How would one define the Summer 2007 anime season? That is a question that has many different answers, each one dependent on the otaku asked that question. Some might say Baccano, as is the case with our very macho Fuhrer TJ Han. Others might say School Days, if only perhaps for the pleasure of seeing how messed up Makoto and Girls can get. And of course, one cannot forget Lucky Star, worshipped and derided in equal measures by the pro-KyoAni and the anti-KyoAni factions respectively. But for me, Summer 2007 did not mean any of these three to me; yes, not even Lucky Star, unthinkable as it may seem to some for a supposed KyoAni fanboy like me. Indeed, for me, Summer 2007 is defined by one of the quirkiest black comedies I’ve seen in recent times; Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.
This anime is just twisted, period. Entirely revolving around the antics of the terminally pessimistic, suicidal Itoshiki Nozomu (the titular Zetsubou Sensei, by way of the kanji of his name contracting to read “Zetsubou” or “Despair”) and his class of misfit students, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei doesn’t even pretend to have an overall plot; Itoshiki himself can, and does, come to the brink of his death at the end of an episode, and be perfectly fine and business as usual by the next. Neither does it pretend to have anything resembling “character development”; Itoshiki-sensei’s students make his depressive case look benign by comparison, each one being little more than a parody of various Japanese social outcast groups like hikkikomori and fujoshi, to universal social ills like stalking and fetishism.
And perhaps, therein lies the appeal of this series; it does not hesitate to parody the underbelly of Japanese society, and even delights in its twisted way in doing so. Unlike Lucky Star, which has generally believable if clearly moe characters and something of a start-to-end timeline at the very least, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei doesn’t pretend to be anything but pure parody; and the jokes certainly didn’t suffer from it, even if some of the references are obscure enough to elude the casual viewer. What makes it even better is that SHAFT doesn’t hesitate to take potshots at all and sundry either; most noticeably the repeated jabs at Lucky Star, to the point where KyoAni even responded with a return jab.
And then there’s the characters. While not very realistic portrayals at the very least, the shenanigans of the cast is parody at its finest. Zetsubou Sensei himself is a hoot as the drama queen presiding over the lot; always trying to die, and yet screaming “What if I had died?!” when he does come perilously close to oblivion courtesy of Kafuka. That’s not to mention the eternally happy Kafuka who might be a closet psychopath, the perfectionistic Chiri who absolutely must have everything in order, or Kimura Kaed/re, whose bipolar disorder makes Akira-sama look like a perfectly normal finicky lass. Even if they come nowhere near being as memorable as the Lucky Star girls, that’s not what they’re there for; their role is to exaggerate the traits of every generic type ever portrayed in anime, and hell, they do it so well.
Which is why, at the end of its run in 23/9, I am in despair; as far as black comedies go, one can’t get any better than what SHAFT has served up. Of course, I suppose I should count myself lucky for my bilingual education; there’s plenty others out there who are in despair over the laxness of the English subbing groups in subbing this series. But in any case, I shall miss Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, for quirky series such as this don’t come around very often.
Now excuse me while I go hang myself out of despair. Ascaloth, out.