Nozomu Itoshiki is a high school teacher so pessimistic that even the smallest of misfortunes can send him into a pit of raging despair; some of these "catastrophes" even lead to suicide attempts. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a satirical slice-of-life comedy set in the modern day, covering various aspects of Japanese life and culture through Nozomu and his interactions with his students: Kiri Komori, a recluse who refuses to leave the school; Abiru Kobushi, an enigma who frequently arrives to class with severe and mysterious injuries; the hyper-optimistic Kafuuka Fuura, Nozomu's polar opposite; and several other unusual girls, all of whom are just as eccentric as their teacher.
We all have times when we wish we were dead, although we don’t always mean it.
Well, I present you Itoshiki Nozomu. He’s the world’s most pessimistic person and always carries around a rope when things turn badly (by the way, when you write his name horizontally, you will get Zetsubou – despair). Right in the first episode we see Itoshiki hanging himself in some cherry trees and his imminent death is only stopped by Fuura Kafuka, his unequal: the world’s most optimistic person. This is what sets things off and from here on in we will make a journey through current Japan’s society, through
the eccentric students of this eccentric teacher.
Usually when we talk about smart comedy what comes to mind is a Cambridge PhD that tells jokes that only Stephen Hawking and company can grasp. This series is really something because it is a smart comedy… that allows laughing. Zetsubou has a lot of serious subjects but you never see these treated like a soap opera. The problem is developed with a dark comedy that allows much more reflection about it.
Each character is a takeoff of modern Japan’s problematic citizens: a hikikomori, a perfectionist, a gaijin that suffers prejudice, an addict of cell phones, a stalker, a fan of yaoi and cat ears, an illegal immigrant, a girl that enjoys putting a stick in a dog’s ass (not sure if the last one is a general problem). The development of these characters may become compromised after the first half, conceding space to nonsense episodes, but this is natural coming from a comedy.
Usually when we see an anime we already know what to expect from the funny parts, they’re virtually the same every time. Again, that’s not the case here. Expect the unexpected. A really unique, cynical, nonsensical comedy. The color and the lighting is top quality. Also, get prepared to see a lot of cuts, abrupt changes of images, jokes been told on the blackboard or written on the screen. The dialogue is original and the animation is pretty creative and of high quality; moreover, there are a lot of alternative things.
For example, all the time you’ll see the picture of bald guy around, a Japanese Lex Luthor, that is funny exactly because there’s no purpose for that. There is an episode in which the characters are presented as paper dolls. The first opening doesn’t even have any image, except that damn bald guy. The second one can mix up Buddhism with bondage (don’t ask me how). The ending is like a surrealistic thriller. It’s a pretty cult comedy by this point of view, because uses a lot of art and animation techniques that you thought you would only find in a more serious anime or in a museum.
We can call it a harem series when we think that every girl somehow ends up falling in love with the teacher and that the only male characters that have the minimum relevance are a bald guy (another one) and a boy that only read books the entire time. There’s a lot of fanservice as well, but, one more time, the anime does that in a unique way. It’s almost like it is dissing the fanservice itself.
There are references to other anime like Lucky Star and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (and Zetsubou is incredibly similar to Watanuki from XXX Holic). Furthermore, the otaku world is shown in the traditional Comiket Market.
The first opening song, Hitotoshite Jiku ga Bureteiru, is performed by Kenji Ohtsuki, who some may remember from the ending of Welcome to NHK. Now, instead of the galactic crazy baby, there is a song that keeps repeating bure, bure, bure (warped, warped, warped)… whatever. What’s cool is that there is the participation of some of the voice actors like Nonaka Ai (here, Fuura Kafuka, but also known as Ibuki Fuko in Clannad After Story) and Inoue Marina (here she’s Kitsu Chiri; also made Eve Genoard in Baccano).
It may be a funny rock – you can’t hear Kenji sing without laughing - but is also a pretty good one, at least the song doesn’t get out of your head. Most of the OST is performed by Hasegawa Tomoki on the piano, and the majority of the songs are somewhat dramatic, melancholic, romantic, what fits with the dark comedy of the series pretty well.
When I finished the last episode I was so gloomy about it that I thought about doing bungee jumping from a two floors house with the rope around my neck cutting my wrists while falling after drinking caustic soda… but then I discovered that there was a second season and a third coming up this July… there’s still hope… ;)
STORY - Story? What story? This is a slice-of-life series and it is based entirely around hilarious character shenanigans, though if you ever see characters like this in your life, I'd be a little worried. Still, there are a few reoccurring themes revolving around anime and otaku snark and satire of Japanese lifestyle, culture, politics, media, literature, etc. They also frequently make fun of themselves, which is incredibly amusing. It's all amazingly well done and highly entertaining, I assure you. A bit of warning through, if you try and pause to read every single thing written in the background for scenes,
you will turn 20 minute episodes into 40 minute episodes.
