Eden of the East, released in a new set today that collects the complete TV show and movies on DVD and Blu-ray, hits the ground running. Vacationing in Washington D.C., girl college grad Saki meets an extraordinary youth with no memories, killer rivals and a “magic” phone that can provide anything. Adopting the name Akira Takizawa, our hero slowly learns he’s in the middle of an incredible game. Its goal: to transform Japan forever…
Like much Japanese animation, Eden of the East animates what we’d normally think of as live-action material; in this case, a romantic comedy-action-thriller. It begins on a good-naturedly absurdist note. Saki is unwisely trying to throw a coin in the White House fountain. A run-in with security is interrupted by the appearance of Akira, who’s cheery, amnesiac and stark bollock naked! He only has a gun and the aforementioned phone, connecting him to a chirpy mystery woman called Juiz, who can seemingly give him everything (and we mean everything) he needs. Meanwhile, Tokyo has been battered by missile attacks – though these have done surprisingly little damage – while our hero isn’t the only person with a special phone...
The original 11-part series is funny, exciting and beautifully made, with heavyweight ideas and political provocations if you want them. It’s a blend of Doctor Who daffiness and James Bond operatics. It also has a dissident ethos out of Catcher in the Rye, in which geeks and NEETs may be Japan’s salvation or downfall.
The Doctor Who element is strongest in the beguilingly charming relationship between Saki and Akira. There’s the spontaneous, confident, mysterious trickster hero; and then there’s the female companion who supplies our reactions. Saki is open to criticism, being designed and voiced cute and girly. To extend the Who comparison, she seems less Amy Pond than Jo Grant four decades ago. Saki is voiced in Japanese by Saori Hayami, Musubi in Sekirei and Kiri in Towanoquon.
Yet Saki reveals realistic vulnerabilities and frustrations that have nowt to do with first-love clichés. Indeed, we gradually realise they underpin the story. Saki’s cutesy trappings are brilliantly undercut by the image of a smiley greetings-card with the message, “Leave Me Alone!” Her ensemble of friends and acquaintances, introduced slowly, start off fun and end up loveable, even the manically obnoxious ones. Several of the characters, according to director Kenji Kamiyama, were modelled on members of the real Eden production team, which may explain why they ring true. The best is eternal gooseberry Osugi, a poor lad who never accepts that Saki has only eyes for Akira.
The characters were designed by Honey and Clover artist Chica Umino, and they sometimes look about half the age they’re supposed to be! Umino was chosen by Kamiyma, who said, “I decided to use a lighter character design to make the series easier to watch, and the match was very good.” Studio president Mitshisa Ishikawa acknowledged to this blog that Umino’s input was a ploy to attract female viewers.
Eden was screened in Fuji TV’s “Noitamina” anime block, targeted at women from their late 20s to their early 30s. Kamiyama said the audience influenced him in making Eden funnier. “I had this very serious story, but I wanted people to follow it without it getting too heavy.” Interestingly, though, Kamiyama wanted to make an anime with a strong male lead. In Kamiyama’s view, “When women advanced in society and took on more leadership roles, and also got more purchasing power, they were pushed more and more as the main characters in fiction. Even in anime, you have more female characters than male. It’s difficult to create likeable and fascinating male characters nowadays.”
Eden of the East is a comedy thriller that’s funny andthrilling, and about much more than thrills and laughs. If you’re interested in its political underpinnings, you can find the director’s comments here, though you may want to explore the ideas for yourself. Despite its often batty plotting, Eden of the East is grounded in the reality of modern living, in the manner of Isao Takahata or Satoshi Kon.
The film’s anti-establishment politics echo those of the classic film Patlabor 2, directed by Kamiyama’s mentor Mamoru Oshii. Kamiyama said, “In Eden, I wasn't specifically inspired by Oshii, but after I made the series, there were people saying that it looked like my interpretation of some themes taken up by Oshii in Patlabor 2. So I realised there was probably something inside me. But it wasn’t a specific inspiration, I didn't have it in mind.”
We also get the disconcerting attitudes of a country that hasn’t experienced terrorism since the Tokyo sarin attacks by the Aum cult, seventeen years ago. At one point, Akira compares going NEET (the state of not being in Education, Employment or Training) to an act of terror. “Naw, I wasn’t doing anythin’ so cool!” simpers another character, in a moment more jaw-dropping for Westerners than any of the shock episode endings.
It feels like a real insight into a foreign mindset; though fear not, Eden’s makers like the same things we do, from tankers exploding on highways to punch-the-air action finales (and it’s hard to imagine even the grumpiest fans feeling shortchanged by the showdown in part 11). Even the moments arguably borrowed from Hollywood are revealing when they’re transposed to a Japanese setting. A few years ago, the Michael Mann thriller Collateral revolved round the image of a dead man sitting on a Los Angeles subway train, unnoticed by passers-by. Eden chillingly relocates this image to… the centre of Tokyo.
