Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 27th 2011
Eden of the East: King of Eden
Six months has passed since Akira Takizawa saved Japan from a massive missile strike. Takizawa made one last request of Juiz, the Seleção's preternaturally gifted concierge, and disappeared from the face of the planet, his memory wiped clean. Saki has been searching for him since, using his last cryptic message as a clue, with no luck. She gets a break when Juiz leaks Takizawa's location—New York City—as part of her plan to fulfill Takizawa's final request. Saki heads to New York, but other Seleção are hot on her heels—and their intentions aren't friendly. The Seleção "game" is about to heat up, and with nearly infinite power at their capricious fingertips the heat is anything but figurative.
If the Eden of the East television series had a flaw, it was its incomplete ending. It didn't come to a conclusion so much as just stop. There were Seleção still on the loose, some of whom we had met and some of whom we had not, some of whom had done very bad things and had yet to reckon for them. Japan had yet to be saved, and Mr. Outside's game had yet to come even close to playing itself out. We hadn't seen where Takizawa's rather naive Platonist's request to be made king would lead, and his plan to turn everyone in Japan into conscientious objectors to society (that's NEET to you and me) was left seemingly abandoned. Worst of all, however, was the limbo it left Takizawa and Saki in: just standing there, post-missile strike, perched on the cusp of an uncertain new world. That's where King of Eden comes in. Of course, being the middle installment (between the TV series and the final film Paradise Lost), it too shears itself off mid-story.
It answers most of our questions before it does though, or at least takes strides towards doing so, and serves up a darned good time besides. As the name suggests, King of Eden is all about Takizawa's final request. It's an ever-present specter, the machinery put into motion by Juiz always grinding away in the background—chewing up Takizawa's past, adapting to circumstances as they arise, always maneuvering Takizawa towards his crown and forever casting doubt on who is being manipulated and who is doing the manipulating. The rolling machinery also exposes more Seleção, and more about the ones already exposed, while bringing to light fragments and details of the "game" heretofore unexplored; enough in fact to indicate that something is very definitely awry with the game as described by Mr. Outside. The fate of one defeated player in particular throws doubt upon the basic rules of the game, and Juiz's apparent development of multiple personality disorder is definitely troubling.
If you think that that's a lot to process in under 80 minutes, you wouldn't be entirely wrong. Writer/director Kenji Kamiyama is forced to use some rather inelegant devices to fit everything into the film's compact framework. He literally resorts to a lecture at one point, just dumping clues about the Seleção and Mr. Outside in a heap as Underpants reports the fruits of his investigations to Eden of the East's members. If you think that that impedes the film in any way, though, then you've figured without Kamiyama. His love of cinema goes deeper than goofy Hitchcock homages; he fashions here a piece of pure entertainment that would do the Master (or at least his softer side) proud. His big ideas and even bigger plots are molded around a classic couple-on-the-run tale that never stops moving, never stops diverting, and goes down smoother than a well-mixed martini.
More importantly, however, you've figured without Saki and Takizawa. The pair have been and still are the beating heart of the series, the human eye of Eden's hurricane of interlocking, competing conspiracies and cut-til-it-bleeds social commentary. Their warmth and humor, the poignant fragility of their relationship, are the fire that fuels the film, that prevent it, and us, from drowning in its cold intellect. It's their separation that makes the search for Takizawa and the threat that Juiz poses to their shared past urgent, their reunion that sends the film's mid-point soaring, and the instant rekindling of their impossibly cute chemistry (and their mutual refusal to behave as the plotters plan) that turns the machinations of the film's second half into a pleasure of the purest sort.
The move to the big screen means little for King of Eden's production values. Eden of the East has always had theatrical quality animation and Kamiyama is too careful a filmmaker to create discontinuity by goosing up the visuals with his increased budget. Instead any extra funds get pumped into polishing New York to a suitably grungy shine, into making its multi-ethnic throngs thrive, preserving Takizawa's effortless charm, and animating with class and skill Saki's subtle, girlish sexuality. Not for a moment is it anything less than lively, for a second less than impeccable in its taste, or for a frame less than striking. Kenji Kawai's score is largely unchanged, which is to say that it is a fine (if sparely used) piece of scoring that's just a sliver of invention short of being the score the film deserves.
If you're familiar with the series' dub, then you're familiar with the film's. It may not be brilliant, but it does what it should—translate the film's charm into English with a minimum of loss—and does it well. Actors are carefully matched to their roles, their performances are calibrated to fit the film's tone, and no one flubs their lines or porks out on ham. A few of the parts—notably Jason Liebrecht's staid Takizawa and Newton Pittman's Underpants (originally voiced by the fantastic Nobuyuki Hiyama)—are less effectively played than their Japanese counterparts, but not to the extent that they have a noticeable effect. There's some dancing around the language barrier dividing Saki from her cabbie at the beginning and a little nipping and tucking here and there, but on a whole the script takes the same fidelity-over-inspiration tack that the performances do.
Scratch anything hard enough and it'll bleed. King of Eden is no exception. Look hard and you will find flaws. The cheeky sense of humor that transformed the TV series' finale into an all-naked parody of Dawn of the Dead has been reduced to a handful of dryly funny throwaway jokes, for instance. Plus Takizawa doesn't show his adorable mug until a half-hour in. And it's hard not to wish that Saki had more to do than win our hearts and search for Takizawa. The film's focus on the pair (that romantic cover isn't lying) also softens the series' hard edge and leaves less time for it to wow us with its plotting pyrotechnics and intellectual acuity. Not that it hesitates to sink its cultural-critic's fangs or narrative stinger in when given the chance. Or that its other flaws amount to more than a heap of grumbler's dung. In the end it suffers the most simply for being interstitial. It cannot be watched without first watching the television series (a problem alleviated, but not eliminated, by the surprisingly palatable 2-hour compilation movie included in this set) and cannot be fully appreciated without watching what amounts to its second half (Paradise Lost).
For the record, this set does include both a one-disc Blu-Ray version and a two-disc DVD version of the movie (the second DVD is the compilation film). If you have the equipment, the Blu-Ray is the way to go. Production I.G's visuals deserve no less.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ A necessary sequel to a deserving series; near-perfect execution and a welcome personal focus; has a higher IQ than all of anime's lower echelons combined.
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