Eden of the East – Analysis and Review

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Before I begin I believe it is appropriate for me to admit that I am not a sociologist or economist or even a college graduate. I’m going to make a lot of sweeping statements and generalizations, more for the sake of sharing interesting ideas than actually suggesting concrete truths. Eden of the East takes the same approach in its presentation of themes, so I feel that this style of analysis is appropriate.

The millennial generation, which I and the majority of you belong to, is considered the generation that failed to start. More than ever before, people reaching adulthood aren’t moving out on their own, and many are not joining the workforce. In Japan, where this has been particularly prevalent, they call these young adults NEETs, which stands for Not Employed, Educated, or in Training.

Many factors contributed to the rise in NEETs. On an economic level it relates to the generations before us. The baby boomer generation, which was disproportionately enormous, currently has a grip on most of the worlds prominent business positions. As a result, the following generation hasn’t been able to move up into their place, leaving many stuck in lower tier jobs. This means that many jobs which youth should be taking over are still being held by members of the generation before them, leaving today’s young adults with a huge wall of difficulty breaking into the job market.

On a social level, the internet has provided a way for our generation to be successfully unsocial in the offline world. We can get our social interaction online instead of going out to places and spending money. As a result we both pump less money into the economy and have less drive to accrue money altogether as there is less social pressure to have it. Our generation is frugal and very well-informed as consumers.

While NEETs may overall make up a minority of the millennial generation, they are nonetheless an enormous group and embody the biggest problem facing our generation. Too many people have given up. We’ve learned too much at too young an age, and the problems of the world around us just seem insurmountable. We aren’t as capable of living simple lives because we live in a more complex world. Too many of us are finding out that our college degrees won’t take us anywhere, and we are disillusioned with the paradigms that previous generations have set up for our society. We feel betrayed leaving school into a job market that ultimately rejects us.

I’ve watched my best friend with a degree in networking spend a year on an ultimately unsuccessful job hunt because every entry level position in his field required five years of experience. Now he works as a lot attendant. I’ve watched a friend with 27 high school credits have to go for a GED because the school wouldn’t let him take the one class that was required for his diploma. He also works as a lot attendant. Three of my friends joined the military because they couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to do with their lives. One of those friends is out now and still has no idea what to do with his life. I dropped out of college and spent a year and a half as a NEET before I decided that the only way forward was to invent a career for myself.

My dad is the general manager of a car dealership, and in a meeting recently he used me as an example to his bosses. He said, “my son does a job that literally didn’t exist until he created it. He has no desire to move out and he rarely leaves the house. He spends a lot of money but he buys everything online. There is no way he’d go to a dealership to buy a car without knowing exactly what he was getting and what he was paying for it. If he could just order the car online, he would.” This meeting was about changing the way the car industry does business in order to keep up with millennial buying habits.

Eden of the East is a show about the shifting paradigms in economic structure between generations. It presents us with a youth that is hungry to make something of themselves in a world that hasn’t given them a place. 20,000 NEETs mobilize in a large-scale effort to prevent a terrorist strike from hurting anyone, then collectively disappear, and older people remark about how its probably better that they’ve gotten out of the house and stopped weighing down the economy. A group of college kids create a major startup in the form of a wildly popular cell phone app, but making it into a business proves so difficult that they’re left job hunting at shitty firms even though their app is a nearly nationwide phenomenon.

When a mysterious man gives ten billion yen to 12 individuals and tells them to use the money to save Japan, Akira Takizawa decides to focus on helping individuals instead of making broad politically-driven purchases. He views being a NEET and running a startup business as forms of social rebellion against the existing paradigms. He believes in improving the quality of life for each young person, so that they can find their way into society.

In school I learned this as “pump up” economics–a tactic which historically seems to have always been the best choice, but is continually fought against by the rich elite who favor trickle-down economics–where money is given to those with power in the hope that they will distribute the wealth appropriately into the economy. Noblesse oblige–with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, the expectation that the elite would use their knowledge to benefit society rather than to exploit it is usually misguided.

At its heart, Eden of the East is a tale of social uprising, with Takizawa as the revolutionary leading the charge. The show frames this story in a sort of surrealist way, as the world it presents is kind of off-kilter and implacably unreal. It features inordinate amounts of naked men running around with cell phones to thwart terrorist plots, taking the Shakespeare quote that those with power must “expose thyself” to its literal extreme. The series uses a lot of modern trappings as well, with over-the-top hacking and a crazily connected world being important contributors to the plot. There are also a lot of film references, with Takizawa frequently comparing situations to movies that he loves, most of which are well-made but not particularly meaningful Hollywood films.

