Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye, Mr. Despair)–First Impressions

The entire premise of the show in a nutshell.

I hope to be a teacher one day. I went to my present school because of my experiences teaching Sunday School to both kids and adults, and there are few things I find more satisfying in this life than seeing students engaged, asking questions, and watching insight, knowledge, and wisdom grow. I’m a sucker for good inspirational teacher stories, like Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society, and more relevantly for this forum, Gokusen. They all reflect the fantasy I have in my head about teaching.

So what happens when it is the teacher who needs teaching, especially about life and finding hope and meaning–even a reason to live? That’s what this new show, a very strong contender for this year’s Originality Award, is all about.

That’s one opinion.

Like the show this most resembles (though only slightly), Welcome to the NHK!, we are immediately introduced to a set of extreme characters. Dotty, Pollyannaish Kafuka (Kafka? an odd choice if it’s meant to suggest that author of paranoia) and the title character, the despairing and genuinely paranoid Nozomu Itoshiki, are paired off from the start as the show’s twin engines. The show continues the increasing trend in modern anime toward 4th wall breaking, postmodern aesthetics: virtually all the characters’ names are puns that reflect their personalities. Snide comments about the action appear on the blackboard. Different animation styles, apparent references to silent film, and seemingly random occurrences abound. In many ways this is far more deconstructive than parody-oriented shows like Hayate no Gotoku and even the shuffled-ordering of Haruhi Suzumiya, though in the end it’s in the service of a fairly standard plot (so far): teacher manages to inspire students to be better. Even if, so far, it is almost entirely by accident.

There is no more fundmental desire in life except this: I will to live. –Albert Schweitzer

And that’s the most notable thing I see about how the action plays out in the show: how entirely dependent it is on accident and unintentional consequences. Kafuka’s denial-based optimism, for instance, usually ends up having exactly the opposite effect of what she intends (trying to save Nozomu’s life usually ends up almost killing him instead)–and every time Nozomu intends to send gloom and despair to his students, he ends up inspiring them instead. This is, of course, all very funny. It’s the very definition of irony, which this shows has in spades. NHK seems tremendously earnest by comparison.

My guess is that this is one of those “the main characters save each other” kind of show, like NHK. Kafuka’s optimism is clearly based on outright wishful thinking and denial, not true hope. It will collapse soon, I think. Nozomu’s depression is based (so far) on paranoia. The other girls who are beginning to flock to Nozomu–the hikkikokmori, the obsessive stalker, the OCD neat freak–are like a sampler dish of psychological problems. Oddly enough, someone like Nozomu may be in the best position to help them. (Henri Nouwen, in his book The Wounded Healer, wrote about how a minister’s own wounds and hurts can be used to increase our identification with others who suffer, and that this is one of the most powerful means we have at our disposal.)

It’s like that scene in “The Seventh Seal” at the end…

That is, if he doesn’t kill himself first. Or they all end up killing each other. The final scene of episode 2 is a hilarious summation of how all kinds of troubled freaks and stalkers end up following Nozomu like a Pied Piper, and as Kafuka and the school counselor look on in bemusement I wonder if it’s a sign of things to come. Like it or not, Nozomu is stuck with all these troubled people who follow him, and for the time being, they are keeping him alive.

85% recommended for your anime diet. A high dosage of irony, postmodern comedy, and originality! It also has an unusually tasty soundtrack.

Note: I know the title literally translates as “Goodbye Despair Teacher,” but I prefer “Goodbye, Mr. Despair.” In American English, we address our teachers as “Mr.” or “Ms. So-and-so” in the same way students add “-sensei” in Japan, and moreover, “Goodbye Mr. Despair” echoes another great teacher story from the past, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” Plus it rings much nicer in English.

Question: who is this fellow? Whose face is blocking all the fan service?

Is this a trend that started with Hayate?

14 thoughts on “Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye, Mr. Despair)–First Impressions”

  1. Yes, this is turning out to be a great show: Shinbou reaching new heights.

    The guy in the picture is “Maeda-kun,” the mangaka’s assistant. He shows up from time to time in the mangaka’s work, and even in at least one other mangaka’s work.

  2. Question: who is this fellow? Whose face is blocking all the fan service?

    He is censorfagatory, and he is there, waiting to ruin otherwise serviceable anime.

  3. The masked man – yes, I certainly agree with you that this guy’s face is annoying and he’s the censor, however, I’m wondering if he’s placed there to cover up the distraction from the real points of the show. After all, in a world of despair, all good things seem to be covered up by something one doesn’t want. Perhaps that’s the point here, then again, perhaps it’s just to follow the TV station’s rules. But I do think there’s a certain humor involved here.

    Hashihime – how’s the manga comparing to the show so far?

  4. I wonder, does someone actually PAY people to hype useless shows ? First Haruhi was touted as “BEST EVARR”, and now THIS ?!!

  5. @hashihime: thanks for the info. I suspected it was either a staff member on the anime or the like.

    @maskedman: :)

    @rayyhum777: or maybe they LIKE pissing off fans. Just like the way they tease you in El Cazador!

    @karry: you know, FWIW, I actually do think this is a promising show with a lot of originality and unconventional humor that sets it apart from other anime. I hoped my first impressions–which is just that, first impressions–were observant enough to explain why I felt that way. Perhaps time will reveal that the appeal is hollow, but for now the show is one of the more intriguing ones this summer. We’ll see.

  6. Karry – I wasn’t aware of any real, corporate sponsored hyping going on, maybe you know differently. In any case, I like it because I like it; a “peasantry” otaku like myself will never get paid by any of these AMERICAN corporate sponsors to hype anything, not to mention our site is too small for any of these people to care. Sometimes some people will hate a show that a lot of people happen to like, and sometimes some people will like a show that a lot of people happen to hate. It’s really a matter of personal taste.

  7. Mike, rayyhum777 — how DARE you guys post about an anime I dislike!? You’re obviously being paid out by the powers that be to hype something that has little value, at least by MY standards. You damn sellouts.

    Seriously though, it deserves the Originality Award.

  8. rayyhum:
    Yes, that would explain the censorfag’s attack on this show, but not so much on Hayatte, Air Gear and other shows that have been ruined by such stupid censorship.

  9. The reasons for the censoring include:

    1. It’s weird, which is kind of funny.
    2. It marginally decreases the age rating of the show.
    3. It gives them a dangling thread of hope to lure people into buying the uncencored DVDs.

  10. braincraft – ah. Understood. I’ve been suspecting point number 3 but I never got around to do some marketing research (read:going to Akiba and buy a ton of things) for it.

  11. the guys who’s face is blocking the fan service is the guy who wrote the anime, and y he blocks the fan service isnt the question, the question is y in the name of hell is the school clock just a rotating pic of his head XD

  12. Huh…so this guy’s head’s SUPPOSED to be there? I kept thinking it was thrown in there during fansubbing…well whatever, at least the head shows up less often in later episodes.
    [mumble]but why does it have to be there during the scenes at the bath house…[/mumble ]

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