Title: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye Despair Teacher)
Air Dates: 5 Oct 2007 – 21 Mar 2008
Synopsis: Nozomu Itoshiki is the world’s biggest pessimist and finds fault with practically every major facet of modern Japanese society. This sense of despair brought about by his realization that the world is changing for the worse often leads him to attempt suicide, but for some reason, he fails miserably at it, deepening his depression. So how he gets the job of a teacher is anyone’s guess, but if one thing is for sure, putting him in charge of a classroom of misfits including a girl with a split personality, an eternal optimist, an obsessive compulsive maniac, and a girl who only talks through text messaging is a recipe for a hilarious despair-inducing disaster.
- Comedy is well-executed by treating its subjects irreverently
- Scenes become even more over-the-top with each episode
- Brilliant art direction by director Akiyuki Shinbo
- A lot of the references can go over people’s heads
Review: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is just completely unlike any comedy you will have ever seen to date. Its premise is pretty simple: take a facet of Japanese or modern society, make fun of it by illustrating how they undermine the fabric of society and taking it to extreme logical lengths, and if it’s some sort of social ill like the hikkikomori trend or corporate hegemony, all the better. By pulling out this formula episode after episode, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei succeeds at blending its morbid humor with its critique of modern society and doing it to great effect.
Anyone picking up this show will be watching it for the humor, but in order for people to “get” it, they have to be prepared for Zetsubou Sensei’s type of humor which tends to fall somewhere between dark and morbid to completely insane. Most of the jokes found in this series are of two types: a satire of societal problems and references to other media. The show takes a no-holds barred approach when satirizing societal problems like mass commercialization or conformity by dragging out the problem and letting the dire implications sink in. Such situations, when taken to their logical extreme, are truly frightening in ways that only a paranoid mind could ever conjure up. The humor here is more of the amazement variety because these situations play out in ways that most people never think of, and because of this, it’s a delight to watch how the paranoia manifests itself.
Referential jokes, like the chalkboard scribbles (that require liberal use of the pause button to catch) and parodies of scenes from movies or other anime series (Death Note and Lucky Star feature prominently here) are sprinkled all over this show. The main issue arising from this type of humor that I mentioned in the review I did for Lucky Star is that it does have the tendency to go over people’s heads if they’re not familiar with the subject matter. However, Zetsubou Sensei compensates for this by throwing in a large quantity of jokes at such a rapid pace that the viewer will not be stuck in limbo waiting for another joke or gag to come up. Because of this, Zetsubou Sensei wins out on being consistently funny all the way through.
The characters themselves, despite being very two-dimensional add to the humor greatly. Basically, each of the characters are each given their personality quirk (or personality disorder depending on who you ask) and are then allowed to interact with other characters who have different mental disorders. Through this, you get a very well-rounded and novel approach to any given situation as each character can weigh in with their unique perspective, which serves to make the depressing situation even more hilarious. So in spite of the characters’ lack of depth, the character interactions, when taken in sum, demonstrate how the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is by far the best comedy to have come out in 2007. Its irreverent treatment of whatever subjects it’s trying to satirize is both absolutely hilarious and thought-provoking. Just be aware that a healthy enjoyment of snarky humor and sarcasm is needed to get good mileage out of this series, but once you allow yourself to take in the weirdness, it’s going to be hard to let go. Be warned that by the time you finish, this series may very well drag you into the pits of despair and gives you an urge to grow taller.