Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Anime Review: Eden of the East

This Friday will be a year to the day from when I posted my first anime review and, assuming nothing goes wrong between now and then, I plan on posting a retrospective on the past year.  Princess Resurrection was supposed to be the last show I reviewed before Friday but as it happens I started watching Eden of the East and finished it in record time (For me anyway).  Since there was still time before the retrospective and I technically watched it before the deadline I set for myself I figured I review and post this now rather than later this month.
Eden of the East is an original anime by the studio Production I.G. released in 2009 and directed by Kenji Kamiyama who also directed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which is one of the more celebrated anime of the last decade.  It was licensed by our friends FUNimation Entertainment and brought over to North America in 2010 making it one of the more recent series I’ve reviewed.  It’s also one of the shortest being only eleven episodes which undoubtedly is partly why I was able to finish it so quickly.  Now I saw some ads around the internet a few months ago advertising the DVD collection but back then I couldn’t really find it at most places.  So when I finally was able to see I jumped at that chance.  Since I’ve obviously haven’t learned my lesson about judging a book by its cover you can probably guess where this is going.
Full review after the jump.
Now I hate phones but even I would kill for this one!
A young man has just woken up in front of the White House, naked as sin, and carrying a gun and a strange cell phone but has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  Despite his confusion upon seeing a girl, Saki Morimi, being harassed by American police he jumps to her defense.  Though they soon part ways after this encounter Saki is forced to chase after him due passport related reasons.  Eventually the two decide to go back to Japan together where the mysterious young man will hopefully find the secrets of his lost past.  However all the clues he finds point towards a disturbing possibility: he is a dangerous terrorist responsible for several recent missile attacks on Japan.
I should mention that due to circumstances I could only watch the English dub of the show.  Now I’ve heard that the Japanese track is really good, especially with its surprisingly good English, but for this review I’m really just looking at the English version.   Thankfully one of the things that you can say about FUNimation in the years after their revival of Dragon Ball Z is that their voice acting is extremely well done (Though you cannot say the same about their Dragon Ball Z revival.  Yuck!) so no surprise the dub was really good.
"Hey guys, let's get some milkshakes!  My treat!"
This series comes off very differently than most anime I’ve seen in my time.  It’s best described as a thriller as Akira, the name the main character takes on, tries to uncovers details about his former life and the mysterious phone he carries.  Every episode gives new question for any answer that Akira uncovers and that stakes become increasingly high as it progresses.  I can’t stress enough how much the structure of the series held my attention.  I was glued to the TV eagerly waiting to find out what happens next and discover what the heck Akira was up to before he lost his memory, and the big mystery of the series: who, or what, are the of the so-called “Seleção” and what exactly is the game that holds the fate of Japan?   I was completely engrossed in the storytelling but I’m hesitant to talk too much about it since I don’t want to give too much away.  Long story short this series is fairly similar to The Bourne Identity (Or at least the film version since I never read the book) but more lighthearted and with a main character who isn’t an action hero.  So yeah if you’re here for crazy action sequences or the ultra violence you’ll be disappointed.  There is a humorous tone throughout but I wouldn’t call this a straight comedy at all.  It is however petty funny.
Part of what kept me so invested in the show was the strength of the main character.  I loved Akira and he may be one of my favorite leads in anime.  Despite what he may have been like before his amnesia he’s portrayed in the series as an incredibly friendly and determined young man, which isn’t really all that uncommon but I think what put it over for me was the fact that he doesn’t pussyfoot around and is straight forward with his wants and desires.  For example at no point does he dance around his relationship with Saki.  He’s pretty upfront about his desire to have her around which is a refreshing since the average young male lead in anime keeps that crap bottled in for 26 to 50 episodes and sometimes he never actually admits it.  Basically any “Will They or Won’t They” aspect to the story isn’t due to the lead character being a wimp which I greatly appreciate (But it may have more to do with the more realistic “He Might Be A Murderous Criminal”).  He’s self-sacrificing, giving and genuinely caring about people without all that cliché angst, but seeing as he got his ass handed to him early on he’s not all perfect.  Also he’s dangerously naïve, which actually provides much of the tension leading to the climax as mysteries start getting answered.  He’s just a really likable lead.  A lot of this has to do with Jason Liebrecht’s portrayal who I thought was perfect for the role.
I also really Saki mainly due to the fact that she is much more reasonable and open minded than the average anime leading lady.  I mean she meets Akira and he’s naked as hell and yet she totally doesn’t attempt to beat his ass for being a pervert and is then distrustful of him for the rest of the series; rather she’s strangely accepting of his (Admittedly faked) explanation and even gives him her coat.  My God, such a character exists in anime after all!  Plus she also has her share of baggage without letting define her as a person (Notably her relationship with her brother-in-law).  She's also very smart and dependable  and though she's not as capable as Akira is shown to be she's clearly a good ally to have.   The rest of the cast isokay, though they’re nothing too special or interesting but luckily the main character had me hooked.  That said the others aren’t bad and all have their own distinct voices and tend to be very colorful.  Even if they’re not the most memorable supporting cast they are certainly not dull.
Saki may well be Ayano Kannagi's perfect opposite
The animation was decent.  There were a few scenes that seemed a bit…ugly, for lack of a better term but in general I found the art to be crisp and inoffensive though with the understanding that there are much better examples out there.
The only thing that bugged me about the show was the ending.  Well not the ending as a whole; the resolution of the conflict in the climax was pretty damn good, but the very end when the last few lines of the series pissed me off.  I felt like in those last few seconds of the show the series went in an extremely strange direction.  Also most of the big questions of the show went unanswered by the end of episode eleven.  Those two things combined make the series feel like the only first installment of a greater story.  Now it turns out that there are indeed two motion picture sequels, both of which have been licensed and the first one, Eden of the East: The King of Eden, comes out on DVD later this month and you can bet that I’ll be interested in it.  So those burning questions may indeed have answers but as for this series it’s not a standalone story and that’s annoying.
Also there’s a lot of people referring to penises as “johnnies”.  I’ve never heard that before and I wish I hadn’t.
Gun toting naked Japanese man is now my #1 nightmare
I LOVE Eden of the East.  Out of all the shows I’ve watched this year this is probably my second favorite.  Extremely entertaining with its humorous tone combined with the mystery it stands above most of its peers.  The only reason I’m not giving it a perfect score was that I was so disappointed that the ending wasn’t as awesome as the rest of the series and was sort of a letdown for me (Though that may change depending on the quality of the sequel).  That is my own personal baggage though: from an artistic stand point this show is the most well done and compelling anime I’ve reviewed.  If you’re an anime fan in any capacity and you haven’t seen it yet then get off your ass and find a copy because this one of t most worthy shows for you shelf you’ll ever find.
I give Eden of the East 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.
-Great lead characters
-Great story
-Very well done English dub
-Funny without being (too) silly
-The ending didn’t wrap up the loose ends
-A bit too many naked people for my taste

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