Switching now into review mode, while Eden of the East has a lot of cool ideas about social economics, and can be a real blast to watch when it’s at the height of its manic surrealism, the show ultimately fails in a lot of ways, and ends up being an uneven mess with a criminally unsatisfying ending.

The storyline of Eden of the East is wrapped up in a death game plot that manages to be way more complicated than it ever needed to be, and as a result ends up frequently making no sense. The idea is that there are twelve individuals all trying to save Japan with their money, but they all have different ideas of how to go about it, and they are put in direct opposition with one-another because only one person will ultimately get to live.

However, the other phone-holders are all either underutilized, to the point that several barely even appear, or take actions that don’t always make sense. The decision to put them all in conflict with one-another needlessly convolutes the plot, and the whole series is overwrought with scenes of characters trying to figure out what other characters are trying to do with very little information, by… standing around trying to figure it out.

See, while putting the Eden of the East group members in the show made sense thematically, as they are great examples of the kind of people Takizawa is fighting for and can help facilitate his plans, the group ends up taking way too much of the show’s focus. Too many scenes are dedicated to them sitting around trying to figure out what Takizawa or the other phone-holders are trying to do, and not coming to any conclusions. Sometimes, the characters are trying to figure things out that we, the viewers, have already figured out long beforehand. Moreover, it’s almost always the spontaneous actions of Takizawa that ultimately solve the mysteries and advance the plot, rendering the actions of the Eden group completely meaningless.

Eden of the East was created, written, and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who had previously written and directed the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex series, along with Seirei no Moribito. It seems to me that with this series, Kamiyama had a lot of different ideas that he wanted to work with, but ultimately failed at bringing all of those things together into one cohesive whole. As a result, he ends up with really interesting plot conceits alongside really boring ones, and we’re left thinking about how much better the show would be if it were reworked a little.

The scenes that are driven by Takizawa’s impulsive actions, and the surreal events that surround him wherever he goes, are what made the show interesting and fun to watch. It manages to sprinkle its social themes throughout by showing us Saki’s problems, and tying Takizawa into her story. However, the show falls apart any time it gets too wrapped up in the death game mystery plot; whether it’s using the Eden group to try and solve the mysteries, or having the other Selecao come up with overly complex schemes around it. If Kamiyama had realized where the draw of the series was and done more to capitalize on it and trim the other parts of the story out, it would’ve lead to a tighter, more fulfilling watch.

Instead, Eden of the East ends its first eleven-episode season massively open-ended, only tying up the loose ends regarding Takizawa’s personal amnesia mystery, while leaving most of the death game stuff pretty open. Eden of the East was originally planned to have a second season, but Production IG decided that it would be better to make two movies instead. Given the way that the first season starts off feeling appropriately episodically structured, but later starts to feel more like one streamlined narrative, it seems like the team may have realized that the script didn’t really pan out the way they first imagined it, and switched to a style that fit better with where the series was going.

Unfortunately, the two films are abysmal. The first is the length of four episodes, but contains maybe one or two episodes worth of actual content, with an unreal portion of the movie being dedicated to more of the Eden members sitting around in one room, speculating about things. It sets things up for the second film to act out, but it manages to accomplish nothing in the meantime. Characters are introduced who accomplish literally nothing before the films are over, and the surrealist slant of the TV series is almost totally gone.

The second film is downright grueling a lot of the time, as it gets more preachy and ham-fisted about its social messages, and in the end seems to say a lot less than it thinks it does. It boils down to a super hammy conflict between a guy who views the public as individually inconsequential (and this person is presented as an intelligent bureaucrat), and Takizawa, who gets his social ideas from seemingly nowhere. It’s not entirely clear why the bureaucrat concedes to Takizawa, and the attempt at a surreal ending where Takizawa hacks all the cell phones in Japan to give them a video message, just comes off as weak at the end of such a boring film.

I’m sure I could really dig into all the places where these films violate their own internal logic and get really into it, but honestly after watching them, I just lack the energy. Eden of the East leaves me thinking more about what could have been, as its unfinished-feeling story and messy structure betray what was almost a really cool and interesting ride.

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