Optimism or Despair? Let's rumba!What do you get when you take a man who is depressed to the point of melodramatic suicide, and make him the teacher of a psychologically-dysfunctional class full of maniacs, psychos and misfits? No, it's not like your average Slice of Life show. Instead, what Koji Kumeta's Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (roughly "Goodbye, Mr. Despair") has become in its dark, disturbed humor and wisecracking background trivia is one of the most amusing Mind Screw series ever witnessed.Nozomu Itoshiki, a man so unfortunate even his name can be read as "despair", attempts to hang himself. He is saved by Kafuka Fuura, the most insanely cheerful girl imaginable, who ignores his protests of despair and claims he is trying to make himself taller. Terrified, he runs from this beacon of bright light, and ends up at his new teaching assignment where, of course, the crazed happy girl awaits. The insanity only gets deeper from there...The series happily subverts any number of schoolgirl tropes, as well as consisting of many more normal ones. It's also gorgeously animated — the most jaw-dropping scenes are often beautifully rendered. A second season, (Zoku) Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei ([Vulgar]/Continuation Goodbye, Mr. Despair) aired shortly after, meaning Nozomu had even more reasons to be in despair.Following that, a set of three OVAs titled Goku: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Prison: Goodbye, Mr. Despair) was bundled with the limited edition of volumes fifteen and sixteen of the manga, with the second one released independently, and a third season, Zan: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Repent/Remainder: Goodbye Mr. Despair), recently finished airing. There's one final two-part OVA, titled Zan: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Bangaichi (Repent/Remainder: Goodbye Mr. Despair Outside Ground), which was bundled with the manga.The manga is out across the pond courtesy of Del Rey, so now you can despair in English! Especially since they won't be publishing any books following volume 14! It also appears that Media Blasters has licensed at least the first season of the anime.The manga ended in May of 2012.Nothing to do with Goodbye, Mr. Chips (although the title was probably intended as a parody).
Subverted in Abiru's case. Contrary to the wildest imaginations of her classmates and sensei, her father seems to be a rather mild-mannered man who even made her a small cake for her birthday (that nobody else remembered). Ironically, the most outlandish rumor about him — that he was a former member of an elite special forces unit famous for improvising lethal weaponry from a volume of Kimagure Orange Road — may have been the only one that was true.
Played straight with Kafuka and her extremely abusive household, with her schizophrenic father trying to kill her on at least one occasion. Kafuka being Kafuka, she re-frames everything in positive terms. May or may not be an escape mechanism to deal with her horrendous personal life. That, and maybe also some problems with reality testing inherited from her parents.
Subverted in the Hot Springs Episode, when the wall between the men's and women's baths falls over. Poor Nozomu freaks out and Screams Like a Little Girl when exposed to his class, with one of the girls lampshading "That should've been our reaction". Then he laments that none of them sees him as a man.
Done normally in another episode, where while taking a memento picture for Kafuka, a woman mistakes the picture taking as trying to get a shot at her. The entire town reacts.
Rin usually shows up with her ass facing the camera, in the same vein as Shin Chan.
One chalkboard gag also features Nozomu drawn in the style of On the NextBakemonogatari, and one scene where he brought a flight simulator in class even depicts him in a Celestial being spacesuit, with a Tieria lookalike behind him. Another instance might be the naming of the series.
A quick shot early in the anime shows Nozomu reading Honey and Clover, where he voiced one of the protagonists.
Sensei's old friend happens to like girls with pony tails. The old friend is voiced by Kyon, who also likes pony tails.
A-Cup Angst: Meru and Chiri exhibit this in very different ways.
Added Alliterative Appeal: The translators are fond of this for the character descriptions (i.e. Harumi is described as "addicted to male-on-male-matchmaking" and Manami is a "high school housewife").
All Just a Dream: Zoku's sixth episode explicitly states the second of the Three Shorts is Nozomu's dream, then goes into the nature of dreams themselves while slipping into a Bizarro Universe: Kafuka is in despair, Meru has become a Motor Mouth, Usui became more noticeable, Chiri became a slob, etc. And as soon as they all realize that, they figure that they'll all die if the dream ends and so try to kill Nozumu in order to keep it going, and themselves alive. Interestingly, they start demanding an ending to the dream only a few minutes later.
Not that it really matters, since the series is completely episodic, but notably in the anime, Nami's introduction episode is saved for the second season (where she had just showed up in one episode with no fanfare in the first season). The anime has so far been in a different order from the manga, so if you take Nami in stride, the entire anime is probably anachronistic.
Zan has waited until episode six to introduce another, Kanako, and brings in two more the next episode: Miko and Shouko.
Anachronism Stew: Not particularly noticeably, but much of the setting (buildings and other background elements) bears more similarity to the Taishou Era (1912-1926) than modern times, and the art style is also very evocative of the Taishou era. Even Itoshiki-sensei's hakama and Matoi's kimono are period-correct, and the styles change with the season according to Taishou era fashions.
Anime Accent Absence: Averted in the fake 'Story So Far' segment of Zan's 11th episode: the American official and Bob the left-wing academic have absolutely terrible American accents. Then again, these segments are always read purposefully ridiculously, in one case the narration was entirely nonsensical jabbering noises.
E.g. the first ED video of the second season portrays all characters in distinctive Shoujo - Shounen Ai - bishie-ish style, while the third OP features the characters in Magical Girl style, complete with massive eyes and an upbeat poppy theme song. And blue hair. Lots of blue hair.
The third ED of Zoku is, bizarrely enough, in the art style of Mike Mignola's Hellboy.
Zoku Episode 7's last third is an exercise on Art Shift. It consists entirely of Art Shifts one after another, from claymation to drugged-up, Dr. Seuss-inspired spinning circles, finally finishing up with an actual video of someone going through a flipbook with the characters drawn on the pages.
Goku OP sequences change every episode, combining the original Zoku OP and paper-cut dolls.
Goku Episode 1 has this in its ending animation, which is otherwise the same as Zoku's second ED.
Goku Episode 2 Art Shifts to the style of the creator's very first serialized manga, Go! Southern Ice Hockey Club, for the first part of the episode, and a Shoujo style for the third part of the episode. The latter style has also been used in Zoku's first ED.
The end of the first third of Goku Episode 2 shows Nozomu as he would look like in another series by Kumeta, Katteni Kaizo.
