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Eden of the East (東のエデン) Review

July 25, 2009

akira and saki(Source)

The best show of the spring 2009 season. But that’s not saying much.


Synopsis: During a graduation trip to America, Saki Morimi decides to take a detour to Washington D.C., believing it to be the center of the modern world. She hopes to leave her mark by throwing a coin into the fountain in front of the White House. When she fails to do so and is accosted by policemen, she is saved by a naked amnesiac – Akira Takizawa – holding nothing but a gun and a mysterious, all-powerful cell phone charged with 10 billion yen. When Akira finds his way back to his apartment, he learns that he has been living under a number of different monikers and seems to be the unwitting patsy of various terrorist acts. With Saki’s help, Akira travels back to Japan to discover his identity – only to find himself at the center of a dangerous game.

Review:

Want to know a good recipe for what could be the quirkiest Anime of recent creation? Combine equal parts the conspiracy theories of a disaffected 9/11 sympathizer, the unshakable dread of a college graduate seeking employment in an overpopulated world, and the ambiguity of a improbable almost-but-not-quite battle royale. Add a pinch of subtle Film Art humor. Spread the flaky zest onto dough that’s been kneaded to glossy perfection. Heat until ready, and you’d get a hearty serving of Eden of the East.

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The show itself, which was the brainchild of Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor), was already a stand-out from the rest of the Spring 2009 line-up for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, it was a straight-to-Anime production that was slated for two movie releases early in its development – a highly risky business venture since it didn’t have an established fanbase to work with. Secondly, it’s one of the few Anime that plucks anecdotes from non-Japanese current events to shape its own storyline. It does so with such mindful precision that one might be tempted to believe that a Westerner had a hand in the show’s production.

Truly, Eden feels very much like a non-Japanese take on Anime. Watching it for the first time is like eating something you’ve tasted a hundred times before but with different toppings and seasonings – like a New York-style pizza, in keeping with the Western theme. It blends the trite concepts of a wayward group of youngsters held at the whims of circumstance, flips it on its head, and overlays it with its own idiosyncrasies and behavioral tics to produce a fascinating gem of a show.

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In the first episode, we meet the personable, if not a little odd, Akira Takizawa. He is equipped with a cell-phone concierge identified only as Juiz, who answers to his demands at a corresponding price that is automatically deducted from his 10 billion yen. We also learn of what looks to be like a failed terrorist bombing called “Careless Monday,” which has been a cause for unease among the people as of late despite it claiming no victims. With such a serendipitous meeting in America, Saki decides to aid Akira, soon introducing him to some of her friends along the way.

Much of Eden‘s story comes from piecing together Akira’s identity and understanding the complex dangers of the game he unwillingly enters. It’s interesting to a point where Eden‘s antagonist – if any at all – isn’t always who we think it is. The concept itself is also fairly attractive: having a know-all device that is also charged with more money than you’ll be able to spend in a single lifetime. It helps that Akira is kind-hearted and isn’t interested in hoarding all of the money for material luxuries. Although, to be fair, there are a number of other reasons why he doesn’t do so, which we learn later on in the story. The show thrives on its quiet vagueness, inviting the viewer for a ride that can go anywhere with the flick of a cell phone.

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Sadly, what’s problematic about this formula is that Eden tends to sloppily segue into outrageously unrealistic contrivances and nonsensical subplots that have little to do with the matters at hand. Upon completing all 11 episodes, viewers may retrospectively ponder the significance of some story arcs and characters. The forthcoming movie may work on these past experiences, but there seems to be little to no commonality between the ongoing episodes. And while the Japanese may not be fazed by the overuse of the word “Johnny” (a clever substitute for ‘penis’), it’s repeated so often that it cheapens the austerity of the moment.

Animated by Production IG, Eden‘s quality is of a cinematic tier of excellence, if the first episode is any indication. Every shrub, brick, and street sign is accounted for with fantastic detail. The character designs for the show may take some getting used to, being that they are ostensibly a far cry from your saucer-eyed moéblob regulars.

Known for belting soulful songs like “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall,” UK band Oasis was featured for the OP with their hit single “Falling Down.” The direction is reminscent of popular YouTube typography videos, and drops hints to the story’s progression. The ED song is also quite an artistic piece featuring a missile attack with Saki and Akira at the center of its explosive plume. Eden‘s score enhances the viewing experience and evokes the sobriety of the show when needed.

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With everything up in smoke towards the end of the series, the show’s success hinges on the second movie, which is set to premiere sometime in early 2010. While the series itself could easily do without some of the episodes, it is nonetheless an engaging story overall.

Art/Animation: A-
Story: B
Music/Soundtrack: A-

Overall: B

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