Forgive the delay, but as I mentioned in my earlier review, November is going to be a kind of lazy month with no real set theme. That and I was trying to acquaint myself with a new little friend called Windows 8. In any case, the first review of this month, late though it may be, is from a series that has caught my attention, my heart, and quite a bit of my hard-earned currency over the last few months. “Eden of the East” is a show that, once you see it, you’ll always remember it. From its intelligent story to its intriguing characters, right down to the voice acting, this is one show that has earned every single accolade it’s received, and then some. But, what exactly makes this show tick? Is it really as good as I’m hyping it up to be? I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of “Eden of the East”.
Warnings and Other Objectionable Content – “Eden of the East” is rated TV-MA, and I have to agree with that assessment. There is a bit of language scattered around, but it’s not as bad as a PG-13 movie; the F-Bomb is only dropped once. There are a few moments of violence, the worst of which being when a few unscrupulous types are given two to the head at the order of a crooked cop. Nudity and Sexuality do play a part in this series, but nothing is ever fully shown, and what is shown is quite literally whited out. The religious imagery in “Eden of the East” is there, but it’s not what anyone would consider as being sacrilegious. Overall, I would keep the kiddies away; this is a show for grown-ups.
Series Availability – Once upon a time, “Eden of the East” only came in DVD format, but recently, Funimation released the series in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo box, which is perfect for those who have either made the change to Blu-Ray, are planning to make the change in the future, or are just happy with their current arrangements. “Eden of the East” is available in some brick and mortar stores, but you really have to search for it and be careful not to overpay. This series is 4 years old and only 11 episodes long, so paying anything more than $25 is highway robbery in my opinion. Online, you can find it just about anywhere for a decent price. If physical media is beneath you, than just about every streaming site out there like Hulu and Netflix has “Eden of the East” available for your perusal.
Story Premise – “Eden of the East” is an 11 episode series which also features three feature-length movies which will be reviewed at another time. Sorry! The story starts with our female lead, Saki, visiting the United States during a college trip with friends. Separating from the group, Saki visits Washington D.C. and its’ most famous address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Her mission is to make a wish by throwing a coin into the White House fountain. Unfortunately for her, the Secret Service frowns upon this practice and are soon on her case. Before she has a chance to reply however, she is saved in a roundabout fashion by our male lead, a friendly enough guy who just so happens to be missing two things: his memories and his clothes. This boys name is Akira Takizawa, and he is the unwilling participant of a game that could affect both the future of Japan and the course of his entire life. Akira, you see, is playing what can best be described as a though experiment come to life. Orchestrated by a mysterious figure known only as “Mr. Outside”, the object of the game is to bring about a positive change in Japan by any means necessary with ¥10 billion [or $125.2 Million in US Currency as of this printing] and a concierge known only as Juiz, contacted only by the advanced “Nobolese Oblige” cell phone. Eleven other players, known as Seleção [a Portuguese phrase meaning “Selection”], also have ¥10 billion loaded on the phone, including a “Supporter” player who acts as a kind of referee of those playing the game. As with any game, there are rules, regulations, prizes and of course, penalties:
1. A Seleção may use the ¥10 billion in any way they see fit, so long as the money is not converted into cash and so long as it’s used to lead Japan in the right path towards salvation.
2. If a Seleção commits any of the following infractions, or if the performance of any Seleção is deemed unsatisfactory, the Supporter Seleção will quickly intervene and render swift judgement [Read: You die, Foo!]:
- Exhaust all the funds before saving Japan
- Go long periods of time without using the money or posting any kind of results
- Abandon the game by any means
- Using the money to serve personal needs instead of for the country as a whole
3. Seleção are able to see each others purchases along with how much each purchase cost using their phones.
4. The first person to bring about a successful change and save Japan wins the game and the opportunity to meet Mr. Outside personally. All remaining players are summarily killed off.
