Why Eden of the East isn't for you - Part 2

Part two of why the Production I.G. produced, Kenji Kamiyama written and directed series, Eden of the East, isn't for you. Part one is also available.

3. You're (probably) not living in a post-apocalyptic country

Kanji Kamiyama did not live through the decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor was he even born during the rapid rebuilding of the cities. His childhood was however set against an era of Japanese history that saw the political emasculation of the American occupation and the fallout from the woefully misguided Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Xenophobia was high and without a standing military force to protect them, the national feeling of powerlessness was great; but even recently those feels have been brought into sharp focus with North Korea's brazen firing of a rocket towards the Japanese mainland.

Eden of the East's Careless Monday incident - where eleven missiles struck populated areas around Japan - and the further attacks depicted in the series and movies speak to a very fundamental part of the psyche for many Japanese. Despite being in speculative fiction, these are not baseless fears and though some foreign viewers may have lived through the Cold War's Duck and Cover drills, when survivors of the only nuclear attacks in history are still present in society the threats of attack from outside aggressors depicted in the series are made more poignant.

The response to Careless Monday though is all the more fascinating. With the lack of casualties it's relayed by Saki that the media was whipped into a frenzy of speculation - there was no shock-and-awe military response from Japan and it had no more weight than a particularly scurrilous political scandal. The youth in Eden of the East never dealt with the omniscient threat of attack or invasion, and Careless Monday was a reminder of a turning point in Japan's history - a period Mr Outside lived through - as well as its place as a country in the larger world.

As the events of Careless Monday were revealed, did the absurdity and implausibility of the situation override all or was there a nagging feeling that the possibility and the response hit a little too close to home?

4. It doesn't focus on what you expect

How many anime series do you know of that focus on characters not in high-school? How many can boast a focus on arguably the most turbulent period of time - when schooling has finished and the rest of one's life stretches inexorably out before them? Eden of the East isn't about Pants, the shut-in über-hacker responsible for a prognosticating computer program; it's not about Micchon the programmer extraordinaire; it's not even about Satoshi who pines endlessly for Saki. It's about a capricious girl who doesn't know what she wants to do with life and a paper-boy who got forced into the high-stakes game of a billionaire eccentric. They are victims of circumstance and Akira's altruism and Saki's determination turn them from unlikely protagonists into worthwhile heroes, free from cliché and familiarity.

Similarly the story diverges from the techno-fetishism of the phones and Juiz, the mystery of the twelve Seleção and Mr Outside's antagonistic posturing into a politically-tinged diatribe on the young versus the old, usurpers versus the establishment. Many of the Seleção and their movements are entirely ignored throughout the series, just as Akira's past is never truly hammered down and it can seem like story threads are left dangling until the realisation that only what has been necessary to tell the story has been divulged.

It all starts in the first episode when Akira utilises the Japanese embassy to obtain tickets back home; it's a throwaway line to Saki in the airport but it demonstrates not only that he is smart and pragmatic, but that if the audience wishes to keep up, they need to be as well. The Juiz system is never gifted with the exposition that they are artificial-intelligence units but, like the unknown Seleção, the truth about them is largely unimportant. It is storytelling at its most judicious and its most adult, understated emotions to unimportant problems, it is the antithesis of the brain-dead mollycoddling so many other series, anime or otherwise, perform.

So when you first sat down to Eden of the East, unfolding the expected structure of one Seleção per episode, the antagonist Mr Outside lurking, waiting to be defeated, and the seductive sounding Juiz to reveal, it was the assumptions built by other sloppy series that lead to that befuddling disjoint that for some, never wore off.

