Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Eden of the East
BLURAY - The Complete Series
At loose ends about where to go in life now that she's graduated college, Saki Morimi ditches her friends on their graduation trip to New York and heads to D.C. She has a wish to make, and what better wishing fountain than the White House's? Unfortunately she underestimated the size of the President's lawn. Still, she makes a game attempt to lob a coin in and get her wish made. It turns out, though, that the police don't look kindly on folks throwing things at the Leader of the Free World, or his residence. Just across the street a nameless man awakes, naked and sans memory, with nothing in hand except a pistol and a cell phone loaded with 8.2 billion yen in digital cash. He comes to Saki's rescue, forming a friendship that will accompany them as they head down the rabbit hole of his missing identity and into a world populated by burnt-out cops, serial killers, terrorists, and twenty-thousand potentially deceased NEETs.
That first encounter, Saki trying to explain herself to the police as her naked savior (soon to adopt the name Akira Takizawa) strolls across traffic to deflect official attention as only a nude guy with a pistol can, sets the tone for the series. It's a hilarious scene, but also a gripping one, and already colored by Saki and Akira's cute chemistry. It's a strange start to one of the stranger political thrillers in recent years; a bizarrely appropriate prelude to a twisty tale of conspiracies and revolution that plays equally well as action vehicle, character comedy, sweet romance, or speculative near-future sci-fi.
What follows that prelude is a trail of increasingly surreal clues to Akira's identity. To say too much more would be a disservice; one of Eden's chief pleasures is trying to make sense of things like why Akira lives in an abandoned shopping mall with a basement full of discarded cell phones and clothing. Or how exactly Careless Monday—a massive missile strike on Japanese cities that inexplicably killed no one—relates to serial genital mutilator the Johhny Hunter and the disappearance of twenty thousand NEETs. Or how Akira was involved in it all and what that says about the man he once was. The truth is delivered in small, weird and often darkly humorous doses that as often as not leave things even murkier than before. They eventually lead, however, to a satisfyingly lucid—and outlandish—tying up of the series' many mysteries; while teeing off a perfectly smashing climax no less.
It's all very clever; from the Hitchcockian way the series dumps its clueless protagonist into the middle of a stew of ominous, blackly comic goings-on to the sly transformation of the finale into an off-the-wall homage to Dawn of the Dead. And smart too. Akira's mid-series decision to turn Japan into "a nation of NEETs" doesn't just put a nifty kink in the plot; it casts the NEET phenomenon as an act of unconscious revolution, a sort of life-long sit-in. For once, though, writer/director Kenji Kamiyama doesn't let his brain get in the way of his entertainer's instincts. Cold perfection and bloodless intellect give way here to wry humor, a boisterous love of cinema, and a warm affection for the outcasts and misfits of the world. Those film references just a few sentences previous? Not coincidental. Eden is a riot of cinema in-jokes, made with a wicked wit and eye for the absurd that elevates them far above mere spoofs. The real proof of Kamiyama's turning of the leaf, however, is in the cast. Pathologically nonchalant Akira and smart, sensitive Saki handle adorable character byplay, dry humor, and touching romance with eye-opening aplomb; Saki's circle of iconoclast buddies positively leaks low-key charm, even when in lethal peril; and the investment of humanity and personality in even the lowliest of supporting characters is nothing short of revelatory. Line that up next to the frigid soldier types in Stand Alone Complex and you'll see just how far Kamiyama has come.
Of course, the cast owes its rather delightful nature in no small part to original character designer Chika Umino. A longtime acquaintance of Kamiyama's and an award-winning creator in her own right, Umino's work here is a lesson in the role gestures, appearances, and body language have in building a character. Everything you need to know about Akira can be learned just by noting the carefree way he smiles and the loose-jointed way he moves, even when just a hop and a skip away from extinction. Saki's well-adjusted normalcy can be read on her open, honest face, and her wannabe boyfriend Osugi's flawed likeability radiates in waves from his hangdog physique and comically determined baby face. Through visual means alone Umino stamps Kamiyama's characters right to the bone with her own ineffable charm. Oh, and her SD? Priceless.
Kamiyama spent his career perfecting his cinematic form (often to the detriment of cinematic heart), and even as he discards robotic precision for something looser and more entertaining, that training serves him in good stead. There isn't a frame of Eden that's laxly composed or less than beautiful, and certain sequences are perfection personified. There's the Johnny Hunter's escape, through a shattered high-rise window on raven wings of molting black feathers. There's a slow-motion hit-and-run that plays deftly with different points of view. And then there's the series' final sequence, a crisis resolution so preposterously cool that giving away any more would be downright criminal. Kamiyama controls the series down to the smallest detail (the expression of the hit-and-run victim as he rolls across the car's windshield, for instance, is priceless in its clarity) and the care pays off spectacularly.
If there's a chink in Eden's armor, it's Kenji Kawai's score. And it isn't much of a chink. It's an evocative work with some thrilling vocal highlights (specifically during the climax). It's just that it isn't quite on par with the chilling beauty of his finest work.
Funimation really went the distance on this one. The set is heavy with intelligent interviews—with Kamiyama, Umino, lead actors Ryohei Kimura and Saori Hayami, and even Kamiyama's mentor Mamoru Oshii (dour, but less unpleasant than usual). The clarity of Blu-ray does the theatrical quality of Production I.G's animation full justice, and the dub dodges the listlessness that has been affecting some of Funimation's dubs of late. It takes a bit for Jason Liebrecht (Akira) and Leah Clark (Saki) to nail their roles, but they do—even if the alterations in the script detract some from Akira's laid-back cool—and the way the rest of the cast digs into the supporting roles is a lot of fun. Japanese or English, whatever your preference, you'll come away satisfied. The one issue is Funimation's odd decision to keep Oasis's original opening song "Falling Down" only for the first episode. "Falling Down" is perfect for the series—both lyrically and sonically—and the quieter Japanese tune that replaces it just doesn't compare.
Universal appeal is not a term to be bandied about lightly. But Eden of the East has it. Male or female; child (not that they should be watching, there's some gory stuff in here) or adult; fresh-faced anime noob or battle-scarred veteran of decades of disappointments—anyone can enjoy Eden, and probably will. Even Mamoru Oshii liked it. Yeah, it's a letdown that Funimation could only license the opening theme for a single episode and, yeah, the Platonist turn it takes at the very end is a little lame, but those are the granddaddy and grandmommy of useless, nit-picking criticisms. This is quite possibly the year's only truly great anime. So get watching.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ A political thriller that combines big ideas with big entertainment and a deft touch with characterization; basically flawless in execution.
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