(Another noitaminA anime gets a review, but this time in HIGH DEFINITION!)
Last week, Manga UK released the anime film "Paradise Lost"
on DVD and Bluray, following Madman's release last month and Funimation's release last summer. But as the film is a direct sequel to "The King of Eden"
and the series "Eden of the East"
, both also out on BluRay and DVD, let's review all of them now that the whole story is available in all regions.
Written and directed by Kamiyama Kenji of "Ghost i/t Shell: Standalone Complex"
fame, the series as a whole plays as an enjoyable thriller starring a hero with amnesia who stumbles into a conspiracy of staggering proportions, only to discover that he is not exactly an innocent bystander in all of this. Think "Bourne" but with a VERY quick-witted student slacker instead of an assassin and you're not a million miles of the mark.
Worth a try? Definitely! Read on...
A guy stands naked in front of The White House in Washington DC. He has no recollection of who he is or how he got there, but in one hand he holds a gun and in the other a ringing mobile phone. The caller on that phone sends him to an empty apartment where he discovers weapons, clothes, cash and travel papers for several different identities. He picks one of these, naming himself Akira.
While searching for his past Akira discovers his phone grants him nearly unlimited access to money and other assets. The trail to his true identity leads him to Japan, together with a female tourist who tags along with him. But the country they arrive in is being rebuilt after a devastating missile attack, an incident Akira appears to be linked with somehow.
He also discovers there are other people with similar phones, also with vast resources available to them. Several of these so-called "Seleção" are apparently not glad to see Akira re-appear in Japan and a lethal game of cats-and-mouse commences...
The series, EDEN OF THE EAST:
Amnesia as a story-device may be getting old and tired, but its effectiveness as an immersion tool cannot be denied. A protagonist who is as clueless as the audience is a great way to gently guide the viewer into a new world, and it also allows for all supporting acts to divulge expository detail at any given time.
And exposition you'll want. "Eden of the East"
takes place in a near future (the Manhattan WTC-site sports a completely finished Freedom Tower) where the world, but specifically Japan has been struck by a staggering economic catastrophe. Political extremism is on the rise and unemployment amongst the Japanese youth is skyrocketing, most of them becoming NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training), slackers and bums.
In short: nothing too futuristic or abstract, and very recognizable. This is a straight thriller rather than a science fiction thriller. So what is happening to Akira and what is behind that phone of his? The series is slow to reveal this, starting with a "Bourne" premise but moving closer and closer towards Brian Azzarello's stellar comic "100 Bullets"
in which select people got a briefcase with a gun and immunity from the law to use it in whichever way they wished. It makes for a very intriguing narrative from the start, but the series manages to keep raising the stakes and tension grows until its smashing finale in episode 11.
"Eden of the East"
was shown in Japan as part of Fuji-TV's famous and prestigious "noitaminA" slot late in the evening. Any series shown there tends to be aimed at adults rather than teenagers, often being abstract, philosophical or (on occasion) plain weird. Not so with "Eden of the East"
: the adultness of the series is in the fact that it tells a story, that you need to pay attention, and that the pacing allows for a more intricate puzzle than those seen in most other anime. Have no fear though: it still definitely aims for entertainment rather than enlightenment. The series also happens to contain one of the best uses of fanservice ever, featuring a character who regularly gets undressed without it being an annoyingly adolescent hindrance to the story.
Production values are very good. The designs and animation are polished and technical details have been cgi-enhanced to move in perfect perspective. It makes the series very easy on the eyes and at times simply a joy to watch. Locations look like locations instead of generic placeholders, and there is an overall air of believability which enhances the convoluted story.
The characters in that story, especially Akira and his accidental girlfriend Saki, are pretty multidimensional for an anime. Akira is obviously talented but not invincible. Saki may not be able to keep up with him but she isn't stupid or a constant damsel in distress either. Her side of the story allows series creator Kamiyama Kenji to show a rather scathing view of how the conservative parts of Japanese society tends to treat people, providing a serious social and humanist commentary not often seen in anime.
All in all the original anime series of "Eden of the East"
is pretty fantastic, an intelligently made thriller that flirts with several genres while staying pretty much grounded in reality. It also has a kick-ass ending.
Instead of following the storyline with a second series, it was decided to produce two full-length cinema movies instead. Which brings us to...
