Review for Eden of the East: The King of Eden
Has it been half a year already? The end of 2010 saw the UK release of Kenji Kamiyama's peerless Eden of the East anime series, 11 episodes of animated event television, a social satire, cyberpunk mystery that was conceivably the anime release of the year. It began when a young woman, Saki Morimi, prior to entering the workplace, took time to visit the US with her college friends. Ditching them, she scooted off to Washington DC to make a wish at the White House fountain. She was rescued from the attentions of Homeland Security by a naked amnesiac holding a gun and a phone, and so began a remarkable adventure. The naked amnesiac turned out to be one Akira Takizawa, a participant in an unbelievable game. The phone links him to a concierge named Juiz, and a balance of 10 billion yen. As long as there is enough money in the account, whatever he wishes for will be enacted by Juiz. The point of the game is to save Japan from its downward spiral. Losing the game, running out of money would be terminal. Of course Takizawa knows none of this at first, and with Saki's help he starts about piecing together his past, and learning about the game. One thing he does learn is that someone named Mr Outside is responsible for his situation, and it becomes a priority for him to find this clandestine manipulator. He also learns that there are eleven other players in the game, and not everyone is playing nice. Some people believe that to save Japan, they need to destroy it and rebuild from the ground up. The end of the series became a race against time to save the country, but it wasn't without cost. Akira Takizawa made one final wish to Juiz…
I love that series, it has a concept that is gripping, but in execution, with its wonderfully defined characters and engaging storytelling transcends anime to become unmissable television full stop. The initial idea was to tell the story in two television series, but after the first series, Kenji Kamiyama decided instead to conclude the story with two theatrical features instead. I have been waiting on tenterhooks for these ever since I saw the cliffhanger at the end of the series, and at last, the first feature The King of Eden is here. The conclusion of the story, Paradise Lost will be released nearer the end of 2011.
It's been six months since the events of the second 'Careless Monday', when Japan was targeted once more by some sixty missiles, and Akira Takizawa and 20,000 naked social dropouts somehow managed to save the day, with the help of the Eden of the East website. Being so prominent in the public eye was no way to win the Selecao game, which is why Takizawa made two wishes of Juiz, to make him the king of Japan, and to once again erase his memory. All he left Saki with was a cryptic message, that he will again meet her where their original journey began. Since then, the popularity of the Eden of the East website has skyrocketed, and Saki and her NEET friends are now fully-fledged businessmen. The image of the mysterious figure, pointing at the missiles and determining their destruction has circulated the world, and Takizawa has become a popular hero known as the Air King. But the failed attack on Japan has sent its stock in the world plummeting, and the nation is in the depths of another recession.
All this time, Saki has been trying to find Takizawa again, and she finally manages to track him down to New York. He's Akira Iinuma now, and has no memory of his brief existence as Takizawa, but once again, he and Saki are drawn together by circumstance and events. For the Selecao game is in full swing again, the future of Japan is still to be decided, and the other players have decided to use Saki and Akira to do so. There's one player who still thinks that the best way to save Japan is to destroy it and start over, another wants to set Akira up as a patsy to take the blame for Japan's situation, while there is a new player on the scene, who wants to assassinate Akira and get it on film, presenting the Japanese people with the death of their newest folk hero.
Eden of the East: The King of Eden gets a solid 1.78:1 widescreen transfer to this Blu-ray disc. The image is clear and colourful throughout, bringing the animation across without any issue. The character designs are unaltered from the television series, while the world design also maintains the series' high quality. That would be my one brief, and pointless nitpick about the movie, that in terms of quality it matches the television series, not exceeds it. There is an overall softness to the image that you wouldn't expect in a dedicated feature film, detail levels are concurrent with the television series, although higher on Blu-ray than on DVD and disappointingly there were some issues like colour banding, and aliasing and shimmer around fine detail that I wouldn't have expected from Blu-ray. It's much less prevalent than it would be on DVD, but it is there.
The images in the review are sourced from the PR material, and aren't necessarily representative of the Blu-ray disc.
The Blu-ray disc gets Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Japanese and English soundtracks, with optional English subtitles and a signs only track. With a lot of Japanese text courtesy of computer monitors and mobile phone screens, you're going to need the signs, and probably be quick off the mark on the pause button as well, as Funimation try to overlay the signs on the text, resulting in some odd angles and aspects to the writing. In comparison with the DVD of the series, the surround here is richer and more vibrant, bringing the action across well. There is a greater level of discrete audio placement here, and the movie has had an upgrade in audio, if not the visuals. I opted as always for the original language track, but the English dub is no small potatoes either, with the cast living up to the high standard set by their Japanese counterparts. Kenji Kawai provides the music, and it's very much a contemporary and even conventional music style that accompanies the film, as opposed to the more avant-garde and adventurous music styles that I usually associate him with.
It all fits onto one BD 50 disc, authored by Australia's Madman Entertainment. The disc comes with an animated menu, with a Selecao phone listing the various options.