I'm in despair! This anime with such a plot that could have been expanded in so many directions has left me in despair! And so begins this disillusioning review of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.
The series is a comedy, blending dark humor with otaku references and some slapstick. It's a very eccentric blend of various comedic styles so it comes off as a novelty and wears off just as fast. The first few episodes are uproariously funny, but once the novelty of the setting wears off there's nowhere for the series to go. Keeping to an episodic structure, no one grows and nothing changes. A good
comedy will develop character relationships so it never runs out of tangents. Here it's Nozomu Itoshiki vs. his class. That's all you ever see. It's fun for a little while, but because it never goes anywhere, it gets old in a flash.
Animated by the (in)famous animation studio SHAFT and directed by creative madman Shinbo Akiyuki, Zetsubou's art takes all the requisite turns expected of it and a few new ones. The problem is it's all very hit-or-miss. Shinbo-san's affinity for blending 3-D objects in a 2-D world shines here, but other elements such as copypastas and the chalkboard gags just annoy, especially since they're only on screen for maybe a second or two and only serve to distract. While some of them are quite funny, the emphasis placed upon them is vague. Should we be looking at the chalkboard or listening to what's going on onscreen? This probably translates better for Japanese audiences, but an American audience relying on subtitles will be hurting to keep up.
The animation is often very smooth when it needs to be. It's a very unique style that doesn't reflect anything else done by the studio or the director before, which makes it pleasant to view. The only problem is really the character designs. They're either blatantly unique to the world or they just manage to blend in. I swear, I still can't tell Fujiyoshi and Hitou apart ><
The character designs were not the only problem I had with the cast though. Much of Zetsubou's potential was ultimately squandered in the character department. As Zetsubou is a character-driven comedy, much of the humor relies in the various dysfunctional personalities of teacher Nozomu Itoshiki and his class colliding on matters of society and personality disorders. This is illustrated by giving every main girl a specific and unique disorder and limiting the girls' personalities to only that disorder. It works wonderfully in the case of the sadistically OCD Chiri, but other characters like stalker Tsunetsuki and "I'll sue you" Kaere are less like characters and more like running gags. Thus it comes as no surprise that eventually the chemistry falls apart and one is left wondering if they even had a plan as of what to do with each girl after her disorder was revealed.
The accompanying music is decent. Noticeable at times, but often forgettable. The ED is pretty good, but it's the OP that's the real treat of the soundtrack.
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has been receiving rave reviews for the last year and in some ways I can see why. Its comedically nihilistic take on Japanese society, as well as it's inventive style bring fresh air to the myraid of other anime. But ultimately, what potential it starts with is squandered on one-dimensional characters and a repetitive plot.
Overall, I give Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei a 7 out of 10.
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a show about Nozomu Itoshiki, an extremely melodramatic man whose suicide is interrupted by Kafuka Fuura, a happy-go-lucky, perpetually optimistic girl. Itoshiki turns out to be a teacher, and when he goes to teach his class, it turns out that almost every single one of his students has severe mental problems as well.
Now, the premise is already hilarious enough, and for the most part, the show delivers in terms of comedy and satire.
However, the show is admittedly rather formulaic. Almost every episode follows more-or-less the same pattern: A problem/quirk regarding society is shown, Itoshiki rants about it, his
students give their point-of-view about it, and Kafuka talks about the positive aspects of said problem/quirk.
The first few episodes of the first season are dedicated mostly to introducing the characters as well as their associated running gag. Said running gag is as far as their personality goes.
As such, considering that in all subsequent episodes of the show, the same jokes get reused over and over regarding the characters, and the formula for each episode remains the same, the show gets rather boring for the remainder because they don't really do that much else. However, this only applies to season 1.
In seasons 2 and 3, possibly because they had already made every joke that could possibly have been made about the characters at this point, the show starts to get out of its comfort zone. We get to see the characters in different settings rather than the classroom/the school grounds, and some episodes even forgo the typical episode formula, which I felt was a welcome change. Despite some arguing that the show got stale at this point, I personally felt that seasons 2 and 3 were better than season 1.
All in all, I'd give season 1 a 6/10, and seasons 2 and 3 a 7/10. I recommend this show if you're looking for a quick laugh and some good satire.
We are mostly all here to watch anime and read manga, but there is plenty more in Japanese fiction that we can take advantage of. Here is a primer on modern Japanese literature and novels translated to English that anime fans should consider reading.