If someone gave you ten billion yen plus a wish-granting super-computer and asked you to save the world, what would you do? That was the challenge the anonymous Mr. Outside offered the twelve players, or Seleçao, selected to play his mind-bending game. Now only a handful remain, including our amnesiac hero Akira Takizawa (voiced by Ryohei Kimura) who is on the run, suspected of terrorism and exposed as the illegitimate son of the recently-deceased prime minister of Japan. Much to the outrage of the late politician's family who would like nothing better than to put this upstart behind bars. But Takizawa is a resourceful young man. Even with the law at their heels, his adoring would-be girlfriend Saki (Saori Hayami) and her friends, co-founders of the social networking site known as "Eden of the East" band together to unravel this shadowy conspiracy, confront Mr. Outside and, just possibly, build a brighter future for Japan and the world.
And so arguably the most original, ambitious and exciting anime serial of recent years reaches its conclusion with a second feature film that is both frustrating and satisfying in equal measure. This so-called endgame leaves a great many ambiguous threads and unanswered questions that in any other story would count as a major flaw but in this instance proves uniquely apt. Eden of the East is that rare anime with a socio-political agenda and its finger on the pulse: global terrorism, economic turmoil and the rise of the social networking generation as a political force are all woven into a science fiction thriller more interested in posing provocative questions than delivering easy answers. Given it was the belief in easy answers that got the world into the mess it is in writer-director Kenji Kamiyama prefers to ask "what if?" rather than bludgeon viewers with sweeping, sanctimonious social statements.
The film opens with a techno-phobic image worthy of David Cronenberg, as Takizawa dreams his cell-phone comes alive and literally invades his brain, but Kamiyama has no patience with dystopian nightmares. One of the greatest things about Eden of the East is its belief in people power. Kamiyama celebrates the efforts of his lively, compassionate, ingenious, flawed yet idealistic characters and their unwavering believe in uniting their gifts to solve the world's problems. There is a laudable attempt to address tensions between the social networking generation and that earlier group of idealists, the baby boomers who are here part-lambasted as responsible for the rot in the world. However, when we finally meet Mr. Outside he delivers an eloquent speech in defence of those hard-working salarymen and women who built Japan's economic miracle only to see the global financial meltdown turn the world upside down. It is a seemingly endless cycle, every generation blames the one before. The film identifies the pitfalls of this mindset and, though Takizawa has his moment of retribution, stresses the need to set aside cross-generational differences if the world is truly to be saved.
Kamiyama masterfully handles multiple plotlines and characters, cranking up the suspense to near Hitchcockian levels. Among the many remarkable things about this anime is its ability to keep viewers on the edge of their seats despite a near total lack of conventional action. No shootouts or robot battles here. Just ingenious heroes pitting their wits against an international techno-conspiracy. Inevitably perhaps, Takizawa's climactic attempt to radicalise Japanese society is a little far-fetched in its idealism whilst his miraculous escape from Mr. Outside's last ditch attempt to regain control of his game is poorly explained. Nevertheless the film proves compelling in spite of such minor flaws, partly because the characters co-created by chara designer Chica Umino, creator of the terrific romantic comedy Honey and Clover (2005) are so multifaceted and engaging. Aside from a techno-thriller, the film is also a romance and fans will be thrilled to see Saki and Takizawa's relationship does take a step forward even if, in keeping with the film's direction as a whole, its resolution is far from final. Keep watching after those end credits wherein Takizawa throws one last surprise at Mr. Outside as we are left wondering whether there might be a third movie?