The first movie, THE KING OF EDEN:
When Mamoru Oshii was asked what his opinion was on the "Eden of the East"
series, he answered "Well, I have told Kamiyama Kenji that our relationship now strongly depends on how he will resolve the storyline in the upcoming movies..."
Indeed, the ending of the series was a very strong one and got expectations high, screaming for the films to pick up the thread where it was left dangling. The biggest disappointment therefore is that "The King of Eden"
doesn't do that. Instead, it jumps a few months forward with our hero Akira gone missing and his friends desperately trying to figure out where he can be. That they find him eventually is no surprise of course (he's on the cover of the BluRay after all), but it means that a lot of time is spent on people wondering what the hell is going on. On the plus side this gives ample opportunity for recaps of the convoluted and complex story so far, on the other hand we want to see Akira taking names and kicking ass. Well, that is not happening in this film.
What does happen though is that the tension is racked up. The events of the series have put pressure on the game with the phones and the Seleção are about to cook. People walk into traps, some clumsy, some incredibly elaborate. Some players band together reluctantly, others go crazy. Will Saki and Akira make it alive to the end, so that we hopefully get to the point where, well, Akira can FINALLY start taking names and kicking ass like we want him to?
The second movie, PARADISE LOST:
While the first movie did not exactly "runneth over" with thrills or added insights, it did end with one hell of a cliffhanger. Following this "Paradise Lost"
starts with all protagonists back in Japan, first and foremost Saki and Akira. Many of the Seleção have been damaged or are otherwise unable to continue the game, but things have not become any less dangerous for Akira. Hunted by the police as a terrorist and with his few remaining resources dwindling fast, Akira keeps smiling enigmatically and moves the last pieces in place to try and achieve his double goal: to end the game once and for all and smack its creator in the face.
But even Akira cannot control everything, especially not those forces which are no longer part of the game. And he cannot stop all friends who try to sacrifice themselves on his behalf...
With "Paradise Lost"
we reach the end, and what an end it is. While I like the series best, "Paradise Lost"
is a close second. I'm not sure the total arc fulfills the promise of its first half (the series), but the general quality remains very, very high and intelligence oozes out of its pores. Do you want a story which challenges you and forces you to connect the dots at several times without providing either easy questions or easy answers? Look no further.
Do you want a thriller with strong characters, both sympathetic and unsympathetic, who are not superheroes and remain believable till the end? Again, look no further.
It's not perfect though: the finale may be a tad anticlimactic for most people and several of the story's vast cast get short thrift. One of my favorite characters shows up literally for one second, and then only to provide brief fanservice of the nudie variety (guess who...).
But technically this may be the best of the series yet, as shown by the cgi enhanced fluid animation or the high levels of details in each eh... detail. While it never gets jawdropping or too obviously impressive, the animation is amongst the very best straight story-telling anime has to offer.
One last tip: once the end credits start to roll, do sit through them to see what's on the other side. You'll be pleased. What a difference one last minute can make...
Conclusion for all:
Director Kenji Kamiyama proves to be a pretty mean-and-lean writer as well. "Eden of the East"
is a fun ride and even though there are plenty of plot-threads left dangling for sequels, the original series provided a very satisfying story arc in itself with a killer ending.
How the films pick up from that ending is a bit disappointing, with lots of running around by all the protagonists to get back to roughly the same situation as where the series ended. But the movies do provide a closure which, though not completely satisfying, does provide answers to most of the questions while leaving fans with lots to discuss and fantasize about.
Very much recommended!
About the BluRays:
Collecting anime these days is hardly as challenging as it was a decade ago: if you lived in The Netherlands in 2001, you needed good luck and a regionfree DVD-player to find catalogue titles from Studio Ghibli for example!
Luckily that has changed and even though there are still many unreachable titles to grump about (I want Oshi's "Angel's Egg"
dammit!), we spoiled otaku can set our sights a wee bit higher and try to find high-definition copies of the stuff we like.
Many older titles made for standard definition broadcasting do not exist in high definition of course (duh), but many of the more recently made television series were actually created with high definition in mind. So thanks to distributors like Funimation, Manga UK and MadMan Australia, you can now buy "Eden of the East"
The versions I reviewed were the Funimation releases which are region AB, but apart from that the BluRays are exactly the same as the Manga UK and the MadMan releases (which are locked region B). Note that the two films have been released by Funimation as a DVD-BluRay combo while Manga UK and Madman have separate DVD and BluRay releases.
