The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Title: Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei aka So Long, Mr. Despair OAD
Genre: Comedy
Company: SHAFT
Format: 3 OVA
Dates: 17 Oct 2008 – 17 Jan 2009

Synopsis: It’s Valentine’s Day and Itoshiki Nozomu has received an abundance of chocolate from his admiring students.  However, Itoshiki, again finding a negative in all things that happen to him, suspects that his students are using kindness to bring down his defenses and take advantage of him, just as Nyan Nyan uses sex appeal to discover Japan’s national security secrets.  Not to concern, as always, Fuura Kafuka has the answer.

The Highlights
Comedy: More of the same, for better or worse.
Art: Eclectic; frequently and drastically changing, which adds to the surreal feeling.
OP sequences: Insane; owe a lot to Monty Python.
Satire: As witty as always, but a smidgen more patriotic.

When it comes to a franchise like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, for the large part the attraction is its eccentric uniqueness and ambition and the fact that there’s very little one can compare it to.  Usually when a successful comedy offers “more of the same”, that’s enough to tide over its fans, but for something like SZS, which has forged its reputation on pushing boundaries and throwing curveballs, “more of the same” actually falls below expectations.  Throughout pretty much the entire first two seasons of SZS, Shinbo was always one step ahead of his fans.  However, with Goku, the audience has caught up.  Now certainly seems a good time for Shinbo to part ways with the clinically suicidal school teacher and his harem, indistinguishable to his classroom.  This is a reasonable comedy, but let’s not kid ourselves.  The best material is in the two TV series.

That’s not to say there’s a dearth of good material in this comedy.  The first OVA in particular features some gems, and when, within the first few minutes, Itoshiki is proposing that Valentine’s Day should only be celebrated every four years to make everyone “desperate and crazy, just like how it is with the Olympics”, the tone is set.  Chiri’s unsettlingly accurate chocolate heart, Kafuka’s elite anti-“honey trap” squad and Itoshiki lamenting that when things change, they rarely match the original make for some of the funnier jokes… and that’s just the first OVA.  But, then again, the first OVA is by far the best and with the exception of an incredibly pertinent commentary on the Japanese inclination to focus on the process of things rather than the result, the next two OVAs come off as a tad bland.  SZS’s formula catches up to it, and it starts to feel like it was spinning its wheels.  With each OVA, it becomes much easier not just to anticipate when a punchline would come, but what that punchline would be.

While the content is a bit stale compared with the older series, the mood is still as eclectic and surreal as ever.  It’s rare that two consecutive segments will feature the same style of animation, with Shinbo having no qualms about experimenting with character designs with no prior warning, usually for the sake of a joke.  The evolving OP sequence (each more crazy than the last) deserves special mention, seemingly inspired by Monty Python’s collage stop motion animations, but with an infusion of paranoia to make it more relevant for an age where people take drugs like Prozac instead of LSD to keep the world from spinning out of control.  But, then again, that’s generally what good satire is: an attempt to rationalize the world that inevitably comes up short and then takes the attitude that all we can do is laugh at it.

And, as a satire Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a roaring success, probably one of the wittiest and most biting I’ve seen in anime.  Goku continues the work of its predecessors, but doesn’t quite make the same impact.  It has no shortage of commentary on Japanese culture, but it’s arguably more patriotic than previous outings, seemingly being a little more forgiving of Japan’s illogical contradictions and a little more scathing of other countries’ indiscretions.  Nonetheless, the most important criteria for a comedy is how much it makes you laugh.  This certainly made me laugh, just not as much as the other series.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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