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AICN Anime - The Almost Essential Eden of the East - A Bit Great Recession Bourne, A Bit Philip K Dick, A Bit Social Network

Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green

Anime Spotlight: Eden of the East The Complete Series Released by FUNimation October 19, 2010 Also streaming on Hulu YouTube

Eden of the East is socially engaged anime that appeals to an older, broader audience than a large majority of other work produced in the field. I want to be able to hold up a series as an example of how anime can be a vibrant form: visually interesting, with something to say to audiences beyond kids and geeks. I want to be able to point it out to friends who lapsed or occasional anime watchers. Especially because works like it are uncommon, I want it to realize its potential. And given the parties involved (the folks behind Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), that's a high potential. I want it to be excellent and not just mildly recommendable. Eden of the East is probably going to be one of the best reviewed North American anime releases this year. It earns that praised. It captivates, weaving relevant political intrigue with Philip K Dick identity games and non-linear plot. It's populated by characters that are fun to watch. The ending might be contentious, but, personally, I'm a sucker for what the conclusion does to the narrative structure; hopefully it isn't too much of a spoiler to point out that I'm fan of the original Berserk anime as a standalone. Yet, getting too involved with its own conceits Eden of the East winds up lost in the tall grass. It's ultimately not as eye opening, insightful or opinionated as it set expectations up to be. It hits a point where it becomes evident that the eleven episodes aren't going to do as much as it appeared that they might, and that what the series has been doing is slightly laughable. An entertaining anime that could have been memorable, the gap between it and something maybe not ideal, but better is perceptible. In Production I.G's press release announcing Eden of the East's selection for the 13rd Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival, they described the series as a "fantapolitical thriller directed by Kenji Kamiyama." Points for the copy writer who applied "fantapolitical." I've been able to find Norman Jewison's The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming called a "fantapolitical comedy" and use of the word in a paper of Marxism in Romero zombie movies, but the phrase is certainly a way of capturing the attention of a prospective watcher hungry for smart, involved anime. Kenji Kamiyama's name would be on the top of my list to deliver on a "fantapolitical thriller." His involvement in anime started on the visual side, working as a background artist on Akira and Kiki's Delivery Service, then an art director on the animation driven OVA Hakkenden and on Katsuhiro Otomo's elder care satire Roujin Z, before taking on work as a unit director in the Mamoru Oshii written Production I.G feature Jin-Roh - The Wolf Brigade. He'd work with Oshii again, writing the script for Blood: The Last Vampire and directing the super deformed Mini-Pato spin-off to Oshii's police mecha political sci-fi Patlabor. International recognition came when he took on writing and directing duties for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (the first series, 2nd Gig and Solid State Society). There, he successfully integrated the attention commending sci-fi concepts and action of Masamune Shirow's creation, with the thoughtfulness of Oshii's take, and his own sense of realism expressed in credible characters and well developed ideas. He produced work established with similarly thoroughness and excitement with the anime adaptation of ethnologist/writer Nahoko Uehashi's Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit fantasy series. Shifting from the martial casts of Ghost in the Shell and Moribito, Eden of the East saw Kenji Kamiyama smoothing the hard edges by bringing on board character design by manga artist Chica Umino, whose fashion smart, soft look can be seen on art college series Honey and Clover. Along those lines, the series found a home on noitaminA, Fuji Television's programming block that showcases anime that doesn't just appeal to young males, including the anime versions of Honey and Clover, Paradise Kiss, Nana, Moyashimon and Tatami Galaxy. As Eden of the East kicks off, it starts building on the implicit Production I.G/Kamiyama/Umino promise, setting up a Great Recession age Jason Bourne. Featuring a very media cognoscente cast, that resemblance isn't lost on the players involved. Political agitation is coupled with a sort of rom-com meet cute in a foreign land as the early 20's principals Akira Takizawa and Saki Morimi find each other in Washington DC. After a fashion, it's the familiar. He's a cocky troublesome guy, and she's a slightly shy troubled girl, but, especially with Umino's design at work, they are well drawn characters with their own particular mannerisms and charisma. In terms of portents for the relationship, she looks at their passports and notes that the two both have birthdays in the last week of the Showa era ( December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989, corresponding to the life of Emperor Hirohito) before it became the Heisei. Pre-opening credits, Saki flips through photos on her pink smart phone. As she advances through images of her college friends on a trip to New York, she explains "he became a prince out of necessity. He realized that if nothing else, the future we hoped for would never come unless someone became the sacrificial lamb called a 'prince.' So even though it wasn't