Reviews: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Funny, but...

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a show about Nozomu Itoshiki, an extremely melodramatic man whose suicide is interrupted by Kafuka Fuura, a happy-go-lucky, perpetually optimistic girl. Itoshiki turns out to be a teacher, and when he goes to teach his class, it turns out that almost every single one of his students has severe mental problems as well.

Now, the premise is already hilarious enough, and for the most part, the show delivers in terms of comedy and satire.

However, the show is admittedly rather formulaic. Almost every episode follows more-or-less the same pattern: A problem/quirk regarding society is shown, Itoshiki rants about it, his students give their point-of-view about it, and Kafuka talks about the positive aspects of said problem/quirk.

The first few episodes of the first season are dedicated mostly to introducing the characters as well as their associated Running Gag. Said Running Gag is as far as their personality goes.

As such, considering that in all subsequent episodes of the show, the same jokes get reused over and over regarding the characters, and the formula for each episode remains the same, the show gets rather boring for the remainder because they don't really do that much else. However, this only applies to season 1.

In seasons 2 and 3, possibly because they had already made every joke that could possibly have been made about the characters at this point, the show starts to get out of its comfort zone. We get to see the characters in different settings rather than the classroom/the school grounds, and some episodes even forgo the typical episode formula, which I felt was a welcome change. Despite some arguing that the show got stale at this point, I personally felt that seasons 2 and 3 were better than season 1.

All in all, I'd give season 1 a 6/10, and seasons 2 and 3 a 7/10. I recommend this show if you're looking for a quick laugh and some good satire.

It is exactly how it seems

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a long running gag manga, with a large cast of one dimensional people, satirising modern society and generally doing idiotic and crazy things for the sake of doing them. It's also really creepy, and it has a Gainax ending. And yet, despite the fact that it ran for about 7 years and spanned 30 volumes + a bonus chapter, you could read the first 10 volumes, a few chapters in 20-25, then just skip to the last 5 chapters.

So, it succeeds in being funny, creepy and all in all, unique, which was the entire point. While going into the characters themselves, aside from Nozomu and Kafuka, and maybe Chiri (though only Chiri because of backwards Character Development, but not quite Flanderisation) all of the characters are intended to be flat, one dimensional, walking quirks. And that's ok, seeing as how it's an episodic gag manga.

About the anime? Shaft screwed up, the ways some episodes or chapters were animated, screwing up or missing out a few jokes.

(sorry, British English)

Brilliant concept, bad execution.

While Studio Shaft deserve applause for taking everything good about Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and making it even better thanks to their wild, crazy and original style, they should be pelted with tomatoes for not fixing any of the manga's flaws.

Its main problem is that nothing (overall plot, Character Development, backgrounds, episode ideas) ever goes anywhere. SZS is a show about nothing to end all shows about nothing. Sometimes the Show About Nothing formula works, Lucky Star I believe pulled this off quite well (at least the manga did). However Lucky Star's main draw is that it is a show about nothing, however SZS's main draw is that it's about a suicidal teacher dealing with the oddities of his society, present especially in his class. But since this never goes anywhere, SZS isn't even half the show it could, or should, have been (This is not helped by the second season deciding to go the Sketch Comedy route).

Social satire is what SZS does best (Even though it's often very formulaic about it) however it seems this isn't enough for it, as it also parodies schoolgirl and Unwanted Harem anime. This is where things start falling apart for the show, as is not only a mostly female cast stereotypical and obtrusive, but also a lot of the Harem "parodies" are poorly done, been done before and ruin otherwise respectful characters. Overall, SZS would have been a lot better if it stuck with just the social satire.

Characters themselves are another weakness. With the exception of Nozomu, all of them are annoying and/or pointless, with most of them (e.g Mikoto, Nami and Kimura) being vehicles for only a single Running Gag and nothing else. To make things worse absolutely no-one receives any development whatsoever. Each character is based around a single trait, such as stalking or perfectionism, and nothing else or more. This is overlookable in earlier episodes but unforgivable in later ones, regardless of what aspects they're meant to represent.

Visuals are top-notch, although disappointingly minimalistic, but the audio is superb, nothing too complain about.

SZS, at best, is merely decent. Okay, however there are numerous parody shows that are vastly superior and more deserving of your time.

Sly, dark, subversive, original

The previous reviews of this series do a good job of summing up its appeal (and its flaws). Overall I come down on the positive side of the spectrum and greatly enjoy the show for its originality and offbeat flair. However, I feel there is one important aspect of it that hasn't really been discussed yet that deserves to be.

That is the "social satire" bit. Basically, Zetsubou Sensei is a vehicle for skewering Japanese society. This is significant because unlike Western society (comparatively), Japan is a very repressed country, and despite its many problems, people rarely like to talk about them. It hides its crippling shortcomings underneath a veneer of politeness and ritual. But the savvy folks at Studio Shaft peel away this layer and giggle at the nation's inherent absurdity.

