Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's central protagonist, Mr. Itoshiki, is the very paragon of negativity and a man who sees the worst in everything. While this hardly seems like the best fodder for laughs, the series functions as a satire with the titular character casting his morose gaze onto society. This said, I found that the satirical humour lacked the cutting edge that normally makes the genre enjoyable. Certain sketches appear to be more of a neutral observation of society rather than a critique, and when the series parodies and exaggerates society's practices and tendencies, it does so in a disarmingly blatant manner. At times, it feels more like a stand-up comedian walking around and describing what he sees through a megaphone rather than delivering barbed gags with the reserved finesse that tends to make satire so compelling.
In addition to the satirical elements, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is absolutely laden with incidental references, ranging from Death Note to Phoenix Wright to Snoopy. Most of these take the form of the quickfire quips and quotes which decorate the blackboard and walls throughout classroom scenes, whilst others - such as Itoshiki collapsing and a manifestation of Kira's grinning face appearing in the air - are somehow more obvious. In any case, this ensures that there's always something going on which commands attention and catches the unwary viewer off guard.
Whilst the story is lacklustre, it is redeemed by the anarchic but brilliant direction. The anime is guided by a seemingly of out of control genius, the type which throws in apparently random imagery and takes entirely arbitrary decisions but does so with a confidence that convinces you that there must be layers of meaning to every word and every shot. The direction also succeeds in adding drama to seemingly mundane circumstances. When Itoshiki smashes his palm on the desk, the timing combined with the sharp camera angle employed ensures that the viewer feels his frustration or anger in a more immediate way than speech or characterisation alone can achieve.
Indeed, I would say that Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's strongest suit is probably its animation. A combination of stubbornly 2-dimensional character designs and deliciously smooth movement make the whole thing feel like a living painting, a feeling compounded by an artistic style which borrows heavily from recognisable Japanese canvas art. The end result is a series which looks distinctive - perhaps even unique - without straying too far from the standard anime aesthetic.
The level of detail which the animation achieves is more praiseworthy still. Some of it feels almost overindulgent, such as the frame-long, blink-and-you'll-miss-it spark that appears when a plug is inserted into the mains or the confetti that doesn't simply fall but flutters, rotating and catching the light as it goes. Other sequences of animation, however, will make you sit up and take note. When Itoshiki presses a piece of chalk too hard against the blackboard, it doesn't just snap into two or three pieces. Fissures appear, the chalk cracks and shatters into some thirty shards, each perfectly-shaped segment flying off on its own trajectory, some larger pieces further fragmenting... All this lasts just short of a second. More if you rewind the scene to watch it again and again in open-mouthed astonishment.
From classical to electronic, from European to Japanese, the soundtrack to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is like some kind of world tour through time. The variety is absolutely astounding. The anime treats the viewer to to warm piano pieces, gentle choral elements, upbeat accordions, dramatic orchestral arrangements and so many other styles and influences besides. In short, the background music is anything but generic, and is a treat to listen to in its own right. Surprisingly, each track manages to stay subservient to the action on the screen, augmenting each scene without ever diverting the viewer's attention.
The opening and ending themes, both of them evocative and engaging, complement the magnificent array of background tunes. The driving punk sounds of Hito Toshite Jiku ga Bureteiru introduce most episodes with an explosive energy. Meanwhile, the ending theme, Zessei Bijin, employs vaudevillian tones and assumes a breathtakingly twisted quality by juxtaposing them with the scenes of beauty and violence it plays over.
There are most definitely too many characters in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Having as many major characters as episodes is rarely a good thing, and this anime is no exception to the rule. The lack of unrealistic hairstyles and hair colours makes it a challenge to tell characters apart to begin with, even though each of the characters has some distinctive element to their character design.
Furthermore, with only a couple of exceptions, each character in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has one character trait which dictates all of their behaviour, and leaves no real room for something recognisable as a personality. Indeed, following a bit of wordplay hocus pocus, the characters are even named after the quirk which defines them. Whilst it is clearly intentional, and whilst I have no automatic dislike for simple characters, such a lack of depth turns the overwhelming majority of the cast into simple gag-characters who are just a repetitive catchphrase short of residing in the lowest basements of lazy humour. As it stands, character interactions - with only a couple of exceptions - mean very little; in many scenes it feels like the characters are interchangeable.
