Eden of the East Movie 1: The King of Eden
Following the events of the 2nd Careless Monday, Akira Takizawa has become a hero, his image now iconic, and the vast majority of his NEETs have found work as part of the new "Eden of the East" corporation even as the Japanese economy has taken the blows of the country's diminishing reputation. After the event, however, Akira has entirely disappeared, leaving a saddened Saki to continue working on with the company while trying to find him. One day, however, she and her friends find evidence that he has lost his memory again and is living in New York under the alias Akira Inuma, the illegitimate son of the recently-deceased prime minister, and that he has made an exceptionally strange request: to become a king. Saki travels there in order to find him, but it soon appears that the other Selecao may also be seeking out her friend.
Note: This review assumes basic familiarity with the television series, and may contain spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
I am one of many fans of the Eden of the East television series who was mystified as to why the producers chose to make a pair of movies instead of a second season, and having seen the first of these films, The King of Eden, I am no less mystified than before. Released very shortly after the original series, it speaks of a rushed attempt at a sequel and a dearth of the time taken to contemplate the significant structural differences between a television series and a movie. While it constitutes a decent story and, in its better moments, keeps both the suspense of the original series and the lovely chemistry between its lead characters intact, it recycles a great deal of its plot progression as well, seeming to function as an instance of a "reset" button as Akira's memories are again lost. The film does not work as a standalone entity, either, and while this is perhaps not absolutely necessary the relative paucity of events, excess of talking-head scenes, and anticlimactic ending make it feel like an eighty-five minute episode rather than a movie, leaving me to wonder yet again why they didn't simply take that route in the first place.
The King of Eden's technical aspects are roughly the same as those of the television series, aside from a noticeably heavier use of CGI, and while it looked absolutely fine on my computer, I am unsure of whether the animation was absolutely up to snuff for a feature film, having not seen it on the big screen. Unlike Tim, I've always liked how the character designs (courtesy of Chika Umino) look onscreen, but otherwise I'll defer to his opinion regarding sound and appearance. While I had seen the subtitled version of the TV series, meanwhile, I watched the dub of the movie, since it was the only track Netflix carried, and in spite of my usual dislike of dubs I found that the cast did an excellent job, with Leah Clark making for a particularly sympathetic Saki. I have always also respected Eden of the East for the rare level of detail it applies to its depiction of the United States, including some of the best English I've seen in an anime (which was a moot point here, I suppose); while I'm not a native New Yorker I've been there enough to tell that the producers did a fairly good job of capturing the city, down to its surly taxicab drivers.
Aside from its frantic opening scene, The King of Eden occupies most of its first third with what amounts to recap, narrating the events that have occurred in the six months between Akira's disappearance and their discovery that he is living under a new identity. It's pretty clear to me that rushing so quickly into production gave the writers no time to write anything resembling the fascinating mysteries of the television series and left them with a no-win situation: the material they do narrate is pretty boring, and thus fully animating it as it was would have wasted the viewer's time, but this large amount of monologue is ill-suited to a suspense film. Indeed, it takes a long while for the film to get moving, and while the opening didn't entirely lose me, I have to admit that I think this "transition" is a telltale sign that they should have made a second television series instead. Even when Akira does appear and the film regains some traction, it's pretty amazing to see how little is ultimately accomplished. We meet a new and potentially interesting Selecao, a sadistic man obsessed with filming footage of the others being killed via his elaborate and highly theatrical schemes, but he receives a small amount of screen time, no development, and barely even interacts with our main characters. We learn of the plot by which Akira seeks to make himself "king", but nothing, not even one step towards that goal, is completed, and since Saki and Akira's relationship doesn't undergo much of a significant change, either, the film breaks the important rule of not concluding without the story or characters experiencing an important shift of some sort. It doesn't help that many of the events that do occur mirror the plot of the television series closely enough to again indicate a dearth of material, with the loss of memory allowing them to downplay past events and a carousel ride and movie showing being key events yet again. In my opinion, there's enough good material for two television episodes, maybe four if the narration were to be expanded, but it doesn't work as an eighty-five minute movie.
That said, I will admit that there is still plenty to like about The King of Eden in spite of its very serious flaws. Saki and Akira remain as adorable as ever, in my opinion, and all of their scenes together are thoroughly enjoyable. It was both amusing and touching how many of Akira's quirky personality traits, such as his flamboyant approach towards problem solving, remained even after his memory wipe, and several of his scenes gave me a good laugh, particularly one in which he pretends to be a "cop" searching for a "bomb" (the Selecao cell phone) that a "terrorist" (Saki) had left in a surly cab driver's vehicle. While some reviewers (Tim among them) regard Saki as deadweight, in my opinion she's always treaded the right side of the line separating the "useless" character from the sympathetic character trying to find her way in life, perhaps akin to Ahiru from Princess Tutu, and she was still very endearing to watch in this film. The movie also does a surprisingly good job of giving most of the important characters from the series a decent amount of screentime, with the always-amusing "Panties" and the sadistic but perhaps-not-so-sadistic "Number 11" having important roles. While I complain about the lack of closure, meanwhile, I was plenty interested in the plot, and the film builds a strong feeling of suspense as soon as the talking-heads scenes complete, maintaining it consistently to the end. There were some surprises in store, particularly regarding some of the other Selecao as well as the personality of Juiz herself, and if this had been a second season instead of a film I would have been completely hooked and pumped for the next episode. In that sense, The King of Eden succeeds in keeping the audience engaged.
In the end, The King of Eden is not a must-see, even for fans of the series. It is a decent story presented as a not particularly well-structured movie and an extremely frustrating example of the risks inherent in rushed production. I enjoyed it and loved seeing Saki and Arika again, but the way it was set up, I was left expecting ten or eleven more episodes instead of feeling that a chapter of the story had at all completed, and that basically sums up its biggest and most crippling flaw.
A fairly weak three stars, and those who haven't seen the original just shouldn't bother. This has good material, if not quite enough of it, but it really should have been made into another television series. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: The King of Eden is fairly tame, but there is some gun violence near the end, and the dub contains a few instances of strong profanity. I would say that this is best for teenagers and adults, since younger children are likely to find this a bit confusing and slow.
Version(s) Viewed: Netflix.com stream, English dub
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Eden of the East Movie 1: The King of Eden © 2009 Eden of the East Production Committee
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