IT CAME FROM HULU: Eden of the East: The King of Eden and Paradise Lost

Eden of the East was by far my favorite show of 2009. It would take another essay to fully explain the extent of which I was impressed and entertained by the series, but I can sum it up by saying it offered so much variety in eleven episodes with an unusual harmony considering how many disparate elements were wrestled about. Here we have a mysterious game built on complex corporate and political intrigue played out through the light romantic comedy of an amnesiac cinephile and an Internet startup employee. It deals with high-minded ideas that could easily fill up a season of director Kenji Kamiyama's other major work, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but with crystal clarity and unusual playfulness. The ending of the show is nothing less than a piece of modern magic. For the people who don't like subtitles, the sub and the dub are about equally highquality, so you can't go wrong with either preference. As a personal touch, I find a character who can reference movies endlessly, yet has significant problems remembering people very relatable (I say as I look at my scrawls of character and crew names at the bottom of my draft). Plus, the opening theme is my favorite song by Oasis, the official band of my adolescence making a triumphant comeback after years of mediocrity. It felt like the series was made for me and I adored it.

However, as Oasis' alcoholic mastermind brothers couldn't stand the presence of each other anymore and blew up the band shortly after their comeback, so did the Eden of the East movies come along and destroy any momentum and legacy the title had. Even as it has a conclusion to the series, there's a vibe that the people making it wanted to do more, but will probably not get the opportunity. The trick for me is it's difficult to explain what exactly went wrong with the movies. There are cinematic follow-ups to popular anime like Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water where it's obvious they were a cash grab with little thought or effort put into them, but here, the movies maintain essentially the same qualities of the TV series, and I quite like much of what the movies have to offer, and yet... they completely ruin the story.

First of all, a little refresher for the series. Keep in mind the movies discuss events that happen after the series proper, so there will be SPOILERS. Saki Morimi is a recent college graduate who has misadventures on her trip to the United States when she crosses paths with a naked, gun-toting Akira Takizawa in front of the White House. As the chaos of such circumstances clears, Saki begins a whirlwind romance with Akira, a guy who lives in a mall, seemingly erased his own memory, and most importantly, is involved in a high-stakes game to save Japan. A reclusive corporate behemoth known as "Mr. Outside" chose 12 random citizens to become Seleção, selected people with a phone connected to an account of 10 billion yen (About $84 million in current exchange rates) and an operator named Juiz who grants whatever wish the owner of the phone desires as long as money can pay for it. The acts can range from finding and disposing of sexual predators to building hospitals to care for the aging population. Akira is Seleção IX and he has to figure out his plan soon. If he loses the game, he'll be killed by a member of the Seleção called The Supporter whose primary task is to enforce the rules and eliminate the people who use up all of their money and fail.

As the series progresses, Akira clashes with a group of Seleção who wish to save Japan by attacking it with missiles and forcing the government to become self-reliant again. To save and piece together what he can of his past, he turns to Saki's co-workers, a group of reclusive nerds who are building Eden of the East, an Internet search engine that can find information using only photographs and the hive intelligence of its users. It turns out Juiz is actually the vocal avatar of a massive computer system, and to save thousands of citizens, Akira hooks up Juiz to Eden of the East and forces many naked NEETs to flood the system with suggestions of how to shoot down missiles and save the day. To prevent further attacks from being made, Akira uses all of his money to make himself the king of the country. Juiz erases his memory once again as the curtain closes on the series. If you're reading this and it feels like you're missing out on a ton of awesome plot points, believe me, you are.

The setup for the movies is actually kind of ingenious. After a prologue and the opening credits for The King of Eden, the first movie reveals that rather than saving Japan, the act of preventing the missiles from striking threw the country into a deep recession, toppling the controlling party in government, spiking unemployment, and having the current government faced with the idea of an insane inheritance tax in order to survive, leaving nothing to the youth of Japan to support itself. In a series that discusses the various ways to save a country, it's an intriguing way to escalate the action by also showing how a country can die by those same maneuvers. The only people thriving are people like the Eden of the East as the young startups and look to be coming out of the shadows and taking control of Japan. This wave of cash does not sit well with the reclusive members of the company who suddenly find themselves having to deal with publicity, responsibility and employees other than themselves.

