tl;dr verdict: Its MyAnimeList score of 8.06 is deceiving. Watch Psycho-Pass instead.
Higashi no Eden, or Eden of the East, looks like a romantic anime at first. That’s not a bad guess actually, given this poster:
And I was actually looking for a romance-centered anime to marathon yesterday, so I decided to try Eden of the East.
It turns out, however, that this series focuses on the sci-fi elements, and not on the romance. Think of Psycho-Pass or Death Note. In fact, the female lead’s role is reduced in the latter half of the series, and her dialogue becomes increasingly unnatural. Unnatural in the sense that she functioned as the viewers’ mentality, instead of following her own principles like she had been doing previously in the series.
The series also progressively gets worse from what I thought was a solid beginning– the writing becomes messy, and even though lots of plot is packed into the ending, it resembles chaos instead of providing resolution. But my complaints aside, I thought that the core ideas of the story are worth discussing.
In an alternate reality, Japan is hit by missile strikes in 2010 and is need of salvation. Or so a certain someone thinks. This certain someone happens to be an extremely rich businessman who has built up quite the fortune through the years. He decides to implement a plan to “save” Japan, selecting 12 players to carry out justice through their own methods. Whoever saves Japan in the end is allowed to survive, and all others must die. Each player is equipped with a phone that does their bidding, and 10 billion yen.
On surface level, this plan sounds interesting. It provides motivation for the players to win (if they don’t, they are killed). And it employs the brilliance of several rather than relying on just the businessman’s singular intelligence. However, as the series shows us, there are many flaws to this game.
The first lies in the very motivation the game provides for the players to finish first. If they do not carry out what they think is right for Japan, they risk getting killed. This forms a paradox: the desire to win and survive, but combined with an unadulterated wish to save the world. The task to become Japan’s savior is entirely motivated and polluted by the players’ selfish will to win, making it all the more difficult for players to actually create any meaningful change.
We see this happen with one of the players, a doctor, who confesses he was never in it to win. Or with the Black Swan, who also admits the same.
Despite the businessman’s grand plans for capital-J Justice, the reality is that the players are pursuing their own ideas of lowercase-j justice. Their own experiences and knowledge have shaped what their Noblesse Oblige means. To the doctor, his implementation of a hospital business plan is ideal. To the Black Swan, she must inflict pain onto those she believes will hurt others. Many of the players’ activities are dangerous (like the Careless Monday events), and only harm those they were commissioned to protect.
In the end, one of the players, our protagonist Takizawa, has to try to correct the wrongs of the other game members. Even if he does so in a not-so-realistic manner, I think the larger message the anime is trying to convey is valid: forcing the creation of capital-J Justice precisely inhibits its manifestation.