Anime Review of Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei
About Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei
"Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei" is a twenty-five episode Japanese anime series split into two seasons that is directed by Akiyuki Shinbo and produced by Shaft. The first season's original run started from July 7, 2007 until September 23, 2007. The second season known as "(Zoku) Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei" started its original run from January 5, 2008 until March 29, 2008. The first season runs for twelve episodes while the second season runs for thirteen episodes.
As of 2009, there is a third series called "Zan: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei" which ran for thirteen episodes."
Like many anime titles, Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei is adapted from a manga. The anime is authored by Koji Kumeta and published by Kodansha. Its original run began in 2005 and is still ongoing with twelve volumes.
After watching the few episodes of Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, I did not know what to expect. But, I do see that the series is an interesting comedy. The series presents comedy in a very surreal and abstract sort of way giving it a very comic and animated feel of things.
The series revolves around two characters: Nozomu Itoshiki and Kafuka Fura. Both characters are complete opposites of one another. Nozumu is a high school teacher and Kafuka is a high school student. There is no love or any other hints of romance between the two. The relationship is very professional for the most part. In short, you have the most negative person in the world being put in a classroom to teach a bunch of students who have major issues. Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei is a maelstrom of humor.
The story of Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei focuses on high school teacher Nozomu Itoshiki who is the youngest son in his family. He's the epitome of all negativity; in short, it would be a complete buzz kill if you're in the same room with him. However, that's if you're a normal student. Abnormal students, those with a lot of major issues, are able to deal with Nozomu just fine. It's not your normal run of the mill anime series.
Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei's story, the first season of the anime, starts off with Nozomu trying to commit suicide by hanging himself off one of the branches of a sakura (cherry blossom) tree. However, Nozomu end up being saved. The person who ends up saving Nozomu is a young teenage girl named Kafuku Fuura who is his polar opposite. While Nozomu represents negativity, Kafuku represents positivity. Ironically, in a funny way, Kafuku almost kills Nozomu in the process. Not being able to stand Kafuku, Nozomu leaves just to get away with her. The best way, according to Nozomu's actions, is to go back to work as usual.
Apparently, it's the first day of the school year. He starts homeroom class; but, Nozomu is shocked to learn that Kafuku happens to be one of the students. But, Kafuku's the least of Nozomu's worries. This is because the rest of his students, mostly females, have major issues and quirks of their own that add to the chaos in Nozomu's life which makes him even more pessimistic. In short, it's the most negative person put into a classroom with the most quirky people in the world.
In a sense, this can be considered somewhat a slice-of-life story. This is because there is no set story; instead, each episode is its own individual story focusing on an aspect of Japanese culture. Each episode focuses on one or a couple of students. One could consider this as a very comedic satire of Japanese school dramas “Gokusen,” “Misaki Number One,” or “Great Teacher Onizuka.” In those stories, the teacher (the main character) ends up helping the students cope with their problems and issues in their personal lives. In the case of Nozomu-sensei, that's impossible as their issues are extremely abnormal along with Nozomu's negative personality and outlook on life.
Nozomu is perhaps the most sad, most depressed, and most pathetic person in the world. That makes the story very humorous. Also, due to Nozumu being very negative, he exaggerates and gets melodramatic taking things to the extreme. In short, Nozomu comically makes mounts out of mere ant hills. One example would be in the third episode when a female student returns and Nozomu refuses to look her straight in the eyes. He claims that she'll probably sue him for sexual harassment and pay millions of dollars. Then, he tries to change the subject by saying he “practices isolationism.” While the class is full of abnormal students, Nozumu is not normal himself.
To simply put it, it's a weirdo teaching a class full of other weirdos. In a sense, the class is definitely worthy of being a “self-contained” classroom. If you can carefully examine the story, there's a lot of intellectual value in Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei. Asides from being very entertaining, the series can be quite educational as the various students represent various social issues (especially controversial ones) in Japan. Unless you're somewhat familiar with Japanese culture, especially contemporary culture, it may be difficult to pick up on it. One has to understand the social cultures of one country will be different to another country or similar to some countries.
In the second season, it becomes de ja vu as he finds himself in a new school year and all his students are the same. Apparently, his students failed the grade. The story is Japanese sociopolitical satire at its best in the form of a dark comedy and borderline dramedy.
If you understand contemporary Japanese culture and language, you can understand what quirks the students represent just by their names.
Chiri Kitsu – She represents equality and conforming. One could consider her to be a force of conformity. In this respect, it would be forced conformity with the rest of mainstream Japan whether other people like it or not. When people refuse to conform, she takes a hardline combative stance.
Abiru Kobushi – Her name is a play on “to bathe with fists.” The meaning combined with the interest of wearing bandages comically focuses on rumors of domestic violence.