When watching Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, freezing the action becomes a routine experience. Whether it is to read the scrawlings on the blackboard and the silent film captions that pop up on occasion; whether it is to stare in silence and try and puzzle out what the meaning of the last image was; or whether it is simply to pick your jaw up off the floor after a particularly sleek piece of animation or one of the occasional excellent lines of dialogue, the pause button is almost guaranteed to see use. I suppose that in a way this entails added value, as it really does feel like each episode contains far more material than the twenty minute running time would suggest. Additionally, the series is packed with puns and allusions to Japanese culture, although much of this may be lost in translation.
Although the animation, sound and direction of the anime are excellent, whether or not it is a work of entertainment is a question which remains open to debate. However, I found enough great moments of wit and wonder to pardon the lazy characters and occasionally flat humour. Coupled with the outstanding presentation of the series, this was sufficient to elevate the anime from being simply a worthwhile viewing experience to being a gripping and - on more than one occasion - enchanting tour de force.
There are many varying forms of random anime out there from Gag Manga Biyori to Haré & Guu, but when it comes to reviewing them I never know quite how to tackle it and do the shows justice. So this time, I’ve decided that I’m not even going to attempt it. Instead, with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, I have decided to embrace the randomness and will let fate decide what I write and how the show scores. And by fate I mean a pencil with numbers etched into the sides. Oh, and since this particular writing implement only has six surfaces, I shall conveniently ignore the existence of the numbers 3, 4, 8, and 9 for scoring purposes - they’re not exactly exciting numbers anyway, so I’m sure no one will miss them. So what does the pencil have to say about Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s narrative?
1. The pause button is your friend. So much text...
2. Mail mail. Mail mail. Mail mail. That is all.
3. Zetsubou Sensei loves pop culture references more than Snape loves Lily.
4. Itoshiki has opened my eyes to the horror and despair of the world. I am never leaving the house again.
5. I love how its twelve episodes long so you can part it directly down the middle...
6. Wait, there was plot?
On the surface, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a harmless comedy series about a paranoid and suicidal teacher and his bizarre class of misfits and oddities. The show follows their daily lives as Itoshiki educates his students on the darker side of… well basically everything. In this sense it’s kind of like a cross between Azumanga Daioh - high school girls partake in random events with their odd teacher - and Welcome to the NHK - conspiracies, paranoia and depression. However, while it may only be a late night dark comedy anime, in truth, Zetsubou Sensei teaches the audience about the true machinations of the world and its less than savoury inhabitants.
Never before have I witnessed an anime that has been so life changing for me. I never before realised just quite how messed up the world is but with this series highlighting things such as the depressing fact of how society views a person’s worth, my eyes have been well and truly stapled open. This is where Zetsubou Sensei’s greatest impact lies, in shining a spotlight on the horror and despair that surrounds us on a daily basis. With each and every one of Itoshiki’s proclamations of "I’m in despair!" I lose a little more faith in the world. Subsequently, I have decided to withdraw from life outside and rest in the safety of the house. After quitting my job I have decided to sell homemade knitted dice on the internet (there’s a call for that, right?) and I shall become like the show’s Kiri Komori, and hide inside comfortably protected by a futon, away from the harshness and sharp corners of the world at large.
1. Picasso, Rembrandt, and Monet can kiss my arse, Shinbo is my artistic God.
2. I’m pretty sure that I’ve sneezed into a tissue and it’s looked better than this.
3. Every night, when I go to sleep, I have nightmares about Chiri’s central hair parting.
4. The melancholic beauty of seeing a lone figure attempt to hang itself among a sea of sakura blossoms is something that will haunt me for eternity.
5. I’m pretty sure that I was tripping through most of this series. Ooo look at the pretty colours!
6. Kaere’s gratuitous panty shots are all that keep me going in this despair-ridden world.
(I personally adore Shinbo’s distinctive style, so it pains me to write this, but the pencil has spoken. Stupid pencil.)
I’m not entirely sure what it was that Shinbo had been smoking when he thought that Zetsubou Sensei’s visual design was a stroke of pure genius, but he was wrong. So. Very. Wrong. While the style is distinctive, it just... doesn’t look much like anime. When I watch my Japanese animation, I want it to look it as such. I want the big sparkly eyes, pointy little noses and massive, outrageous hair. As it is, with the odd lighting and silhouette style visuals, it looks more like an experimental film than anime. Oh well, at least there were sailor uniforms to placate me while watching this non-anime.