Faced with the possibility of his own death should he not succeed, Akira now finds himself involved in this game with only the vaguest clues as to what he did prior to erasing his own memory. With the help of Saki and her friends, the tech savvy club with the powerful geek powered “Eden of the East” search engine, Akira has to find a way to play the game while keeping his new-found friends safe and learn about his past before his memory wipe. If there’s one thing that I can say about “Eden of the East” its that for a story with such a simple premise, the way it’s rendered is amazing. To me, it’s like a refined version of “Death Note”; you’re given the power to bring about great change, but only within set rules and guidelines that, if not followed, could lead to destruction. It’s also similar to “Death Note” in that there are religious parallels; the players of the game are often called “Saviors”, Akira faces a betrayal by those whom he tried to save, the whole idea of “Eden” and the tree of knowledge, etc. All these are interesting parallels, and are worthy to be investigated deeper by more Theology-minded individuals like our good friend TWWK at “Tangles”. The ending of “Eden of the East”, while not a de-facto ending [as there are two movies that follow…], does bring about a strange sort of satisfaction in its own way. I would go so far as to say that you could watch the last episode and feel satisfied…but just like any other great story, if you know there’s more out there, you just HAVE to read it. [24/25]
Favorite Episode/Scene – My favorite scene in this series has got to be from Episode 4 “True Reality, False Reality” when Akira finally finds out the rules of the game he’s been forced into. The way the whole scene was done, with the holographic images swirling around and the different camera angles was very well done and it also does an excellent job explaining the game to the audience and it’s a very dynamic way to liven up what would otherwise be a boring exposition scene. My favorite overall episode has to be Episode 11 “The East That Goes On”. I won’t spoil it for you here, boys and girls, but I will say that the last 10 or so minutes of that episode has to go down as one of the most epic scenes in all of anime.
Characters – “Eden of the East” focuses primary on two main characters; Akira Takizawa and Saki Morimi. Akira is a well thought out and well written story protagonist. He’s optimistic without being foolhardy, confident without being arrogant, and sentimental without being sappy. It’s rare that you find a character in an anime that straddle the line this well, but Akira does it really well. The same can be said for our female lead, Saki. It would be EASY to make a female lead in this story a whimpering, weak-kneed, spineless dingbat, and in may cases, it would be accepted in larger circles. However, what I love about Saki’s character is that, just like Akira, she rides the line very well. She’s gentle, but she possesses a lot of strength, considering her current situation. She’s bright, but she’s by no means a know-it-all or a snob. She’s insecure, but she’s not one of those characters you have the uncontrollable desire to pick up and shake while screaming “FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, GROW A SPINE!” Saki is just an adorable character with a lot of good traits, and she fits perfectly into the story. With regards to the other Seleção in the story [the ones that we actually get to see on-screen…] they are all pretty complex with interesting back stories and act as the perfect foils to Akira as they go about playing the game for their own survival. In all, the characters of “Eden of the East” are the prefect fit for the story being told–no one character is extraneous or out-of-place. [25/25]
Animation – “Eden of the East” was created by Production I.G. Seriously, do I have to say anything more? Production I.G has always been well-known, for better or worse, for their detailed and beautiful animation. “Eden of the East” is no exception. This show looks BEAUTIFUL. Backgrounds and cityscapes are about as detailed as you can get; New York City looks like New York City and not just “Generic Cityscape A”. Character designs are well done and consistent throughout. Even with the serious story, it’s not all dark and depressing; the shocked faces of all the characters breaks what could otherwise be considered a very bland or dark scene. Also, the chibi title cards at the beginning of the episode are cute beyond measure. While I do kinda question the choice of bright salmon pink for Saki’s hair color, it’s not distracting, and it actually makes her look even cuter. I also have to applaud the creators approach to nudity–not only do they not show it, but they make a point of not showing it by putting a white squiggly line blotch over the crotches of the characters who are in the buff. It’s a bit distracting, but honestly, I found myself laughing more often than not. [12/12.5]
