Saturday, 18 June 2011

東のエデン / Higashi no Eden / Eden of the East

Four noteworthy things ran through my head in the first minutes of Eden of the East. The first was, ‘Wow, this has to have the same character designer as Honey and Clover’. The second was, ‘Hey, great, finally anime studios are getting American voice actors to do the English parts – not to mention having a great opening song in English’. The third was, ‘Well, would you look at that, censoring a naked person’s rude bits with a white scribble – that’s new.’ But ultimately, the fourth was, ‘It looks like Production I.G. are finally doing something I’m going to like as much as Seirei no Moribito.’

These were pretty insightful things to have thought, if I may say so myself! Well, apart from the one about the rude bits. The character designs were indeed from Umino Chika, mangaka of HachiKuro, which suited Saki’s character extremely well. That song was actually Oasis’ most recent single, which shows the kind of budget involved here – and was in fact more interesting than anything else I’ve heard from the band in years, with a nice reference to Pope. And the director was Production I.G.’s leading light Kamiyama Kenji, who also helmed Seirei no Moribito.

There are two movies following the series, so it’s a consciously unfinished story, but also a fascinating one. Taking its cues from The Bourne Identity, the story opens with a sweet-natured young girl very confused by the appearance of a young, good-looking, thoroughly naked young man outside the White House. He has nothing but a gun and a phone, but gets her out of a scrape with the police after she decides to try and throw a lucky coin into the White House fountain. They manage to get away, and she gives him her coat – but forgets her passport is in the pocket. Managing to find him again, moments after he gets to an apartment listed on his phone with several passports and takes one on as his identity – the most explicit Bourne homage – she is wrapped up in an intrigue involving an organisation that can seemingly do anything, twelve people with ten billion yen each, and missile attacks on Japan.

With a very near-future setting (towers have been rebuilt on the World Trade Centre site, and programming technology has moved on just a little), the issues explored actually turn out to be closest to those of Welcome to the NHK, with which this shares much thematic ground. Saki is involved with a group of NEETs and hikikomori (shut-ins) who very nearly became successful with their revolutionary augmented reality software. However, somehow the disappearance of several thousand such shut-ins and some mysterious missile attacks on Tokyo that hit only uninhabited areas seem to be related – and have links with a strange, deadly game to save society (with a fun football theme to it). Of course, some of those trying to win such a game take extreme measures, and others end up having to use everything they have to stop them.

Eden of the East looks great, has superb pacing and likeable characters, and is full of good ideas. There are some elements that just don’t satisfy, though, especially towards the end: would anyone really think they could win the game as the antagonists do, and was it not anticipated that the Seleção would just waste money to cancel out one another’s plans? No matter how powerful, how does Juiz pull off some of her feats? Was it really necessary for our loveable seleçinho to erase his memory? Why the shipping to Dubai when the men could easily have dissipated unnoticed? And while much of the series’ humour comes from inappropriate nudity, by the end none of it is really explained. Why was he nude at the start? Why are the men that pour out of the crates unclothed and shaven-headed? But these are either minor quibbles or things that may yet be explained. Eden of the East is definitely one of the better recent anime, and I’m eager to watch the feature films.

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