Meanwhile the characters generally blank expressions and gaping eyes that bore into your very soul, chilling you to the core may fit with the overall theme of despair and emptiness, but it doesn’t exactly make them all that likeable. In fact, in most cases it has the opposite effect. The majority of the time I find myself wanting to slap Kafuka’s dumb, naive face with a wet and slightly out of date tuna so that if the impact doesn’t make her come to her senses, surely the smell will. Frankly, if the girls didn’t come out with some good arguments at times, I’d believe that their vacant appearances are due to a hefty amount of brain damage. Well, that or perhaps they are already dead and floating in some kind of purgatory where all emotion is banned - actually, that would have been quite entertaining, take note Kumeta, take note.
1. The girls’ voices are like listening to a choir of angels praising the heavens.
2. Where’s my ear rape whistle?
3. The girls’ voices are like evil demons chanting a funeral dirge along the path to hell.
4. Dear Kenji Ootsuki, if you are reading this, please marry me.
5. I’d put money on the idea that the entire voice cast was high on concentrated caffeine while recording this.
6. Huh? Did you say something? Maybe I should take these earplugs out.
There are plenty of series out there that are aurally fast-paced, the main one that springs to mind being Gag Manga Biyori which makes your brain melt out your ears every time. However, the seiyuu of Zetsubou Sensei could give the Biyori bunch a run for their money. Much like the walls of text and pop culture references that pepper the screen, there are moments when characters get on a roll and the dialogue whizzes past faster than the bullet train. I remember watching the first episode and at the end of the twenty-four minutes I had a headache and my mind was reeling. Listening to the voices babble on like they’ve had ten too many espressos while trying to keep up with reading subtitles is no easy feat and can detract from what’s going on. Unfortunately, more often than not it can be draining more than entertaining, which doesn’t make for good marathon material.
1. I’d double suicide with Itoshiki any day, then we’d always be together... Forever...
2. I’d double suicide with Itoshiki any day, then I’d escape from this hellish crapheap of characters.
3. I wish each and every one of them death by blimp.
4. Nice to see such a quirky bunch that I, as a balding stalker with a fetish for animal tails, can relate to.
5. Why the heck weren’t my classmates at school this awesome?
6. So many characters. Just... So. Many.
I AM NOT ALONE! Finally, there is a series with a collective cast I can fully relate to. Everyone has their eccentricities in real life, so to see a selection showcased in Zetsubou Sensei’s cast is a treat to behold. Itoshiki’s students are a complete mixed bag so you’re bound to find that at least one of the characters resonates with you, whether it’s Maria, the illegal immigrant with a disdain for underwear, Meru who hates the world and only communicates via SMS, or the obsessive compulsive (and somewhat psychotic) Chiri. Personally I can relate to Osui’s battle with early-onset hair loss, Abiru’s love of pulling and collecting animal tails (the pride of my collection is that of a Black Rhino, though unfortunately I’m now banned from the zoo), and Matoi’s stalker tendencies - which reminds me, I like how you’ve done your hair today.
Aside from being able to relate to this quirky cast, they all interact with each other perfectly, making for some of the best comedy I’ve seen in years. Watching Chiri forcibly chase Kiri out of her home in an attempt to get her to go to school was a moment of genius; mainly because we got to see more of the perfectionist girl’s dark, psycho side.
1. More beige than those granny pants you’ve got stashed away at the back of the underwear drawer.
2. I’m in despair! This review is nearly over!
3. Crappier than a steaming great troll turd.
4. This series has less presence than Usui with his hair combed over.
5. Make Shinbo an honorary Brit so that he can get the knighthood he deserves for this work of art.
6. I’m in despair! My dramatic head tilts gave me repetitive strain injury in my neck!
As I type this, I am currently wearing a neck brace. In my enthusiasm to replicate the dramatic "I’m in despair!" scene, I have done irreparable damage to my neck. Needless to say this show should come with a health warning attached, or at least have a "don’t try this at home" message appear on screen at appropriate moments. As much as I’ve loved it, this anime has undoubtedly left me in despair.
As a final message, I must thank my trusty Steadtler pencil for making this whole endeavour possible (and if anyone reading this works there, I like 4H, HB and 2B best).
Teacher Despair is what I came to see as the Urusei Yatsura or GTO of the 00’s. A school comedy setting with lots of social-political overtones, critisizing modern life. At best it can be seen as an interesting series of smart gags and wordplays in a psychedelic setting of artistic expression. At worse it can be seen as a big pile of weirdness that never seems to get anywhere other than confusing you and promising you things that eventually never happen.