Zan OP has bits that are somewhere between this and Gonk.
The last third of Zan Episode 8, set aboard the Mystery Train, goes into a roughly-sketched cutout style that comes across as rather trippy. There are art shifts that occur within this medium change as well, mainly pertaining to the art style used for faces, which are drawn for major characters. The same style has been reused in another Studio Shaft series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
During the dream episode in Zoku, Usui was drawn in a style similar to Jojos Bizarre Adventure (particularly the art used in the third series).
At one point, Itoshiki is infected with the "Pointy Chin Virus" and starts looking like a stereotypical Off Model yaoi character. By the end of the chapter Mikoto and Tokita are infected as well.
Artistic License - Biology: In one chapter, Nozomu claims he hates Christmas because he was born on November 4, which means that, if one counts back ten months and ten days, he was conceived on Christmas. Abiru immediately lampshades on the margin of error.
Attention Whore: Probably the motivation behind Nozomu's every outrageous action. There's also Nami, but her Attention Whore tendencies only show in her first appearance, in which she tries all kinds of gimmicks to gain pity and attention from her classmates (culminating with a threat of suicide). They all fail, of course. Other cases may include Abiru, who once admitted to wearing bandages even when not injured just for kicks, and apparently Kaere is also this, always flaunting her panties even as she loudly threatens lawsuit to onlookers.
Beauty, Brains and Brawn: In the anime, Nozomu attempts to exclusively categorize everything as Liberal arts, Science or Athletics.
Becoming the Mask: The girls that failed to commit their respective suicides, are initially attending the so called promised land that is class 2-He to give a form of 'posthumous' graduation for the spirits that possess them. Then The Power of Friendship prevails.
False students, false classmates, false teacher. People of different origins, with no connection whatsoever, we gathered in this classroom. At first, it was a life... we lived as yorishiro. But before we know it, it had become our own lives as well.
All but two of the "focus" students are female; this is lampshaded in the post-credit ending of episode ten.
Subverted by one Gonkish girl who photoshops herself and is an internet celebrity.
Biting-the-Hand Humor: In the chapter about commercialism, Nozomu goes on and on about how you get sports stadiums and crap named after you if you have the money. He says he wonders if Mt. Fuji is going to end up renamed to "Mt. Shonen Magazine".
Black Comedy: Perhaps intended to give viewers an idea of what to expect, the first few minutes of the anime open with the main character attempting to hang himself. It's a comedy, really!
Mayo anally violates dogs with pencils and branches as a Running Gag.
Matoi's clingy behavior occasionally borders on this.
There was that one time when Abiru forced Nozomu to wear a tail from her collection...
Nozomu: Pervert! This girl's a pervert!
One segment shows Commodore Perry wearing a rape face and started "opening" things: Kaere's legs, Kiri's forelocks, and a random male student's zipper on his pants, prompting a comment about him swinging both ways.
Bland-Name Product: The class finds a time capsule and fishes out a radio labeled "SONV". As the show is wont, this is lampshaded immediately.
"...so 'Sony' used to be 'Sonv', then?"
Also "Photoshocker" (heavily used by teen idol Kotonon) for Photo Shop.
In the last half of first season's Episode 1, Kafuka claims Kiri is a zashiki-warashi, a playful demon/spirit that also protects its home from decline and ruin as long as it's there. In Zan, she leaves the school. It crumbles to dust. Just like she said it would.
One episode/chapter even depicts the "seven-year punchline", when a woman burst out of a wall that she had been trapped behind. This was the punchline of a joke from Katteni Kaizo. And it's been seven years since that chapter of Kaizo was first published.
Pulled off spectacularly near the end of the manga. Note that SZS started in 2005 and ended in 2012, making the chapter about "seven-year punchlines" into glorious foreshadowing.
Bystander Syndrome: Kanako Ohra has this as her particular quirk. chapter 182 also touches on this subject, where people tend to turn blind eyes from some problems because they're actually too shy to intervene. It's also the thing that starts Chiri and Harumi's first meeting in their childhood, where Chiri saved Harumi from being taken away by a Lolicon because people around her were too apathetic to help.
Nozomu: I'm in despair! (Subject of Nozomu's rant) has left me in despair!! (Zetsubou shita!) Nozomu: What if I'd died?! (Shindara dou suru?!) Kafuka: How could (subject of Nozomu's rant) be possible? It could be that (insert extremely implausible explanation here)! Kiri: Don't open it. (Akenaide yo.) Kaere: I'll sue! (Uttaeruyo!) Nami: Don't say 'normal'! (Futsuu te iu na!) Nami: Sensei, you're speaking too much again! (whenever his Character Filibusters portend disastrous consequences, such as Chiri going Ax-Crazy again)
Cerebus Syndrome: Subverted. The show has gradually glided from a showcase and parody of a suicidal man teaching a dysfunctional school class to becoming a showcase and parody of social ills in modern Japanese society — but don't think for a moment this means it's taking itself the least bit more seriously. If anything, it's taking itself even less seriously.
In fact, the tendency of many comedy anime such as this to get inflicted with this on their final episodes is even parodied in Episode 11 of the first season, when Nozomu got ran over by a runaway streetcar, and the episode ends with his students anxiously waiting for his surgery to end. Needless to say, he got better—he just barely managed to exclaim "Eh?!" at the last few seconds of the episode during the Our Lawyers Advised This Trope outro.
Played straight in the last ten chapters of the manga. All this time we thought we were reading a goofy comedy about a teacher's rants...but it turns out we were wrong.
Kaere is always billed as having multiple personalities, but after her introductory episode, her Yamato Nadeshiko personality Kaede is rarely seen.
Kiri was introduced as a typical ill-tempered hikikomori, and while she loses this after Nozomu and Kafuka scare her into leaving home, she's definitely presented as fairly creepy during the first season. However, a couple of episodes into the second season, she acquires a sweet personality that she keeps for the rest of the series.
Nozomu himself experienced this. He never stops with his rants, but earlier on was more misanthropic and constantly attempted suicide. This change is actually lampshaded in the series itself, as Chiri accuses him of no longer fitting the title of "Mr. Despair", something she tries to remedy by driving him off a cliff with ravenous wolves (complete with a Title Drop).
