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DVD Review

DVD cover

Eden of the East


Starring (voice): Ryouhei Kimura and Saori Hayami
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 29 November 2010

On 22nd November 2010 Japan is struck by ten missiles, which incredibly land only in uninhabited areas and claim no victims. An apparent terrorist attack, the event is dubbed ‘Careless Monday’ by the media and is quickly disregarded by most of Japan’s populace. Three months later, Saki Morimi, a Japanese student visiting Washington D.C. as part of a graduation trip, is almost arrested during a misunderstanding outside the White House but is rescued by a mysterious and completely naked young man, Akira Takizawa, who shows up out of nowhere with no memory and carrying a gun and a cell phone credited with 8.2 billion yen to its account...

Eden of the East, created by Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama and animation studio Production I.G. and first aired in the spring of 2009 on NoitaminA, the Fuji TV programming bloc dedicated to offbeat and experimental anime, starts with the above attention-grabbing premise and quickly builds into a high-concept thriller as absurd and memorable as 24.

With the central couple of amnesiac Takizawa (a pseudonym he chooses at random from the multiple passports he discovers in a hideaway) and Japanese everygirl Morimi established in a quick succession of fun and well-scripted scenes, the series wastes little time in setting out the rules of the bizarre contest in which Takizawa finds himself via possession of the mysterious cell phone that connects him to Juiz, the friendly e-concierge that can accomplish literally any task with the appropriate deduction from his vast store of credit. Takizawa and eleven other cell phone users, the 'Seleção', have been inducted into a game run by the faceless benefactor Mr. Outside, its goal being to use their new wealth and power to 'save Japan'. How they do so is entirely up to them, yet they may not convert the credit into cash or use it for personal gain, and failure to play by Mr. Outside's nebulous rules - or refusal to play at all - will be met with assassination by the mystery Seleção designated the Supporter. Takizawa's search for clues about his erased past, the true nature of the Seleção system and his own possible involvement in the missile attacks is understandably coupled with a repeatedly expressed desire to find Mr. Outside and punch him in the face.

The production staff have clearly thought long and hard about this project - the first original creation Kamiyama has worked on - and the ambitious thriller concept combined with the writers' evident wish to give a voice to their generation and comment on the state of Japanese society and its place in the world at large means that Eden frequently wobbles under its own weight. Even so, an anime series that even acknowledges the existence of politics, society and inequality is something rare enough to be celebrated, and the risks Eden takes that could lead it into po-faced dogmatism are offset by its many strengths. Most striking of these are the lovely and distinctive character designs by josei manga author Chica Umino of Honey & Clover (the college drama which, by happy coincidence, inaugurated the NoitaminA bloc in 2005) which give Takizawa and Morimi, as well as the rest of the cast, a cheerful air that makes the romantic and comedic elements of the story feel natural and believable.

The decision to cram the series with references to Western movies - and there are dozens of them, from the obvious Bourne Identity onwards through Taxi Driver, Dawn of the Dead, Scarface, Butch Cassidy, Quadrophenia, The Big Blue and even Kate & Leopold - also aids the show's appeal, as the multiple allusions take place at every level from dialogue steal to sly allusion to outright commentary on the part of the characters. You may even find yourself watching the show multiple times to catch them all.

The series' biggest strength is Akira Takizawa, one of the most appealing male leads in anime in quite some time, who handles the bizarre situations and responsibilities he's forced into with a lightness and humour that makes it easy to see why he wins over nearly everyone he meets. As he zips about Tokyo on his scooter, negotiates with friend and foe, banters merrily with the invisible Juiz and spends vast sums on a whim to help a new acquaintance, it's not hard to understand how Saki Morimi can be swept off her feet by someone who embodies so many fantasies of a charismatic stranger. Morimi is somewhat less successful in her role, in part because the script's requirement that she be an entirely normal representative of Japan's younger generation disbars her from standing out too much, and her subdued personality and white-knight complex will probably be offputting for some. In the context of her tangled home life and her membership of the eccentric 'Eden of the East' web design team, Morimi's character feels more natural, and her most enjoyable scenes are in groups rather than in the occasionally slightly overdone heart-to-heart conversations with Takizawa-kun.

With Eden's brief eleven-episode run to be succeeded by two theatrical movies that finish the story, this release may feel incomplete, and the climax, while spectacular, is unsatisfying simply because so much goes unexplored.

The series itself is as professionally made as any Production I.G. work, with particular praise deserved for the opening Washington, D.C. scenes, which not only render real city environments into animated form with flair but make careful use of genuine English-speaking actors to play the American roles rather than the usual amateurish efforts heard in anime that feature non-Japanese dialogue; the production values are top-grade, with direction that veers off into the fanciful and surreal just often enough to give the whole series a playful air, and the voice acting from the main cast is perfectly pitched. In fact the only negative point for this release is the absence from all but the first episode of the original theme song, 'Falling Down' by Oasis, an iconic feature of the original broadcast and a sad casualty of licensing the series for English-language export. It's a very minor point against a show that's one of the most distinctive and enjoyable anime series Japan's produced in years and one that everyone should see.


Richard Hunt

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