Responses to “Why Eden of the East isn't for you - Part 2”

@jerry and chaostangent
I actually got a completely different feel from post 9/11 America. There was a lot of anger going around, and the student reaction wasn't as passive as the reaction of the people in Eden of the East's reaction was either. And I think that the threat of terrorist activities was still very real in Western society, though probably not America. Between the multiple train bombings in Europe, I'd be surprised if people there weren't pretty scared about terrorism. I'm still unsure of this "isolationist" attitude that you describe, because that seems to be a product of the long, dragged out wars in the Middle East, and doesn't reflect the sentiments of people just a few months into the war in Afghanistan.

And about point 4, now I see where you're coming from. Yeah, the focus is certainly different from the normal school setting, which is really what a lot of people expect from anime. On the other hand, I still can't agree with the point about broken plot points. The thing with a lot of viewers is that they expect everything to get tied up nicely with a bow on top. Even if the missing Selecao was not pertinent to the plot, the average viewer would still want all of them to be revealed.
Heh. I think you may have misjudged how remote the Eden of the East image recognition tech is. I've seen really impressive student demos of algorithms that search an image library for a match to part of a photo. More to the point - I saw an IPO announcement for a startup company just last month that sounded remarkably close to the Eden of the East conception. Of course, Google may beat them to it. As to Juiz level AI - that's another story.
@Ethan: I certainly wouldn't say GitS was incoherent but you're right about the politics. It was suitably complex for the situation but it relied on many extrapolations that pushed it well into the realm of unbelievability, but still cohesive and detailed enough for a fictional world to feel immersive.

I would also disagree that the tech was "doable" as you describe it. Perhaps because of my background I found the image recognition, Juiz AI and prognostication program from Pants completely outlandish in an otherwise well conceived near-future world. The Seleção phones I liked and they felt "right", but definitely agree with you that any attempted explanation as to their workings would have completely destroyed their place in the world. The NEET vs. visionary concept you mention though is something that I pick up on in the last part, suffice to say I agree wholeheartedly.

I have heard a lot about Dennou Coil but never seemed to be able to get into it - I think the young child focus of it really put me off, despite it being critical to the message of the series. As far as Summer Wars is concerned, I agree in principle, but think it takes the fluffier more entertaining approach which fits with the tone of the movie, but doesn't provide for much after thought.

Many thanks for reading!

@jerry: I've e-mailed you about the second comment you made. Drop me a line if you want to discuss further. And with regards Eden of the East versus Ghost in the Shell, the only thing I'll say is: apples and oranges.
@Michael is Low on Hit Points: You're right in the way I'm structuring it, and I certainly don't mean anything derogatory by it; it isn't an elitist "it's not for you" but, for most of the points, more a cultural "you don't live and breathe the background to this work".

In terms of Eden's potential, it certainly could have gone further with the ideas it contained, but I wouldn't say the commentary by the end was silly. It was poorly divulged though, the long dialogue between Takizawa and Seleção #1, Daiju, in the final movie could have been a lot better and the way it was built up as a climactic meeting of opposing ideologies never really came off.

I think there's plenty in the series and movies, but I guess it again boils down to your expectations and you thought the series would deliver. In terms of conclusive ways forward for the fictional and real Japan and endings for the characters it certainly didn't deliver; but as food for thought and varying thoughts on how best to approach the perceived problem I thought it did brilliantly.

@Mystlord: I see what you're saying about point three, but I think they're two sides of the same coin and maybe feeds into what jerry is getting at. Even if you omit the modern history of Japan as many of the younger generation are wont to do, the isolationist attitude to things like 9/11 is something that is lived with and an event like Careless Monday would bring home. So whereas I focused on the past and how that would affect the viewing of these events, the present is just as important and informs the response, each unable to exist without the other. Am I reading that right or have I grabbed the wrong end of the stick?

As far as point four is concerned: you're right, the base story has been done before and is a fairly common structure but if you boil down any story you only get x (insert your number here, 11?) base stories. My main point was on the more adult nature of it, specifically around college/university, of which only Moyasimon springs to mind, perhaps Love Hina at a stretch? And as far as broken plot points go, was there anything egregious that stood out? Most of the main ones like Takizawa's history (through the unreliable narrator filter), the identity and MO of Mr Outside, how Juiz works and so forth seemed to have been wrapped up. When it comes to missing Seleção, would they have really added anything to the core narrative? You could even argue that the idiot filmmaker of the movies was entirely superfluous...

@Taka: I completely agree, after watching both movies and the parallels they draw with the series I had to go back and rewatch to get the full story. What did please me was the fact that the movies were always going to be part of the story, the very first scene with Saki looking through her phone makes that clear, so the idea the whole story is coherently thought out holds at least some weight.

As far as the amount of content is concerned, I got the same feeling. The series could have done with a lot more expansion so it didn't have to be so picky about what it showed and didn't and could have maybe had more than cursory flashbacks to Careless Monday and Takizawa duping the 20,000 NEETs. That said, I strongly appreciate what it was able to convey in such a short time, but no series should really require a second viewing to understand the most basic of points.

To be honest, I'm still not entirely convinced as to whether the allegories and symbolism were entirely necessary as, like you say, they seem to flit between deciding how important they should be. Likewise with the differing levels of seriousness - the super-deformed style that Saki & co. took on at times seemed really incongruous to the overall style and tone of the show. Likewise with the Japanese-filtered English which wasn't too bad in the series (johnny excluded, I found that as intensely annoying as you evidently did), but the movies were downright atrocious - check out some of the text in the openings if you needed any convincing.
@Mystlord: I thought the social reaction to the Careless Monday attacks was something that many young people had in America regarding 9/11. But perhaps my personal experience with 9/11 is way different than yours.

For me, during the day of 9/11, my friends almost immediately shrugged it off. I believe we were all about 20, or around the same age as the Eden of the East characters. A couple of my friends seemed to see the attacks as just statistically insignificant. A friend of mine who was going to Yale at the time said that nearly all her fellow Yale students were pretty apathetic regarding the attacks. Later, a friend of mine in the US Army said a similar thing. While their base was in some kind of alert status, for the most part, most of the young soldiers did not take the attacks in a serious manner, according to him. It wasn't some attack on the very foundations of the American Way or Justice or whatever, it just meant there was work to do.

My carpool buddy didn't really see the big deal behind 9/11, and neither did his Muslim girlfriend at the time, either. It was pretty much life as usual for everyone I knew. And this "constant fear of terrorism" you mention... I really don't think most high school/college students have ever gone through that. And I think Eden of the East's main audience in the US is going to be in that high school/college age range. So I think most young people in Developed countries could easily identify with the "meh" social reaction to Careless Monday.

And once it's revealed that no one died in the Careless Monday attacks because they were evacuated by "government" soldiers immediately before the missile blasts, it makes a lot of sense that the public of a country, any country, would react more with confusion and eventually apathy, instead of some kind of "the terrorists are trying to kill us!" anger.

Regarding this show's popularity vs Ghost in the Shell.. There's no way Eden of the East is doing as well as Ghost in the Shell. The show is quite simple and humble. Ghost in the Shell is about cyborgs who have superhuman abilities, awesome technology, cool guns and planes, and spider tanks. I mean.. come on. Eden of the East is about a friggin' start up company and unemployed people.
This (American) viewer encountered a bit of a bump near the start of Eden of the East, because the term NEET is not in use in this part of the world. In took one detour to learn its original context in the UK, then another detour to learn that the meaning has shifted in Asia, before I finally was on board with the social context. But from that point on I thought it was very well done indeed. Much better than, say GitS. OK, GitS was visually stunning at times, partcularly the movie, but it was incoherent at best and the politics was a totally imaginary mish-mosh pulled out of nowhere. The basic weakness was that it was set too far in the future for either the technology or the politics to hit close to home.

By contrast, Eden of the East pulled in both contemporary and very near future tech and politics in order to examine both, leading the viewer to reflect on both in terms of right here, right now. I particular appreciated that the tech behind the Eden of the East startup was so obviously useful, and so obviously doable, that it made Saki and the crew much more believable. Better yet, the producers didn't hit us over the head with a lot of dialogue explaining how it worked. Instead we got to see a few examples, and we heard passing mention of how Saki had been the one to see the vast potential in cross-indexing video recognition with on-line catalogs. We also saw that in contemporary Japan this group of young entrepreneurs could be labeled as NEETS, whereas the here in the orbit of Silicon Valley they would more likely have been immediately hailed as the next generation of business visionaries.

Eden of the East did have flaws, and was not entirely unique in its focus. It was one of three recent anime treatments I've seen that deal with the impact of near-future tech on current social structures. Of these, I think Dennou Coil was by far the most successful, though targeted at a rather different audience. Summer Wars was somewhere in between. Summer Wars doesn't have as much to say as either of the other two, but it has the virtue of following a single story with a narrow focus in one long ride. Of course, that's easier to do in a movie than in either 26 TV episodes (Dennou Coil) or the mixed TV/movie format of Eden of the East.
I get the feeling that Eden of the East isn't a series you can watch 12 episodes of then have a movie about after everyone has forgotten the first 12 episodes; or for that matter a series that works well on a week by week basis. I might someday have to re-watch everything within a shorter time frame than several years.

I also wonder about whether they tried to cram too much into the story. The Careless Monday thing was brought up at the start of the TV series but wasn't really elaborated on much till the end and the subsequent movies. you say there was unrest and uncertainty over the events of Careless Monday but I'm not sure if the show did a good job of depicting that. I suppose the TV series main goal was to explain the 20,000 NEET situation. (which I'm not sure if they succeeded or not) I felt like there were a lot of plot lines that they couldn't tie together coherently. Though like the previous comments that may be some culture context I don't have.

This also ties into the symbols a little bit. The series couldn't decide whether it wanted to be grounded in reality and straight talk or to be absurd and allegorical. That indecision being what causes the confusion in the watchers. If it was completely straight with the viewer we wouldn't need extra explanation. If it had more absurd moments we could have suspended our disbelief more easily. It's difficult to mix these 2 styles, and rarely does the product come out that isn't open to interpretation.

Also, I got so tired of hearing about "johnny" srsly.
Hm I'd actually disagree on point 3. I believe that the reason why Western viewers are disenchanted with the entire Careless Monday premise is not because we've never lived in a world similar to Japan, but rather the entire "disenchanted" feeling of the post-Careless Monday Japan just doesn't and really can't resonate with a Western audience. Whereas Japan has been stagnating for the past decade, and with little real motivation from anyone to do anything about it, Western society is completely different. From the frenzy over September 11 and the constant fear of terrorist activities, the post-9/11 Western society and the post-Careless Monday Japanese society are two fundamentally different world views. For this reason, I believe that Western viewers think that the premise of Eden of the East was rather silly and impossible. Eden of the East is very much a Japanese social commentary, not a Western one.

I also somewhat disagree with your 4th point, in that many shows nowadays follow this sort of "general" format, in that "girl leads an average life until X happens and suddenly the girl's life is changed forever". Eden of the East doesn't really deviate from this trend, but I think the primary disconnect between EotE and audiences is just how not everything is explained. I generally see a lot of frustration at the broken plot points, the random missing Selecao, and so on and so forth.
New points to debate! While I see now that you're structuring this in the vein of "Eden wasn't written for you" (you = typical American anime audience), I still disagree that this is the main reason interest in Eden dropped out. The series simply never lived up to its potential, chiefly with the political commentary itself turning downright silly by the end of it all. Though, I do not rule out the possibility that this view is merely my own and that I'm projecting this desire for critical quality over the multitude of anime fan types who may have been simply looking for action and whatnot. Of course, it could also be said that I only really care about the critical viewers take on this series, so...
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