Eden of the East

Anime has the corner on the market when it comes to slice of life moe and gigantic battling robots, and there's a steady stream of supernatural action, fan service comedies, and sci-fi adventures to choose from. However, it's the rare anime that feels like a good modern-world action thriller (though the television version of Golgo 13 occasionally comes close, as well as Ghost In The Shell in its less cyberpunk moments). In Eden of the East, we've got a romance mixed into a stew of The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible, and The Sum of All Fears. I was sucked in the whole time, even while bothered by minor plot contrivances and a conclusion that will frustrate those not realizing they've got to watch a couple of movies to get to the real ending.

Saki's trying to figure out what to do with her life...in front of the White House. She's on her graduation trip, about to head into the "real world," and she doesn't know what to do. But fate is going to play a hand, for she's about to meet Akira Takizawa. Who's naked. Outside the White House. Holding a cell phone and a gun. Talk about first impressions!

They both make it to the airport -- because, of course, there's nobody hanging around in front of the White House besides them and a couple police officers (!?!) -- and the two wind up talking about their misadventure. Turns out Takizawa has lost his memory, and he isn't sure why he was in front of the White House in his state of undress or how he got there in the first place. But they are both heading back to Japan, and Saki (taking a shine to him) decides to help her new friend.

But there's a lot missing from Takizawa's noggin, include the fact of Careless Monday. Three months earlier, missiles struck Japan...and while there was a good deal of destruction, there were no casualties. Life and the news cycle had returned to normal, especially since there was no death toll and it was blamed on a foolish error.

Takizawa knows nothing about it, but he can't help but wonder if his missing memories might somehow be related to the missile launch. And then there's this weird, fancy cell phone he has where a concierge seems to be able to get most anything for him, no matter the cost...whoever he is, Takizawa is in far more trouble than he realizes. Especially since Careless Monday is only the beginning...

Eden of the East was shown as part of the now-famous noitaminA block in 2009 and was the first show not based on a manga. Like many of its compatriots in a noitaminA timeslot, it's a bit unique, well-crafted, and appeals to an older audience than the anime norm. While it doesn't have the striking visual flair of House of Five Leaves, say, it looks good. Musically, it's a little scattered; at times, the soundtrack is whimsical and light when it should be more serious. As the show progresses, however, this rights itself almost entirely.

At only eleven episodes, Eden of the East is far tighter than most shows; it doesn't dawdle. Yet there are fine character moments and uniquely memorable scenes, such as when Takizawa plays a film for Saki at a movie theater. I really liked the pair; whenever they were on screen, my interest spiked. It earns many of its exciting moments, which are spread out well throughout the whole. And we're on the same voyage of discovery as the leads; as a viewer, I felt rewarded each time another secret came out. I was rooting for Takizawa...even realizing that it was quite possibly he could turn out to be a bad guy after all.

Eden of the East makes light of some of the current socio-economic situations in Japan. NEETs -- those folks with no education, employment, or training -- make up a key subtext. Saki doesn't fit the standard profile of a NEET; she's not a nerd with obsessive interests who stays at home fiddling on the computer all day. But her difficulty in finding meaningful work or even a meaningful life echoes what many young people face across the world -- do I fit? Eden of the East addresses fears about Japan's sovereignty and standing in the world, conspiracy theories, and the lack of control -- all within the context of a just-on-the-edge-of-believable real-world storyline. And because Eden of the East revolves around ordinary people, not spies or military professionals, it takes on a personal feel.

I really liked Eden of the East, and the plot moves quickly enough that you can forgive lapses, but there are several. There are points along the way where you either have to go with certain coincidences and logical missteps or quit. For me, they didn't mar it significantly, but as I thought about the show in retrospect, I realized that the plotting did get sloppy. That sloppiness led to predictability in an otherwise unpredictable show. Whether or not that sloppiness contributed to an ending that begs for a longer conclusion -- one available in two movies, sold separately (of course) -- I can't say for certain. To be fair, Eden of the East keeps steamrolling right through the ending; it doesn't waste any of its running time. I would have preferred a longer show, though, that came to a real finale.

While it's not a huge issue, there is an obsessive scatological concept in Eden of the East that seemed out of place within the whole. Namely, the show has a fixation on male genitalia. Obliquely called "Johnnies" throughout, at least three episodes feature the whiting out of naked men's nether regions. One subplot has to do with a crazy woman who goes around with a cigar cutter and...well, you really don't want to know the rest. Was I offended? No. Nothing's shown. It's not as if the reverse -- men getting embarrassed by accidentally seeing or touching something they shouldn't see or touch on a lady -- isn't an anime trope by now. But by the end, it was overkill. In a lesser show, I wouldn't have been surprised. Eden of the East was otherwise better than that.

Eden of the East is a good show that strove to be great and almost made it. I'd watch it again with ease. I'm looking forward to the movies. I'm intrigued to know where this will go and what happens next between Akira and Saki. Could it have been tighter in its plotting and smarter in its choices? Yep, absolutely. But you'll be hard pressed to find a better political action/techno summer-movie-style thriller in the anime realm. Throw on some popcorn and enjoy.

Eden of the East -- violence, mature situations, frequent non sexual male nudity -- A-