Sunday, May 29, 2011

Eden of the East (anime TV series), via Hulu

I tried to keep from spoiling anything, but the structure of this show makes that hard. However, you can actually find out more than what I reveal in this post just by reading the Wikipedia article on the series, so I don't think I did too badly.

Synopsis:

A guy who decides to call himself Akira Takizawa (Takizawa Akira) turns up in Washington, D.C., right near the White House. He's completely naked, holding a gun and a cell phone, and he has no memory of who he is. The first person he meets is Saki, a young Japanese woman on a graduation trip who he saves just as she was about to get in trouble with the police. Saki lends him her coat so that he won't attract as much attention, only to realize after he's gone that her passport was in her coat pocket. Takizawa sees things that make him wonder if he might have been a terrorist before he lost his memory, but he doesn't tell Saki about any of that when she manages to catch up with him. All he tells her is that he's lost his memory.

After they both get back to Japan, Saki tells Takizawa a little of what has happened recently. On a date now known as "Careless Monday," ten missiles struck Japan. Amazingly, not one person was hurt. In the process of investigating his past, Takizawa begins to suspect that he was responsible for "Careless Monday." He also believes that he was responsible for the disappearance of 20,000 NEETs ("Not in Education, Employment, or Training" - these people are, I believe, considered to be both a big societal problem in Japan and also a sign of other problems). All Takizawa really knows is that he has a cell phone that is his direct connection to a mysterious concierge named Juiz, who can give him absolutely anything he asks for, and his cell phone is charged with 8,200,000,000 yen (approximately 101.5 million dollars right now).

Juiz won't tell Takizawa anything about himself, but Takizawa does learn that there are 11 others like himself, each with cell phones that have access to a huge amount of money. If Takizawa can find those other people, he might be able to figure out more about himself and what he has done. He gradually learns that he and the others have been given the task of somehow saving Japan. Only one person can win the game, and everyone who fails or is judged to be misusing their power and money will be killed.

Commentary:

On the one hand, this show was amazing - twisty, complicated, and mysterious, with a really likable main character. On the other hand, it was missing whatever element was necessary to grab my attention and not let go - had this show gotten yanked off of Hulu before I could finish it, I can't say that I would have felt compelled to buy it just to find out how things were going to end.

I think part of that might be because there wasn't really a sense of urgency until later in the show. At the beginning of the show, the main draw, for me at least, was the incredibly nice Takizawa and the mystery surrounding him. The thing was, although Takizawa wanted to find out more about himself, he never seemed particularly upset about not being able to remember anything. He never freaked out, panicked, or froze up, not even when he suspected himself of being a terrorist or of having killed 20,000 people. He just accepted what he'd been learned, smiled at people, and did what he thought he needed to do to find out the truth and to help the people he'd come to like. Takizawa was decent and a bit too trusting (taking meds from a guy who he knew suspected him of being a killer...seriously?!), but he was also really smart and really capable. I found myself rooting for him, hoping he'd end up being Japan's savior, but at the same time doubting that he'd survive against so many people with questionable ethics.

That's later in the show, though - I'm getting ahead of myself. My point is, at the start of the show, Takizawa was trying to figure out what had happened, but he was doing so in a pretty laid-back way. It was interesting, but I didn't feel a need to watch the next episode immediately after finishing the previous one.

That didn't change when Saki and her friends started having a larger role in the show - in fact, they kind of bored me.

When it was just Saki and Takizawa, I wondered if the show would build up to some kind of romance between the two of them. Saki understandably thought Takizawa was a little strange, but his aura of pleasant nonthreatening-ness and general shaggy good looks drew her in anyway. Considering how things were going in her life, it wasn't surprising that she'd find herself attracted to a guy who seemed to magically be able to make difficulties go away. Saki hadn't managed to get a job yet, which meant she still had to rely on her sister and her sister's husband's help. I was forced to mooch off my parents for over a year while I tried to get a job, so I can understand how hard that must have been for her, but her situation was made even worse by her secret unrequited crush on her sister's husband. The one interview she had lined up was arranged for her by her sister's husband, and she didn't even manage to get to that in time.

Saki's life was falling down around her ears, and Takizawa was this perfect guy (except for being an amnesiac and possibly a terrorist) who, even if he couldn't make everything better, was at least not part of her usual rut. Mysteries and weirdness with a nice side of romance, I thought. Except not. Once Saki's friends came into the picture, Saki became more a part of that group and less an individual drawn into Takizawa's orbit. Her friends were suspicious of Takizawa, so she tried to help them spy on him a little and figure out his secrets. Meanwhile, I had trouble staying interested in any of Saki's friends. It didn't help that I found their project, Eden of the East, to be a bit creepy.