Kiri Komori – In the story, she's a hikikomori which means “pulling inward, being confined.” For the most part, she's very reclusive and keeps to confinement. That's actually a real life social issue in Japan.
Harumi Fujiyoshi – She comes off as a social hypocrite. For those that understand “yaoi” aka “boys' love” fiction, you should already known what Fujiyoshi means in the first place. She's the representation of the growing fascination with yaoi in fiction let alone in pop culture. At the same time, she's the representation of how real-life yaoi is not completely accepted let alone not really socially accepted in Japan. Through Harumi, the story really pokes fun at yaoi fangirls.
Taro Maria Sekiutsu – Taro represents illegal immigration from other Asian nations. On top of that, she represents how names can be bought for themselves.
Meru Otonashi – She can be pretty much the epitome of cyber-bullying which has gotten to become a major issue in North America especially since the suicide cases of Phoebe Case and Tyler Clementi. Because of her shyness, Meru doesn't talk; instead, she uses text messages and e-mails. Her messages are vindictive and abusive. She represents how one can act online with the ease of “anonymity.”
Kaere/Kaede Kimura - Through her, Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, satirizes the obsession of panty shots in regards to various fan service anime series. Also, she also satirizes the typical "ambulance chaser" who constantly threatens to sue or has the potential to file plenty of frivolous or bogus lawsuits.
Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei has perhaps the wackiest character of characters in any Japanese anime title. When you look at series such as “Bleach,” “Naruto,” “Kekkaishi,” and so forth with diverse characters, they are normal compared to Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei. But, it's very important that the cast members are crazy and quirky as it is sociopolitical satire. In a sense, through the characters, Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei draws upon many parallels with Johnathan Swift's “Gulliver Travels.” If you have read Gulliver's Travels or any other satirical story, you can appreciate what the Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei brings forth in regards to characters.
The overall main character is Nozomu Itoshiki who is a high school teacher; while the story seemingly takes place in modern day Japan, he chooses to dress in traditional Japanese clothing compared to his students wearing normal clothes. Being the main character, Nozomu has proven to not be much of a hero. He's incredibly negative, depressed, paranoid, and melodramatic. He always jumps to conclusions and assumes the worst about many issues. In short, Nozomu has a very gloomy outlook towards life. One could call Nozomu somewhat of an antihero; but, he doesn't possess any villainous qualities.
Kafuka Fuura is the female main character who is Nozomu's polar opposite. She serves as the necessary counterbalance to Nozomu. Because of Kafuka, Nozomu gets weird nicknames such as “Pink Supervisor” and “Left Wing Guerrilla.” Despite coming off as very positive and outgoing, there's more to Kafuka than meets the eye. Behind the positivity lies something very dark. Through Kafuka, it shows that people that come off as very optimistic can be dark deep down.
Then you have other characters that make things interesting. Such examples are his students: Chiri Kitsu, who is forcing people to conform let alone to conform to her life; Abiru Kobushi who is obsessed with the otaku culture of being heavily bandaged up (often mistaken as being a victim of child abuse) and a fascination with pulling on the tails of live animals; Kiri Komori who is a hikikomori; Matoi Tsunetsuki who is someone who stalks whoever she ends up “falling in love with;” Harumi Fujiyoshi who is obsessed with yaoi fiction but frowns upon homosexuality in real life; Taro Mari Sekiutsu who is an illegal immigrant probably from the Philippines; Meru Otonashi who only communicates via text messages on her cell phone; Kaere/Kaede Kimura who looks very American who suffers from split personalities, and many other colorful students.
Also, there are members of Nozomu's own family who are far from being normal as well. Such characters are his younger sister Rin Itoshiki who has no idea of what poverty is (due to being from a wealthy and privileged family) and his young nephew Majiru Itoshiki who has perverted attractions to older females.
The visuals in the anime contribute to giving Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei a surrealist feel. At first, I wasn't too impressed with the visuals. However, I somewhat came to appreciate the abstract feel of the anime as it seemed that the world of Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei seemed to be separated from the rest of the world. Due to Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei being a satirical story, the visuals definitely fit the mood of things. To me, I felt the visuals proved important to ensure viewers paid more attention to the story behind the series. If the graphics were different, it may have probably detracted from the strong points of the anime.
Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei proves to be very entertaining as an anime series. However, it's easy to miss the actual story behind the series unless you are pretty well informed let alone about Japanese politics and contemporary society. If not, if you're willing to learn, the series provides pretty useful information on various parts of Japanese culture (both good and bad). To me, it's somewhat reminiscent to the Warner Brothers cartoon series “Histeria” which comically focuses on various points in history such as Hannibal taking on the Romans, Alexander the Great, Ancient Rome, etc. If you want something that's entertaining and educational, you may want to check out this series. If you are into satirical dark comedies, check out Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei.