Setting, Animation and Comedy of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
March 21, 2009
All good things must come to an end, and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (SZS) chose about the right time to close its curtains. Comedies in general tends to become repetitive and boring as they approach their respective expiray dates, and Goku SZS certainly was showing its signs. I don’t want to repeat anything that has been already said so I will just be commenting on setting, animation and their significance to the comedy of SZS, which I personally found fascinating.
1. Creative use of setting
English wikipedia entry for SZS was surprisingly sharp on the show’s stylistic elements. It’s interesting how SZS is set in present day, but utilises various aesthetic tropes, such as costumes, architecture and technology, to evoke Showa Period. And the below quote was particularly informative:
“Chapter title pages are drawn to resemble karuta cards, with an illustration in a silhouetted kiri-e style. Chapter titles are oblique references to literature, modified to suit the needs of the chapter. The anime carries this further through a washed-out, grainy visual style that mimics film, and frequent use of katakana (rather than hiragana) as okurigana. The anime also regularly refers to the date as though Emperor Hirohito were still alive, such that Heisei 20 (the twentieth year of Emperor Akihito‘s reign, or 2008 by the Gregorian calendar) becomes “Shōwa 83”.
Why Shinbo opted for such a setting by going into all these troubles is up for discussion, but I do wonder if he did this to separate the intended audience (presumably Japanese) from the time and place he’s making fun of (i.e. modern japanese society). Which is funny considering how in Goku SZS, he openly criticised its values after WWII.
Also (this was not mentioned by wikipedia) I noticed how episodes would open often accompanied by soundtrack played by traditional japanese instruments, say Shakuhachi (japanese end-blown flute) for example. Such soothing and more traditional soundtrack is then synchronised with less erratic animation and that ‘grainy and washed-out’ artwork mentioned before. There is deliberate separation between such scenes and the ones that follow, mostly involving Itoshiki sensei screaming “zetsubou shita >:0”, where the soundtracks become more bizarre and disorienting, while the visuals are more neurotic (sometimes keeping that grainy feel, but they are always special to say the least…). And very fitting too might I add. The ultimate irony is that while Itoshiki sensei desperately criticises the dark side of modern japanese society, he too finds himself and his students already victims of such phenomenon, and there’s an absurdly sadistic sense of humour and excitement in watching them go to various extremes in which they try to either oppose/embrace these elements.
2. Animation and comedy of SZS
I’d rather you enjoy 3 minutes of the above clip before reading below but that’s upto you…
I’ve already talked about the concept of irrational cuts in this post, but perhaps Ben worded it better: predilection for stringing together unpredictable compositions in a way that some might say distracts from the story but to me enhances it…the locus of excitment in Shinbo’s directing is the space between the shots and the compositions.
Basically, Shinbo‘s way of connecting frames in an unexpected manner aims for immediate and visceral reactions, and with this you can sort of feel a strong musicality from the comedy of SZS. Sometimes there are frames of massive bullet points and texts that no one can read in time (even for Japanese). Yet such scenes don’t wait for viewers to read, and rightfully so. In my opinion, delaying would only hinder the viewer’s proccess of losing himself in that exciting flow, leading to awkward sensations that feel out of place and off the rhythm. Timing is extremely important in comedy, so losing the flow is less desirable than not completely knowing every little words. The point is that you understand what they’re trying to say, i.e. whole list of absurd society values that you can skim over. Perhaps in your second run of the episode, you can check for these tiny details, which is quite rewarding in itself. Anyway, I think the above clip illustrates my point well.
Although I won’t probably get to see more of Itoshiki and his jolly class, I was recently informed that Maria Holic was intended to be a fanservice crap to bait viewers with lesbian+catholic school+genderbending gimmicks, and the real Shinbo+SHAFT project is titled Bakemonogatari, which will air next season (trailer available at youtube). Shinbo knows his horror (Le Portrait de Petite Cossette) so needless to say, I am looking forward to this.