Archive for category Satire

A Fusion of Modern Anime and Classical Film Techniques

The cover of Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge.

The cover of Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge.

When I was in college, I used to wear a men’s kimono in the dorms. I’m sure the other residents thought it was a bathrobe. But, what kind of bathrobe has a dragon printed on it?

There are many humorous anime and manga series that are interesting but which quickly become dull. Yet, in small doses they can retain their quality. For example, I still watch many of the comedy slice-of-life anime series I enjoyed when I young, but for the most part they have become no more than background noise. Because many comedy series follow the same tropes, I find modern series wear out their welcome after a few episodes despite being thematically different. This was the case with the 2007 anime series, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. However, over the years I’ve come to appreciate the franchise through the OVA (original video anime) series. This is because I can watch the OVAs months apart, which keeps the content relatively fresh. Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge (獄•さよなら絶望先生 下) very much followed this pattern—the comedy format was similar to the previous installment, but my time away from the franchise made the content more appealing. Part of this came from the self-deprecating humor the author of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Kōji Kubota, utilized, but it also resulted from how the series mocked, though very slightly, the Japanese politics of 2010. In addition to those considerations, while I mentioned the artwork in the series in my article “A Teacher Who’ll Take You to the First Level of Despair,” I failed to elaborate on it, and I feel the need to rectify that oversight here.

Apart from airing a number of anime series during the late-night block of television, the other common practice I find upsetting in the anime industry is creating multiple season series. This issue has cropped up since the 2000s and I understand why production companies do this—because they exhaust the content of the source material quickly—and it pains me to have to wait sometimes as much as three years before a new season is released. This is especially frustrating for long narrative series because the individual seasons tend to conclude with a cliffhanger and the hopes of another season. However, with comedy series, particularly slice-of-life and satire, I am far more willing to forgive multiple seasons spread apart by a year or so. I say this because if I were to watch similar jokes for years on end, as is the case with Crayon Shin-chan, I would eventually become tired of them. Thus, by giving viewers time away from the comedy styling of any given author, it keeps his or her particular brand of humor more novel.

Therefore, a dry anime series like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is much better when the viewing experience is spread out. Yes, dry humor is still very funny—look at Bill Murray’s character in Ghost Busters, Peter Venkman—but not everyone has the patience to listen to one dry joke after another. On top of this, I’ve stated previously one has to put some thought into the humor of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. So, while each individual episode or OVA is funny, it takes time for the laughs to set in. This in no way makes Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei a smart series, but instead makes it one where we constantly have to be thinking about the events and issues that were relevant when the series was in syndication. Yet, even with a satirical series that requires us to think about each joke, there are also times when the humor is more straightforward.

Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge benefited in this regard. Many of the jokes were fairly direct, which is almost a departure from the author’s usual writing style. For example, when looking at the final short in the OVA, we see the almost humble beginnings of the main character, Nozomu Itoshiki. While it’s established in both the manga and multiple seasons of the anime series of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei that he is hopeless, hapless, and helpless, here we see how he started down that path. Consequently, this made all of the jokes presented in the short rather easy to follow: they chronicle the comedic downward emotional spiral for Nozomu. Yet, it wasn’t just the direct humor in the final short that kept the OVA fresh.

In both the first and second short we see different forms of humor utilized, though not to their fullest potential. Looking at the first short, we see a handful of the characters gathered in a candle-lit room as if they were telling ghost stories. Yet, here they are trying to come up with story lines for the series. As they go through each idea, though, they find they have all been used already to some degree. While this in and of itself isn’t all that humorous—although it is perhaps ghastly in its own right—it was the interjections made by the personification of Kōji Kumeda that brought the short to life. One would think he is playing the straight man to the characters’ blokes, but instead he mocks himself and his work. In fact, near the end of the short, one of the characters can be found saying the series, at least the print version, really needs only one page to both start and finish any given story. As a result, we needn’t know much about current Japanese events to get the jokes, let alone anything about Japanese sub-culture, as self-deprecating humor is universal.

It’s the second short, though, that surprised me. When watching or reading a satirical piece, I very much enjoy it when it willingly pokes fun at current events. While popular culture is often the target of satirical jokes, I find more humor in jokes that mock politics, political figures, their policies, and so on. Unfortunately, Japanese comedians tend to shy away from this type of humor, so it can be difficult to find it in almost any medium. I will say, though, the Rakugo storyteller Enraku will at times make small jabs at the Japanese government and political figures on the TV show Shoten. But other than that, one has to really sift through a lot of material before one can find any meaningful satirical comedy. Thus, when I saw one passing joke related to the almost failed policies of the Japanese government in Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge, I was astonished. To be honest, though, it was hardly a good joke and one I scarcely remember, but it’s existence, at least to me, was incredibly important.

The menu screen for Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge.

The menu screen for Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge.

There are times we tend to take our freedom of speech for granted in the United States. While Japan shares the same right, it seems as though most people use it to shut down any sort of slander towards them rather than make poignant arguments. It’s almost inherent for Japanese people to take offense at the slightest joke aimed at any given individual, especially if that person has any power, be it based on success in the popular culture, the political world, the business world, or whatever. Thus, comedians are too afraid to make even the slightest witty remark at the expense of those types of people because essentially the entire population will quickly chastise them. It’s very sad. Some form of free speech that is. As a result, a great deal of Japanese comedians, at least from what I’ve seen, either base their humor on everyday activities or make fun of those beneath them. I believe it was the stand-up comedian Jimmy Dore on the online political commentary show The Young Turks who said in regards to satirical comedy, “It’s satire when you punch up. It’s bullying when you punch down.” So, when even the smallest injection of comedy aimed at people with power is included in a Japanese creative work, I have to applaud it. And, that still holds true even if the joke isn’t all that funny.

I mentioned the artwork of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in passing in my previous articles about the series, citing its surreal style, but it was mainly in regards to the animation studio Shaft. Granted, they have a knack for creating surreal backgrounds, and with Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge and all the other iterations of the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei series, this style fits quite well the characters and the backgrounds from the manga. What I mean by this is, while one can assume the series is placed in a modern setting, whenever I read or watch the series I can’t help but think it has an old-time feel to it. It isn’t any particular time period though, but rather an amalgamation of the late Meiji period (1868-1912), 1930s Japanese film, and the post World War II economic boom of the 1950s and ‘60s. The feeling of the series comes in large part from the clothing Nozomu chooses to wear, but also with how the beginnings of the shorts are presented as a film reel and from the choice of the text and fonts.

Addressing both individually, the type of clothing Nozomu wears, a hakama and men’s kimono, are not worn by men outside of certain celebratory events nowadays. While I’m sure older men did wear those clothes during the economic boom period, I feel the last time that type of clothing was fashionable was during the late Meiji period, around the turn of the twentieth century. This alone gives the character design of the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei franchise flavor, but we can also see some fashion trends for young boys from the 1950s and ‘60s as well. This affected the third short of Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge more so than the rest of the OVA, if only because we are dealing with Nozomu’s past. Specifically, though, it’s the style of the student hat we see him wearing. Elementary school children in Japan still wear student hats, but the design has drastically changed over the years. I’m not sure exactly when the change took place, but modern student hats resemble a baseball cap, whereas in the past the hats were modeled on military academy student hats.

While clothing styles may interest some, it’s actually the text and font styles seen throughout Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge that had me intrigued. For those who haven’t studied Japanese, the language has three different writing systems: kanji, katakana, and hiragana. I’ve taken for granted each writing system, but to summarize when each is used, hiragana is elementary level writing for children, but it is also used in conjunction with kanji. Katakana is most often used for foreign words, and kanji, or Chinese characters, are used to help distinguish different homonyms. An English example for the latter would be there, their, and they’re; weather and whether; ore and or; and a myriad of other examples one can think of. However, before and during the Second World War many newspapers and film reels only used kanji and katakana and very rarely did one see Arabic numerals. Thus, when looking at the reel countdown at the beginning of each short, for example, we see the traditional, and far more complex, numerical count down—what should be 5-4-3-2-1 isn’t the more common五-四-三-二-一, but rather 伍-讀-参-貳-壱. In the same vein, when there is any sort of text on screen, for what should be a combination of each writing system, only kanji and katakana are used.

Yes, this is a modern anime, but it was these animation choices that made Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge and all the other animated series in the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei franchise unique. The animators did not use any aging techniques, but rather adapted modern animation techniques combined with older animation and film practices to make the OVA have a classic look. Even the opening cut pays homage to the modern rendition of Colombia Pictures’ Torch Lady, but with a timely feel to it as well. Very few animation studios elect to do this, which is a great shame considering there is probably a market for modern anime styled as older works. Because of this, the OVA is a unique specimen in the modern anime industry.

Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge was far more appealing to me than its counterpart Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Jyo. The humor was delivered much better and had far more styles of comedy as well. It also rectified the qualm I had about a lack of satirical jokes directed at people with power, even though it was only one joke. While I go into depth about two specific artistic choices, the two are consistent throughout the franchise and as such the techniques seen here can be found in whatever Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei series you wish to watch. I am aware there is a middle installment of Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but one doesn’t have to watch it to derive entertainment from this OVA. As with Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Jyo, this, too, is a difficult OVA to find. However, if you are willing to seek it out, you will be satisfied.

Work Info
Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge (獄•さよなら絶望先生 下)
Under: Shaft, Kodansha, Shonen Magazine
Official Site:
More Info:さよなら絶望先生_(アニメ)


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