Why Eden of the East isn't for you - Part 1

It was spring 2009. Code Geass had been over for many months and nothing had filled that void: a show which unified otherwise disparate fans. Production I.G. had long since wrapped up the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex project, following them up with two other Masamune works of varying popularity and polish - Ghost Hound and Real Dive. Kenji Kamiyama meanwhile had completed the respectable Serei no Moribito and was then attached to a new project. Could this be? All the signs pointed to another A-grade production, so was Eden of the East The Next Big Thing?


With only eleven episodes, a labyrinthine story and the galling promise of completing the story with a subsequent two theatrical movies - Eden of the East was mostly ignored or scorned by Western fans. The story didn't make sense, the mysteries weren't elaborated upon, the characters weren't interesting enough and the list goes on. With the release of the two movies and the completion of the project I had to ask: what went wrong? It was like getting a jigsaw but when all the pieces were put together the picture wasn't what was on the box.

It wasn't until I started picking the series apart - aided by a rewatch to best position the movies - that the most obvious conclusion presented is that I'm not the target audience. Chances are you're not either. Here's why:

1. It's not Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex

The Standalone Complex project cost Production I.G. a lot of money and they have stated on numerous occasions that until they recoup that, they won't be producing anything further in the franchise. This stance seems especially baffling with the release of series that utilised various parts of the creative team behind SAC, especially so with Real Dive which also contorted a lot of the concepts SAC presented. The oft repeated cry then is: why tease with "nearly" SAC when you can just make more?

To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert's superb presentation: chances are many of the team will never create a work as good as SAC ever again, and instead of trying to recapture or recreate that brilliance, the only thing to do is to keep working, keep creating. That is Eden of the East. The expectation that every new Production I.G. / Kenji Kamiyama collaboration will be as good as or better than SAC will damn any series the same as any inflated expectation will. Kamiyama is far from done in his career as a director and producer, and the level of quality he brings to his works are immense, just as the ideas and themes he explores continue to fascinate.

2. It's all about politics

Sure Eden of the East has casual nudity, an amnesiac protagonist, a flying, genital mutilating sociopath and an all-powerful voice-on-the-phone but the politics underpin the grander narrative. It's about the distrust and enmity between the Japanese and their politicians, the way their Diet chews through Prime Ministers would be mildly terrifying in other countries, yet there it is a natural if disruptive part of the political process.

Many of the elements in Eden of the East stem from this distrust. First off the Seleção (The Selected) are chosen through an obscure process and are gifted a huge budget - what's the betting the 10 billion yen is equivalent to that received by certain government departments? - and given the remit to "save" Japan. Sounds a lot like the process for selecting a politician; from there the similarity is idealised.

The phrase Juiz (Judge) utters: "Nobless Oblige" implies the twelve should conduct themselves appropriately to being the saviour of a country lest they be forcibly removed by "Mr Outside". Even their accounting is improved by being completely transparent. No more black holes, no more hiding behind red tape or creative accounting; everyone is privy to everyone else's vices and activities.

The Seleção are the new breed of politicians, elevated above the democratic process with guile and cunning through the judicious use of Juiz, their aide extraordinaire. The old politicians then are lambasted, shown as bumbling incompetents who fold under bribes of pittance, ferrying about a common citizen at the airport or saying choice phrases during the meeting of the Diet. Once Takizawa begins his ascension to King of Japan the volume of these bribes increases with much of his entirely fictitious power coming from them.

This is brought to a head by the antagonist, Seleção no. 1, Mononobe who is shown as the very antithesis of someone such as Takizawa and the epitome of the upper echelons of society: well-groomed, well-spoken, calculating and entirely ruthless. He mercilessly plays the other Seleção off each other and to achieve his own whims while keeping himself elevated above the aftermath - an old style puppet master with new style tools.

Eden of the East is a political thriller wrapped up in a science fiction mystery, demanding all the subtle logic required to keep track of the shifting motivations and subterfuge but with the added complexity of near-future technologies and character lead drama. The opening episodes only hint at this, lulling the audience with with Akira's flight from America and Saki's growing adoration for him, but hints as to what is coming are sown throughout and important revelations flower once the story lurches precipitously into its denser monologues.

Responses to “Why Eden of the East isn't for you - Part 1”

Ok, if we're talking critical reception, then yes, comparison of Eden to other positively received series (GitS) could cause some backlash (though personally I believe it shouldn't, I'm sure it will with many people).

On to the social commentary point: I would hope that a push in that direction would not hurt it's reception based on that alone, but I guess some people would then lose interest (ugh). But I think the show's inability to properly capitalize on that social commentary is the real key here.

