Oct. 3rd, 2009

starlady: (bang)
What would you do if you were given ¥10 billion and told to save your country? And if, as a condition of the money, which you couldn't refuse, you were told that if your solution wasn't satisfactory, one of the other 11 people given the same money and mandate would come to kill you? What would--or wouldn't--you do? 

Eden of the East has to be one of the best anime I've seen in the past few years, hands down. Our heroes are Morimi Saki, a senior in college trying to take her place in society, her circle of college friends, and one Takizawa Akira, a guy she meets in front of the White House when he's naked, holding a gun and a cell phone, having lost his memories completely. On their way back to Japan, they see that the country has come under missile attack in another "Careless Monday." Almost as soon as they land, it becomes clear that Akira had something to do with the disappearance of some 20,000 NEETs [Not in Education, Employment, or Training] several months ago, and maybe with the missile attacks themselves--but in what capacity? As the 9th Seleçaõ, Akira has almost unimaginable resources at his disposal, and he could have been on either side of the incident, as Saki's would-be boyfriend Ohsugi points out. Saki has problems of her own, as do her friends, who like many young people in Japan today have plenty of skills and brains but no outlet to put them to use.

There's an unmistakeable whiff of Christianity about the whole Seleçaõ business--a set of twelve potential saviors, set up by a guy named "Mr. Outside", with a built-in traitor in their midst? Yeah, that sounds familiar (and indeed, the fact that the traitor among the Seleçaõ is called the "Supporter" seems to gesture to the old heresy that Judas Iscariot was part of the plan), but I wouldn't want to overdo it--perhaps equally salient is the fact that, as Saki notes in the first episode, both she and Akira were born in the last week of the Showa era, just before the start of Heisei. They've grown up with the era, but the ghosts of Showa still linger to oppress their generation--and indeed, is not the Bubble economy the greatest Showa ghost of all? For that matter, I'd have to say that this is the rare anime which isn't completely obsessed with the war; in Eden of the East it's the economy, stupid. At the end, though, several characters do plot to take Japan back to "a new postwar" in which the slate can be erased and the country can start afresh. Given that the entire postwar regime was set up with the goal and raison d'etre of economic prosperity, and that the system has been failing worse and worse for 20 years, one hopes that Showa fixers like Mr. Outside are suffering an acute crisis of conscience that Japan's meteoric rise led only to its current dead end.

Aside from great character design, impeccable animation (particularly in backgrounds and locations--the Kyoto and Tokyo settings are dead-on, I can say from experience) and great writing--Akira is one of those charming characters who actually charms the audience as easily as he does the people in the show--Eden of the East isn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with the abyss into which Japan is currently gazing. One of the characters (who himself illustrates how thin the line between NEET and hikikomori can be) argues that NEETs are committing individual acts of terrorism against the government of their elders, which seems a radical but not an incorrect formation, and the anime is not subtle in making the point that Something Ought To Be Done which would allow all these potentially productive people to contribute to society in a way that was valuable, and for which they felt valued.

In the Silver Age of Russian literature, perhaps the last 20 years before the Revolution, a novel entitled What Is to Be Done? became a best-seller, and the question bedeviled the intelligentsia after that. Japan has the same problem. It's hard to say which notion on the part of Eden of the East is more radical or more fantastic--that one person can save an entire country, or that an anime could help to do the same.

So, obviously, I can't wait for the movies.

ETA: Actually, thinking about it, I would be remiss if I didn't comment further on the motif of terrorism that runs through the warp of the anime. In the very first sequence, we see Saki and Micchon in front of the Freedom Tower (not yet built in real life) in New York City, and even before the Kyoto NEET Itazu calls himself and his fellow NEETs terrorists, Akira takes a picture with Saki in which he literally equates his home in Toyosu with Ground Zero in New York. Further, at the airport in D.C. Saki ruminates on how she feels that the events of 9/11 should not be forgotten (which is taken up in a contrary way when Itazu refers to 9/11 as "the double terrorist conspiracy", not an uncommon view on the Japanese left in my experience). Moreover, for part of the anime Saki and company wonder if the Seleçaõ and Akira are terrorists. I think what's being got at here is a modernized form of the old saw about girlhood in a patriarchal society being criminal--being a NEET in Japan is criminal, and when the NEETs get together in Toyosu to save Japan from a terrorist attack, they are in that one sense committing a terrorist act themselves--hence Ground Zero.

P.S. I forgot to mention that I don't think that Akira having picked the alias "Takizawa Akira" out of his stack of passports is really a coincidence--let's not forget that Akira is the name of the movie in which the eponymous character "saves" a future Japan through destruction. Moreover, I can't really believe that Number 10, Yuuki, being a dead ringer for Kannami of The Sky Crawlers is a coincidence either.

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