At least the animation delivers splendid hyperrealist backgrounds we can gawp at. And I suppose we can happily nod along to the rousing main themes, Leah’s ‘Invisible’ and School Food Punishment’s ‘Light Prayer’. What we mustn’t do is hope for strong character development or explanations to plug the holes left in the series’ plot. Eden of the East: King of Eden, the anime where nothing happens for a very long time, serves only one unspectacular purpose: to describe how Akira Takizawa gets from A (a wiped memory and a fake life in New York) to B (back in the Selecao game with Juiz, enemies and all).
My above criticism exaggerates in one sense. Stuff does happen, albeit in such a vague, trudging manner that few of the events seem meaningfully related to each other or even interesting. A key reason is that the movie assumes we have memories like databanks, building upon minutiae from the series that most of us will have long forgotten without laying much groundwork (conveniently, Manga Entertainment’s release comes with Air Communication, a neat two-hour summary of the series. I recommend it as a refresher for established fans since newcomers are better served watching the more exciting original series.). Combine that with predominantly allusive dialogue and the show, rather than deepen the mystery, only deepens confusion. After half an hour of intricate conversations full of coded language and throwaway movie references, viewers might find themselves mentally switching off till the end where all the action’s supposed to happen – except, there is no action.
King of Eden describes no clear story arc, no steady build-up of tension, and thus no evident climax – its entire movement is an exercise in flatlining. We might detect one or two encouraging blips during a tense hotel room scene involving a suspicious radiator and another just after a carousel ride, but they’re signs of artificial activity, not life. The series was a thriller with, you know, thrills, a light-footed caper modelled reverently on high concept Hollywood movies. King of Eden, on the other hand, is a documentary trying desperately to be a thriller; it has exciting things to say but no idea how to say it without making one character face another and talk at her for ten minutes.
Master of music Kenji Kawai provides an appealing soundtrack, although we barely hear it because most of it is either muted or absent altogether. Unfortunately, the result in some scenes is not a rich, cinematic silence full of atmospheric touches like the wind blowing or the rumble of a speeding train, but rather the tomblike silence of a fictional world nobody could be bothered to fully realise. The movie at times feels bare and stale and lacking just one more sensory dimension through which it could have moved us. The voice actors both in Japanese and English make valiant attempts to inject emotion into the reams of turgid exposition but mainly they sound like they’re fumbling their way through its convolutions as much as the audience.
Of all the disappointments, however, none strike as hard as the static characters. I felt a flutter of joy the first time Takizawa showed up in the movie; his breezy attitude and self-sufficiency made him the centrepiece of the series and I looked forward to seeing more of his cleverness. Alas, the closest we get here is him pretending to a taxi driver that he’s a cop, thereby convincing him to return the handbag Saki left in his backseat. We get further hints of his past as he monologues about his mother, although that has no concrete impact on events. Saki, supposedly an indispensable heroine, actually behaves more like a leaf in the wind, blown by the script from one scene to the next without any internal dynamics of her own. While her performance in the series gave us glimpses of depth, here she shows a narrow emotional range tipping from vaguely confused to vaguely hopeful. The remainder, like Johnny Killer Kuroha or that new guy obsessed with manipulating Akira and Saki’s lives into movie clichés, fulfil functional roles at best.
King of Eden drags out the series’ frayed plot strands rather than tying them up. Takizawa has lost his memories to no dramatic effect, the other Selecao continue to craft fuzzy conspiracies, and the abstract scripting makes events seem so tenuously linked that it’s hard to feel involved. Admittedly, King of Eden‘s flaws stem partly from its nature as a stepping stone between the series and the finale. Trapped with the difficult task of revealing all the show’s convolutions while maintaining a veneer of coherence, the movie has little energy left to build significant drama. In light of this, perhaps there is one more thing we can hope for: that the second movie, Paradise Lost, performs better.