Related to the above, Chiri herself kind of fits this. While she always had psycho moments, she used to often play the Straight Man and complained about the oddity of her teacher. This is a sharp contrast to the later, Ax-Crazy Chiri who everyone else (even Kafuka at times) sees as nuts.
Nami was originally introduced as a truant. She's even designated to be the opposite of Kiri (who refuses to leave school). This gimmick doesn't even last a chapter.
Of course this was planned from the start. The whole truancy gimmick was something that Nami came up with so that she would have some other defining characteristic besides "normal".
In one chapter, Nami gains weight over the summer. Though she loses this weight instantly she is thereafter associated more with food and gluttony than normality, always seen eating, and the girls continue to quip about it, particularly Kafuka and Abiru.
Charlie and the Chocolate Parody: One manga chapter has Rin opening a chocolate factory catering to nerdy guys without girlfriends. She explains that it is a "cherry and chocolate factory". This is also a pun, because there's only one character dissonance between "Charlie" and "Cherry" in Japanese.
Chewing the Scenery: Nozomu's rants (and especially his Catch Phrase) tend to be delivered in a grandiosely overblown manner. Nobody takes them seriously, and one or more of his students will frequently hang a lampshade on it.
The Chikan: Nozomu handcuffs himself to the railings on a train to avoid being accused of this, but when Nami screams out for an unrelated reason, he gets arrested anyway. He still wants to be punished after Nami clears things up, because he thinks people will think badly of him if he protests innocence.
Chocolate of Romance: Itoshiki gets gifts from his entire class, although only two of them are clearly chocolate hearts - a normal one from Nami and one from Chiri which is strongly implied to be an actual human heart.
Cliffhanger: Episode 11 of the first season, where Nozomu gets hit by a train and his students are waiting outside the emergency room. As usual, he got better. He was just barely able to exclaim "Eh?!" during the post-credits Our Lawyers Advised This Trope outro.
How the manga ended combined with a nice dose of Gainax Ending: Nozomu runs into a church to avoid being forced into a "posthumous" marriage and sees what looks like Kafuka in a wedding dress. The final words spoken are "Which Kafuka are you?"
Cloudcuckooland: The rest of the world isn't much saner than Itoshiki's students.
Cloudcuckoolander: Kafuka, the eternally happy girl. Maria, the somewhat-innocent illegal immigrant. Heck, almost every girl in the show is in her own fantasy world.
Special mention however goes for Kanako. She barely seems to notice the frequent carnage around her, never letting her vacant smile slip.
For that matter, Nozomu's collection of unwanted admirers, each with a quirk of her own.
Color Failure: Majiru has one after a quest to catch measles as a child (metaphorically) ends with him groping Chiri and ending up on her bad side. Needless to say, he's no longer interested in breasts.
Chiri becomes more and more of this as the series goes on, starting to carry around a shovel and making frequent references to killing people. At one point she ends up in the Sengoku period and tries to declare herself the ruler of Japan — by killing everyone else.
Comically Missing the Point: An entire episode is devoted to this trope, going so far as to have characters distracted by minor things while an alien invasion occurs, right down to Itoshiki looking up at a Humongous Mecha attacking the city...and ultimately wondering why it has "FART" written on its chest in big glowing kanji.
Meru, who talks through her cellphone and sends people abusive text messages (it also helps that her limited vocalizations, usually wordless gasps, are voiced by Studio Shaft mainstay seiyuu Chiwa Saitou).
Mayo also never actually talks to anyone, you only hear her voice in a narrative sense. In Goku SZS, she didn't communicate her idea verbally, words appeared above her head instead.
Debut Queue: Sort of. Each character has a focus episode where we really find out about them.
Demonic Possession: Implied to be one of Kafuka's mother's many, many problems. Luckily it means she knows we can get a Blackly Speaking Meru to behave by knocking her upside the head with a giant cross!
The tradition continues in Bangaichi's openings, especially the second one. This features, among other things, some of the girls shooting the song's titular Ringo Mogire Beam from their crotches, exploding heads, a 200-feet Maria running on the shore of Tokyo Bay, that same crazy art style as the infamous mysterious train episode of Zan, and flying buildings (and whales and Chitan from Katteni Kaizo). It's also double the normal length, so twice the crazy goodness!
Depraved Bisexual: Subverted by Nozomu. In one segment of Zan, for the sake of being open-minded, he had a one night stand with a butch, crossdressing gigolo (who looked like an unshaven twin of Onizuka-sensei in a dress) in a love hotel... and hated it (he was filled with despair while they were doing it).
Despair Event Horizon: Nozomu crossed this horizon way before the series even started and is a frequent flier.
Didn't We Use This Joke Already?: Nozomu brings up the topic of people ignoring distressing things around them. Chiri says something to the effect of the show already doing this joke. Nozomu quips "Ignoring that...", and proceeds with his rant.
Driven to Suicide: Nozomu, at least once an episode. Though when he almost does die, he is rather angry about it. However, this behavior was slowly dropped from sight as other character quirks become the center of jokes.
Drop-In Character: Practically every major character has played the part at least once. Many a chapter begins with Itoshiki at home when suddenly one or more of his students barge in, or one of his students (usually Nami) at home when Itoshiki, just happening to be passing by, overhears them say something that prompts him to barge in and launch into one of his rants.
Dynamic Entry: Earlier on, Maria had a habit of delivering flying kicks, generally to Nozomu, because she couldn't distinguish things she saw on television from reality. In one instance, Harumi attacks Chiri until she flies through a door with a dropkick after Chiri insults her manga. Then Nozomu proceeds to praise her athletic ability...
Even Hardcore Otaku Stereotypes Have Standards: The minor recurring pedophile character gets punched out by the minor recurring Otaku stereotype (wearing a superhero outfit) in one chapter for making advances on Maria and Meru, declaring "Keep your deviations to the second dimension!"
Everything's Better with Penguins: The Emperor Penguin, a bizzare critter that has a modified Yin-Yang symbol as its head. No less cute, though. When the class 2-He finally graduates, two lines of them synchronously arrange themselves in the way when Kiri, the last student, receives her diploma, her shot has every penguin's head in the room having a head of full unmodified Yin-Yang symbol.
Season one's credits initially consist of some random title cards with lots and lots of text on them — far more than anyone could ever read without freeze-framing. The text changes in each episode... until Episode 4, when it switches to a fully-animated intro.
