From Kenji Kamiyama, the director of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, comes Eden of the East, a thought-provoking mystery with a hint of romance. Be prepared to analyze everything you see as you immerse yourself in the world of this refreshingly complex, anime tale of intrigue.
Saki Morimi is a young, Japanese woman in her final year of college. For her graduation trip, she travels to the United States to see Washington D.C. Standing just outside the White House gates, she throws a coin onto the grounds which creates a stir amongst the guards. Some police immediately detain and question Saki until a strange, naked, Japanese man shows up and deflects the guards' attention. After she makes her escape, she follows the man to his apartment and where she discovers that his name is Akira Takizawa and that's about all he can remember. Regardless of Akira's unclear history, Saki is curious enough to head back to Japan with him and help him uncover his mysterious past.
Akira's mind was erased by his own choosing. As he tries to find out about his past, he discovers that he is one of twelve participants selected for a bizarre game run by a man known only as Mr. Outside. Each participant, called a Seleção, must play the game. They are each given ten billion yen to use as they please to save Japan. The hitch is that they can only use the money through a high tech cell phone that provides a direct link to Juiz--a concierge capable of instantly granting any request, which comes at a price. Once their balance reaches zero, the game is over and someone called the Supporter kills them. That is, unless they save Japan, in which case they win the game and the remaining Seleção are killed.
Eden of the East is a slow burn anime that gradually reveals its secrets over the course of the eleven episode series. It's not until a character named Panties comes into play that the story really moves forward. Until then, the show is mainly about Akira Takizawa investigating why he erased his memory and exactly what was erased. That's not to say that Eden of the East is boring or takes itself too seriously. For a show of this genre, it's remarkably engaging and even funny at times. The main characters, Akira and Saki, quickly develop into very likeable characters with a mix of serious and lighthearted scenes. Some of the accusations that are thrown Akira's way are difficult to believe, because he is portrayed as such a decent guy. However, there's always a hint of doubt about Akira and the series keeps you guessing about him until the very end.
This series is only eleven episodes in length. By the end of the tenth, I was really curious how the writers could possibly wrap things up in a single episode. The story is succinct and every scene serves a purpose. This is a welcome change from many anime series that unnecessarily stretch a storyline to hit an episode count, which usually leads to a hot springs episode or some other nonsense that only fills. I'm not going to name any series in particular, but most longtime anime fans can readily list some of the most notorious offenders.
Kenji Kamiyama manages to conclude the story by the final episode, but without giving spoilers, the ending was weird. Don't worry, it's not Evangelion weird. It's not completely satisfying, but it's passable, like ordering Coke at a restaurant and finding out that they only serve Pepsi. The resolution answers many lingering questions, but it also leaves the viewer questioning what in the world just happened. I was disappointed until I heard that two movies have been released since this series originally aired in Japan: Eden of the East Movie I: The King of Eden and Eden of the East Movie II: Paradise Lost. Hopefully these movies will clear up the many questions I still have--and FUNimation cannot release these movies soon enough.
Audio: The audio tracks include English and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. I listened to the dub for this review and the sound quality features great clarity. The on-screen action features mostly dialogue with a little action here and there, likewise your center channel gets used extensively and the surrounds are mainly reserved for ambient sounds.
The dub is extremely well acted and I never felt the urge to flip over to the Japanese language track. Jason Liebrecht, who voices Akira, and Leah Clark, who voices Saki, are instantly likeable with friendly and intelligent voices that also portray a sense of independence and free-thinking--characteristics which are crucial for their roles to succeed. Also worth mentioning is Stephanie Sheh's work as Meechan, the computer genius girl, whose awkward shyness and barely audible retorts add comedic elements to many scenes that make you laugh or at least bring a smile to your face.
Video: This series features a flawless transfer. The color palette is not the most vibrant, but the image is clean and free of artifacts and looks incredible. I can't imagine how this would look much better in Blu-ray--the DVD image is that good. The artwork is relatively simple and toned down, but executed to perfection and a delight to watch. There are some instances of CGI, which fit in well with the look of the show, but are still obvious. The only time it was distracting was when they used CGI to create background human characters, which looked ridiculously out of place.
Extras: Along with the typical FUNimation trailers and textless credits, a few promotional spots and video interviews are included:
Final Thoughts: Anime series as original and thought-provoking as Eden of the East do not come around very often. You do not have to be an anime fan to enjoy this series. The story is deep and mysterious, the characters are interesting and very likeable, and there are some truly funny scenes that break up the sullen tone. This is the type of show that attracts new anime fans. The ending left something to be desired, but there are additional movies that I expect will clear things up. Alright, Eden of the East, you hooked me. Highly Recommended.