Like the series, the main draw of the first movie is Saki's relationship with Akira. After some of the active Seleção try to impede her path, Saki finds Akira in New York as a successful person who's possibly the illegitimate child of Japan's recently deceased Prime Minister. But as Saki finds him, he's still the same old Takizawa, serenely remembering nothing yet being able to reference movies at a Leonard Maltin-esque level. They resume their courtship and their search for the truth where they manage to hit the same sweet, awkward, and funny notes as before. This time, however, there is a ticking clock where Juiz is using the Eden of the East servers to completely erase the existence of Akira Takizawa in order to make no doubts of his new identity. In order to preserve who he was, they both attempt to find his mother. Meanwhile, Seleção I, Daiju Mononobe, is still making moves to win the game, and the moves could put Akira and the members of the Eden of the East company at serious risk.

King of Eden isn't really a bad movie. At worst, it's not particularly cinematic save for the opening credits which is a kinetic blast of epilogue to its predecessor. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't a feature film in which the main character's few memories are centered on the blasted things. You'd think if they loved movies so much, a film of their product would be a playground for cinematic ideas, but it's as workmanlike as the television show. Not a bad thing by any means, though Honey and Clover artist and writer Chika Umino's character designs make everyone look they have bandages on their nose and many of the walls and floors look very similar except with color splotches in different patterns. Still, it had a slick animation and look for television and is solid enough for a movie aesthetic. And even as a movie where the most action until the climax is an old heater that explodes, the chemistry between the leads never misses a beat with a second case of amnesia, the plot twists are actually surprising and inventive, it still handles philosophy and politics on a street level, and the last ten minutes of the movie set up a slam-bang cliffhanger which injects a high urgency to see the next movie.

Yet the signs of what will seal the doom of the franchise are there. As I've said, the movie isn't particularly cinematic, but instead, one of the new Seleção introduced is a wannabe movie director named Jikimoto and he uses Juiz to help him make his masterpiece. If he was a great director, this would be a brilliant piece of writing and allow us to reflect on how entertainment enriches our lives. Sadly, he's a comic relief moron who attempts to manipulate people into taking a shower, and gets belittled by Juiz because the individual human will is out of her jurisdiction. The guy doesn't even know HOW to properly make a movie. It's a pet peeve of mine when films-within-films have no idea what goes into filmmaking and tries to sweep it under the rug. Jikimoto uses a camcorder to film everything with poor framing and distance, and who knows how he's going to get any usable sound. I would've loved to have seen an episode where a director finds a way to bug the locations to for audio, get hidden cameras installed somehow, and try to guide the desired people into his desired result, but alas, as a movie that needs to move along to other pressing issues, that is a path not taken. In fact, we're hardly introduced to any new Seleção as most of the rest are written off as "harmless."

Though it's rarely boring, the movie is also very talky. The run time is filled with people sitting in rooms or overlooking places and just chatting about whatever the themes and ideas the movie feels is important to understand. You get people like a character nicknamed "Panties" talking and it's not so bad, but it lacks a certain pizzaz of Akira bounding around Washington D.C. completely naked or proving how powerful he is by making a baseball team an automatic playoff contender with one phone call. It seems the only thing wanting to put some extra gusto into their actions is Juiz since there are different servers for each Seleção and Juiz's AI develops differently depending on the user. Even with all this, as Mononobe sets his plan into motion to take over the game, there is a real sense of excitement as it's strongly suggested he will sacrifice Akira when he returns to Japan for political gain. Cut to credits and a pretty awesome School Food Punishment song. Then the second movie comes along.

The best way I can describe Paradise Lost is deflating. All of the excitement, the intrigue, the love of the characters, it all seeps out of the entire venture and dissipates into thin air. The earliest scenes swamp the notion that Akira is threatened to be bumped off by throwing him into a room where he's dressed down by the recently-deceased Prime Minister's wife who thinks there's absolutely no way he's family. Then Akira engages in a ruse that would be difficult to fool the Three Stooges as a way to get out of the hands of government agents. So, the idea that Akira would be moved out of the way in dramatic fashion is dashed, and the villain moves in more banal fashions, such as using tax fraud agents and trumped-up terrorism charges to attempt to wipe out his rivals.

Irony is the tool of the trade in The King of Eden as the effort to save Japan winds up bringing it down economically and Akira's computer assistant meant to serve him is the one responsible for trying to delete his existence. Paradise Lost takes the irony and envelopes it into the entire franchise, making the most important parts of the story, the plot twists and the revelations complete anti-climaxes. After a bit of meandering, Akira and some of the members of Eden of the East discover the convoy of trucks transporting Juiz's servers and decide to hijack their own server as the people heading up the caravan who happen to be the granddaughters of Saizo Ato AKA Mr. Outside watch. They seem pretty casual considering the day before, a few of the truck drivers they supervised were outright murdered by the game they're helping to perpetuate. Then Akira and one of the members of Eden of the East just drive off with the servers for Number IX and his rival, Number I. Nobody tries to stop them, Mononobe doesn't make any plans to regain control of his server. It just happens.

This attitude of casually revealing and resolving issues permeates the movie, until the final showdown takes place as a reasonable conversation in a quiet study where Mononobe shows himself to not really be that much of a villain at all and not really that determined about winning the game. His suggestions for Akira to step aside come off as a kind request and it's not only after everything's over and done that the writing tries to remind the audience they're supposed to hate this guy. The front of the box for the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack is a publicity image for the TV series because there is NOTHING that happens in this movie that warrants slapping it on a poster and telling everyone, "Look at THIS awesome thing!" The pull quote they use even compliments the series rather the movie!

Director Kenji Kamiyama wanted to get to his idea that the Baby Boomers. who created the bubble economy which caused one of the greatest rises and falls in Japan's economic history, refuse to get out of the way and hand the reins down to a disinterested younger generation, causing further despair to the future. It's a nice idea and a lot of the lessons can be translated to America, but getting the idea across comes at a cost of sacrificing any kind of excitement. Most of the conflicts involve agents trying to apprehend the various good guys, and then the good guys sneak out the back way with no problem. The rest involves conversations, and some are effective like when Saki meets Akira's mother Aya and there's a weird yet realistic aura around this woman who's done what she's done. The rest of the exchanges simply talk about ideals. Even when Akira is given a chance to address the entire country, his speech is vastly underwhelming in comparison to the scope of the measure. This all pales in comparison to the TV series, where the act of making one call causing a head of government to walk in front of the country's media and say, "Uncle" has a very heavy weight to it.

It's fairly easy to point all of this out, but I think the intangible element that makes the movie fall apart is Akira and Saki spend the movie separated. Despite all of the ideas, the amazing concept, and the massive repercussions for the moves of the Seleção, what really made the series and the first movie work is this awkward, crazy, sweet couple trying to help each other out, no matter how outrageous the situation they fall into gets. Whether it's trying to get away from the authorities after making a scene with a firearm in front of the White House or working to stop civilians dying from a missile strike, they support each other to the fullest even if they haven't the foggiest clue what the hell they're doing. Akira's loose and happy-go-lucky behavior is a great foil for Saki's shy and earnest demeanor. Paradise Lost splits them up, making them mostly listen to other everybody else, and it's only at the end that they're reunited in one of the few satisfying conclusions this movie has. I think the soul of the whole deal got split up somewhere along with the couple.

That's not even the worst part, though. When all's said and done, the game doesn't matter. Many of the rules were either myths or severely exaggerated, and many of the intriguing theories, like Mr. Outside being dead and all the players are cogs in a machine that will eventually destroy them, are completely bunk. There really weren't any rules and as it turns out, everyone is the winner (Except that cop who died early in the series). Everything suspenseful and sinister was built on a misunderstanding and makes the conclusion disappointing. Not helping is the movie constantly waffling on if it's really the conclusion or if it's holding out for the game to start again. I don't particularly care if it's either a solid conclusion or an ambiguous ending holding the door open for the future, but if you try to play both sides, the audience usually makes this decision for you: You're done.

Some people prefer to pretend the things that completely ruin the franchises they love do not exist. I am not one them. I still love the series even as the movies dampen some of the finer points. It's still a masterpiece of audience of romantic comedy/political thriller/mystery/science fiction/whatever else they managed to shove in there. Whenever I re-watch the franchise, I simply stop before the movies and I suggest you do the same. One thing of note if you choose to not take my advice is the streaming for the movies is a bit weird. You can watch the series and the first movie for free on Hulu, but if you want to see the second movie, it's hidden behind either a subscription to Netflix,or FUNimation's premium streaming service. It probably has to do with, "Well, if you really like it, you'll pay to see the end." I'd like to think they're hiding it.  


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