The opening to Zoku starts off in black and white. Despite additional animation, the "film" appears to gradually deteriorate episode by episode. In the penultimate episode, one scene of the sequence is in color for a few seconds before the film becomes misaligned and the next 20 or so seconds are simply the credits on a white background. In the last episode, the film quality is back to perfect and the whole sequence is in full color.
Season 3 Special: Yasu (Toradora!!; she and Kumeta collaborated in the manga Joshiraku)
Fan Disservice: Some fanservice scenes can be a little awkward when they're censored by the face of Maeda-kun, Koji Kumeta's assistant, who sometimes is even facepalming disapprovingly. Shame on you.
One chapter has Maria accidentally barge into an nude obese man's bathroom, resulting in a two page spread of him covering his chest while panels zoom in on his crudely-drawn junk. Later in the chapter, Kaere gets only a small panel for her obligatory panty shot and then complains why she only got that tiny panel compared to the two-page spread of male nudity from earlier.
Fanservice: The show offers a constant stream of fanservice so random, pretext-free, and in-your-face that it might as well count as parody. Kaere is explicitly designated as a Panty Shot character and goes through several in every episode, sometimes complaining about it and at other times regarding it as her duty (at one time she actually greets strangers by mooning them). Other characters chip in as much as they can, with practically every female character (and some males) appearing in a random erotic context multiple times per season.
Rin seemed to take over for Kaere for a while in Zoku. The fact that her name can be read as zetsurin — "confidence in (her) sexual prowess" hints at this as well.
Chie also served as this in the first season, and so does Kiri (although she lasted longer), with both having been in the occasional yuri-tastic situation.
In one Goku episode, at least 5 minutes of the show is dedicated to Harumi drawing a yaoi doujin. At one point she takes of her shirt and, after a gratuitous shot of her chest, spends the rest of her time wearing nothing but spats and a bra.
First Name Basis: Kafuka calls Nozomu "Pink Supervisor". He hates the name, but has resigned himself to the fact that she's not going to stop. This is ultimately abandoned as the series went on.
The Foreign Subtitle: The English translation is subtitled The Power of Negative Thinking, in a parody of motivational speaker Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking.
Gainax Ending: The manga ends this way. Kafuka is Dead All Along and has possessed the rest of the cast by way of organ donations after they attempted suicide before the show started.
Gag Sub: By the very people who make the show. Zoku Episode 2 is spoken in nonsense, with even greater nonsense added on in the form of subtitles. Only Studio Shaft and Akiyuki Shinbo would do this.
One Fan Sub at least added the original dialogue from the manga, where a lookalike of Matthew Perry, the American commodore who ended Japan's self-imposed solitude back in 1854, threatened to open everything in the school, from books in the library, Kaere's legs, a random male student's zipper to even the swimming pool.
Entertainingly, most of the characters' gibberish fits their personalities somehow. Itoshiki-sensei's most commonly repeated word is 'bure' - twisted - from Season 1's opening, and Abiru uses mostly 'shippo' (tail).
Gaussian Girl: About Once per Episode or more, the character will focus on a (generally female) character about to speak, and they will be framed in soft light and sometimes sparkle.
Ironically, given the suspicions that he's an abuser, Mr. Kobushi is actually a very caring dad who has a close relationship with Abiru. Granted, one might question his seeming endorsement of her tail-pulling hobby.
Hair Colors: Completely averted; despite the surreal atmosphere of the show, every single character except Kaede/Kaere (who has foreign ancestry) has black hair. For her part, Kaere has blonde hair, which is still part of the natural hair color spectrum.
Harem Genre: Parodied, with the way girls randomly fall in love with Nozomu, but then don't bring it up again, with the probable exception of Matoi, Kiri, Chiri and Kafuka. While they do bring that up frequently in the manga, it's not in a good way.
And there is enough Ship Tease: an episode of Zoku has even Chie and all the boys in the class showing attraction to him.
This is taken to another level entirely in Zan - Abiru has been "promoted" into a regular Nozomu fangirl, and several other characters get distinctly "friendlier" with him at times.
As of Bangaichi, there are now seventeen females officially in love with/attracted to Nozumu, either openly (Kiri, Matoi, Chiri, Abiru, Mayo, Nami, Kirara, Maria, Tane, the freshman from another school [assuming she's not Kafuka in disguise], and even Niang-Niang) or secretly (Ai, Harumi, Meru, Chie, Manami, and of course Kafuka in her college-girl disguise).
The ending makes it even more complicated with the reveal that Kafuka was Dead All Along and is literally part of each of the other girls through organ donations.
Harumi is a bit less farther out than Isumi, but they're both orbiting the same star.
On one segment, Maria switches to an adult female voice a la Celty.
Hidden Depths: Everyone, really. Readers can't really guess that Kaga is an excellent violinist and from a family of ninjas, Matoi plays cello as hobby, or Nozomu's old friend is the youngest and strongest street brawler in the setting just from reading or watching some segments. Not to mention that the students of 2-He are having such a Dark and Troubled Past which almost successfully drove them to suicide. You will end up wondering whether the black comedies in the series are really plays for laugh or foreshadowings when you finish reading the manga.
During the discussion of things not being true to the original, Halloween becoming a cosplay fest comes up. Chiri agrees that it's not good, and says that she's staying true to the spirit by dressing as a witch...while still cosplaying.
In one chapter/episode, Nozomu is doing his typical commentary around town and stops at a TsundereMaid Cafe. He sees Kafuka working there and scolds her for not being at school. While Nozomu does so little teaching that it doesn't immediately come across as Hypocritical Humor, since Nozomu is theoretically Kafuka's teacher, he should also be at school rather than doing what he's doing.
Chiri criticizes Nozomu for obsessing over grudges and apparently Matoi finds stalkers gross.
Improbable Weapon User: Played for Laughs when Itoshiki, suspecting Kobushi's father of physically abusing her, follows him around when he goes shopping and imagines how everything he picks up could be used to abuse his daughter, from bicycle pumps, to erasers to manga. But it's true that he's in a special ops that kills people with manga, though.
There are instances where the students using weirdest things as weapon. Kiri's introduction has her using her TV as blunt weapon, in Zan episode 1, when his students break him out of the jail, Harumi uses her Comiket catalog and Meru stabs people with her phone's antenna, in one episode Abiru uses her bandage as whips...
