When people think “anime,” they tend to think: “Big eyes,” “Unnaturally-colored hair,” “HAHA these people talk too fast,” “This crap’s unbelievable,” “Why would I want to watch a cartoon?,” “Awesome action!,” “I will never touch a woman,” “What is happening — this isn’t in my fanfic!” These are just a few of the kinder examples representing a broad topic of thought. “Political thriller” is typically not one of them — it isn’t even commonplace among anime genres. For every one such show, you probably have hundreds of cute comedies and shonen action series. Kenji Kamiyama’s Eden of the East is something of an anomaly in the anime medium, and in the best sense possible.
Eden of the East is most commonly compared to Robert Ludlum books — in particular, the Bourne series. The show owns up to what it owes the series in the very episode, as one of the leads outright namedrops the titular Jason Bourne. I have neither read Ludlum’s novels, nor seen the movie adaptations — I haven’t found myself particularly drawn to either. Still, what I’ve taken away from my limited impression of the Bourne series is a sense of something very cold, in contrast to Eden’s more appealing characters.
The series opens by introducing us two its two compelling leads in early 2011 — in Washington, DC, of all places. Twenty-one year-old Saki Morimi is a college student on a trip with friends, with a job interview awaiting her in Japan the next day. Lamenting not getting to see the White House, she tosses a coin through the fence onto the front lawn, drawing the attention of nearby Secret Service agents. Before they take her in as a suspicious person, the agents are almost immediately surprised by the appearance of an oddly unselfconscious naked man holding a handgun and a cell phone. The two of them escape the secret service together, and following instructions on his cell phone, the young man begins tracing his identity — for some reason, he’s erased his memories. Upon returning to his threadbare apartment, he finds it full of guns and incriminating photos, and wonders if he might be some sort of terrorist. He picks a passport at random out of several in his possession, takes the one named Akira Takizawa for himself, then burns the building down by stuffing the rest into his toaster.
After a quick stop by the Japanese embassy, Akira and Saki return to Japan together. Returning in the wake of an attack on an airplane, Akira learns of Careless Monday, a terrorist attack the previous November in which several missiles had been shot into various parts of Tokyo. Strangely, there were no deaths in the attack. Twenty thousand NEETs (“Not currently engaged in Education, Employment, or Training”) have also recently disappeared. As Akira begins to wonder if he was involved with these incidents, he receives a call on his odd-looking cell phone from a woman named Juiz, who claims to be his concierge and tells him that he’s entered the Seleção (Selection) system’s effective range. Akira, whose phone displays the roman numeral IX out of twelve similarly labeled phones — had over 8 billion Yen remaining, and the ability to ask Juiz for anything. She would then carry out each request, then subtract the cost from the allocated funds. Much to his confusion, she referred to him repeatedly as someone who could be a savior of some kind.
While struggling at understanding this strange Seleção system, Akira bonds with Saki, spending his whole first day back in Japan with her. They head for his home in Toyosu — an entire shopping mall near one of the Careless Monday attack sites. A charming, innocent romance begins to blossom between the two of them, just in time for a corrupt cop holding another Seleção phone to make a threatening appearance. The story gets more intriguing from there, but I feel that you guys are all better off discovering what happens on your own. Discussing the intrigue further would risk spoiling the experience, and this is a show you should see.
Created, written, and directed by Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex writer/director Kenji Kamiyama, there’s no lack of enthralling urban Tokyo visuals or political maneuverings in Eden of the East’s story — the plot will keep you dying to see the next episode as it moves forward. Character designer Chica Umino deserves credit for another major part of the show’s brilliance. Best known for the very enjoyable Honey and Clover, her designs imbue each and every one of the characters — from the two appealing leads, to Saki’s Eden of the East college club friends and even some of the antagonists — with a sense of warmth. Umino lends an almost Ghibli-esque quality to her character designs, setting them a bit apart from the usual “anime art style” stereotypes and tropes visible in today’s moé-overloaded anime schedules in Japan. Contrasting the stylish and likable characters with the cold urban landscape of winter-time Tokyo — all with a high animation budget — makes for a visually enthralling experience. Eden of the East is easily one of the best-looking, moodiest anime series in recent years.
Contributing to the moody tone is Kenji Kawai’s incredibly chilled-out original score, which feels to me like it has echoes of Rei Harakami. It’s music you could easily imagine walking around Tokyo at night to. Another standout in the soundtrack is the show’s original opening — “Falling Down,” by the popular British band Oasis. Due to licensing costs, FUNimation only included the song with the first episode’s opening. From the second episode onward, Falling Down is replaced by “Michael or Belial,” an original song by Kenji Kawai, performed by Saori Hayami. Like Falling Down, it’s incredibly moody, a bit jazzier, and syncs up with the very kinetic, artsy postmodern opening animation. The ending, “Futuristic Imagination” by School Food Punishment — a band with a name you’d only expect out of Japan — is similarly addictive, accompanying a minimalistic papercraft animation sequence filled with the imagery of exploding missiles across the paper cityscape. The musical side of Eden of the East is as strong as its visuals.
So far, my appraisal of Eden of the East has been nothing short of glowing. As such, if you’ve read any of my past reviews, you’re wondering what I’m going to criticize — close-to-flawless anime is extremely rare. And Eden of the East falls into that rare, wonderful category — the series surpasses the medium’s status quo handily. But it has a flaw. It’s one of the only shows where I can honestly say its biggest flaw is that it isn’t longer. At only eleven episodes — and two movies, which aren’t released yet — you’re left wanting to spend more time in this world, with these characters, immersed in its mood.
If you consider yourself any kind of anime fan — and if you’re reading this, you undoubtedly are — you need to see Eden of the East. Its characters are equal parts intriguing and lovable, without ever slipping into two-dimensional clichés. Every part of the visual and aural experience builds an engrossing mood that you don’t want to leave. Shows like Eden of the East are rare and need to be treasured — so to put it simply, do not miss this show. You don’t hear this from me often, but go buy it now.