what he wanted, he decided to be a prince. In this world with no king... But exactly how did he become a prince? I still don't know that secret." The final picture has a guy (Takizawa) with a half mischievous smile holding out the camera phone for a couple shot, with the girl (Saki) looking very uncertain. In the background is the Ground Zero "Tribute in Light." This cuts to a game changing opening (there's already been some emulation). FUNimation was able to get the rights to include the notable accompanying music for the first episode (something they weren't able to do when Speed Grapher used Duran Duran's Girls on Film). So, to a song called something like "Dropping" from a band with a name that rhymes with "Fold Lay,” augmented reality-like graphics are overlaid on urban environments and character action. The graphics begin to spell out a manifesto of guiding principles with quotes like "the abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as well as some sort of exotic list of conditions. Tetsuya Nishio and Satoru Nakamura's work on the ending, reminiscent of the work of the late Nagi Noda is similarly remarkable as paper figures chase pencil missiles as they tear through a paper city. Eden of the East is certainly put together with a talent for enticing with intriguing promise. The action finds Saki in front of the White House, a fence keeping her further away than she thought she could get. She later explains that she viewed the White House as the center of the world. That, though she never paid much attention to global politics, she had the admittedly irrational feeling that all the macro and micro problems in her life eliminated from it. That, maybe she could wish away some of her helplessness. So, she begins taking coins out of her pockets and trying to toss them through the fence into a fountain on the lawn. She's observed by some police who decide that they don't quite like this activity. As they move in to investigate, Saki is saved after a fashion by the arrival of a naked young man with a cell phone in one hand and a revolver in the other. That really excites the police. The scramble takes the pair back to the young man's apartment. Remembering plenty of media trivia, but no recent history or anything about himself, the dazed but quick thinking guy discovers a cache of passports and a small arsenal of weapons. As he begins to ponder whether he's Jason Bourne or Travis Bickle, he grabs the passport with the name Akira Takizawa, and destroys the rest. With Saki's DC detour putting her behind schedule for her post-grad job hunt and Takizawa not really having anywhere else to go, the pair return to Japan, where Takizawa discovers that his phone gives him access to ¥8.2 billion along with a concierge named Juiz who can grant him access to almost any information, service or object he could desire. The discovery prompts him to recall the one anecdote he does remember about his past. When he was a child, a woman, maybe his mother gave him some pocket money. And, having that money a store clerk looked to assist him in finding what he might want. From that experience, he deduced the lesson if "you have money, a kid is no different from an adult." The trappings about Takizawa: Mystery 20-Something of Power are wonderful. Beyond putting him in touch with wealth and means, his phone is a fantastic gadget; a cool power symbol, of which replicas have been produced for sale. But, beyond the requisite obvious accompanying danger, there's also a potential dark side. Film savvy Takizawa doesn't explicitly acknowledge it, but, informed by movie expectations, he must realize that the amnesiac with the weapons is generally revealed to have been an unpleasant person before losing their old identity. He locates his bat-cave in a bankrupt mall, and there, he finds clues that suggest he may have been responsible for rounding up 20,000 work force drop outs and disposing of them... a thematically relevant maybe-crime. Eden of the East is set in a very near future, in which mysterious terror attacks irritate, but don't quite perturb Japan's national consciousness. With neither loss of life nor explanation, the explosions have been logged with the miscellaneous baggage. What does seem to be exercising the nation is its NEETs (Not Employed, in Education, or Training) jobless youth problem. Along with their peers, leads Saki and Takizawa cast the prospective in terms of what economic commentators call a "lost generation." Some of the cast are half heartedly looking for jobs in a society stuck in neutral. Others have given up in favor of embracing a NEET or hikikomori (shut-in acute social withdrawal) life. Both the seekers and the drop outs agree that what few jobs are available are just looking to take a vampire's bite out of youth, putting them in dead end positions where they'll work long hours for little pay. In this malaise, a group of characters have developed potentially hot image matching/networking software. Potentially fabulously profitable, potentially able to help with green efforts, potentially able to help connect the isolated...The Eden of the East crew of anime's Social Network has a problem. None of them are entrepreneurial. Since Saki is relatively outgoing, she's what passes for their spokesperson. Her sister/guardian (well, Saki is a bit old for to need a guardian) makes an ironically similar comment. The sister and her husband cared for Saki since the death of their parents, but Saki has begun to find their kindness unbearable. Heading out from her sister's bakery to a job interview, Saki's brother in law shows her a tray of cookies made to look like a smiling caricature of her face. Saki scribbles something on the cookies' placard and leaves. At the end of the