(From what I could tell, Eden of the East is software that allows people to tag real-world things with questions, descriptions, etc., all of which can be viewed by others via mobile devices. If a person has registered themselves, you can find out things like what school they go to or how old they are, just by pointing your cell phone at them. It can be massively useful technology, but, at the same time, all I could think was, "wow, so that's what completely giving up the last vestiges your privacy looks like.")

As much as I liked Takizawa, I might have given up on the show if Saki and her friends had taken up too much screen time. However, some of the other people with cellphones like Takizawa's started appearing - now, those people were interesting. Most of them were not people I would have wanted to win the game, although almost all of them were doing things they felt were right and just. One of the ones who got a significant amount of screen time was a woman who only used Juiz to help get rid of the bodies of men she killed. On the surface, it was hard to understand how she might possibly play a part in saving Japan - her actions appeared completely reprehensible. Eventually, her motives were revealed. Viewers might still have decided that her actions were unjustifiable, but at least they started to make more sense. I highly doubt that she'll win the game in the end (she, herself, said she didn't expect to win), but I suppose I could understand why she was given one of the cell phones.

The last few episodes had the level of tension and excitement that I felt the earlier episodes were lacking. I couldn't wait to hear the full explanation of Takizawa's past and the game. I foolishly thought that the ending might actually wrap everything up, but it doesn't - in fact, there's at least one movie that takes place after the end of the TV series. Saki and Takizawa's sort-of relationship is still up in the air, Takizawa has a bunch of people hating his guts for things he didn't do, and, although Takizawa manages to save Japan (with - *slight spoiler* - the awesome power of 20,000 naked, angry NEETs and their cell phones - seriously, the last episode is incredible), the game isn't over yet. The identity of the person who kills those who are deemed to have failed the game or who don't use their power for good hasn't been revealed. Considering what Takizawa has done by the end of the series, I can't help but wonder what will happen next - what, exactly, has he agreed to do? I honestly couldn't say.

Am I willing to shell out $42 to get the next two movies, which will hopefully wrap up all those loose ends? Heck no. But I'm willing to wait for some really good price reductions and/or a sale. It's a good show (I imagine there are people who would pelt me with rotten vegetables for not saying it's a fantastic show), and the last episode of the TV series was amazing, but it didn't grip me so much that I can't wait to find out what happens next.


Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Death Note (manga) story by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata; Death Note (anime TV series) - In this series, Light Yagami, a brilliant high school student, find something called a Death Note. Death Notes have various rules and things they can do, but, basically, a person whose name is written in a Death Note will die. Light uses his Death Note to try to bring about what he feels is an ideal world. Dubbed "Kira" by the press, Light kills criminals and inspires both fear and support throughout the world. As Light tries to create his perfect world, he is pursued by a task force that includes his father, who has no clue what his son has been doing, and L, a brilliant and reclusive young man. Death Note is considerably darker in tone than Eden of the East, but it has similar mystery elements and characters who have incredible power, and incredible potential to misuse that power.
  • Paprika (anime movie) - I added this one to the list because, like Eden of the East, it has strange mystery elements. This series is set in the near future. A new psychotherapy device allows a person to enter another person's dreams. When a prototype of the device is stolen, one of the scientists involved in the project tries to get it back using Paprika, her dream world alter-ego, before the thief can do irreparable harm to others' minds and undermine acceptance of the new technology.
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - Some time prior to the start of this show, the Empire of Britannia invaded Japan and renamed it Area 11. Lelouch, a Britannian, promised a Japanese friend of his that he would destroy Britannia. When Lelouch gains the power of Geass, which allows him to make anyone obey his orders, his goal may be within his grasp, but he may do his loved ones more harm than good in the end. Like Takizawa, Lelouch has tons of power that he can use to try to change his world for the better. Unlike Takizawa, Lelouch is an anti-hero who treats other human beings like pawns in a giant game. I've only seen part of this, but what I saw was fascinating.
  • Honey and Clover (manga) by Chika Umino; Honey and Clover (anime TV series) - If Eden of the East's style of art really appealed to you, you might want to check this series out. The similarities are so striking (I know I'm not the only one who noticed) that I would have guessed the character designer for Eden of the East was in some way involved with an incarnation of Honey and Clover, but that doesn't seem to be the case. In terms of story and tone, it has little in common with Eden of the East, but those who liked the scenes involving Saki and her friends may like watching Honey and Clover's college art students pick their way through various funny/bittersweet/complicated interpersonal dramas.

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