iSugio

Eden of the East – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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On November 22, 2010, ten missiles strike against uninhabited areas of Japan, claiming no victims. This apparent terrorist act is referred to as “Careless Monday” and disregarded by most people. The series begins three months later, with a young Japanese woman named Saki Morimi visiting Washington D.C. as part of her graduation trip. When she gets into trouble, a mysterious Japanese man, who introduces himself as Akira Takizawa, helps her through it. The man appears to have no memory and is completely naked, carrying only a gun and a cell phone charged with 8.2 billion yen in digital money. The cell phone has the phrase, noblesse oblige (“nobility obligates” in English), printed on it. While they are coming back to Japan, they learn that a new missile has hit their country.

From the very first episode, Eden of the East sets out to absorb the viewer into a world of mystery, intrigue, and creative endeavors. For a series that establishes such a high standard for itself through the use of its production values, it’s still able to provide an excellent opportunity to explore such relevant topics thematically surrounding a present day Japan—and in certain aspects, the world—within the confinement of its running time. Issues such as the NEET’s (Not in Employment, Education or Training), societal complacency in times of terrorism, and the abuse of absolute power are all current real-world dilemmas that lend Eden of the East an air of realism and relevancy towards the viewer. This background allows the show to ground itself amidst its plot’s many extraordinary devices and present a relatable atmosphere that doesn’t take itself entirely too serious. Considering that the show is humorous throughout many of its episodes, the series is still very dramatic in its portrayal of national and world events, never afraid to remind the viewer that throughout all the joyous escapades showcased within the series, there is a real world out there that must be acknowledged and taken into account for.

This is where I think Eden of the East succeeds greatly. The direction by Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) hits full stride here, and he brings about a vividly realized world that exists outside of the one that the main characters reside in. This is no small corner of the world in which the characters inhabit and interact solely between one another—quite the contrary. Eden of the East takes point to provide an encompassing tale that includes the entirety of the world in explaining its story—and how the characters influence it. The broad scope in which the story evolves increasingly becomes more suspenseful the further it progresses. With Kenji Kamiyama taking the helm, he is seemingly unafraid to try creative and unique things in order to explain a rather conventional story in the most unconventional fashion. An underling of Mamoru Oshii himself, Kamiyama establishes Eden of the East as a show unrecognizable in any form to that of an Oshii creation—from the look of the characters, through the fleshing out of their personalities through the use of humor, Kamiyama has definitely presented a series that allows him to stand out as his own personal creation, seemingly devoid of any influences from Oshii himself. This is not to say that influences from Oshii wouldn’t have helped, but it does give Kamiyama room to strive for a more mainstream appeal in terms of story presentation.

All these attributes allow Eden of the East to flourish as a creative series unlike many seen today, but the narrative does get somewhat flustered as the series arrives at its climax. For all the glamorous animation done by Production I.G. team, the series falters under its own ambitions. What we have here is a story that seems massive and engaging at first—and no doubt it appears to be just that—but soon befalls to some rather outlandish circumstances that underplay the original intent of the story. Bizarre and unexplained events transpire that make little to no sense whatsoever, character motivations are lazily explained and never to the extent that we fully understand them as a viewer, and absurd choices made by the characters throughout the series do little-to-nothing to make us care about their fates. This is compounded upon when you take into consideration the abundance of characters that the series introduces throughout—characters that aren’t exactly fleshed out as one would hope and really only serve as superficial devices towards advancing the plot.

These hindrances don’t necessarily dilute the function of the plot to be effectively entertaining, but it does showcase the extreme weaknesses that protrude for a series that is a mere 11 episodes. Considering the dynamic plot in relation to the amount of episodes, this eventually leads to the series showcasing perhaps one of the worse examples when attempting to effectively concluded a plot —it infers to the viewer in the final episode that they must now watch two films to conclude the story. This removes the possibility—and strength—for the series to stand out as a standalone show that could have held its own weight without the complementary addition of the films. While I don’t necessarily blame them considering the length of the series, it doesn’t help the overall appeal of the series to be considered nothing more than an introduction towards the films, and somewhat forces the viewers to now watch them in order to conclude the story. Not to perpetuate any bias against the future films—mainly because I haven’t seen them yet—but it just seems a little agitating to not have them provide at the very least a more conclusive ending to the television series before venturing into creating two films.

Despite many of these hindrances, Eden of the East still remains a fine example of how far Japanese animation series have come in terms of technical prowess. Removing many of the cliché elements showcased in other series, Eden of the East has managed to provide a distinctively rich tale that doesn’t attempt to follow the conventional route in exploring its story—instead diverging from that route in order to find new and creative ways to do so. Considering that one will still need to watch two films to complete the entirety of story, Eden of the East still has the opportunity to remedy many of the problems listed above and ultimately end the series on a solid note. If this can be done, then Eden of the East will be considered one of the best examples of what Japan has to offer in terms of animated projects. Until then, Eden of the East remains a series that is overly ambitious for its own good.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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Comments

  • Kayal 101

    I actually just discovered this show recently, and Im really injoying it, I was extremely suprised by how good the english was in the first episode. Great review! I’ll have to finnish the series and then wait endlessly for a blu-ray release of the 2 movies…

  • http://www.grumpyjiisan.com/ Grumpy Jii

    After his work as Director & Head Writer for GitS:SAC and Moribito, and writer for Blood:tLV & animation director for Jin-Roh, Kenji Kamiyama is one of those directors who commands my attention (and wallet.) I’m waiting for Funimation on this one, tho.

  • smilingriceball

    I totally agree with you. I was just left with a feeling of dissatisfaction after watching the series because the producers took on a plot that had so much potential, but didn’t put in the thought or the effort to make it something great, like Ghost in the Shell. Hopefully the 2nd movie wraps everything up but it doesn’t look too promising…

  • http://alualuna.wordpress.com alua

    The anime – and the two films – were captivating (succeeding in making you want to watch more) but, yes, also flawed. I found Morimi Saki’s character rather dull – like a puppet, rather flat and uninteresting, and more so the longer the series continued. With Takizawa Akira there was consistent characterisation. He wasn’t always likeable, but I found him much easier to appreciate as he simply had more personality – frustrating at times, but intriguing overall.