Now I'm understanding what you were getting in the post!
@Michael is Low on Hit Points: Yes you're spot on, the thrust of the argument is why Eden of the East came in with a bang and left with a whimper - but more on the critical than the popular side.

I don't think GitS had anything to do with a wider audience, if anything it probably got more people on board to begin with. But that's kind of my point, the marketing on both the Japanese and English side pushed the "This is from the people who brought you Standalone Complex" message which, I believe, created expectations that it would be as bombastic as GitS was. In terms of appeal, no I don't believe it harmed it, but in terms of expectations - either perceived or imagined - versus reality, I think it's key.

When it comes to foreign social and economic policies of Japan, again I don't think that hurt its appeal. It really couldn't as that didn't manifest until well beyond the first half of the series which may go some way to explaining its strong start and weaker end as far as popularity is concerned. My point was that in contrast to the expectations the opening episodes built up, the series is about something more complex and oblique than a guy getting his memory back and a girl chasing after him.

I think we're arguing cross purposes here which I believe is my fault for not adequately explaining where this is coming from. I'm certainly in no position to argue the popularity or appeal angles, but I am from my exposure to the instant, mostly negative, critical opinion which I believe stems from the above reasons.
What I meant popularity-wise is that it started out on everyone's radar, and then fizzled out. I think this is what you find to be true too? What I really meant to debate was why the series lost favor. I don't believe GitS had anything whatsoever to do with Eden's inability to grasp a wider audience, nor do I think Western unfamiliarity with Japan's social and economic issues really hurt the show's appeal either. I believe the fault for Eden not becoming a bigger (and longer lasting) hit lies elsewhere (as in, it simply did not execute what it set out to do at a high enough level, if that isn't me being too general about it).
@Hanners The East of Eden movie (and the John Steinbeck novel it was adapted from) are basically a retelling of Cain and Abel from the bible. Steinbeck's novel is a little less transparent about it than the film but both were heavily influenced. The title refers to the land that Cain lived in when he left the lord's company.

Also the promotional materials heavily feature an apple. I can't remember if it's explicitly used in the show but the ED and promotional shots feature apples either being held, or given or just shown. The apple in a biblical sense is a symbol of original sin. It is also seen as a symbol for woman. When I first watched the series, I felt somehow Saki would "tempt" Takizawa based on the symbolism. I'm not sure if that happened or not.

I'm with chaostangent in not sure whether the symbolism was intended for meaning or just thrown in. It's definitely there though.
@Han­ners: I thought she represented the disenfranchised youth that Takizawa was ostensibly trying to "save". So her lack of job prospects and her disillusionment with that seemed to make her latch on to Takizawa all the stronger. You also have her affiliation with the EotE group (itself led by a self-confessed NEET) which is pitched as a kind of political protest group in the movies - being vilified and then them escaping through the old tunnels used during the previous round of student upheaval.

@Michael is Low on Hit Points: Is there any proof it is popular? I mentioned before I haven't seen the home video response which I'm guessing is a lot better than I expected, but I have seen a lot of marketing but not a lot of glowing opinions.

As for GITS:SAC that was my exact point (obviously poorly made). Many people I've talked to who have seen GITS:SAC always want more, and see Production I.G. pouring money and creativity into other projects and question why they're not just pumping out more Standalone complex. It's the peril of expectation that needs to be dismissed before a work can be enjoyed on its own merits.

I didn't say focusing on politics was a "detraction for the Western audience" although I apologise if I implied it. My intent was to expand on the expectation idea and say how those expecting a show that wasn't tied to its ethos may be disappointed. So how you don't need to understand Mayan mythology to enjoy RahXephon but it helps, whereas here, understanding the politics behind it is, in my opinion, key to really enjoying the series.

As for the exploration of the Seleção, it's something I'm brining up in the next part which, I'm beginning to see, was perhaps a short-sighted moved to break up.

Again, many thanks for reading and your thoughts.
Um... where to begin?

Your claim that Eden is not popular in the West is kind of bogus. Everywhere I looked, the series was tremendously appealing to just about everyone one at the get-go. That excitement died off, but that has nothing to do with the points you make.

It not being GitS has nothing to do with its declining hold. In fact, Eden's conceptual base may exceed even GitS, but that is of course up to personal opinion. Even if you view it as the opposite, that isn't going to honestly detract from Eden at all.

As for the show focusing on politics being a detraction for the Western audience... huh? From everything that I understand, the West is much more into politics than the East. While I could be mistaken there, the West certainly isn't allergic to political discussion and commentary; just the opposite!

The actual knock against the series is that it never really lived up to its brilliant concept. The Selecao were never fully explored. The emotional highs that a series about changing the world were never hit. And the ending took the political commentary into childishly naive posturing. Everyone might have well gone ahead and ate their damn cake.
@Taka - I don't think there are any deliberate biblical references in Eden of the East, and certainly not in its title; if anything, it's probably more in deference to the East of Eden movie given the show's frequent references to cinema in some shape or form.

As for Saki, she's simply a representation of a break-away from the cynicism which pervades society - she was effectively the only one who believed in Takisawa throughout, and the only one who believed that he could make a difference and change Japan when everyone else rolled their eyes and dismissed him as an idiot, an idealist and so on.
@Exec­ut­i­ve­O­taku & @Hanners: There's more to come!

@Taka: I'm divided as to whether the metaphors are in there for a reason or just as an aside. As well the biblical leanings there's also the Sun motif on top of the Mall (rising sun etc.) as well as some interesting numerology that I'll bring up in another part. Honestly I didn't really catch any of the metaphors first time around so maybe it's over-reading or just added extras?

@Jo: To begin with, I have no idea what "shounenite", "Death Note-esque" or "Mania" is so if they're critical to your argument more familiar terms may be required.

I don't dislike the series at all, and my penchant for Eden of the East is the reason for my research into it; however it's not without its contentious aspects and the groundswell of opinion that accompanied its initial airing is as I've relayed. I don't follow the critical reception of home video releases but if it has been received well then all the better, just as if they enjoyed it more than GITS:SAC that is brilliant as well.

As far as comparing Eden of the East to Code Geass, I qualified that with "a show which uni­fied oth­er­wise dis­par­ate fans" which is the only comparison I made, there was no mention of popularity only on the kind of show which crossed ordinary barriers to entry and allowed for a far broader discussion. Star Driver and Panty and Stocking would be examples for this season.

As far as your notes on GITS:SAC are concerned, I have nothing but reverence for the series and find it mildly insulting that you would denigrate the reasons for me or anybody watching it. I have no need to justify my adoration of the series but would say that the politics of both series are poles apart and if you can apply what I said about the Seleção and Juiz to Section 9 et. al. I'd be fascinated to hear how.

Many thanks for reading and I hope this answers at least some of the issues you had with the post.
Frankly, I don't get this article at all. I can't help but think that a) the writer's dislike of the series is biased by his mistaken perception of EotE's reception or that b) this totally untrue information about EotE's reception is just a biased byproduct of the writers dislike for the series. Regardless, the information about its reception is very wrong. EotE has not at all been received poorly in the west or has been rendered moot because of an inferiority to GitS SAC; in fact I've seen a few editorial reviews from relatively important publications state outright that they enjoyed EotE quite a bit more than GitS SAC, including ANN and Mania.
Making me even more bewildered is what you wrote about politics... I swear, if I had read that stand alone I would've had no doubt that it was a statement for why GitS SAC fans will enjoy EotE; that's exactly what serious fans liked about GitS SAC. It's like you're writing this from some shounenite point of view who watches GitS SAC for "teh acshun."
Finally, I find it bizarre you compare the potential popularity of EotE - another supremely well made and intelligent Kamiyama series - to Code Geass - another faux logic, poor man's Oshii, Death Note-esque series. Of course the later is going to "unify" the anime masses.

I swear, I feel like I slipped into the Twilight Zone when I read this article.
Interesting post about the political side of it. I didn't really acknowledge the political bit until the last movie. I don't know enough about Japanese politics to really enjoy and understand it either.

One thing that the show/movies didn't satisfy for me was it never really tied all it's metaphors together in a satisfying way. Namely, the more biblical metaphors like calling the show "Eden of the East". Was there some kind of biblical allegory? Are the old politicians "God" and all the selecao Adam, cast out of the garden? I was hoping for some illumination along those lines.

Also, Saki; why is she in the story at all? What purpose does she really serve? In the original ED credits it was heavily implied that she was the "Eve" to Takizawa's Adam but to me they never seemed to go anywhere with the symbolism.

Also how the hell did that chick fly.
I'm with ExecutiveOtaku, I enjoyed it *because* of the dense social and political commentary not in spite of it, particularly come the second movie which everyone else seemed to hate but I lapped up.

I can certainly see why it didn't live up to its perceived billing from some quarters, but I can't fault it for what it did set out to do, and I dare say it succeeded for the most part aside from the tepid first movie.
I've yet to get to the movies, but I think I enjoyed the series so much because of your second point. And after reading the post, I'm now more likely to get to watching the movies sooner rather than later. While the GiTS connection was there, I wasn't expecting it to be the same, though now that you point it out I guess I can see why others would put those expectations upon Eden of the East.

I guess I was the target audience, heh.
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