Eden of the East: Movie 1 - The King of Eden Review

Although the topics covered in manga and anime series can certainly provide an interesting insight into the workings of the Japanese mindset – with violence ever present and end-of-the world scenarios the mainstay of most of the work in the science-fiction genre – it’s rare that contemporary social issues are dealt with in any way realistically in anime, and it’s relatively uncommon even in mainstream Japanese cinema. The nearest that I’ve seen anime come to exploring the obsessions and tormented psyche of the individual living in such a society was in the work of the late Satoshi Kon, particularly in his remarkably ambitious series Paranoia Agent. Even that however was closely related to the expression and exploitation of violence through the entertainment media, not least and somewhat self-reflexively, in anime itself.

From the opening scene of the 11 episode series of Eden of the East, where a young Japanese girl, for reasons unknown even to herself, feels compelled to travel to the White House in Washington DC and throw an object towards it into the grounds, only to encounter an entirely naked young man causing a minor disturbance there also, there was a clear indication that this might be a series that had something confrontational to address about the state of the world we are living in today – a stance that in the current political climate could be mistaken for an act of terrorism. And if it ultimately the series doesn’t seem to extend its outlook much beyond the problems within Japanese society, the consideration of technology having a global reach and its capacity to create and galvanise a wider community of youth who feel disenfranchised from society, clearly suggested that there are nonetheless global implications for the issues it raises.

That’s a fairly ambitious subject to tackle in an anime series, but the Eden of the East series managed to consider such matters within the context of what seems like a regular science-fiction scenario, with some strange and confusing diversions along the way. The naked man, mentioned earlier, is Akira Takizawa, but at this stage even he doesn’t know that, since his memory has been wiped, seemingly by his own request. Why would he do this? Well, perhaps the responsibility of being one of twelve ordinary citizens designated Seleção has become too great for him to bear. The Seleção have been selected by a mysterious individual or agency and charged with coming up with a solution to the crisis facing Japan. Given ten-billion yen to spend and a special mobile phone, there is a concierge at the end of it, Juiz, who will attempt to carry out whatever instructions they give, no matter how bizarre the request. What is meant by the crisis facing Japan however is left up to the Seleção to interpret, and some of them have selfish motivations and personal obsessions that seem more likely to precipitate a crisis of apocalyptic proportions than solve it.

The girl who meets Takizawa in Washington is Saki, a young graduate who is working with a group of friends on a revolutionary piece of software project called Eden of the East (real-time overlays on a mobile phone screen, something that seems to be becoming a reality), but like most of the younger generation in Japan, they are finding it difficult to realise their true potential in a society that is controlled by the deeply conservative and isolationist traditional ruling establishment, whose corruption is easily proved (as is the power of the resources available to the Seleção) by Takizawa managing to make the Prime Minister say “Uncle” live in the Diet. The idea of youth with something to say and no means of expressing it is contained also within the mysterious episode of the disappearance of thousands of naked NEETs – young men, shut-ins, with limited or no social skills who never venture outdoors and live their lives entirely through computer connections. By the end of the series, it’s all these young people, the NEETs, Takizawa, Saki and her friends who are able to prove their worth and use their ingenuity to divert the gravest apocalyptic threat to Japan.

The motivations and power of Mr Outside, the individual or agency behind the setting up of the Seleção, still remains largely unknown however, as do the identities of some of the twelve agents, one of whom, designated the Supporter, is tasked with killing any player who has used up their funds without achieving their goal. In this game there can be only one winner. By the start of Eden of the East: Movie 1 - The King of Eden – the first of the two feature-length films made to conclude the series – Number 9, Takizawa, has disappeared, having asked to become king and requested once again for his memory to be wiped. His legend has grown however, his image as the “Air King” captured on a photograph during the missile crisis, has become iconic, the mystery surrounding him only deepening further with faked reports that suggest he is the illegitimate son of the current Japanese Prime Minister. Saki has gone back to the United States looking for him, drawn to “the place I travelled with you”, but her return trip there is no less eventful than the first, and made all the more dangerous now that the other Seleção also want to know where Takizawa is, and have powerful resources at their disposal.

In some ways then, the first Eden of the East Movie is something of a step back, a short review of the situation and a breather before it takes off towards the conclusion to follow in the next feature. And The King of Eden does indeed feel like a movie, a live-action movie and not paced or progressed like an extended anime episode. That doesn’t mean that there is any let up in the intrigue of the series, but rather it effectively gives you room to consider all the implications of what has already happened and what is likely to be the next turn of events – and that’s quite thrilling in its own way. The influence of classic cinema, referred to overtly in the previous series, comes into play again here in the structure of the movie. There’s very much an espionage thriller feel to the proceedings, with computer hacking, plotting, spying and a struggle for one-upmanship in the lethal game that is developing between the Seleção agents, who are becoming even more ruthless and some quite unstable as some are “eliminated” and others “revived”. Even Juiz seems to be behaving differently in relation to each of the players, and she clearly has her favourites.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of progression in The King of Eden then, but it does manage to work within that climate of fear and terrorism (a bit more than the bewildering johnny-hunter episodes in the series) that reflects the current state of the world, while at the same time taking in the use and misuse of modern technology, and considering the implications that this has on the freedoms of a new generation. What is just as effective is how the first Eden of the East movie also manages to deepen the characterisation, or at least extend the mythology of Takizawa, who is demonstrating that it’s the personality of the individual more than any amount of power, money and influence, that will be critical in achieving the goal of finding a solution to the crisis facing Japan. Looking at Takizawa anew through the eyes of Saki – she does of course eventually find him – really has an impact, and the viewer realises how brilliantly the film has succeeded in making him a truly iconic figure. As the figurehead or the saviour for a new generation, he is emblematic of youthful innocence, aspirations and potential – intelligent and confident, yet at the same time unassuming, enigmatic and unpredictable. Where the series develops is still very much open, but the indications are that in this new world order, the NEET shall inherit the Earth.

Eden of the East: Movie 1 – The King of Eden is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray disc, reviewed here in checkdisc format, is presumably Region B locked, but hasn’t been tested for other region compatibility. The disc is encoded at 1080/24p.

Both image and sound quality are impeccable. Animation in HD may not always reveal significantly more detail than Standard Definition, but there is a wonderful smoothness and fluidity to the transfer that is evident here, particularly when 3D CG effects are used. If there are technical flaws here, they are so minor as to be insignificant, and I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for them. Based on viewing of the 11-episode series on DVD, I would think that the DVD edition is of a similar high standard, with little to choose between them, although one benefit of the 24p HD version is that you won’t have PAL speed-up applied.

Japanese and English language audio tracks are provided, both are Dolby TrueHD 5.1. I didn’t listen to the English dub, but the Japanese track sounds fine. Again, in line with the film, aiming for a more naturalistic movie experience, the soundtrack isn’t full of the usual sound effects and is mostly dialogue driven, but the original score and explosive incidents make wider use of the dynamic well.

Subtitles are white and in a thin font with no real border, so they can be quite difficult to read in places. As you have to concentrate on the action, read the extensive subtitles and fast moving captions translating phone text messages, it can be even more difficult to follow, so the English dub may be a valid option here.

The main extra feature on both the BD and DVD sets is Air Communication, a full two-hour movie edit of the original preceding 11-episode series. If you haven’t seen the original series, you could conceivably catch-up on the story so far by watching this before The King of Eden. It certainly covers all the main developments of the story, cutting back extensively on the not so critical johnny-hunter episodes. With there being so much to cover in a complex and still open-ended storyline, it is however incredibly densely plotted and would require a few views to take it all in. With a narrator skimming through some scenes rather than allowing them to play out naturally, it also loses a great deal of the original impact and tension, so I’m not sure it’s the best way to catch up. For anyone who has seen the series, it is however a perfect refresher into the East of Eden world without having to watch the whole series again, and it sets you up well for the first movie. There is no English dub for Air Communication, just a Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 audio with optional, white English subtitles. The remainder of the extra features consist of the usual collection of promos and trailers - Movie 1 News Flash, Movie 1 Preview, Movie 1 TV Spots - and Trailers for other Manga Entertainment releases.

In many respects Eden of the East operates within the usual genre conventions of apocalyptic science-fiction anime, and it is quite thrilling in how it manoeuvres the complex elements of its storyline into place, but it also deals with larger topics relating to use of technology and international terrorism, as well as relevant issues around the younger generation and the role of the individual within a stagnant social framework that is unwilling to exploit the new skills and technology available, or worse, misuse it to further old agendas. As the middle-section of a continuing storyline, Eden of the East: Movie 1 – The King of Eden doesn’t quite have the same overall impact as the original 11-episode series and spends most of its relatively short 81 minute running time reintroducing its characters without significantly progressing the storyline, but the scene is now set for an intriguing conclusion in the second and final movie, Paradise Lost (due in November 2011), and this is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing anime series for years.

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