Pororoca is first used by Kafuka who identifies it as a planet that she believes space aliens come from. Later on, the actual meaning is used by Nozomu to make an analogy to people becoming fans of various media.
Also counting as inherently funny are the tongue-twister in the "in the last volume" openers and any real words that showed up in the Gag Sub episode.
It's All My Fault: As revealed in chapter 302, Nozomu believes it's his fault Kafuka died. He picked up her hat from the crosswalk and she was hit by a car when he tried to give it back.
Jade-Colored Glasses: Like everything else in this page, parodied. When Nozomu loses his glasses, Kafuka buys him (with his students' donation money) a pair of tinted colored glasses and Nozomu (and anyone else) can only say bad about everything when they're wearing them.
Kimono Fanservice: Reference is made to the fact that a kimono would traditionally be worn without underwear, and the whole show is a massive example of type A, thriving in Awesome Anachronistic Apparel. Also, each tankobon features one of the female students in a kimono on the back cover.
The Klutz: In Episode 9 of Zoku, Chiri attempts to be a "proper" dojikko, with horrendous results.
Last Episode New Character: Two, as of season 1 — Ai, who claims she didn't show up earlier because her presence could be a detriment to both her class and the show's ratings, and Mayo. Both made cameos in Episodes 1 and 11.
Kitsu Tane, Chiri's sister and a minor character, has her first anime appearance in the concluding OVA. A screen caption expresses regret for not introducing her sooner.
Legacy Character: One mini-arc has Nozomu pass on the title of "Zetsubou-sensei" to Aoyama, and the next chapter has him standing in for Nozomu until he finally decides he can't handle it and passes it on to Haga, who then passes it on to another character, etc.
Lethal Klutz: Chiri tries to be a normal klutz, but ends up as one of these instead.
Limited Wardrobe: Nozomu is nearly always seen wearing kimono and hakama, and most of the time that he isn't, he's sporting something else retro and Japanese. The same goes for his nephew Majiru (who lives with him) and Matoi (whose fashion sense is dictated by whomever she's obsessed with). Notably averted by most of the other characters, though.
The use of school uniform invokes this trope, of course. In later stages of the manga, though, the girls' uniform undergoes minor changes at the author's will (mostly the necktie), and the changeover between winter and summer uniforms is tightly observed and used for comic effect.
Loads and Loads of Characters: Well, there's the four Itoshiki siblings (sans the missing fifth and eldest), said missing sibling's only son, their butler, 22 of Nozomu's 32 students, his two fellow teachers, his "old-time" friend, and a host of other Drop In Characters.
Played straight insofar as virtually every girl loves Nozomu; some of them have other love interests or boys that are interested in them, and Nozomu is well aware of their romantic expectations. Subverted in that he is exceptionally ambivalent to anything like a romantic relationship. He occasionally opens up to the possibility of romance, but nothing ever comes of it (except maybe a suicide attempt).
Although apparently that didn't stop him from having an awesome night with a high-class escort girl who was apparently very satisfied with his "performance".
Marry Them All: Nozomu and the 12 main girls, as implied in the very final chapter but not in the usual sense. Nozomu only marries Kafuka, but since Kafuka is all of the girls, he marries the one that currently is the Kafuka and divorces the previous one he married. Still a harem end in a way, as the girls are living in relative peace together and having Nozomu's children, all of which are a mirror image ofKafuka, even in the personality. An outsider observer is understandably freaked out, but her attempt to escape the island meets accident and ends up as the part of the harem.
Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Nozomu shows up in a supporting role in the Shounen Sunday x Shounen Magazine: Taisen Action fighting game for the PSP.
Meaningful Echo: The phrase "A meeting that was never meant to happen" is usually played for laugh, suddenly turns into drama when it's revealed that the girls were failed to commit suicide because of the donored organs from the eternally cheerful and optimistic Kafuka.
The first instance of the Drawing Song has Chiri ('s voice actress) draw a very imprecise, childish depiction of Nozomu. This picture then takes up the whole screen and a comic horror scream is head.
No Communities Were Harmed: The Itoshikis' native Kuraizawa, Shinshuu Prefecture. Kuraizawa is based on Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture ("Kurai" means "dark"); "Shinshuu" was another name for "Shinano", one of Japan's former provinces (replaced by prefectures during the Meiji Restoration), now also known as Nagano Prefecture.
Incidentally, one can't get to Karuizawa from Tokyo via local (futsuu) trains without taking a major detour, because the line through the Usui Pass was abandoned when the Nagano Shinkansen opened. Knowing this makes Nami's predicament even funnier.
No Fourth Wall: Several characters refer to each other using the anime character tropes they embody, such as "Designated Panty Shot Girl" or by noting that "the bandaged look isn't popular any more". This also happens in the manga, both in references to the characters and to the manga itself. And that's just scratching the surface. The characters often worry about the show's ratings, debate who's the most popular character, and ponder the episodes' Aesops.
Not Allowed to Grow Up: Poked fun at. Zetsubou Sensei's class repeatedly fail their exams so they have to repeat their year over and over, thus never allowed to "grow up". Then they DID graduate to their next year, without much fanfare. It's not stopping the comedy.
Nothing Is Scarier: In chapter 223 Chiri gets a book that describes what crimes people were to commit based on their laughing faces. When she see's what Kafuka's laugh would lead to, she passes out. We never see what crime it was...
Off Model: The art stays of high quality throughout, but there is constant lampshading throughout Zan about the animation quality suffering from the huge deadline crunch the animators were going through (as one gag noted, they were working on this, Bakemonogatari, Negima!, and Hidamari Sketch at the same time).
Offscreen Inertia: In-universe example in an episode dealing with hyping things. Matoi and Kiri are unwillingly paraded around to shouts of "Stalker! Stalker!" and "Hikikomori! Hikikomori!", respectively. The scene later shifts to what appears to be several hours later, and they are still being paraded around, and Kafuka announces that the show's over, so there's no indication of when the people actually stopped parading them.
Once an Episode: Itoshiki's declaration that something "has left me in despair!", as well as random items in the background (a dog with a stick in its butt, Koji Kumeta's face, a stork carrying a baby, Kaere's latest Panty Shot, the shot with the diagonal clouds and the drawing song from the third season, etc.
Only Six Faces: Largely the case, and lampshaded once (in the instance with things not looking like the original) when Nozomu couldn't recognize Kafuka with a different hairstyle nor does he recognize that she's his "college student neighbor". Chiri (and the readers as well)also doesn't recognize Nami when she has a bed hair until she says her Catch Phrase.
Similarity to any actual paradises on Earth, interesting comics called Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, Blue Man, or Hata Kenjirou and his assistant who came to ADR, chipped in their voices, and got photographed with two of the actresses is purely coincidental.
Out of Focus: Only certain members of the cast will appear in any given episode, but some of them have been given less and less screen time, especially Chie.
This trope is a basis for the big ending reveal, as at each time Kafuka is visible, she has possessed, thus replaced, one other girl.
The punctuation in Chiri's dialogue shows up on-screen in the lower right corner, accompanied by Kabuki Sounds.
The characters for certain sound effects (jiiiiii~ being the main example) have been written on the screen, like in a manga. Zan takes this further with every sound effect being spoken, such as doors ("ga-CHA"), a tense crowd ("piri-piri"), and in one case, constantly in the background, the ocean ("za-zaaaan").
One chapter has Itoshiki complaining about how the world is full of wasted space. He does this in a two-page spread consisting of nothing but two relatively small word bubbles and his head taking up less than half the right page.
Another chapter has Itoshiki basically declaring take-backsies on the whole chapter, starting it over again (complete with chapter title.)
Kaere provides gratuitous panty shots, usually with an absurd print (green with eyes, a picture of Koji Kumeta, or an artwork courtesy of her voice actress). Meru Otonashi lampshades this to the extreme.
The Perfectionist: For Chiri, everything has to be done "properly". Even things that are not right, if you don't do them the right way.... let's just say things don't get pretty.
Periphery Demographic: Discussed In-Universe in Chapter 279, which deals with what happens when a product attracts a demographic different from that that which is intended (e.g. children's cooking shows and aging perverts, Shōnen Genre magazines and Yaoi Fangirls (like Harumi), seaside condos meant for happy families and suicides who want to jump off the balcony, etc.).
In Zoku Episode 4, a textbook with English exercises is shown. The cartoon illustrations seen on the page feature grotesque caricatures of foreigners with enormous noses. Apparently Truth in Television: actual textbooks feature this kind of caricature. See this link for an example and an attempt to turn the tables.
Kiri taking up residence at Nozomu's home, although she subverts it by doing the cooking and cleaning.
Matoi, for obvious reasons. She may not have been in her own house since the first season.
Previously On: Every episode of Zan opens on a "the story up to now" recap told in pop-up storybook format. This would be all well and good, except that none of the stories being told have actually happened, or indeed make any kind of sense. The stranger part? All taken from the manga itself.
Pun-Based Title: The second season's title is prefaced with "Zoku", which is sees fairly common use in the titles of sequels. That "Zoku" (続) translates to "continuation". The "Zoku" used in this case (俗) is a mark used in dictionaries to denote slang terms and vulgarities.
Radish Cure: When Nozomu and Kafuka board up Komori, plus probably some others.
Real Joke Name: Dr. Mikoto Itoshiki's name resembles "zetsumei" ("death") when written horizontally, a fact reflected in his rather small pool of patients. Anytime it's mentioned ends in a Head Desk moment.
Refuge in Audacity: Mayo gets away with the most appalling behavior even when caught red-handed, because everyone assumes that no one could possibly get caught doing those sorts of things.
Retro Universe: Though set (more or less) in the same time period as when it was written, the series's aesthetic sensibilities evoke pre-World War II Showa Japan (1924-1945). This is driven home by the use of katakana where nowadays hiragana ought to be, and referring to the yearnote Japan uses calendar eras which begin from an Emperor's accession to the day of his death as though Emperor Hirohito (who died in 1989) were still alive and on the throne (e.g. 2011 is Showa 86 — today this would be called Heisei 23, as in the 23rd year of the reign of the current Emperor, Akihito). Towards the end of the series, it turns out that this was all deliberately invoked by Nozomu.
Running Gag: Koji Kumeta has a habit of changing a light bulb in his house to one of the lowest wattage after one of his "paper blogs".
On Zoku Episode 3 (prior to the "Mundane Made Awesome" segment, below) Nozomu rants on how grave matters are related in a casual tone, such as Class 2-He repeating another year, Abiru's father telling her that he divorced her mother a month before, Nami being told by her father that he got laid off, the mother of one of Jun's friends telling him that her husband is in jail, Meru's mother introducing her father's mistress to her, and Harumi overhearing her mother tell her neighbor that she was an unexpected child.,
There's one incident dealing with an inversion of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", wherein trustworthy people's jokes/lies will always be taken seriously. Jinroku tells a lie that illustrates this concept, and when questioned about a bandage on his head, tells Nozomu that he just extracted a bullet from his time as a mercenary. He and Nozomu both laugh, but it's implied he was actually telling the truth.
Security Blanket: Kiri is nearly always wrapped in one, and a segment discussing her loss of it (and others' metaphorical security blankets) is titled "We are Linus", in reference to the Trope Namer from the Peanuts stories.
Social Services Does Not Exist: Although in earlier episodes, Chie (see directly below) is shown alerting Nozomu to things like Abiru's alleged domestic abuse at the hands of her father, as well as Kiri's truancy, there's an absence of any kind of social services being involved. And then there's Kafuka's situation...
Snap Back: One episode ends on a cliffhanger when Itoshiki gets so fed up he storms off downtown only to get ran over by a runaway streetcar. The episode ends with the entire class anxiously waiting for him in the hospital, and the "in operation" light finally turning off. The only indication the above actually happened is the fact that Chie is acting as substitute teacher in the next episode and Itoshiki has to storm into the classroom and resume his rantings.
It's entirely possible that this was related to the first half of that episode, where a brief mention was made of "being completely disconnected from the source material".
Played straight but exaggerated severely with Matoi Tsunetsuki.
Chapter four of the manga (Matoi's introductory chapter, naturally) has a block-long string of them.
In Zoku, one of Nozomu's neighbors is a cute young college girl who occasionally brings him homemade meals and commiserates with him about whatever rotten thing his students did to him that day. The end of episode 8 reveals that the girl is actually Kafuka in a wig, complete with creepy bunny-boiler overtones.
