Title: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei
Author: Kumeta, Koji
Audience: older teens (16+)
Genre: screwball comedy, school drama, psychological
Summary: “Nozomu Itoshiki is depressed. Very depressed. He’s certifiably suicidal*, but he’s also the beloved schoolteacher of a class of unique students, each charming in her own way: The stalker. The shut-in. The obsessive-compulsive. The girl who comes to class every day with strange bruises. And Kafuka, the most optimistic girl in the world, who knows that every cloud has a silver lining. For all of them, it’s a special time, when the right teacher can have a lasting positive effect on their lives. But is that teacher Itoshiki, a.k.a. Zetsubou-sensei, who just wants to find the perfect place to die?”
Rae’s Review: I’m apparently into controversial titles at the moment, whatever it takes to write, right? To enjoy this series you have to have a high tolerance for dark humor, inappropriate behavior (from teacher & student), psychological issues…and really, really dumb jokes. If none of that scares you off, by all means, please read on.
The entire first volume serves as an introduction to Itoshiki-sensei and his students. Each student gets a chapter to showcase her particular brand of crazy (and make no mistake, they all are) and how the teacher “deals” with it. This is a really great introductory volume, because it very clearly sets up who everyone is and how they’re going to interact with each other. My personal favorite is the student who refuses to speak, but is fluent in abusive texting… Then there is Kafuka, the Pollyanna-esque character who has a “positive” outlook to counter every issue, but her definition of “looking at the bright-side” will probably not mesh with yours…it certainly doesn’t with mine! But it is in the interactions between his extreme negativity and her unreal optimism (and the chaos that ensues when they try to work “together”) that give the series much of its humor and appeal.
The pacing is fast, fast, fast. Lots of panels, lots of sight gags, lots of big eyes and melancholy expressions. For all the text in this story, it is still mainly told through illustration and expression. One of my favorite moments is where Itoshiki-sensei visits the guidance counselor and she remarks that usually it’s students who come for counseling…his look of chagrined shock is awesome. With no other other reaction, she encourages him to continue his rant…which he does.
What I really love about this series is that it takes risks by confronting serious and potentially dangerous issues in day-to-day life (abuse, stalkers, depression, stereotyping, etc) and treating the issues with a mega-dose of humor. Is having a stalker IRL funny? No way. But the teacher having a stalker who has a stalker who has a stalker who has a stalker – until the line of stalkers goes down the block trying to look inconspicuous – is pretty humorous while still making a point about society.
My first exposure to this title was watching the anime with a roomful of teens…we were all rolling by the end of it. It was so completely different from what I was expecting! Of course after that I had to read the book. And, I must confess, this is one time where I enjoyed the anime more. The books are great; they are full of creepy, decscriptive, gorgeous, compelling and odd artwork that is a pleasure to view. The stories told are the same, as well. I think it’s like the difference between face-to-face and online conversations. So much humor, emotion, and expression get lost in e-mail…not matter how many emoticons you utilize. ^_^
So goes this series. I know that the books came first; it just doesn’t matter. The animation is so great, so tongue-in-cheek and ridiculous, with just the right pacing…which is really, really, really fast. Watch the animation and then read the books. Keep your sense of humor close at hand and fully suspend all disbelief to enjoy!
Original Sayonara Website (in Japanese!): http://kc.kodansha.co.jp/content/top.php/1000000196
What Wikipedia will tell you about Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei…
Stream online (free!) at Anime Season. I recommend watching it, obvs.
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*Disclaimer: NO ONE ACTUALLY KILLS THEMSELVES in these stories. Although this series showcases dark humor about suicide, please remember that suicide is a very serious issue. If you or anyone you know feels depressed or talks about suicide, please call 1.866.TEENLINK or visit their website. ❤