Music – “Eden of the East”, ironically enough, employs both Eastern and Western music types throughout the series. The opening theme for Episode 1 is “Falling Down” by Oasis, a somewhat popular band from here in the US. It’s well done, but I do wonder why they didn’t use it for the other 10 episodes. Not that I’m complaining at all, mind. I mean “Michael ka Belial” by Saori Hayami is an awesome song which plays very well over the fluid and Matrix-esque title animation. However, the use of one theme for one episode and another theme for the rest of the series leaves me a little confused. The ending theme, “Futuristic Imagination” by School Food Punishment is great and goes well with the somewhat minimalistic paper animation used for the end credit sequence. All the incidental music is well done, but at times it can be a little overwhelming. The insert song, “Reveal the World” by Brenda Vaughn, otherwise known as “The Soul of Japan”, is absolute PERFECTION. It’s a perfect homogenization of blues, and old school gospel music. It’s a moving piece and something that everyone should experience. [12/12.5]
Production and Performances – “Eden of the East” was directed by Kenji Kamiyama in Japan. Kamiyama-san has had his hands in quite a few Production I.G. projects including the lucrative “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” series and “Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit” among others. Here in the US, the project was handled by our good buddies at Funimation Entertainment [::whispers:: you should be watching…] with veteran director Mike McFarland at the helm once again. Seriously, do we HAVE to go over his record? Just about every single successful and hugely popular Funimation project over the last 10 years has had his fingerprint on it in some way shape or form; whether it’s behind the mic or behind a work desk. “Eden of the East” is no exception. The entire cast, from the main characters down to the one-shot characters are all well cast and the dialogue is very natural and Playing our male lead, Akira Takizawa, is Ryohei Kimura in Japan and Jason Liebrecht in the US. Kimura-san has been in quite a few noteable roles including Nishihiro in “Big Windup!”, Hinata Hideki in “Angel Beats!” and Yuuki Asaba in the “Kimi to Boku” [no exclamation mark] series. As for Jason Liebrecht, his voice could be heard in such roles as Lavi in “D.Gray-man”, Ban Mido in “Getbackers” and Kouhei Morioka in “Moonphase” among others. Honestly, I was very surprised at how good he sounded in this role. He straddles the line perfectly between sounding overly cocky but still likeable. He adds a new dimension to the role that really makes the series worth watching in English. It would’ve been EASY to play Akira as being a real cocky arrogant son-of-a-buttermilk biscuit, but thankfully, he didn’t go that way. Playing our female lead, Saki Morimi, is Saori Hayami in Japan [Who also performed the opening theme for episodes 2-11] and Leah Clark in the US. Hayami-san has been in quite a few roles in the 2000’s, the most noteable of which being Miho Azuki in the “Bakuman” series. With regards to Leah Clark, her resume is quite respectable: Miyako Miyazaki in “Bamboo Blade”, Nodoka in “Negima!”, and the title character in “Suzuka”. Here, I had no complaints at all. Her voice matches perfectly with the Japanese. It was a brilliant decision to cast her in this role as it was all the other actors including Michael Sinterniklass as Osugi, J. Michael Tatum as Hirasawa [Seriously, it’s like he is born to play intelligent glasses-wearing guys.], Stephanie Sheh as Micchon and especially…ESPECIALLY Newton Pittman as Yutaka “Panties” Itazu. And of course, I have to give special notice to Stephanie Young as the concierge Juiz. Long story short; Funimation, you done it again. [25/25]
Story Breakdown – 24/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12/12.5
Music – 12/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25
Final Score – 98/100 = 98% – (A)
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):
- In the opening title sequence, some of the text that is seen on screen are the lyrics to the song “Reveal the World”.
- The name “Juiz” is actually a Portuguese word that means Judge.
- In episode one, when the taxi driver is tuning the radio, he stops at 95.5, this radio station (WPGC 95.5) is Washington D.C.’s #1 R&B and hip hop station.
- The technology that the Eden of the East program uses is remarkably similar to Google Goggles, a program developed by..well…Google…that uses image recognition technology.
So where does that leave us? Well, “Eden of the East” is not just a show; it’s an experience. The story is smart and quick, the characters are interesting and engaging, the artwork is as close to real as you can get [to a point…] the music is award-worthy and the acting on both sides of the Pacific are worthy of praise. “Eden of the East” is a modern-day “Cowboy Bebop”, and I do not say that lightly at all. The only way you can see what I’m saying is to find a copy and watch it for yourself. Otaku Oblige; I pray for your continuing enjoyment of Japanese Animation.
And with that, we’re finally done with “Eden of the East”. I know there are two continuation movies that complete the series, but I’ll review those at a later date. Right now, there’s another movie that I want to review. With Thanksgiving coming up, I figured this would be the perfect movie to review just to remind everyone just how fortunate we are, and just how much we have to be thankful for. I ask that you stick around for my review of what promises to be one of the more interesting movies I review on this blog…
“Barefoot Gen” [Hadashi no Gen]