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).
Life is simply not worth living for down and out school teacher Itoshiki Nozomu. He has no hope of progress, no prospect of promotion, no chance at happiness… he is in despair! Even his name spells 'zetsubou' – 'despair', when compressed. But when the time comes to end it all, Itoshiki's attempted suicide on the first day of the new school year is foiled by relentlessly positive Fuura Kafuka. This saves Itoshiki long enough to meet his new class, and the quirky range of students under his care. Will Itoshiki Nozomu depress his students with his anguish? Or will Fuura show Zetsubou-sensei the joys of life and hope?
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.