediator can be thought of as a third party (hence “mediator”) that intercedes in the dilemma caused by opposing ideas, helps to form a resolution, and then disappears; the mediator arises to resolve the problem and leaves once the job is done. The Selecao in Eden of the East can also be seen as vanishing mediators, people who are summoned to resolve a conflict and then disappear entirely once the job is done. In the case of the series, the two opposed forces are the older Japanese who hold onto their wealth and fantasies of post-World War Two industrial glory, and the younger NEET (“not in education, employment or training”) population that are unable to get steady jobs because corporations are unwilling to hire. Once a Selecao is able to solve that issue, all other Selecao die, or at least these are the rules stated by Mr. Outside, the man running the Selecao program. Of course, if “vanishing mediator” translates to “death” in Eden of the East, one must wonder what becomes of the Selecao who wins the game.

Saki observing the antics of another Selecao.

Anyone who has seen Kamiyama's Stand Alone Complex works knows that they are dense with literary, cultural and technological references many viewers aren't familiar with unless they happen to be college-educated intellectuals. The Ghost in the Shell franchise in general is not accessible to everyone (the original manga by Shirow Masamune eventually turns into a comic book explanation of the workings of the universe). Kamiyama's later works, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Eden of the East do not similarly confuse the general public. Eden of the East presents Kamiyama's social concerns in a form many viewers would find palatable, without “dumbing down” its intellectualism or relevance to today's world.


One Helluva Show

     It's safe to say that Production I.G. consistently produces some of the most visually spectacular anime in the world today. Meticulous attention to detail is paid to the illustration of environments within Eden. In a brilliantly executed manner, surfaces are painted with bold visible strokes, as if to reflect myriad light sources from the surroundings. The characters within the show each have unique designs, and they even change their clothes on occasion. The CG in the series is almost unnoticeable; large crowds are typically rendered in computer graphics whenever in aerial view, and at such an angle they aren't easily distinguishable from illustrated figures. Similarly, it might surprise some to learn that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy also used that method to depict thousands of soldiers at war on the fields of Middle Earth.

Eden of the East is a solid contribution to the world of anime. It manages to mix hilarity and intellect in an engaging narrative form, and predictability is thrown out the window because of a conflict that is in many ways unique to modern-day Japan. The Selecao, not reduced to either “heroes” or “villains”, are chosen from various walks of life and each uses different methods to somehow make Japan a better place. It's an ambiguous goal, and by extension an ingenious one too. Eden has no manga precedent which means following the series should be a breeze. The only problems Eden of the East might face are in the future, where its ideas might become dated due to their specific relevance to contemporary issues. Assuming conditions have changed in Japan by that time, hopefully Eden will be seen as a snapshot of the issues Generation Y encountered at the dawn of the millennium.



* Eden of the East is an eleven episode anime series. There are also two films, The King of Eden and Paradise Lost. In unusual fashion, these films serve as continuations of the original series instead of stand alone works that are loosely associated with series canon. It is for that reason that I won't review them separately from the television series. They all realize their greatest potential when watched in tandem.

Eden of the East and The King of Eden are available through Netflix. All works are produced by Production I.G.


- Elijah Lee

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