- A totally original story, one written directly for the screen and not adapted from other media.
- Sports a deliberately-paced but gripping thriller storyline.
- Touches on many key ideas of the modern age, from the disenfranchisement of youth to the ubiquity of information technology.
- Another open-ended conclusion, since it's meant to lead directly into the final feature film
- Director: Kenji Kamiyama
- Animation Studio: Production I.G
- Released By: Fuji TV (Noitamina)
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: Unrated (action violence, blood, language, nudity, thematic material)
- List Price: $34.98 (Blu-ray / DVD combo)
- Eden of the East
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Again: fascinating but flawed
Eden of the East was at the same time as brilliant and problematic an anime as there has been recently. On the one hand, it was a completely original show—not an adaptation of a comic or some other material, and bristling with ambition and provocative ideas. On the other hand, it was also plagued by massive plot holes, lapses in logic, and a conclusion that raised more questions than it answered. Such are the wages, I guess, of taking big risks with any story.
I was willing to wait for the two feature films that followed East, just to see if the promise of the show was completely fulfilled. But the first film, Eden of the East: The King of Eden, still seems to be holding back more than it can deliver. It does give us that much more insight into the “Seleção”—the dozen people picked at random to play a massive game whose consequences could dictate the future direction of Japan, if not the whole world. But it exists mostly to add another chapter to the story—length, not depth—and recapitulate a few too many of the same ideas.
King of Eden begins six months after the end of the TV series. (Read the review, lest many of the plot details described here fly completely over your head.) Takizawa has vanished, apparently after erasing his memory yet again, and Saki has ventured to New York City to find him. Since he disappeared, Takizawa has become something of a mythic cult figure: his likeness now adorns T-shirts and appears as graffiti, and his mere presence—or, rather, absence—is being used as a political pawn by various factions.
Same game, changing rules
On arriving in New York Saki is immediately thrown into trouble: her luggage turns out to be full of weapons, her purse vanishes, and Takizawa’s Seleção phone is also gone. Through a combination of skilled guesswork and dumb luck she blunders into Takizawa, now living a different life under an assumed name. He, in turn, helps get back her purse and the phone by pulling a fast one on a cabdriver, and she confronts him with proof they have a past: a photo of them together.
They spend most of their time recapitulating many of the beats of their courtship in the TV show, as when he takes her to a movie theater. Here, it’s the Angelika in New York, followed up not long after that by a merry-go-round ride that deliberately invokes The Catcher in the Rye. It’s all sweet stuff, and on reflection it also echoes of the lovers-in-danger vibe Hitchcock milked for films like North by Northwest—even if it breaks no new ground in this story.
The rest of the plot is split between roughly three other threads. First is the looming presence of a newly-revealed Seleção, a movie buff who’s obsessed with turning Takizawa’s actions into cinema verite (or maybe a snuff film) but keeps running into an odd amount of resistance from Juiz. (There are hints the game may well be rigged in Takizawa’s favor.) Second is Saki’s friends, who have launched Eden of the East as a business, but are soon compelled to pull the plug. Finally, there’s the other Seleção—like Number 11, the mysterious female CEO / serial killer, who also bends the rules to help Takizawa when things get difficult.
Still waiting for all the pieces to come together
It’s hard not to be impressed by the ambition on display, as it was in the TV show before it. I admired the way the series tried to tackle so many things that are current and troubling: the culture of young slackerdom in Japan, leading to a generation of dropouts; the way everything we do or say in modern life is wound up in a digital web; the feeling that forces beyond our control are guiding our hands at every moment.
The trouble is, King of Eden presents all these ideas in ways that are just as flawed and problematic as the TV show was. Most obvious and troubling are the ways the Noblesse Oblige game’s rules seem at times to supersede physical reality, human behavior or simple common sense. If the rules to the game are so malleable, then it feels like there’s that much less actually at stake. I maintain hope that there will be some fundamental explanation for all that in the last chapter, but I’m not holding my breath.
But, again, the good stuff’s very good indeed—and again, maybe the only reason King of Eden frustrates is because, like Eden of the East before it, it attempts so much and gets away with quite a bit of it. Even if the final installment, due later this year, doesn’t wrap everything up, this will still stand as a notable example of anime that tries to break out of the usual boxes.