This week I explore the unique anime Eden of the East, a strange sort of anime that eschews quite a few of the normal tropes and quirks that you'll find in the medium today and instead tackles a strange twisting plot.
Do be aware that this review is wrapping the Anime series and two theatrical movies into one review. It's simpler that way for me.
On the whole, the premise of the series is rather promising. This becomes apparent after the first few minutes with a whole mess of intriguing questions. This series shows us that when you do mystery just right, the audience doesn't need much information at all, since, to be honest, we barely get anything for the first episode (or the second). Apparently all we need is a mysterious phone, amnesia, and an awkward character introduction.
So it seems that the premise of an amnesiac man having access to a phone that pretty much is capable of making anything happen has just the right amount of mystery to make it interesting without resorting to other common anime tropes (rampant violence, secret societies, etc.).
The relationship between the main characters, Saki and Akira, is handled pretty tactfully. While the rubberbanding of the relationship status gets tedious (see: the movies), it manages to feel right. Akira and Saki have a decent chemistry together, even if their character personalities seem to clash occasionally.
Eventually, as we work through the mystery, we learn that the male protagonist, Akira, is actually participating in a sort of game with eleven other people, all racing to "save" Japan according to the rules of the game. It is a good setup for intrigue and mystery if I've ever seen one.
Lastly, the soundtrack is well done. It's solemn and quiet, just like the plot tends to be. It carries along the tension and the plot very well.
Of all the elements in the series, the characters are one of the greatest. The two main characters are very, very well conceived characters. While Saki doesn't exactly come across as a "strong" female character, she does come across as pretty smart all-in-all. Akira comes across as a head-strong and kinda crazy amnesiac. Their characters aren't all that special, but that just makes them feel almost oddly real. The supporting cast is expansive and get a workable amount of time on screen. They're pretty good company to the main characters, so they do pretty well for themselves. The characters just feel like a real cast, not an animated one. It's great in that way.
In addition to that, the animation and character designs are excellent. The characters avert standard Japanese character tropes at every turn and are very unique (at least in looks). The backgrounds are well done and entire scenes mesh well.
Then there's the plot. The approach that the series takes to the plot is a great in its own right. Where so many anime hit the gas pedal and fire away with violence, Eden of the East is unusually calm. It uses the mystery and a steadily building tension to reach its conclusion rather than quickly hurrying the viewer along with rapid scene advancement. Even the most violent scenes in this series are pretty tame next to its contemporaries, and these scenes are few and far between.
This is great because, I just haven't necessarily seen this before. The show is extremely calm, even when the show gets tense. It is a leisurely watch that manages to keep you watching somehow through its mystery. I can't quite describe why it keeps you coming back but it does.
The themes of the series are based on hard work and the mystery behind the game. Other themes are, of course, present, but these two seem to be the biggest. They're handled well and tell a good story.
The plot manages to get a bit disjoint from reality on occasion. The ability of the phone to do all these things is bad enough sometimes, but the series is almost strange in how some plot points are introduced. The ending of the Anime series is a testament to this point, since it exists in a foggy area between reality and fantasy where I can't really tell why Akira did what he did.
This disjoint is also present elsewhere. For all its maturity in plot and subject matter (not a show for children), I felt a bit strange with the almost child-like approach the plot and main characters have. This is prevalent in that, even though the other players are literally killing people, the characters seem strangely relaxed during most situations. The rapid switching between the really mature themes (there are a lot of sexual references and jokes sprinkled in this series) to completely innocent scenes can get really jarring sometimes.
A further problem is how, while the main plot is wrapped up in the second movie, at least a few plot threads are left dangling, never to be resolved. This isn't a deal breaker, but the inquisitive viewer might get a bit peeved.
This series is great for the mystery and characters. Looking back on it though, it just feels a bit odd when compared to the other series I've gone after in this marathon. Sometimes there is a dissonance in the plot, the mood, and the themes which can lead of a bit of confused direction. The pacing is slow but steady and the plot is fascinating at times.
Assuming you watch the movies, you'll get most outstanding questions about the main plot answered and some loose ends will get tied together but, alone, the Anime series is a bit lacking in conclusion and finality. Even with the movies, a couple plot elements are dropped or just feel like red herrings that can leave the viewer a bit confused.
This series is for people that want a good character-driven mystery ride. The characters' journey through the mystery makes for an impressive show. Some elements of the series can get a bit lost in themselves, but it is solidly written with some good character moments. The pacing is just enough to keep you interested while the plot has just enough twisting and turning to keep the average viewer interested.
Oh, I should mention that this isn't the sort of show that is safe for the younger folk, regardless of what the promotional images look like. Mature themes are present regularly and there is indeed some rather odd (censored) nudity in it.
I won't lie, a series like this was somehow hard to write a review about. Something about it just makes it an enigma all its own. It was a fun series to watch, but something made it very perplexing to accurately portray on paper (or pixels as it were). I would encourage everyone to give it a shot yourself. If you don't like the first few episodes, then that'll be enough, but it deserves a shot.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images. Header image credit goes to contemplatrix.wordpress.com.
There is very high probability of Evangelion 1.11 next time.
This is part of my Anime Review Marathon that I began in October 2013 to record my thoughts as I watch a variety of anime on my ever growing backlog. These reviews won't come out on a persistent basis, they'll come out when I feel I have seen enough of a series to pass a judgement on it.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner by using the "Dex's Corner" tag.