This feels like stating the obvious, but you have to watch the Eden of the East television series before you watch the two films that follow it. I shouldn’t really need to say that, but bizarrely just about every review I’ve read of The King of Eden complains that it requires knowledge of the television series and doesn’t stand alone. I find that strange. Why would anyone want to watch this if they don’t know the series? It seems to be a thing that people always say about films that spin off from television shows, and yet I would be surprised if one person who wasn’t already an Eden of the East fan has ever attempted to watch it, certainly outside of Japan. But I think the reason why it always gets mentioned for this film in particular is that the writers clearly have no interest whatsoever in those (probably mythical) viewers who come fresh to the films. This follows directly from the television series, albeit with a gap of about six months, and at no point attempts any kind of explanation as to what’s going on. I’m fine with that. I don’t want any of the running time of a spinoff film wasted on explaining the basic premise. I already know that.
At the end of the television series Akira lost his memory again and left, so a lot of the story here is concerned with Saki trying to track him down. To a certain extent it feels like we’ve been here before. We’re back in America, with Saki getting into trouble with the authorities, losing her passport, and being helped out by the amnesiac Akira who gradually relearns who he is. We’ve seen a different iteration of these same ideas at the beginning of the television series. The romance between them also has to start from scratch, and is a very slow burn once again, but this film also suffers from being the first of a two-parter. It should really have “Part One” in the title, because it’s like they took a second season of the anime and simply split it into two films instead of individual episodes, so this feels like a few early episodes of a television series bolted together. Only the slightly higher production values and the running time mark this out as a film rather than a television episode. As a consequence, this feels like the setting-up part of a season made into a film, so it’s not hugely exciting. You’re watching all the groundwork here, and presumably the pay-off is in the second film.
The writers make sure they give plenty of screen time to the full ensemble of characters, and it’s great to see Pantsu getting out of his lonely existence and becoming a fully-fledged member of the group. As commendable as that all is, it would probably have been better if there had been a tighter focus on Akira and Saki. With the story divided 50/50 between two countries, and two groups of people who rarely interact in any way, it all feels a little disjointed, and the Akira/Saki reunion is fun but we needed to see more of them. A lot of time is spent on a new Seleção who provides a lot of the comedy, with a very combative relationship with his Juiz. He’s funny, and I did enjoy that aspect of the film, but he’s not a particularly credible threat and certainly not at all scary as a villain. What did work very well was the increased focus on the battle between the surviving Seleção. They have extraordinary power at their fingertips, and using that to directly attack each other makes for a fascinating game of cat and mouse. I wasn’t so keen on the rules of the game being rewritten or abandoned. The idea that spending all their money, destroying their phone, or walking away from the game in any way would result in certain death for the Seleção, was a big factor in the excitement and tension of the television series, and some of that seems no longer to apply. Presumably the reason for that will be explained in the second film, but I’m not sure of the wisdom of making the world Akira and Saki inhabit feel that bit less dangerous. On the other hand, the direct attack on their friends back home, forcing them to shut down the Eden of the East network, does feel quite scary. They are all such computer geniuses, so to see them fall victim to a hacking attack themselves is surprising and really brings home the magnitude of the threat they are facing.
By the end of the film the team are on their way to reassemble, and it feels like we are heading towards their final battle. To some extent we’ve come on a circular route back to where we were before, but it’s still been a fun journey. RP