This review covers all seasons, OVAs and any possible sequels (?) it may get in the future. It is formulaic to the point of not needing any more than one review. I also paste some of my Bakemonogatari review here, as the two series look alike and were made by the same people. Plus I keep comparing these two as if one defines the other in some way or another. And if you dislike that… buzz off ; I do this for free.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2: Artistic as hell. Every second of it is a blend of pasted cardboards, 3D images, walls of Kataganas, plain character designs, major deformities, parody references to other anime and lots of high quality fan service. The designers gave their best to create a series that is making your mind think like it’s on LSD. A wonderful work of fiction that is set apart by the rest just by looking at it.
What makes it even more special is the fact that the animation changes direction as the episodes go on. The initial episodes have by far the largest amount of attention given into making the world seem colorful and vibrant with life. But soon afterwards it swifts to a lot simpler style of animation, with less lines and shadows yet increases by tenfold the artistic aspect of the anime with allusions and symbolisms. Although many could claim that this is a quality drop, I came to enjoy it as it stands, with its crude movements and endless references to other media and situations that really don’t need movement or super details to depict better. So, I am pleased the way it is.
It ain’t a unique style as the same team also made Bakemonogatari and Maria: Holic as there are many others who use this sort of psychedelic animation ( Kuuchu Buranko comes to mind). Still, it is a trademark you will love at first sight… or at least hate for being so damn multilayered. Every scene is a symbolism to something around Japanese tradition or way of life or a cultural reference in general. Further more, the show makes sure not to let you be bored by using the same sort of animation all the time. Every now and then, the animation style changes to something entirely different, from changing animators to completely change style of animation; all in the name of keeping you interested. It worked for me; variety is the spice of life.
Like it or not, not many anime can stand out from the lot like this, thus they get the full mark in this subsection.
Character Figures 2/2: The characters are generally drawn simple, with a lot of attention given at making the girls to look as much cute as possible. The camera actually does an upward take on their looks most of the times they appear for the first time and focuses a lot on their perspective trademark accessories. Plus it has its share of run of the mill ecchi jokes, like panty shots. Although I find fan service to be distracting you from the real quality of the series and generally lowering its credibility, over here it is just some extra before the next joke jumps in. So, I didn’t found all this simplicity or subtle erotism to be bad. Just… eye candy.
Backgrounds and Visual Effects 4/4: It is almost impossible to separate backgrounds from visual effects as they both serve as symbolisms and cinematics at the same time. They are used intellectually to transmit ideas and emotions to the viewer so I consider them far more successful than just dry pictures that just fill the background with colors. Of course, there are so many references and Japanese texts flashing by that you will miss most of the meanings if you are not very well informed of Japanese tradition and the history of animation in general. Still, they are both marvelous to stare just for their weirdness alone.
Animation 1/2: Well, if I can detract points, this is the place to do so. Motion is very rare in this series as the characters mostly stand still and flap their mouths allowing the backgrounds to transmit the rest. Although that does not seem as a bad thing, they still feel like everything is rolling or sliding and not walking with 18 frames per second. It kinda gets to your nerves after awhile. Not that this series is realistic but it feels way too much like a picture book story from a point and on. But at least there is no clear quality drop like in Bakemonogatari and the scarce action scenes are made to looks great and make up for all the frozen pictures.
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3: The talking is sarcastic and highly symbolical, turning even the most mundane topic to a spiritual insight, a wordplay, an arousing erotic remark or a shout of human angst. You will love them even if you don’t get them. Still, they don’t have the awesome focus on metaphors other shows have (such as Bakemonogatari ) and they sound more silly than credible from time to time.
Music Themes 3/4: Very impressing opening and ending songs that vibrate life (and despair). They easily become memorable for that. The music during episodes is less imposing, closer to squeaky slapstick melodies used mostly to prepare the ground for the next gag.
Sound Effects 3/3: Just like the visuals, the sound effects are blending along with cinematics and backgrounds and timing with character reactions to something, thus becoming very pleasing to listen to.
STORY SECTION: 4/10 I’m in despair! The plotless story has left me in despair!
Although it begins very mysteriously and seems to have progression, it soon turns to some episodic formula of “make fun of this trope”. It is supposed to be about a teacher with a thing for being despaired and trying to kill himself, being in charge of a class full of weirdoes. All things considered, the pace was ok in the first half of the first season. It was still fresh, kept introducing more characters and was giving off the idea of a solid plot, with the lead learning to appreciate life and the students learning important life lessons.