day, Saki's sister notes that the tray of cookies has mostly sold out, then turns the placard to face her, revealing that Saki drew a frowning face, with the suggestion "leave me alone!" Sis comment "maybe she should go into marketing." If anime has anything to say, that's not a terrible idea. Who can say no to a sad, helpless girl. Moe does sell. (Kamiyama isn't a one to discount moe, professing to an enjoyment of moe rock-band series K-on!) This group's seniors say their without imagination or initiative, and, especially, that they're narcissistic. Saki is subjected to a sadly absurd lecture along these lines during that job interview. The last of these knocks is probably the least particular to the targets of the criticism. The hypocritical chiding feeds Saki's micro problems, but it also applies to the macro of Eden of the East’s political tensions. It's been observed that given the human propensity towards narcissism, every generation thinks that they're living in the ends times, in which they need to be on the lookout for saviors and demons. Here's, there's even some suggestion that Japan is in need of a complete refresh; a return to the heady days of post war deprivation that lead to the economic boom. Saki, who took her pilgrimage to the White House looking to symbolically fix the log jam in her own life as well as that her larger society, along with her NEETs peers are drawn into the dangerous conspiracy in which Takizawa is given the imperative and maybe the power, to fix Japan. Eden of the East’s early episodes are stacked with overtures towards speaking to broader implications. As it progresses, the series becomes self involved. I'm fairly certain that I wasn't the only one who laughed out loud when this became evident. One of moment acute suspense in "fantapolitical thriller" Eden of the East is whether our hero can get into a hotel room before a virgin gets his penis chopped off with a cigar cutter. There's actually a considerable amount of "johnny" business in this series. Early episodes frequently feature media saturated Takizawa and his peers comparing experience and observations to movies. This mostly stops a couple episodes in, which is unfortunate. Late in, the anime missed an opportunity to score considerable points by having Takizawa remark that he wandered into a conversation that could be compared to one out of a Mamoru Oshii anime, but given his perspective, would likely seem to be trademark Oliver Stone. However, though it recalls scenes in JFK or Patlabor, it's toothless. It pairs observations of symptoms previously called out in the anime with deeper examinations largely restricted to Eden of the East's own background story. The meeting does set the stage for a climax that is a satisfying resolution. As the pieces smartly set up during and before the events of the series come together, Eden of the East builds to an emotionally and, within the context of the series itself, intellectually satisfying break. The qualifying clause of that statement is the sticking point here. The wrap up might point to a future for the characters, but the larger problems Eden of the East evokes? Intractable? Ghost in the Shell had the well known Motoko Kusinagi and Batou. Patlabor had Kiichi Goto, a police captain with complex ties, and possibly radical sympathies. Those characters could view what they were presented critically. In contrast, Takizawa is how he is originally described by Saki: "a prince" "a sacrificial lamb." On one hand, Eden of the East's trajectory is entirely defensible. It's having fun with conspiracies, populated by endearing characters, packaged in a well produced anime series. It tipped its hand to the intensions to have something of a light touch when Chica Umino was brought on board. Beyond that, back to when Tezuka was establishing the conventions of modern anime, putting social commentary and genuine sorrow in the innocent adventures of Astro Boy, being multi-faceted has always been part of the appeal of the medium. Smoothly molding romantic comedy with conspiracy with some social commentary is an accomplishment for which Eden of the East deserves credit. Eden of the East does leave behind some residual thoughts concerning its characters and the conspiracy in which they were entangled. Maybe you can complicate its lessons by thinking about Saki's relationship with her sister and Takikawa's burden, but the series leaves behind next to no residual thoughts about its implications. More than lack of a statement, the trouble is that the statement that is presented is underwhelming. Setting up the protagonists against efforts driven by whims, hypocrisy or pathology, the heroes end up preserving the status quo. The specific role that the NEET/lost generations play in this equation proves to lack substance. Given what was established by evoking 9/11, messianic standings and feelings of helplessness in the face of economic troubles, avoidance of a really profound or controversial standing is a disappointing path for Eden of the East. It might be counter intuitive, but I think I'd be embracing Eden of the East more enthusiastically if it weren't so exceptional. Political intrigue with relevance is well outside the trends for mature anime, in which sister infatuation works are closer to the norm. Kamiyama, Umino, the phone and the plot convolutions make for a winning series, and if it didn't need to be the standard bearer for intelligent anime, it wouldn't be so lamentable that Eden of the East loses perspective as it gets submerged in its own business. Though it's not lost on me that I'm putting a savior's burden on Eden of the East, as anime is, I recommend the series, but I also wish it was more essential.

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