27 December 2007
Hasn't been an anime review on here for a while! This may have been because the most recent anime season was a little unspectacular. Either way, one of the more eclectic titles to come out recently was the mini-series 'Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei', which roughly translates to 'Goodbye Despair Teacher'.
The story focuses around a chronically depressed and suicidal teacher of a typical anime high school class, complete with the usual set of unusual character stereotypes - a stalker girl, a hikkokomori, a detail-obsessed neat freak, a blonde American exchange student, a stupid yet wonderfully angelic super-optimistic girl, a mean girl who only communicates through messages on her cell phone... you get the idea. Basically what ensues is hijinks as the teacher, whose name has condemned him to a life of despair and depression, basically tries to drag his entire class down into the depths of despair with him, earning the devotion of his students along the way. Or something. It�s hard to tell. The plot is paper-thin.
The general lack of a plot is a shame, given that there is a genuinely interesting premise to start with. And although it is obvious that the series is meant to have heavy comedic stylings, it degenerates from a macabre comedy into a parody harem anime within about four episodes. This in itself would be bearable if it wasn't for that fact that it quickly becomes apparent that the show is little more than a self-congratulatory animation experiment of the show's creators. Not a single episode goes by without seeing a picture of one of the creators somewhere, whether it be a censor blot, the school clock, or even the opening animation. It was amusing the first couple of times, but soon the repetitive breaking of the fourth wall starting smacking of ego and severely compromises any enjoyment derived from the series. There's even an entire episode that basically appeared to be made in response to fans complaining about the excess of female characters, blatant fanservice and deviation from the original manga that the show was loosely based upon, whereupon the fans were basically told they were stupid and that the creators would do what they liked. Which was funny for the first minute or so, but as it appeared to take up the majority of the episode the joke wore thin. Actually, that sums up Zetsubo Sensei quite well - initially decent jokes wearing thin.
It then seems to try for a bit of shock value and blatant fanservice to keep it afloat, but honestly, the fact that they stretched it out to even twelve episodes is some sort of feat of magic. Thankfully they didn't try for a full season. Though admittedly, it is bound to appeal to the sense of humour of a small demographic, and its puns and wordplay remain consistently fun throughout the series.
Even those who don't enjoy that sort of humour or fanservice, however, will find that the series is made almost bearable by the fact that the show has such a strong visual style. Its use of silhouettes and washed out colours and old movie motifs gives it a strong and appealing aesthetic, helped along by the frequent bursts of experimental animation. Even in the moments where the animation becomes cheap and ridiculous, it remains one of the few reasons to keep watching the show. It has a unique look and feel that despite the source material does set it apart from the cookie-cutter animes that liberally decorate each season.
The soundtrack is pretty good too. The opening and ending themes were among the precious few in recent memory worth sitting through. It helped that the opening and ending animations accompanying them were similarly stylized and eclectic. The voice acting was as bearable as what can be expected with the cast of characters. They did a respectable job with the source material, but it is not particularly memorable.
All in all, Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei is another one of those series that is brimming with wasted potential. The visual style makes the hit-and-miss humour worthwhile, and though the premise is largely squandered, it is at least only twelve episodes. The first couple of episodes are probably worth a watch, but otherwise, skip this one and satiate yourself by finding youtube videos of the opening and ending animations.
Overall score: 188,333 / 1,000,000