American animated characters sailed unscathed through the financial meltdown of 2008 and its after effects: Po could afford all the dumplings he could eat, Hiro and his friends had the cutting-edge technology and supplies they needed, and Hiccup wasn’t underwater on his father’s hut. Their Japanese counterparts wrestled with problems of money and motivation in a number of series and features, and Eden of the East is one of the most interesting ones.
The original series, which aired in Japan in 2009, opens with a scene no American animation director could dare: Twenty-something Akira Takizawa (Jason Liebrecht) wakes up in front of the White House–buck naked. Both his clothes and his memories have disappeared; all he has is a pistol and a mobile phone that will deliver anything he asks for. With the reluctant assistance of Saki Morimi (Leah Clark), a shy college senior on a graduation trip to America, Takizawa eludes the cops and arranges their return to Japan.
Takizawa discovers some very strange possible links as he tries to recover his memories: Could he be involved in a pair of missile attacks on Japan? Was he involved in the disappearance of 20,000 NEETS (young men with No Employment, Education or Training)? He discovers he is a seleçao, one of 12 agents charged with saving a crumbling, apathetic Japan by the mysterious Mr. Outside. With help from Saki, her friends, and a hikikomori super-hacker, Takizawa resolves the mystery of his identity, frees the NEETS , saves Japan from destruction–and vanishes.
The first theatrical feature, Eden of the East: The King of Eden (2009) picks up six months later. Saki kept Takizawa’s cell phone, which enables her to track him to New York. He’s once again had most of his memories erased, but he and Saki rekindle their relationship while outwitting the other seleçaos. Paradise Lost (2010) brings the story to its conclusion, as Takizawa and Saki end Mr. Outside’s bizarre game. Takizawa must outwit not only the police, but a corrupt plutocracy, and the remaining seleçaos. The object of this potentially deadly game remains the same: restore the failing spirit and flagging economy of Japan.
Eden of the East was written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who also made the popular Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Once again, he shows a remarkable flair for building suspense while weaving intriguingly complex fantasies. As he did in Stand Alone Complex, Kamiyama uses a reference to J.D. Salinger as a key to the plot. In the films, it’s the scene in “The Catcher in the Rye,” when Holden Caulfield watches as his sister Phoebe tries to catch the golden ring on the carousel. Kamiyama resolves the key elements of the complex story, but leaves a few strands hanging. Perhaps further adventures await Takizawa—a prospect that will cheer the many fans of Eden of the East.
The English dub boasts a strong performance from Jason Liebrecht, who succeeds in making Takizawa likeable, yet complex and somewhat unknowable. Although he always stays at least one step ahead of his friends, it’s no surprise he commands their loyalty. As Saki, Leah Clark avoids turning an initially shy heroine into doormat. Takizawa gives the Saki the chance to realize a bold potential she didn’t realize she possessed.
This new boxed set comes with a number of bonuses, among them a set of art cards and punch-out model of the cell phone. The most interesting of the extras is the “Visual Commentary,” a program Kamiyama presented to a live audience in April, 2010, in which he and his crew discussed the film via on-screen text messages—a characteristically unexpected choice from a visual artist.