The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Title: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei aka So Long, Mr. Despair
Genre: Comedy
Company: SHAFT
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 8 July 2007 – 23 Sep 2007

Synopsis: Itoshiki Nozomu is the most negative person in the world, seeing no meaning or hope in this life. Even the kanji of his name, when written in a horizontal style, can be misread as the two-kanji word “zetsubou” (despair). It is thus so ironic that, when he tried to hang himself, he is saved by the irrepressibly-positive Fuura Kafuka; even more so, when he goes to his day job as a teacher afterwards, only to find that she is in his class, along with her fellow misfits in society.

The Highlights
Visuals: Shinbo-style complete WTF-ness…but it fits with the overall madness of the comedy.
Characters: Paper-thin stereotypes…which fits with the overall parody of the whole deal.
Obscure references: Matches Lucky Star reference for reference…and even thinks nothing of trading reference-jabs with the KyoAni piece itself.
Comedy: Dark humour, coming from left field a lot of the time.

When the premise of a series revolves around a terminally pessimistic, suicidal teacher presiding over a class of psychologically whacked-out students, each one a stereotype of the outcast groups or social ills that contemporary Japanese society faces today, you know you’ve got a winner here. And so it is with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei; its non-conformist style defies the understanding of the casual viewer, but its dark humour has the most impact for those with some knowledge of contemporary Japanese culture.

There is no plot to speak of, the characters are paper-thin stereotypes, and logic is completely thrown out the window; despite frequently coming to the brink of the death he seems to want so much, Itoshiki exhibits an immortality streak even Love Hina‘s Urashima Keitaro would admire. The visual effect is also grating on the eyes, as might be expected of who else other than Shinbo – one of the most disturbing being the choice of an image of a bald guy’s smiling head as the censor for naked girls in an onsen. Put all these traits together, and you might get a nomination for Most Intentionally Bad Anime; yet, with the biting wit of SZS‘s parody at the underbelly of Japanese society, and its apparent delight at taking potshots at the KyoAni phenomenon with its frequent references to Lucky Star, the whole package comes together to form one of the quirkiest, yet enjoyable works I have ever had the pleasure of viewing.

How many other anime series are the topics of suicide, hikkikomori, stalking, split-personality disorder, and extreme perfectionism amongst others brought up, much less used as the source of humour? How many other anime series can the lead character extend an offer to another to commit suicide with him, and come off as being sincere instead of evil? How many other anime series can the characters be so stereotypical, and yet contribute even more strongly to the parodic element of the series because of it? Simply put, not many, and there are not many other series out there which can match the sheer dementedness with which SZS makes parodies out of topics otherwise taboo in polite Japanese society. In that respect, the equally-demented visual cues of Shinbo work pretty well in complementing the humour, and the overall deal makes for a series where nothing else is quite like it.

That said, although I personally thought that the humour in SZS is wittier than Lucky Star‘s, it must probably be said that the same humour is probably even less accessible to the general public than the latter’s; this means that not everyone will get the humour implicit in many of its scenes. SZS can be said to require a high level of audience competence, or in other words, it appeals most to the portion of the audience that can catch the majority of its Japan-centric jokes. Therefore, the ability of an individual to enjoy a series such as this varies very widely depending on the individual in question. Nevertheless, I still stand by my words that SZS is quite possibly one of the best series to come about in the Summer of 2007; now that its run is ended, I am in despair.

Now excuse me while I go make myself taller.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Ascaloth

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