Even creepier: in Zan (and possibly earlier), there's a framed picture of her on his desk. Apparently he likes her enough to keep something like that. One can only wonder how he would react if he ever put two-and-two together and realized just whose picture he keeps prominently displayed on his dresser drawers...
Stock Footage: Nearly every time Itoshiki prepares to say his catchphrase. Other characters have used similar stock footage as gags. In the Magical Girl Parody, Itoshiki's stock footage doubles as a pseudo Transformation Sequence, (though initially it's a reaction to all of his students being drawn in Chibi-style, he does gain a "suspicious cape and staff" when the shot returns to him, apparently from nowhere.)
Suicide as Comedy: Though the number of suicide jokes have declined in favor of, among other things, a more psychotic Chiri.
"Hito Toshite Jiku ga Bureteiru", season one's first opening theme, set to (among other things) annotated diagrams of bondage positions, laments on how everything is twisted.
"Zessei Bijin", season one's ending theme, set to scenes of murder and death, enthuses about a couple's double suicide while playing in a peppy jazz number.
"Kuusou Rumba", Zoku's opening theme, talks about a man trying to dance the Rumba being turned down.
"Koiji Romanesque", Zoku's first ending theme, Art Shifts the characters into Shoujo style and shows them attached to medical drips, or, in the case of Kagero, dressed in nothing but a billowing long coat in front of a crucifix.
"Lyricure Go Go!", Zoku's one-shot opening for Episode 7, was the theme for a Magical Girl parody.
"Omamori", Zoku's ending theme for Episode 13, Art Shifts into gothic horror, drawn in a style reminiscent of Hellboy.
"Ringo Mogire Beam!", Zan's opening theme, translates to "Apple Plucking Beam!". The lyrics are about a man who believes he has found his soulmate, but is afraid to proceed (by "giving her his password"), accompanied by repeated exclamations of the song's title. "Ringo Mogire Beam!" could be viewed as the password mentioned in the song... or it could just be a random exclamation. (Note: Apparently it parodies doomsday group "Cosmic Brotherhood Association" which believes the world would be destroyed by a flood, and the only way out is rescue by UFOs with the password "Ringo okure C." This from SchwarzXD on YouTube.)
"Zetsubou Restaurant", Zan's ending theme, sings about leaving the troubles of the world behind, while depicting the various evening activities of Class 2-He (save Kafuka, who is only shown standing in front of the school in a kimono).
Subverted with "Marionette", Zoku's second ending, a rather normal anime song with rather normal images... probably due to Nami's presence. But that doesn't stop its lyrics from making nary a sense.
Take That: This ain't a satire series if it doesn't include at least a potshot to any given anime, issue or whatever.
In an episode dealing with countercurrents, a background character comments that he got into Hayao Miyazaki's films through those of his son Goro, leading to a comment that "there's some currents that shouldn't be traveled".
Self-Deprecation: On the other hand, both Koji Kumeta and Studio Shaft are also fond of using Nozomu's rants to make potshots on themselves. Kumeta's assistant, a certain Maeda-kun, frequently shows up in the background (voiced by himself in the anime) demonstrating some annoying tendency Nozomu is currently complaining about, while Kumeta himself appears as an unshaved version of himself (though voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya). Also, in each manga volume, bonus materials feature Kumeta's short and very self-deprecatory written pieces in relation to the theme of each chapter. For their part, Studio Shaft made a brief reference to Mahou Sensei Negima!'s major Adaptation Decay in Zan Episode 2, and Bangaichi is essentially a long string of jokes aimed at the studio itself and the show's own fans.
Talking Is a Free Action: Parodied in the Magical Girl spoof, "Model Warrior Lily Cure". When Masked Despair starts monologuing, Kafuka just blows him away before he can even say, "Let me finish!"
Teacher/Student Romance: Played for dark laughs. The plot revolves around a suicidal teacher who accidentally wins the hearts of nearly all of his students, some more extremely devoted than others. Itoshiki himself rarely returns any of the feelings of his Harem.
Tempting Fate: In one episode of Zoku, Mikoto states (while performing surgery on an injured Nozomu) that he has to carefully avoid hitting a certain blood vessel. Guess what happens next.
The Tetris Effect: In a chapter dealing with Chiri coming to clean Nozomu's house, she ultimately falls into this in a typically crazy way, stacking objects and people in an attempt to eliminate "dead space". At one point, Harumi comments about Chiri always being good at Tetris.
This Is a Work of Fiction: A different parodic disclaimer at the end of every episode, culminating in one which disclaims any resemblance between the show and itself.
In the Goku Episode 2, after Chiri decides that the show needs more despair so that it can match its title by dropping Nozomu off a cliff into a pack of ravenous wolves below.
A partial example earlier than that — in Kaere's introduction episode, she attempts suicide because as a "perfect Japanese woman", she can't pursue Nozomu aggressively — as she jumps, she calls out "Sayonara, Itoshiki-Sensei".
Mayo Mitama is said to be one. If she is, though, she's probably the tsunnest Tsundere ever.
Chiri Kitsu could also be called one — her default mode is tsun-tsun with (rare) instances of dere-dere that almost always devolves into a violent psychotic episode when Nozomu fails to live up to her (somewhat unfairly unrealistic) expectations.
Parodied/discussed in Zoku Episode 5. It even uses the "Don't misunderstand. I didn't do this for you" excuse which triggers the conversation and practically gets lampshaded as a common tsundere excuse.
Majiru looks like a young Nozomu, and even has the same fashion sense.
Unmoving Plaid: Anything anyone wears that has a pattern. Most often applies to Nozomu.
Unpleasable Fanbase: Discussed In-Universe in the latter half of Season 1 Episode 11 as part of a larger discussion about how people use the "I-just-followed-the-X-to-the-letter" excuse to escape criticism — in this case, negative fan reactions to the way a film adaptation relates to its source material. On one hand, a director complains that despite staying faithful to the source material, his adaptation is still panned as boring. On the other hand, Nozomu then points over to the flip side: a group of angry fanboys (including Harumi) beating up another director for straying from the source material.
Director: I'm in despair! This world where even faithful film adaptations earn nothing but criticism has left me in despair! Nozomu: Mr. Director, that was my line...
