Six months have passed since Akira Takizawa (voiced by Ryohei Kimura) saved Japan from a massive missile strike. At his request, Juiz (Sakiko Tamagawa), the omnipotent artificial intelligence governing the mysterious game in which Takizawa is a player, has erased all his memories and set in motion a scheme to make him "King of Eden." This entails forging a new identity as the illegitimate son of the Japanese Prime Minister whilst eliminating all traces of his real past. Saki (Saori Hayami) arrives in New York City searching for her beloved Takizawa, but is framed as a terrorist by one of the other players, known as Selecao, when she opens her suitcase to find a stash of automatic weapons - in front of a dozen horrified New Yorkers!
Meanwhile, Saki's friends: cute little techno-prodigy Micchon (Ayaka Saito), stoic group leader Hirasawa (Motoyuki Kawahara), vivacious Sister (Kimiko Saito), slovenly genius "Underpants" (Nobuyuki Hiyama), geeky Kasuga (Hayato Taya) and the hopelessly lovelorn Osugi (Takuya Egushi) have established their search engine-cum-social network site "Eden of the East" as a global phenomenon. But whilst aiding Saki in uncovering more details on the sinister game and its enigmatic creator "Mr. Outside", they discover someone has hacked Eden in order to spy on them. Soon Takizawa and Saki are pursued by government agents and other Selecao while plans are afoot to capitalise on our heroes status as a global icon for idealistic youth by luring him back to Japan to become an unwitting martyr...
The King of Eden comes across like an extended episode of the hit television series, but is none the worse for that. Eden of the East (2009) was one of the most ambitious and accomplished anime in years and this feature film maintains that high standard. Nevertheless there is the sense that writer-director Kenji Kamiyama is laying the foundations for the forthcoming finale, Eden of the East II: Paradise Lost, as he deepens the mystery and throws in a few fresh twists. Inevitably, there is some disappointment in realising the film is purposefully posing more questions than it intends to answer at this stage, but the core romance between Takizawa and Saki (whose hapless ability to be misunderstood by every American she meets still raises big laughs) remains charming and compelling. Also Kamiyama still manages the remarkable feat of crafting a gripping, suspenseful narrative in spite of the near total lack of conventional, shoot-em-up action.
More than a decade ago, Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) stood as the era-defining anime with its vision of a generation riddled with neuroses, self-loathing and self-doubt. Now Eden of the East signals a new era by rejecting such defeatist attitudes. Takizawa embraces everything life throws his way with the same ebullient spirit that enables him to charm the pants off everyone he meets (even whilst suffering amnesia!). At the story's core lies the disarming belief that with the corrupt old order swept away, idealistic young people with their utopian belief in the power of social networking media can forge a brighter future. However, Kamiyama acknowledges not all young people are willing to use technology for such mature or indeed utopian ends. Some, like the crazed wannabe filmmaker who seems intent on turning Takizawa and Saki's lives into a deranged action movie, wallow in infantile desires and simple self-gratification. Others are even more cynical, including the Selecao who capitalises on Takizawa and the Eden of the East creators' global mission by flogging tacky merchandise. It is he who hatches the idea of having Takizawa assassinated by a foreigner, cynically reasoning that in an era where victims of tragedy and terrorism are given a license to do as they please, Japan could regain its autonomy as a nation. This snappy bit of social satire is another of the film's great strengths. Things end on a cliffhanger certain to frustrate some, but rather craftily ensures we are all likely to see how the game finally plays out. Excellent score by Kenji Kawai, particularly that great theme song.