The biggest extra of all will be the Air Communication movie, the feature length re-edit of the 11-episode series, released to cinemas in Japan prior to the first sequel movie to serve as a reminder or a quick introduction to the story. It's presented in HD here, lasts 123 minutes (about half the series' length), with only a Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Stereo Japanese track and English subtitles. It's also a prime example of how not to re-edit a series into a movie, turning an amazing show into a dull, plodding and even tiresome film.
The sole reason is that it presents the story as a retrospective, with Saki and her friends recounting the events of the series via voiceover, interjected into the film for about a quarter of its runtime. It's been Bladerunner-ed. There's no urgency or tension to the film, no immediacy to the story, Eden of the East has been turned into one big two-hour recap episode, and the thing that most fans hate about anime series are the recap episodes. At one point I wanted to turn the commentary off, for that's what the voiceover feels like, a DVD audio commentary, and while there are on occasion some funny comments, who wants to only ever listen to the commentaries and not actually watch the movie? The bright side is that I got a quick reminder of the story before I watched the movie, but I'd much rather have watched the series again instead.
You'll also find some three minutes worth of promotional material for the film, a 'News Flash', a preview, and a couple of TV spots. There are also three trailers, preceded by an Australian anti-piracy ad, for other Madman, and coincidentally Manga Blu-rays, Summer Wars, Evangelion 1.11, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
It's half a movie! The King of Eden merrily goes about telling its story, reintroducing the characters, putting the film's setting back into place, getting the characters where they need to be, and advancing the narrative, and then it just sort of stops. There's a mid-point crisis, a degree of threat that has to be dealt with, some danger that has to be sidestepped, but instead of offering us any kind of resolution or revelation, we get the end credits instead, which is damned infuriating. This isn't a new thing, as Hollywood has shown with its penchant for sequels and threequels. The Matrix Reloaded just parked the merchandising juggernaut for six months while it waited for Revolutions, and the same was true for the second Pirates of the Caribbean film. I sincerely hope that the Eden of the East films aren't as bad as these examples though. I can't tell you based on just The King of Eden, as it's only by knowing how the story ends, that I'll be able to judge how good this first half really is.
I will say this, up until the hiatus point I was enjoying The King Of Eden, even if the non-sequitor of the end credits did leave me with a WTF expression on my face. Once again though, talking about the plot will serve as massive spoilers for anyone interested in the film, so I will restrain myself. It does offer more of the mystery and intrigue, and the cyberpunk techno-wizardry that so appealed about the series. The Selecao game is still in play, the various players are looking to win in whatever twisted way they deem appropriate, the Supporter is still out there, eliminating the losers and those who break the rules, and the mysterious figure of Mr Outside is still there in the shadows, manipulating the whole thing.
The difference this time is that we as the audience know about the game, more so than Akira who's had another brain wipe. The interesting thing is that following the end of the series, and the success of the Eden of the East site, Saki and her friends take on more importance in the tale. She's using her position in her company to continue the search for Akira, while her NEET friends now have the tools and the resources to help her, and to continue the investigation into the game. They have in effect become the thirteenth player in the game, if only because of their ability to monitor it. As they learn, the monitoring works both ways. So when Saki finds Akira again, it's more a case of filling him in on his past, rather than the two of them discovering it together. But in some ways it is a rerun of the start of the series, with the two finding each other again, and the connection between them. The romance of the series is still there.
The danger and adversity of the story is still there too, and we quickly find that Saki and Akira are once again united against their hidden foes. The film introduces a new player to the game, although he comes across more as comic relief, spending more time bickering with Juiz rather than playing the game in earnest. The characters from the original series remain the more ominous spectres, although some have changed in their outlooks. It all very much plays like the series that I love, great characters, tense situations, moments of droll levity, and of course the unexpected revelations. But something didn't quite feel the same to me, and it took me a while to realise that it was the pacing.
The structure of a 20-minute anime episode allows for some dense storytelling, a fast-paced beginning, middle and climax to each episode that makes each revelation and plot development seem like a cliffhanger; it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Not so with an 80-minute feature film, which is trying to continue that story, but isn't restrained by the short episode format, yet it is hindered by a non-ending. The pacing feels uneven, and the focus of the story begins to drift somewhat. The new Selecao player is a case in point, an irrelevant comic relief character used to push Saki and Akira back together, but really distracting from the real questions about the game and the other, more important players.
That's one disappointment with The King of Eden; for all the events and revelations that do occur in the film, none of the major questions that we've had since the television series get answers here. It's all held over for the Paradise Lost movie. Which is why I can only tell you if The King of Eden is any good once I've seen Paradise Lost. The other disappointment is the recommended retail price of the Blu-ray, which is a ridiculous £29.99 for a single disc release. Apparently, the 'added value' comes in the Air Communication feature, but with anyone interested in the film most likely already in possession of the television series that Air Communication recounts, it's more of a gimmick than of any real value. £29.99 for an 83-minute film is asking too much, especially as all that Manga are doing is selling the same disc that has been released in the US and Australia.