The characters are simple and basically just excuses to mock society. Sensei is a parody of Japan's continuing obsession with suicide and sadness. Kiri represents Japan's scarcely noticed Hikikomori problem. Kafuka basically satirizes some Japanese people's relentless cheeriness and optimism. Chiri is a reflection of the whole country's OCD. And so on.

More than that the episodes themselves often focus on a few different aspects of Japanese society rarely discussed in the mainstream. Illegal immigration, excessive apologizing, the mass media's obsessive if fleeting worship of pop "idols," and even obscure topics like how second-best things are criminally overlooked come under Zetsubou Senseis lens. Although some of its topics are general social problems, familiarity with Japan and its quirks will give the show much more depth.

It's true that after the deeper stuff, focusing on harem tropes might seem like a step down, but you could also think of it as a necessary "breather." Overall I recommend this show to anyone with an interest in anime, Japanese society, or even animation in general (because of the creative art). Just be warned that it does get stale/repetitive after a while.

Sure not to leave you in Despair!

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei definitely keeps people divided; it shows incredibly detailed, gorgeous art, and others will enjoy the madcap humor and highly off the wall 'plot' twists that keep everything fresh and intriguing. Some will enjoy the dark subtext, and still others are highly unlikely to get the nature of some of the humor, or get tired of what they see as stale characterizations.

The first season follows the adventures of Itoshiki Nozomu (Readable as 'Mr. Despair') and introduces us to an interestingly stereotyped class of characters who seem to be throwaway gags; and although many are, just as many have proven to be more varied then first glance, and all have the potential of growing into even more interesting individuals. We follow their dour ringleader - the aptly named Mr. Despair - through many trials and tribulations, from the simple problems of teaching such a *diverse* class(coaxing a recluse into attending school, convincing a stalker to give up her object of affection, investigating alleged abuse) to arranged marriage and - of course! - attempts at suicide that fail quite miserably.

The second season builds wonderfully on the first, giving more character to the cast, introducing a few more new characters(or characters who had brief appearances), and showing new depths about our favorite class of misfits, as well as introducing an incredibly kind college student who appears to be developing love interest for Itoshiki. I feel that the series truly shines here - with well placed out of left field surprises, dark humor, and an episode that demonstrates all sorts of animation styles, one that artists are sure to enjoy.

From what I've seen, the third season seem primed to continue this shows good legacy. I recommend everything about this show, but on the pretext that you should know what you're getting into before hand. A lot of the jokes are heavily geared to a Japanese audience, and even Kiri Komori-level fans of anime should be expected to rack their brains a bit to get all of the injokes and shout outs. If you enjoy humor that blurs the line between (Dare I say!) despair and comedy, truly gorgeous art, and eclectic references, then give Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei a try. Your Mileage May Very, but I give it five attempted suicides out of five! Fun for the whole family!

Deliciously dark humour

Imagine if Pani Poni Dash was written by Jhonen Vasquez. That's pretty much So Long Mr Despair in a nutshell.

Nozomu Itoshiki is a suicidally depressed teacher in a class of maniacs. You've got the psychotically cheerful girl, the hikikomori, abusive email girl, foreigner with dissociative personality disorder, and many other colourful characters. The characters are all pretty one-note, with no more than one or two incredibly exaggerated personality traits. However, the show manages to get a lot of mileage out of throwing all these stereotypes in a blender and seeing what happens. Overall, the first series is darkly hilarious, with the writers using a completely insane cast to comment on everything from morality through international relations to fanfic.

Unfortunately, it loses a lot of momentum in the second series, when dark comedy and social satire are pushed aside by more wacky humour and slapstick. This series felt very disjointed and pointless. Also, much of the humour that could be derived from the nutty cast had apparently dried up, leaving the writers with nothing more than bizarre and occasionally nonsensical sketches to go on.

Also, though it may hve been a case of bad translation, a lot of the dialogue seemed pointlessly random, consisting entirely of non-sequiturs and meaningless phrases.

The art style is unusual. Characters are drawn without outlines or clothing creases, while colourful text hangs in the air. Hair is mainly drawn as a solid black mass for each character. Backgrounds, and sometimes the entire screen, occasionally switches to psychedelic madness. This may not be to everyone's taste, but it does fit the tone of the show very well.

Overall, the first series is well worth checking out, the second, not so much.

One word of warning - the anime has not yet been released outside Japan, and is unlikely to ever be. Hence, you're stuck with fansubs.

If you like this, you might also like:
  • Pani Poni Dash - A similarly wacky school, but with humour as bright and cheerful as this is dark.
  • Johnny The Homicidal Maniac - Violent psychopath runs around killing people and pontificating about whatever comes to mind.