8/10/2007

Bookmaking: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

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Again the topic of weird ways to start series is brought up, and for a strange series there is of course a strange method of initiation.

At this point perhaps I would be expected to say I started watching Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei because of the fact that it was subbed by a.f.k, a translating group that I'm quite fond of. I'll admit that's why I started Lucky Star.

But there are actually odder reasons, such as the fact that a guy on one of the other message boards I frequent said he started watching it because of that factor...and hated it.

"Hmm, so it's no good...but it has moe hikikomori!" said I, bringing the second factor into account, the ever-humorous blog posts over at AoMM. The combination of 1) bad plus 2) hikikomori plus 3) moe?? was too ridiculous to ignore, and so a despair-filled adventure began.

Amusingly enough the show turned out to be almost even more ridiculous than the three elements I initally took into it; except actually in a really good way. As such I feel a bit better about myself in that I still can enjoy something that's not packed-to-the-hilt in moe characters and character designs and catchphrases and artwork.

Rather, Zetsubou Sensei is what could aptly be described as "different" - maybe it wouldn't be so if I had watched some of the previous works from the animation studio called SHAFT (which apparently has a bunch of other strange works out as well); but with a background filled with magical girls, horribly friendly harems, and pastel hair colors, Zetsubou's strange dark humour blended with, for all I know, social commentary, makes it a standout and still very appealing combination.

As this is the first look at an anime, the trademark comments-cleverly-disguised-as-bet-making will follow after the jump.

Zetsubou's Harem Size at the End: Over/Under 5.5, 4:1 on Under
Just trying to simply classify something like Zetsubou is an adventure in itself. At the first episode it kind of was a dark slice-of-life show, with a bunch of characters that interacted in some way but still were largely separate. After the second episode of two I've watched so far...Zetsubou became something, as Monty Python would put it, completely different.

It became the anti-harem.

This show is honestly one of the last shows that really is harem material, but that's what makes it so funny. It's sort of ridiculously awesome, because while most harems feature a stupidly nice guy and a bunch of friendly-ish, overly proportioned, adorable girls, in Zetsubou, Pink Supervisor (real name what now?), a depressive, conspiracy theorist (Mad Lib time: ____ (word) HAS LEFT ME IN DESPAIR!!), suicidal teacher accrues a harem featuring: a hikikomori (although she is kinda cute), a stalker, OCD girl, and overly optimistc Kaede-fodder. It's like, if you took the Azumanga girls, cranked their distinctive personality traits up to eleven, and made Kimura the harem leader. It makes less than no sense.

Runtime of Each Episode: Over/Under 30 minutes, 3:1 on over
Which leads into a not-quite-disguised aspect of the next interesting aspect of Zetsubou. To make another poor reference, it's like Lucky Star, kind of sort of, in that it refers to a bunch of other things, except that Zetsubou doesn't beat one over the head with references - although this might just be a lack of Haruhi speaking.

But the nature of this bet refers to the simply ridiculous amount of random crap shoved into scenes which requires fools like me to pause every other scene change (maybe every 5 seconds, during some) to read just what they put on the blackboard this time. So far I've caught 5 cm Per Second, Lucky Star, Rozen Maiden, Second Life, Honey & Clover and Death Note references, and I'm sure I'm missing more.

It feels like I should be describing a video game, but it really extends the replay value of the anime. Like how in Kanon you get to watch it again and see what ridiculous foreshadowing you missed in one episode alone, you get to see all the references you missed the first time in Zetsubou.

Kafka Snaps?: 5:1 on No
As subtly mentioned above, Fuura, or whatever she's called, is sort of kind of completely asking to go mental. She's so incredibly optimistic about everything that when one bit of negativity pierces her shell (say, that her parents hung themselves and that hikikomoris really exist and that stalkers really exist and that Sensei was really trying to kill himself both times and that he's not the Pied Piper of Hamelin and that she's crazy and her entire class is crazy and that OCD Girl is OCDDDDDDDDDDD), she might just implode.

But somehow, it feels like that would just kill the mood of the show. Despite all the suicidalness and the stalkerness and the general f'ed-up-ness of everybody, it's not really a dark, angsty "OMFG we're all stupid" show. It's more of a dark humour, poking fun at all the problematic people or something. If Kafka were to go crazy...it just wouldn't really fit, unless they could make that funny too.

Aeris Sensei Dies?: 4:1 on No
Again, the answer is pretty much the same as above. It would make sense for Pink Supervisor to bite it in one manner or another, but it just seems hard to make work within the context of the show, except maybe as an ending or something. Maybe.

Zetsubou, I suppose, could easily flip genres again as it already has, but who wants to watch another depressing tear-fest? I'd go back to my heavy harem stuff if I wanted that.

Still, I give Pink Supervisor worse (or better?) odds on living than Kafka, since, well, it is part of his personality and all. But then again, 1) he's already pseudo-hung himself twice (beginning + at Kiri's place) and 2) he's a pimp, so he has plenty of reasons to live.

In the end though, I really have no idea what's going on here, as Zetsubou presents lots of elements of a somewhat coherent and sense-making plot, with sad Sensei in sakura and a overly optimistic girl who goes to "help" him, and their combined adventures to...uh...make people come to school, at any rate. But the tone of Zetsubou just doesn't seem, well, coherent with any possible ways out other than complete insanity. To have an obvious, apparently plot would be practically inherently wrong. Zetsubou seems more of the funny-type anime. Maybe not over-the-top obvious like Azumanga, or over-the-top adorable like Lucky Star, but the kind of funny that makes you smirk and smile inside. The good kind.

In the end, with one final ridiculous comparison, it's like if you took Monty Python and Azumanga, cross-bred them, placed it in a Wario Ware type setting, and deep-Japaneseified the result. What results is quite possibly one of the most interesting summer anime.

-CCY


comments:

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is basically the funniest thing I've seen all year. It requires a darker sense of humor, but it's also TOTALLY HILARIOUS. And I would have the hikikomori's babies if the guidance counseller wasn't already having them for her.

It references Gurren Lagann and One Piece, too. <3