But then it suddenly stopped and turned to episodic situations with no story continuity and a “reset everything” in the end of each. Although new characters keep being introduced and new insight being given to the old, it is still a random show of gags and nothing more. They just talk, make jokes, criticize and comment something for ten minutes and then it’s over. There is little to no relation of one vignette to another besides continuing a joke mentioned in an earlier vignette. Some characters return as cameos but in all don’t aid in the plot in any serious way. Heck, it is a gag on its own, how the characters keep breaking the fourth wall and making fun of the lack of an overall plot.
But for all that it matters, every vignette has its own short story that usually ends with a somewhat closure and leaves behind a lot of food for the mind.
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 2/2: Sure, they are all very attractive and funny and erotic and crazy enough to pay attention to them.
Personality 2/2: Just like in Bakemonogatari or Maria: Holic, the characters behave almost entirely as caricatures. Stereotypes being made fun of and plot elements to an otherwise simple story. SHAFT seems to make only such kinds of characters and they feel too similar in behaviors and too unrealistic as personalities to actually care about them as entities and not comic reliefs or moe archetypes. Still, as far as caricatures go, they offer the best of their archetypes through dialogues and situations.
Backdrop - Development - Catharsis 2/6: Sadly, the characters get colorized as the series goes on but lose any traits that were making them individual entities. I mean, the blonde western girl had a story to tell at first, with her sad childhood but then turned to just the panties girl yelling “I’ll sue you!” every five minutes. The same can be said about all the characters who lose their humane traits and background stories and the only thing that remains of them are moe archetypes and excuses for a monologue to begin by some remark. And the fact that the series never ends, leaves them all without development or catharsis.
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTION: 7/10
Down to it, you will enjoy it if you don’t get bored with the plotless vignettes and the formulaic pace of each one of them. Although I would love a story to actually exist and lead to some conclusion, it is still a nice way to laugh with the tropes and norms of society through the caustic criticism of everyday people. But this can work in reverse too, as unlike Bekemonogatari and Maria: Holic, this series doesn’t have a specific story and setting which can end up outliving their interest from the viewer. So, unless you don’t reach to the point of saturation, you can enjoy it for an indefinite amount of time. I sure did for the most part.
Great Teacher Onizuka
Hey, do you remember 'the tuna'?! Hahahahaha! High five!
Oh wait you don't? I suppose only I and a select few forum regulars might even remember that forum thread, let alone find it amusing. However, this does perfectly illustrate the kind of bafflement I experienced when watching SZS. It is the mother of all in-jokes. At least for the Japanese. Comprising nothing more than a spastic collection of high school sketches, nebulous subliminal messages on a blackboard, and a monkey running amok, it provoke at most a rictus grin of pain. Some people mistake random sequences and peculiar cultural references they don't understand for humour - I am a traditionalist who prefers actual punchlines. And as much as it pains me not to be a part of the otaku in-crowd who no doubt love this tripe, I nonetheless could push myself through no more than four of its punishing episodes.
the music the character profileing the randomosity (if thats considered a word) all of it lead to an amazsingly funny and good phych backgrounding it was a truly amazing anime the op and end theme songs were by the amazing artist the students display teh basic phychological mental intability stages and only one displays teh positive mental state that keeps them all together and the anime on some sort of mental track.
the characters i dont want to bore u people with because u find out all the info u need on them in the anime including the phych profile they display repetedly in the anime. the characters are however exelently played out and should be treated just as any phych professer would perscribe them as medication and or treatment.
the backgrounds are contantly fresh and dark on the correct times when they should be and they get brighter and seem more vast and expansive while they are made to be cheery and a ray of hope. the only repetitive backgrounds are the classrooms and the homes which u dont see to often as the backgrounds contsantly screw u over with constant changes and the fact that even when in the classroom the blackboards words contantly are changing and go from normal class discussion type things to very abstact things like fairy tales and weird unneccisary information.
the animation is very well done and constantly expanding and changing with the tale being told. the ways in which the characters storys or ways in which they are speeking changes and distorts the original animation is a perfect blend and leads to great seen transitions and character reactions such as when Zetsubou Sensei goes into "despair mode" and the screen goes black then he shows up with differing light positioning poses in superbly briliant animation poses is priceless it just makes u want to scream "IM IN DESPAIR THE (insert topic here) HAS LEFT ME IN DESPAIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" LOL!!!!!!
all in all this is an exelent series so far for me i am going to postpone the rest for now but look forward to more reviews when i get the chance and please feel free to ask any questions u have on this review (fyi i know some of my spelling is off so dont criticize that please) anyways have a good one and please check out my deviant art at bluejule122, facebook at kaynepatrickspeirs, and youtube at kaynepatrickspeirs for anything that u may need ansered.