I've been eagerly awaiting the first episode of Higashi no Eden, which aired in Japan a few hours ago.
It did not disappoint.
First, for me, is the godly voice work of Hayami Saori. As in her best singing, she can run a stream of subtle nuances through any line of text. She is a young seiyuu with mature skills. Her voice is still young, though. You can hear the tiny voice of Kou from Wagaya no Oinarisama here. But there is much more meaning and nuance in her performance in this show.
Second is godly Production I.G. animation. The backgrounds are really beautifully done, and the animation itself is at a high Production I.G. level. Perhaps they can afford to put more money into this show since it will be coming out in feature-length form in the fall.
Hayamin is not the only excellent voice here. Her co-star, Kimura Ryouhei, hits all the right notes of seriousness and insouciance. He and she are already real people for me. And Tamagawa Sakiko (Onashia in Simoun, Fujitsubo in Genji) is perfect as the voice on the phone.
Hayamin has been put with these real actors and is so far completely holding her own. She is supposed to be going to college this spring. Doing this show is like higher education in voice-acting for her. The other seiyuu are mainly experienced pros and people with stage experience.
The story is quite weird. Morimi Saki (Hayamin) lost her parents in a car accident some years before and has been living with her sister and her husband, who have taken over the family's bakery. She has graduated from college and is taking an overseas trip before she starts working. She came to America to see New York, and to see the White House, which she somehow feels is the center of the world. And to experience a place she has no connection at all with.
She wants to toss a coin into the White House fountain, but finds that the fence keeps her too far away. When she tries, two police see her and come over to investigate. At that moment, a naked Japanese young man appears on the other side of the road, brandishing a cellphone and a revolver. The police turn their attention to him, but he disappears as a truck goes by and the police rush off after the truck.
It turns out he was just hiding behind a concrete abutment, and he comes over to Saki. She is embarrassed at his nakedness (although she does look directly at his genitals), but in gratitude to him for getting rid of the police, she "loans" him her hat, coat and scarf, and he runs off.
She starts trundling her suitcase down the road, on her way to the airport for her flight back to Japan. Then she realizes that her passport and wallet were in the coat pocket. She starts running off ofter Naked Guy, and after tripping over her suitcase (in a brilliant piece of animation), she abandons it to go after her wallet and passport.
As the naked guy runs off, he first has to hide from some police, then he realizes he needs pants and asks a random businessman for his, which he is given. He also realizes that he doesn't remember who he is.
A call on the cellphone from Juiz (Tamagawa Sakiko) alerts him that he can find his flat on a map in the phone, which he does. Inside the flat, he finds maps and photos of D.C., a stockpile of weapons and ammunition, and several passports in different names with his photo in them.
Meanwhile, Saki has seen him enter the building and she finds the flat and rings the bell. He agrees to give her back her coat, but as she is sitting outside the door, a policewoman comes up and asks her if a photo the policewoman has from a White House security camera is her.
Before she can answer, Naked Guy (whom we can now call Takizawa Akira, since that is the passport he chose) comes out of the room (fully clothed). The policewoman has a photo of him, too. To be sure it is him, she asks to see his "johnny." He pulls down his pants, and she lets him go, on the basis that his "johnny" is not the same as the one in the photo. He later tells Saki it was because it was cold when the photo was taken.
On the run, he tells Saki it is better if they don't go back to get her suitcase, and he accompanies her to the airport with the intention of flying to Japan with her. At the airport, she asks him what he was doing when they met. He says, "I'm a terrorist." But then he says: "Just kidding."
She tells him her name, but he has to get out his passport to show her his. And she discovers that they were apparently born one day apart, 22 years before. They enjoy each other's company, and share some laughs.
Saki watches him in the airport and wonders if he is her prince, the one who will spirit her away from the problems of her life. Naaah, she says to herself. Then they see a TV news report of a missile falling on Tokyo. The end.
The rather fantastic events may put some viewers off. I mean, how often does a naked man suddenly appear, brandishing a gun and a cellphone? And how many 22-year-old girls would give him their coat, or agree to abandon their luggage and fly off with him? What random stranger would give a guy his pants? What police officer would ask to see a guy's genitals for identification? (Reminds me of the Bob Dylan line: "He asked me for collateral, and I pulled down my pants.")
But this is all part of the bold spirit of this story. There is a fantastic element that makes anything possible. Who scrubbed Naked Guy's memory? Why are missiles falling on Tokyo? A great first episode, but we'll see where they take the story from here.
One of the many interesting aspects of the production is that they used English-speakers to voice all the Americans speaking English. Except for one line spoken in English by Hayamin -- which she pronunced fairly well.
Reaction on 2channel is quite positive. There is, of course, a lot of fascination with the nakedness. One poster called the show "Code Penis - Johnny of the Revolution." Others talked about its appeal to fujoshi (female fans of male-gay manga). The show is in the Noitamina time-slot, which has shown other anime with appeal to women, such as Honey & Clover, Hataraki Man, Nodame Cantabile, Antique Bakery, and Genji Sennenki.
Excellent OP by Oasis (!), and ED by School Food Punishment. The animation of the ED is particularly enjoyable.
I don't know whether to say this is the best first episode of the season. K-On was great, too, in a totally different way. And I liked a number of other first episodes: Ristorante Paradiso, Phantom, Cross Game, Pandora Hearts, Before Green Gables, Souten Kouro, Hanasakeru Shounen, Saki. I guess I'd say that this and K-On top my list.
EDIT: Here is a link to the radio show, which will start Friday and features the two stars. The link to the show itself will be at the bottom of the page, when it appears.