Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 30th 2011
Eden of the East: Paradise Lost
Blu-Ray + DVD
Six months ago, Akira Takizawa stopped a missile attack on Japan, then disappeared from the public eye. However, he cannot escape his duty as a Seleçao—one of twelve individuals who has been given ten billion yen and free rein to improve Japanese society. Now Akira is returning to a homeland in turmoil: rumor has it that he is the illegitimate son of the recently deceased Prime Minister, making him a potential successor to the country's highest office. But even if appointed "king" of Japan, Akira must answer to accusations of being a terrorist due to his connection with the missile attacks. Meanwhile, faithful friend Saki is on a quest of her own, looking to uncover Akira's true past and clear his name with the authorities. Can Akira and his allies finally win the Seleçao "game" and make Japan a better place?
By the end of Eden of the East: Paradise Lost, director Kenji Kamiyama seems to be having an argument with himself, using the film's protagonist as a mouthpiece to air his views on Japan's future. This is not nearly as self-indulgent as it sounds—Kamiyama's political outlook is more "what-if" and "maybe" than it is preachy prognostication—but it does leave some loose ends dangling in the wind as the story comes to a close. Indeed, this movie marks the finale of the Seleçao game and the finale of Eden of the East, but whether it was the ending everyone wanted remains up for debate.
One thing for sure: if you just wanted to see whether Akira beats the other Seleçao and becomes Savior of Japan, prepare to be disappointed. The final result of this "game" is the kind of formulaic cop-out usually reserved for mid-tier battle anime. But beneath that superficial layer is where all the real drama and action goes on: the most satisfying plot point involves Akira catching up with the mysterious game master "Mr. Outside," and discovering that this character's motives and ideas are as enigmatic as his own. We also see Saki digging into the more personal side of things, tracking down Akira's mother (albeit with some questionable logical leaps) and learning whether he really is the former Prime Minister's son. The answers don't completely fill out the boy's childhood, but they do enough to provide a sense of closure—and confirm that Akira is, in fact, a regular human being.
While the movie is busy closing out the story arcs of individual characters, it also tries to deliver the requisite dose of thrills and action, with mixed results. The opening act, where Akira arrives at Narita airport and slips through the hands of just about everyone, is a clever sequence loaded with suspense and a touch of humor. Later on, he commandeers a truck as part of a strategy to protect himself, and the resulting journey is one filled with anticipation, even at regular highway speeds. The drama runs even higher once he reaches his destination and confronts the forces conspiring against him. But the pace of the story keeps getting broken up by subplots surrounding the Eden of the East organization—certainly, these friendly folks serve an important role as Akira and Saki's support network, but the sidekicks are pushed into the spotlight too often, conducting melodramatic internet searches and having to evade the authorities in their own way. When everyone is running around on quests, it takes away from the really important ones—and also results in a cluttered finale where trying to keep track of the characters becomes a chore.
But regardless of whether the story involves action, character-building, or plotwise distractions, the visuals remain top-notch. At this point, everyone who's been following the series has pretty much fallen in love with the character designs—distinctive and true to Chica Umino's original concept, yet slickly integrated into Production I.G's house style. Of course, one would expect nothing less from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex creative team: the animation quality remains consistently high throughout the film, with smooth motion and sharp linework during even the most mundane or complex sequences. Although the story is not terribly fast-paced, there's enough variety in the shots and camera angles that it feels like it's constantly on the move. Backgrounds are impressive as well, with careful details and rich colors combining to create a convincing near-future Tokyo. The only animation mishap, if it can be called that, is that the CGI work on the vehicles still stands out conspicuously from the rest of the visuals—and that might as well be blamed on everything else being so seamlessly put together.
The movie's sophisticated music score also comes from another Ghost in the Shell alum, although that would be the Ghost in the Shell movies, not the TV series. Composer Kenji Kawai sticks to what he does best and lays down a number of thoughtful-sounding tracks: slow-moving strings, wistful melodies, and sometimes when the pace picks up, a hint of jazz rhythm and harmony. The complexity of the music gives it a modern feel that matches the tone of the story, but at the same time avoids gimmicky electronic styles that might end up dating it in a few years. The theme songs during the opening and closing credits are more accessible-sounding, but even with their contemporary-pop leanings, they carry enough sophistication to please the tastes of more demanding fans.
As expected for such a critically acclaimed title, the Blu-Ray and DVD combo package comes with plenty of options and extras. The English dub is as solid as one can hope for, with acting that not only matches the characters' emotions but sometimes even their voices, Japanese names that are pronounced just-about-right, and a script that alters each line enough to fit the words in the speaker's mouth, but never so much that it changes the meaning. Frankly, if all anime dubs were as polished as this, then people would stop complaining about anime dubs. (Or is that too much to hope for?) A number of trailers and TV promos are included among the extras, but the real highlights are the commentaries: first, a commentary track with the U.S. cast, and then an even more special treat, a version of the movie with visual "pop-up" annotations from director Kamiyama. For those who really want to get into the creative process, these annotations (designed to mimic the augmented-reality system used in Eden of the East) provide genuine insights with a bit of humor as well.
Eden of the East: Paradise Lost brings the entire saga to a close in a flash of brilliance, with a few occasional flaws: big questions get answered (but little ones are left open), everyone gets to play action hero (sometimes to the detriment of the story), and Mr. Outside chooses his Savior of Japan (even if the final answer is a played-out cliché). But if the execution is less than perfect, the ideas behind it are more than big enough to compensate. This is Kenji Kamiyama's wake-up call to the youth of Japan and the rest of the world: even without 10 billion yen and a request-granting supercomputer, you've got to do something. Akira's final confrontation may be too rambly, his views too radical, and the movie's epilogue too idealistic, but it remains a thought-provoking example we could all learn from. Are you going to sit on your butt and watch anime all day, or get out there and become the savior of your country?
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : A
+ Intriguing characters, thought-provoking politics, and slick visual presentation collide in a suspenseful, satisfying finale.
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