Higashi no Eden: first impressions can be deceiving

What would you do with $100 million? I’m sure everyone has pondered some version of this question at one time or another, though my variants usually involve a much smaller sum. Everyone probably has their own answers: I’d personally invest most of it and live on the interest/dividends whilst I pursue my dream, which no longer involves buying a house since I’ll probably end up traveling for the rest of my life. Or maybe I should just buy an apartment anyway, since I should have a place to return to (and to store all my stuff).

The one truth is that rich people will have vastly different answers to everyone else. And that’s precisely what’s happened in Higashi no Eden. Having somehow lost his memories, Takizawa Akira is surprised to find that he is one of twelve people who have been given the 10 billion yen (that’s about $100 million) to try and “save Japan”.

Save Japan? From what? Why does such a successful first world country need saving? If you pay attention anytime that Japan appears in the news, you’ll already know the country’s economy has been stagnant for almost 20 years. Interest rates are just above zero, secure and well-paid job opportunities are few and far between, salaries also seem to be at a standstill, if the JET one is anything to go by (and public workers also saw a drop in their bonuses during the course of this year). The social consequences have been huge. Many younger people have become freeters, barely able to support themselves with several low-paying jobs, making them unable to start either a career or a family. Taking it to extremes are those who’ve simply given up and become hikikomoris, hiding away from the harsh economic reality.

But when you consider how the luxury gap is widening, even as company workers are still expected to put in 70 hour weeks, perhaps it’s not so surprising. Exactly where the money of the new rich comes from is a bit of a mystery to me (CEO figures in Japan are surprisingly low compared to the rest of the world) – perhaps we’re talking about the owners of successful enterprises. If that’s where the buck stops, then there’s probably where the decision for better working conditions and rewards has to come from.

     

Bringing this back to Higashi no Eden, that is precisely why Takizawa seeks out Mr. Outside in the end. Ato Saizou may have the power to change the country, but instead he pawns it off to a bunch of random people in a game, one that he can call off at any time. It’s even suggested that he’ll simply find another group of people to conduct the same experiment again. Contrast this with Hirasawa’s group, who struggle to use their company to try and expand the visions of their former NEET comrades. I’d punch Ato Saizou too.

     

The general reaction to the conclusion of this series has been very negative. Well, some viewers didn’t like it right from the start, but many who enjoyed the insanity of the first few episodes gradually lost their enthusiasm as time went on. Admittedly, I never expected characters of Umino Chika design to be leading a series concerned with such a heavy issue. And that’s even though I’ve lived in Japan and interacted with individuals who can be completely different people once work is over. Like it or not, audiences still judge very much by appearance, and it seems like most people are not ready to accept serious messages from a show with such cute designs and SD forms.

Nevertheless, I’m not going to try and convince anyone that they need to look deeper, not so much because people who don’t like something won’t want to spend more time on it. but simply because Eden probably isn’t for us Westerners. No matter what the casual or even the ardent anime or Japanese culture fan might say, the society that Higashi no Eden was created for – and thus the message that the creators probably wanted to convey – is so intrinsically Japanese that you probably have to LIVE it to understand it. If you’ve done so, you should understand what I’m alluding to, even if you don’t feel quite the same way.

“But I’m not that lucky to have been able to live there. Or even devote the time to learning Japanese.” Classic excuses. I’m not quite ready to address them yet, not to mention that it’ll become a lecture if I start.

But even if you dislike Higashi no Eden, even if it didn’t give you what you wanted, I hope you never forget it. For if you ever experience the society, the people, that this series was created for, you may just start to understand what the creators were trying to say.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: