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… ;)