Wednesdays Watching Anime – (Zan) Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

August 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

Hi, everyone! This week, we’re going big with (Zan) Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei‘s OP (final version), “Ringo Mogire Beam!” by Ootsuki Kenji and the Despair Girls.

I know that, last week, I wrote something about how it’s the job of an OP to encapsulate an anime, the better to sell it to any member of its potential audience who tunes into it and has ninety seconds to spare. It’s still true but, as with a lot of things, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei cuts against that current.

Well, what are the charms of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, one of my favorite shows by far? It’s funny, not only for the extremely dense layering of references that usually turns people off of it, but also for the darkly absurdist worldview that it brings to its humor, an amalgamation of sensibilities shared by manga author Kumeta Koji and anime director Shinbo Akiyuki. Possibly the best moment in the series is the first episode of the second season, wherein the normal girl Hito Nami is challenged by the shut-in girl Komori Kiri to be a reverse-truant (rather than the normal kind of truant that she claims to be) and stay overnight at the school. Robert Schumann’s Träumerei plays over the PA system, making Nami lonely and wistful, and then unnerving lyrics begin to be sung over the music. As Nami freaks out, the positive girl Fuura Kafuka (pen name, but that’s a very long story) appears as the source of the lyrics and, trying to calm Nami down, points out several other seemingly normal things that are actually disturbing if you look at them a certain way, like how light fixtures are shaped a little bit like disembodied baby bottoms. Of course, Nami flees in terror.

How do you convey the qualities of an anime like that in an OP? I haven’t even mentioned other themes and motifs, like Kumeta’s tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really commentary on Japanese social mores and Shinbo’s formalistic experimentation with the show’s presentation. The answer, I suppose, is to make an OP about something entirely different, like the one above. Backed by a rock soundtrack with lyrics that make extensive reference to the password of an apocalyptic Japanese UFO cult, it inserts the anime’s characters into macabre and occult images, most of them heavily tinged with sci-fi pastiche, which culminates in a graphic recreation of the Challenger explosion and Itoshiki Nozumu, the titular Zetsubou-Sensei, catching a falling Kafuka.

Basically, when confronted with the challenge of encapsulating Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei in an OP, they made a tone poem about doomsday and the space age. Somehow, that comes off like it suits a show literally titled Repent! Goodbye, Mr. Despair. That’s why it and the show are both incredible examples of artistic vision.

Fuura Kafuka meets Itoshiki Nozomu on the first day of school in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

Fuura Kafuka meets Itoshiki Nozomu on the first day of school in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

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