Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

TV (12 eps)
3.879 out of 5 from 12,651 votes
Rank #1,644

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?

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Story 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. AnimationWhilst 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.SoundFrom 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.CharactersThere 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.OverallWhen 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.


Story 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. Animation 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. Sound 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. Characters 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. Overall 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).


Story: The story is rather jumbled in this anime. It's basically Itoshiki getting to know his class of rather eccentric students while at the same time trying to teach them about the despair of the world. His attempts to spread his pessimism is thwarted by Kafuka, the eternal optomist and several other members of the class. The story itself leaves a lot to be desired, but the humor and situations make up for the missing plot. Animation: The characters themselves are simply drawn, with certain features, a bandage, the perfect center split of Chiri's hair, seperating their rather similar faces. The background and landscapes often draw the eye away from teh characters, such as the beginning scene with the cherry blossoms.  And I don't know if it was the version I watched, but there was a guy's face on the school clock and blocking every ecchi occurance (except Kaere's characteristic pantsu shots). Sounds: Between the OPs, the ending song, and the interlude of melodies, the sound was superb. I loved the ending, Zessei Bijin, enough that I listened to it on repeat for quite some time. It's rather catchy. Characters: Oh lord. I was wondering how many character quirks they could stuff into one anime. Apparently, the answer is "A lot". The eternal pessimist Itoshiki holds the main lead, despite the girls of his class vying for the spot light. Each one has their own quirk, from a perfectionist to a foreigner to a tail-pulling animal lover. The little quirks give each girl a name, but not much room for further development. While Itoshiki learns a lot from the girls, I have to wonder how much they actually learned from him. Overall, I liked this anime. It's quirky and insane and brilliantly done for a slice-of-life.  

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