And I can keep these reviews pretty short for once on the audio and video front: this is very good stuff. Although the series and films are mostly story-driven and contain few of the "wow" moments you'd expect from a cinema production, it all looks crisp and shiny. Audio is particularly nice with original 5.1 tracks for both English and Japanese on all versions. Subtitles are excellent and often explain the untranslatable with short descriptions. The BluRays are noticeably sharper in detail and crisper in color than the DVD versions, so if you have the hardware go for it.
As for the extras, I'm going to concentrate on the ones which are on the BluRay discs. I will list them for each title separately.
For "Eden of the East"
, the extras start with a 22 minute interview with writer/director Kenji Kamiyama and character designer Chica Omino. It's an interesting item but also an odd one, as Ms. Omino never is in frame (a teddy-bear blocks the camera whenever she is almost seen).
Next up is an 18 minute interview with voice-actors Ryouhei Kimura and Saki Morimi who portray Akira and Saki. It's a bit of a puff-piece with both actors seeming very shy on camera and constantly praising each other.
But the next interview is with Kenji Kamiyama again, only this time he's sitting next to the great Mamoru Oshii who is notorious for not being shy in interviews and for not giving praise easily. This item is 27 minutes but they go by pretty fast as both also discuss anime in general and their work together on the two "Ghost in the Shell: StandAlone Complex"
Next is a 15 minute interview with art director Takeda who gives a pretty thorough overview of what was used for the series.
And then there is an 11 minute interview with composer Kenji Kawai. Now I happen to think this is one of the best score composers in the world living today, and given his past with Production IG I thought the "Eden of the East"
gig would have been a given. Not so, apparently, as he tells the interviewer how nervous he was during his audition for the job. Huh? This guy still has to audition? Damn!
Rounding off these items are two trailers for this title, a textless version of the closing song and 8 trailers for other Funimation series.
For "The King of Eden"
the servings are a bit meager in comparison, with basically just a few trailers for this film. The other items are eight trailers for other titles by Funimation (a ninth one for "Evangelion 2.22"
actually starts the disc) and an item called "Air Communication"
But this last item is a whopper: if you need a refresher of the original series but do not feel like rewatching the full 11 episodes, look no further. "Air Communication"
takes 10 minutes on average out of every episode of "Eden of the East"
and re-edits them into a two-hour long movie. Quite well done too to be honest, although I prefer the full series of course. Still, to get this as an extra for "The King of Eden"
is pretty awesome as it is a good deal longer than the main feature and, frankly, has a better story to tell as well.
Finally, "Paradise Lost"
is loaded with two commentaries for the main feature. One is with the US voice cast but the second is a video commentary, with text boxes explaining details about the film as you watch it. Very, very cool and a treasure trove of information regarding not just this film, but the previous one and the series as well. And after the epilogue you get an extra few minutes showing the audience during screenings in Japan and a short interview with Kenji Kamiyama, looking back on the whole endeavor now that it is finished. Excellent stuff.
Other than that there are five trailers for the "Eden of the East"
series and films, and eight trailers for other Funimation titles. A ninth one for "Trigun: Badlands Rumble"
starts the disc.
No sign of the Memphis Three though so I hope you didn't buy this disc by accident.
Speaking of buying, these titles are for sale through our direct affiliates and I should point out that especially the original series is a steal for the current price, whichever version of it you choose.
Link to Manga UK's BluRay release of the series
Link to Manga UK's BluRay release of "The King of Eden"
Link to Manga UK's BluRay release of "Paradise Lost"
Link to Funimation's US BluRay release of the series
Link to Funimation's US BluRay/DVD combo release of "The King of Eden"
Link to Funimation's US BluRay/DVD combo release of "Paradise Lost"
Funimation will also be re-releasing the original series as a BluRay/DVD combo in December, and you can pre-order that version here:
Link to Funimation's US BluRay/DVD combo release of the series
Eden of the East
- Ryohei Kimura
- Saori Hayami
- Leah Clark
- Jason Liebrecht