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Review: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei means, approximately, “Goodbye Mr. Despair.” The concluding line of the initial episode summarizes this series as well as anything: a man who sees in life only despair meets a girl who sees only hope. Only, this series isn’t really about her, except when she’s needed to foil the incessant gloominess of the main character. This guy simply refuses to see any good in the world, and does everything in his power to interpret events–no matter what they are–in the most negative possible manner. This leads him to repeatedly play at suicide, and then yell at his rescuers for their always perilous rescues, asking them “What if I had died?”

This is unapologetically a harem series. There are exactly two male characters, and the whole point of one of them is that he’s so unassuming as to be essentially invisible to everyone around him. There are male extras, but they don’t matter. Each of the episodes has a nearly identical plot: A new girl is introduced to the dude. He dislikes her and her weirdness (every girl is weird in some unique way), but almost accidentally ends up helping her out. She develops a crush on him and comes back as an ensemble cast member in future episdoes.

Continuity is unimportant. In one episode, the guy actually dies for real in a freak streetcar accident, but he’s back in the next episode with no explanation and no mention of it. There’s a fair amount of fanservice, which manages to be doubly annoying by being weirdly masked by some guy’s head. By this I mean that the producers took a photo of this guy’s face, then just pasted it over the ‘offending’ art. Fanservice generally annoys me on an intellectual level; I’d rather a series focus on a good story than ratings-boosting through tantalization. It turns out that masking it like this makes it even more annoying, because if there’s going to be fanservice in the first place they might as well do it right.

Despite all this, I can see why this series made its way into a few best of 2007 lists. There are long blocks of absolute hilarity, where the producers found their comedic stride and just ran with it. There are references to at least five other anime series scattered slyly about, and that’s just the start of them. Perhaps the most distant reference I noticed was to Kafka’s Metamorphoses, which is not the sort of thing you expect to find in a mindless anime comedy. This is an exceptionally text-dense series, with quips packed in all over the place.

Genre: schoolgirl harem
Emotion: I wish there was a story
BTFS: .42

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