Eden of the East is one of the most fundamentally Japanese anime I’ve ever seen. It’s not told in a particularly Japanese style and doesn’t have many Japanese characters, but it’s full of social commentary that is clearly directed at a Japanese audience. Eden of the East addresses many uniquely Japanese social issues that just wouldn’t be familiar to most non-Japanese viewers, and understanding those issues is an important part of understanding the show itself. I don’t normally do this, but I’ll be splitting this review into two parts since there’s too much to say about it in one post and keep it at a reasonable length.
While on a trip to Washington DC, recent college graduate Saki Morimi gets in trouble with the police for trying to throw a coin over the White House fence and is saved by a strange man around her age. The man, Akira Takizawa, has no memory and is completely naked except for a gun and a cell phone. Saki loans him her coat, but then needs to pursue him to get her passport back from her coat pocket, and the two of them end up traveling back to Japan together. Shortly after they meet, Takizawa discovers that his phone has 8,200,000,000 yen (about 800 million dollars) on it and is connected to a mysterious concierge named Juiz who calls him a savior and says he was given that money so he could save Japan. Upon returning to Japan, Takizawa discovers several strange things that have been occurring. 20,000 NEETs suddenly disappeared without a trace and 3 months earlier, there had been a missile attack on Tokyo, known as Carless Monday, that somehow didn’t have a single casualty. Takizawa also discovers that he isn’t the only one who received a mysterious cell phone with a small fortune on it.
Because it’s so important to understanding Eden of the East, I’ll explain a bit about current Japanese social issues. I’m hardly an expert, but here are the basics.
A crucial part of understanding modern Japanese society is understanding the demographics. Japan has had a low birth rate for some time now, and the average age is steadily increasing (over a quarter of its population is over 65). There’s also a sharp generational divide, with a fairly fixed corporate structure. The standard career path that’s existed since the end of WWII is for college graduates to join a company in an office job (the workers are known as salarymen) and work at the same company for most of their life until they retire. Workers are expected to work long hours, not leave until their boss does, and sometimes go out drinking with the boss after work. This strict culture doesn’t always appeal to young people, especially since Japan’s economy collapsed in the early 90s. Japan had an extremely strong economy for decades after the end of WWII, but it collapsed in the early 90s and still hasn’t recovered completely. Since then, there haven’t been as many permanent jobs, and the traditional salaryman path isn’t as viable as it used to be. This creates a disconnect between older and younger generations, with many young people choosing to become freeters, people working various part-time jobs, or NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). NEETs are generally young people who, for whatever reason, chose not to go to school or enter the workforce. NEETs tend to be looked down on and are a growing problem for Japan’s economy since there’s a fairly large population of people who don’t work or contribute to the economy at all.
The reason I explained so much about modern Japanese society is because Eden emphasizes those exact issues. When the show talks about “saving” Japan, it doesn’t mean saving it from some external threat. It means saving Japan from it’s own social problems. One of the earlier episodes demonstrates this perfects. Because of a missile attack on Tokyo, Saki was delayed at the airport and couldn’t make a job interview. She’s able to reschedule the interview, but gets rejected and later humiliated by the executives of the company because she couldn’t make the first interview. This perfectly demonstrates the frustration with Japanese corporate culture that a lot of young people must feel, and also clearly shows which side Eden sympathizes with. Saki and her friends are all NEETs, either by choice or necessity, and spend their time working on a social networking app they developed. The show frames their status as NEETs in a far more positive light than most Japanese media would. NEETs in Eden aren’t lazy or stupid, they’re frustrated with corporate culture and societies expectations and chose to become NEETs as a form of rebellion against that unfairness and some of them are even proud of their status as NEETs. Eden never provides a concrete solution to this problem, but that isn’t its goal. Its goal is to show the frustration a lot of young people in Japan feel with the way things currently are, and it does that excellently.
From the start, Takizawa and Saki have a lot of chemistry. Even though they just met, their conversations all feel very easy and natural, like they’re already friends. This is helped by how charming Takizawa is. Even with no memory, he has an easygoing demeanor and seems like he would be fun to be around. His habit of referencing American movies, which are the only things he can remember, is also pretty enjoyable, especially since you don’t see many Hollywood references in anime. He’s not some kind of action hero, and generally solves things through clever use of Juiz and his phone instead of direct confrontation, which keeps things interesting, although it also sometimes strains belief. $800 million can do a lot, but it sometimes seems like Juiz can do anything with it and some of the tricks she pulls off are a little hard to swallow. The supporting cast is solid, although relatively simple.
While the social commentary is an important aspect of Eden, it isn’t the anime’s only draw. The actual plot of Eden is more of a Borne Identity style thriller, with Takizawa working to find out the truth behind the phones and who created them. As he digs into it, he starts running into more people who were given the same resources and instructions as him. Some end up helping him, while others have more sinister ideas about how to “save” Japan. Throughout all of this, the anime is very gradually paced, although never boring. It usually answers the questions it brings up, but does so at its own pace and doesn’t fully explain things until the end.