The upshot of every girl in class being in love with Nozomu. He's almost pathologically resistant to their affections (ethical concerns aside), but is painfully aware of the UST, which is why he has stopped resisting Matoi's antics, as doing so only spurs her to more extreme behavior. Class 2-He exists in a kind of equilibrium where the tension never boils over, at least until somebody/something kicks over the anthill, such as Nozomu's Arranged Marriage in season 1 and his flirtatious body-double Haga in Zan.
A major case of Ship Tease occurs with Kiri, who lives with Nozomu in school and serves as caretaker for both him and his nephew Majiru. At one point she seems fine with sharing him with Matoi.
At least when Nozomu is around, when he isn't looking, apperently both of them have fought sometimes offscreen
Another case (this time in Bangaichi) occurs with Tane, Chiri's flirtatiously sexy (yet messy) sister, though it's likely that his affection for her stems out of pity for her situation (having to sacrifice her hygiene in order to curb Chiri's murderous obsession with cleaning their pet goldfish with shampoo).
On one occasion Kafuka became jealous of Chie when Nozomu was smitten by the sight of her in a Sailor Fuku.
Kafuka: MILFs in schoolgirl uniforms are lame! Nami: See, now he's acting like a schoolboy!
Normally Nozomu would already have a love interest (or perhaps a harem) were it not for his students' — especially Chiri's — Clingy Jealous Girl antics (at least the others are willing to settle on Marry Them All). So far the only time Chiri agreed to such a solution was in Zan, where he was literally divided per piece.
Nozomu: I'm in about a 53-way relationship! It's almost like a circle!
Other girls whom Nozomu apparently started falling for include a college girl introduced in Zoku and a mysterious girl from another school that confessed to him in Zan who works at a Maid Cafe, making desperate losers fall for her. The absurdity of the situation arises from the fact that Nozomu was never one of her customers, so it's not only a complete role-reversal for her but a totally unexplained one unless Chiri's explanation is to be believed — that his popularity with girls is starting to spread beyond the classroom. Interestingly, in Zoku Episode 13 Kafuka was shown to work in the same cafe. She's also without her standard hairclip in later appearances. May be coincidental, but other hints imply that the mysterious girl is none other than Kafuka in disguise. Oh, and the college girl is Kafuka herself in a wig.
Wall of Weapons: One episode of Zan has Chiri revealing one behind a blackboard.
We Want Our Jerk Back: In Episode 5 of the first season the hot springs turn all the girls in the class into normal, well-adjusted people. Itoshiki will have none of this, and feeds them junk food.
Wham Episode: The second to last chapter reveals that Kafuka was Dead All Along. She was an organ donor so when she died her organs were given to a number of people who had attempted suicide. The organ recipients eventually turned out to be Nozomu and his students, who were all simultaneously possessed by Kafuka's spirit due to the donated organs. What this means is that every time Kafuka was seen, she was possessing one of the other girls in the class, and they all saw her as Kafuka.
There is also the revelation that when the girls attempted suicide, they were possessed by the ghosts of girls from the Showa period who had committed suicide but regretted it. The entire show was a ploy by Nozomu to exorcise the spirits from the girls' bodies by trying to recreate Showa period school life and having the girls "graduate", giving the spirits the closure they need to pass on. This is why Nozomu always dressed in such old fashioned clothes.
Wham Shot: Chapter 290, and how! It's already established that Abiru's left eye is a transplant and it recognizes things from its previous owner's memories, but for it to see its previous owner replacing every single named students in the class, including Abiru herself, through its POV is very disturbing. Seeing Abiru, who famous for being straight-faced and notorious Deadpan Snarker, suddenly losing her composure when the revelation dawns to her really shows that it was a Wham Shot even in-universe.
Oh dear Lord, everyone with a name has this applied to them.
A more obscure example is Mikoto's first appearance when Kafuka visits him and calls him "Itoshiki-sensei"...then corrects herself to "Itoshiki-sensei". Mikoto just sits there and says "Yes?" because "sensei" can mean "teacher" or "doctor."
Kafuka is certainly repressing, with her eternal happiness and obvious destructive past, so much so others fear her when they get a glimpse into her mind. But she's also more on the Cute and Psycho side (at least compared to everyone else).
Chiri also frequently goes from obsessive-compulsive to completely psychotic. While she doesn't have much of a "dere" side she fits the concept of "love makes your murderous". For instance, when Nozomu tried going out like a celebrity, he visited a high-class call girl and tried to drown in Dom Perignon. When said lady brings him the bill at school and he complains about the expenses of dying, a displeased Chiri brings a knife and tells him that he can die for free. Another case of Chiri going nuts is when Nozomu (and guest commentators) immediately and bluntly rejected her suggestion that they could be a successful match (proper love) in the "Maybe Maybe" episode, despite considering and conceding the possibility of success of romantic relationships with Abiru (puppy love), Nami (normal love), Manami (unfaithful love), Kaere (violent love), Chie (adult relationship), Maria (acquaintanceship) and even Ikkyu (Ho Yay), upon their suggestions. Her equally immediate response is just frighteningly hilarious.
A few chapters, such as chapter 127, indicated the entire class is composed of Yanderes (probably except Nami — she's normal, anyway).
Nami: "Don't say 'normal'!"
In chapter 223, Chiri, the most violent girl in the classroom, found Kafuka to be seriously dangerous.
Yaoi Fangirl: Harumi mostly, but one episode — one dealing with instances where things going normally become actually surprising — indicates that she may be not the only one. Itoshiki is proactively asked by a guy to come up to his apartment and listen to him play guitar. When Itoshiki goes back outside, the girls are squeeing and enthusiastic about finding out what happened.
Yonkoma: Played straight, but with a twist — according to Itoshiki, there's a hidden fifth panel: darkness.
And then Maria makes a deadly Pun out of the steps of Yonkoma involving a historical massacre. She's oblivious to the implications.
You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Completely averted — all the Japanese characters have black hair and realistic hairstyles, and the Caucasian Kaere has blonde hair, which is still part of the natural hair color spectrum.
This is, of course, referenced in a Magical Girl parody segment of Zoku.
Zombie Apocalypse: Of sorts. It's a revival of things that should've stayed dead. Like suits with shoulder pads and old relationships. The show turns the gun on itself when a bite from one of the zombies turns Nozomu into one himself, jabbing that the series might turn into a Franchise Zombie.