Thursday, April 09, 2009

Higashi no Eden -- Godly Voices and Animation

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.


Andrew said...

On THAT Anime Blog, some of the writers were worried that they would screw up their depiction of DC in this production. From what I can tell from these screenshots, they made an immaculate depiction of the city, even Dulles Airport.

Sounds pretty intriguing. Did they say that this attack on Tokyo took place on November 22? That was the day of the JFK assassination, of course...

hashi said...

I didn't notice whether they mentioned the date or not. But I definitely noticed what date it was when I read the promo material. That's a good piece of detail, like the way they included one of the new World Trade Center towers in a photo of NYC.

I know DC a little bit, too, and everything looked good to me. I await word from someone who actually lives there.

One of the nicest things was that they actually used English-speakers to do the English. Except for the one English line that Hayamin said pretty well.

animekritik said...

that's about as positive a review as a show can get, especially from the seiyu angle that you're so knowledgeable.

This is the last show i pledged to try out, so I'll check it out soon. Should be good.

hashi said...

@animekritik -- Hey, now I'm worried. I have my own seiyuu preferences, which other people may or may not agree with. Hope you like the episode as much as I did -- and I hope they can keep it up.

Thingle said...

I like the first ep.

dingmajiao said...

i watched it today, after some free time..

first episode was brilliant..
i was waiting for it since i watched the trailer which to me was kind of mind-blowing..

as u noted the randoms impossible events make it felt rather over.. but otherwise, the whole anime felt like reality..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for write up. I just saw the first episode. I grew up in DC. The scenes are all based on DC landscapes, but with some creative license. The White house/Washington monument are correctly presented, but some of the other backgrounds are a mix of building that are near the mall but not exactly in the places indicated. The last scenes, in the airport, are based on Dulles airport. Dulles is the airport in the DC area that provides international flights so the choice fits the plot. The actual screen where they go down the steps is one of the oldest parts of the airport but it leads to a tunnel that was just completed a few years ago. So very nice, very accurate, and very up to date.

Downtown DC is full of traffic and sounds more like an LA freeway then the quiet wind swept plain background sounds in the background. And the actual location of the opening scene is always full of tourists and traffic (take the number of cars shown and multiply by 10). As a result the events would have been dominated by children screaming about a naked man. In addition, the sight of a gun would trigger the arrival of dozens of not hundreds of police, but what the hey it would not have fit the plot.....
But the best touch was the bird song.
Most anime have a few standard bird songs that are used as back ground. But in the opening scene they used the call of the red wing blackbird. This bird is commonly found in DC and is not found in Japan. So some one did some home work for the sound effects.