Eden of the East has one of the best first episodes of any Anime I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The writing is absolutely perfect, the animation style is some of the best alongside greats like Miyazaki. The music and sound choices are all absolutely perfect and the dubbing, that thing that makes White Japan fans cringe, is so perfect it seems like it was meant to be. My experiences at the Anime Expo can be summed up in the sentence “It was entirely worth it to see the opening episode of this show.”
It is because of this first episode and indeed the first three to five that follow it that I find myself remembering why I don’t watch Anime. Let’s dive into the good, the unfortunate, and the nearly heartbreaking summary (light or void of spoilers) that is Eden of the East.
Whenever I’m overly critical of something it is specifically because I feel like it could have been something great. I see a passion just beneath the surface that nearly crushes my heart because I know that the hypothetical end product that may exist out there in the universe is forever out of my grasp. What I am left is what I actually got and it nearly brings me to tears (at an artistic level). To say that the art style in Eden of the East is good would be to do it a grave disservice. This might be some of the best animation I’ve seen in years and years. I was enraptured the very first minute I was watching. Their stylized introduction and outro, those first moments of dialogue, I was really genuinely shocked.
The story begins with a young japanese girl but the name of Saki Morimi standing outside the gates of the White House. The dialogue that follows is on point and I delighted in every syllable. A momentary misunderstanding with a coin toss, and the overreaction of American Police, leads her to meet the male lead Akira Takizawa in one of the most memorable ways I think I’ve ever experienced. I don’t want to spoil even a spec of it because I want you to feel what I felt. Every word between these two is just steeped in chemistry, maybe not (initially) romantic but its something sweet and it really captures a kind of interaction that I think we all pine for.
Both of these characters are charming to a fault. The last time I was this unendingly attached to a character it was Goku from the original series of Dragon Ball (take from that what you will, I really love his innocence and relentless compassion). If you were only going to watch a single episode of anything this year for any reason I would recommend the first episode of this Anime over literally anything else.
The story picks up at a snails pace over the next few episodes and its some of the best pacing I’ve seen in anime in a long time. But in the back of my mind I was deeply worried because I knew that the series was only 12 (11?) episodes long with two movies (one of which I haven’t seen). I knew, without question, that my honeymoon with this anime was about to be crushed and crushed brutally.
This shows weakness is that it is too good. That might sound moronic but when you consider that they build up one of the most interesting and dynamic plots and then try to resolve it in less time than it takes a Transformers movie to do nothing it hits you hard. Imagine falling, now imagine falling from space. Sure we find ourselves disappointed with things all the time but it hurts so much more when you are built up first. I could have watched this show for years, it deserved to be seasons and seasons long. The writing of (most) of the characters was stellar but you could see that they just didn’t have the time. Liz tells me that this is a product of the modern anime world, shows only go one season and companies want to pump out new IPs like money addicts because they need to maximize profits and minimize risk with contracts that run too long or potential dud follow up seasons.
This is the anime version of Firefly. It’s one of the most powerful single seasons in its genres history and its utterly murdered by the terrible decisions of the publishers/investors. This show has 12 (well I suppose 11) genuine mysteries that it wants to unravel and it has that many episodes. This means that if we’ve hit the 5th episode and its only then beginning to answer them that we’ll have a huge amount of information and plot to cover in the blink of an eye. It’s incredibly painful to watch and I sometimes wondered if the writer felt betrayed by being driven to do this.
I’m sure I’m projecting but I just can’t see the same person who wrote those first few episodes being ok with the last few. You don’t start with something that fantastic and then rush to the end like you are Usain Bolt. If you are brewing the perfect tea you want to make sure you let it steep long enough to get the flavors going but not long enough to make the tea bitter. The bag barely stained the water by the time East of Eden was over.
And the parallels with Firefly don’t stop there. The first movie that follows this basically says “fuck it” and is only loosely tied to the end of the season. There is a large gap of time between the two (sound familiar?) and it manages to close up so many things that there is no chance of the show being continued. They take all the mysteries that hadn’t even been hinted to yet, present them to us, and them kill the fuckers with high explosives all in the amount of time it takes you to finish a butterfinger. Well, maybe two butterfingers.
It’s absolutely agonizing because I was certain that this was going to be one of the best experiences of my anime watching life. It was set up so damn well and I even told Liz that it seemed unlikely that it would anime me. But it did…it anime’d me hard. It reminded me why I don’t trust anime anymore. Because they start great and then they devolve into weak plotted madness. I can only be stung so many times before I shut off completely. Fushigi Yugi I think was what killed anime for me almost entirely and for a moment Kill La Kill gave me hope. Eden of the East gets me scared to ever trust anime again.
Not because it disappointed me, that happens because we can easily raise our expectations too high. But because it gave me the world and then the moment I was holding that world in my hands, feeling the warmth of its life and beauty, it then grabbed my hands and crushed it within them. The shards and seas fell southward into the darkness of the void never to return.
Eden of the East (which I keep trying to call East of Eden) is a heartbreaker. If we could go back in time and act like it hadn’t happened yet, get them proper funding for 2 to 3 seasons, it would (without question) be one of the greatest achievements in anime history. But that’s likely never going to happen and maybe that spark is already lost. What we have instead is something that’s ok, but its ok in a way that makes me hesitant to suggest the entire thing. This anime took me from genuine vile disgust of a character to actually liking her in two episodes. Then it pushed her aside for expediency, brought her back in the movie, and (effectively) killed her off. Playing with someone’s emotions that hard and for all the wrong reasons is totally fucked.
Still, you owe it to yourself to watch the first episode or three. But just know that once it picks up you are setting yourself up for disappointment potentially. Because what it could have been and what it hints that it will be in the beginning is basically torn apart before your eyes.
Damn shame, I genuinely want to love it. I haven’t been so moved by media in such a short time in a long time. If I met the author (and artists) I’d ask them to sign all the things and thank them sincerely for that moment they gave me. If I were a rich man they’d be seeing a lot of my money I think. Just to do it again, proper.