The two feature film sequels, King of Eden and Paradise Lost, are set several months after the show. They explore the fall-out from the events in the series, and answer some questions at its roots – though others, crucially, are left to the audience. Don’t expect something that’s straightforwardly “more of the same” as the series. There’s less comedy and more drama, though now the humour arises naturally from the characters we know.
The approach of the films is arguably closer to that of Mamoru Oshii, and there’s certainly more politics – there’s a fascinating paper to be written comparing Paradise Lost with Alan Moore’s British revolution fantasy, V for Vendetta. Whereas the first Eden series gave us friends and foes to cheer and boo, by the end, the players are converging. Having given us a big action climax in the series, Kamiyama now seeks to take us past a summer-film mentality… and into something more thoughtful.
Eden of the East, the definitive collection, is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.
Andrew Osmond finds terror tactics, national disasters and rogue states in King of Eden.
[Spoiler warning: this piece gives away some story points from the original Eden of the East TV series.] The story begun in the anime serial Eden of the East continues in King of Eden, the first of two feature film sequels by director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex) and Production I.G. Of course, we’re mainly watching to find out what will happen next to the main characters: Akira Takizawa, the daffily spontaneous player of a game to save Japan, and Saki Morimi, who fell into his adventure and then for him. Of course, we do find out what the pair do next; but Kamiyama also wants to show us what’s been happening to Japan.
Andrew Osmond searches for hidden links in Eden of the East
Production IG’s political-romantic-comedy-thriller-borderline-SF saga Eden of the East concludes – perhaps! – on November 21st with the film Paradise Lost. Continuing the story from the King of Eden film and the preceding 12-part TV series, it sees protagonists Akira and Saki return to Tokyo for the last acts in the game to “save” Japan. There are bonus prizes on offer, like Akira’s backstory, and perhaps even the unmasking of the game’s enigmatic sponsor. In keeping with Eden’s copious cinephile references, here’s a clue for you; think Martin Scorsese.
At their production peak, Shaw Studios sanded down some of the historical elements in their epics, concentrating on acrobatics and heavier violence. This, in turn, made them more palatable or at least accessible to non-Chinese audiences, and inadvertently stoked the fires of the Kung Fu Boom.
Even without the tie-in with anime, Idoling!!! had had a strong presence on television. After all, the group were created by a bunch of media moguls from Fuji TV. They figured out that by appealing to two of Japan’s more dedicated entertainment fangroups, idol fans and TV junkies, that they could be on to a winner.
The director of Ghost in the Shell on being digital
"For the first time in my career I was dealing with something that existed only as data within a machine. In a way, I felt shocked, but at the same time I understood that it was the prelude of what my job as a filmmaker was going to be."
Twenty years ago, the witch Bayonetta was hauled out of a deep lake, with no memory of her past, how she got there, or who might have hated her enough to put her there. She has in her possession half of an artefact known as the "Eyes of the World.” Joining forces with information broker Enzo, she sets off to find and steal the other half. But powerful forces are moving against her, forces known as the Angels.
Jasper Sharp on the anthology movie currently touring the UK
There have been three Japanese works nominated in the Academy Awards category for Best Animated Short Film over the past ten years or so: Koji Yamamura’s Mt. Head (2002), Kunio Kato’s The House of Small Cubes (2008) – so far the country’s only winner – and most recently Shuhei Morita’s Possessions (2013). For all that, it remains pretty difficult for most viewers who aren’t regulars on the specialised festival circuit to catch such examples of cutting-edge animation.
Opening with a running fight down a freeway where anti-tank missiles and heavy vehicles are tossed around like party favours, the first episode never lets up, setting a standard that the show maintains throughout.
The literary history of the Arabian Nights that underlies Magi is fascinating. The one point that any Magi fan should know to sound erudite is that three of the show’s main characters, Aladdin, Alibaba and Sinbad, are named after famous Arabian Nights heroes. However, none of these heroes were actually in the original collection.
The first rule of Kenichi is: big eyes and kick ass.
In the real world, mastering a martial art takes years of devotion. All require a harsh physical regimen that pushes the body to the limit. Of course, we’re dealing with the world of anime, so we have a sneaking suspicion that Kenichi Shirahama might be able to go from shy, quiet bookworm to martial arts prodigy in a matter of weeks. All it takes to send him on the path to becoming Chuck Norris’ worst nightmare is falling for the new girl in class after he sees her single-handedly demolishing a group of thugs.