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