Reviewby Tim Henderson, Mar 1st 2012
Eden of the East: Paradise Lost
Here it is – the end to it all. After a short running series and one movie already having passed by, this second film, Paradise Lost, has emerged from the shadows of production to answer the big questions and tie up some loose ends. Akira will learn a lot here, as will the viewer, and the great game will finally reach its idealistic conclusion.
There have been more than a few moments over the course of the greater Eden of the East saga wherein the stretched-out series has given the impression that it's hiding its true self behind a mask of calm production value; that it's a work born from intense sessions of anger management and art therapy, the ultimate outlet of some rightly outraged individuals. What has helped the Eden property truly stand apart however, is that the problems being dealt with are hardly internal – this isn't the work of a madman trying to find a release for his insanity or violent impulses – but rather seeded from very real problems on the outside. Japan's real-world population is growing older and shrivelling in size under layer upon layer of bureaucratic tape, and boy does creator Kenji Kamiyama know it.
Paradise Lost is the second and final film in the Eden of the East narrative, providing necessary closure after the first film – The King of Eden – failed to provide the closure that the original TV series was wholly lacking. There's little surprise to be found in the set-up: it kicks off right where the previous film ended – with Akira arriving in Japan under suspicion of being the former Prime Minister's illegitimate son – and as such, is intended exclusively for those who have already invested themselves in the core narrative and themes.
From a production standpoint, as much as any other, this is Eden to its very core. The pleasantly rounded character designs; the clean, painterly background art; the muted colour palates – it's all here, just as the good folk at Production I.G. left it. The overarching aesthetic is still pleasing to look at, still appropriate for a narrative that focuses around slow-burning ideas and lengthy expositions more than knee-jerk action, but the budget looks less lavish than the very first production, if only owing to a matter of expectation and perspective: Paradise Lost still looks and feels much like an extravagant television production, rather than true cinema.
Opening upon a scene of aeroplane tranquillity – a moment of perfect stillness pierced only by the gentle hum of an engine – Paradise quickly gives pass to a nightmarish hallucination as Akira is consumed by the power of the technology – and budget – at his fingertips through the very (and appropriately ironic) act of consuming it. It's a rare visual flourish, not least of all because of its horror-themed intensity, and an early warning-bell for an undercurrent of how things might go wrong that pulses below the remaining narrative of the film.
And then, once he and Saki arrive in Japan, shit hits the fan – in a hush-hush kind of a way – and the story fragments off into multiple directions. This splintering serves the film well from a perspective of keeping what is, at its core, a slow-burning tale of political ideals from becoming dull; each splinter offers a chance for a change of location and action, every one is successful in holding interest. Yet, to say that these strands and splinters have all been carefully and skilfully stitched together, back into a greater whole, might be somewhat more generous.
Separated from Akira almost at the immediate moment they hit the tarmac in Tokyo, Saki is tasked with the deeply personal task of tracking down her would-be lover's mother. On paper, it's a sweet request and side-story, one that is appropriate for a narrative initially spurred by erased memories, and one that could also tie much together. In execution, it stumbles through numerous leaps of logic and almost falls face-first into mango lassi as it stutters into predictable conclusion that ultimately exercises no influence over anything.
This might be less a problem in a feature film of greater aesthetic ambition, or one that is open to weaving its message into an abstract or symbolic tapestry, but for all all the fantastical premise that backs the Seleção game, Eden of the East remains a fairly cut-and-dry work. Even the computer assistant Juiz is given physical form, although this leads to an entertaining moment revolving around Akira's discovery that he is licensed to operate heavy vehicles. But to this end, Eden's strength lies largely in its plotting and in asking its viewers to think about the ideas and story threads that this carries, and far too often those thoughts end up at superfluous conclusions.
Paradise relies too heavily on dialogue to carry its message, although this is perhaps inevitable when so many play pieces need to be tied together after floating in a bowl of borderline-intelligible soup for so long. Nonetheless, voice-over persists to provide desperate closure even as the encroaching breath of the end credits can be felt; it is of fortunate benefit that, for all the indulgent idealism of certain moments, they are at least spoken with sincerity from a pen held by a man who cares about the ideals in question. Somebody who actually gives a damn. And arguably of greater importance, it manages to make you ask yourself how you could possibly improve your own nation, no matter the resources at your disposal.
Although action scenes are minimal here, Eden's clean approach to art is served well by this Blu-Ray release. The sound mix is full 5.1, but used as sparingly as might be expected, while the bonus content – which consists of a commentary track, an interview, and a whole lot of promotional material – is equally apt at being everything it needs to be, if never anything much more.
© EDEN OF THE EAST Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
+ Actually manages to wrap most of the big stuff up, finally
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