Hmm, well. After some mind-bending time travel adventure with Steins;Gate, I moved on to the more, er, random and seemingly senseless world of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. And knowing it’s from SHAFT, I couldn’t have expected less – combine the random antics of Arakawa and some of the Bakemonogatari art and you’ll get some sense of what Zetsubou has in store for you. Well, even if I don’t point that out, this show practically has ‘SHAFT!’ stamped all over it that you’d figure it out for yourself.
Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei is, I think, more experimental than anything. Don’t let the first episode of the first season fool you – it doesn’t have a storyline. If you’re lucky enough, you’d get to watch a more or less cohesive episode throughout the course of the show. After two seasons of watching, though, I think Zetsubou-sensei’s second season proved to be more…viewer-friendly than the first. (Yes, I know it has a third installment. Sadly, I don’t have a copy…yet.)
I don’t think that it would be too much of a stretch to say that season one was the epitome of random. However, that does not mean that it’s senseless, in every, er, sense of the word. What made this season of particular interest for me is the fact that each episode focused on the most mundane points in everyday life and blew them not exactly out of proportion but big enough for the viewer to actually notice them. At one point, it actually made me realize how humans can be so ridiculous at times and how we make everything more complex than they actually are. Season one, I think, is a critique on humanity more than anything else. (Or maybe that’s just me reading too much into it.)
Season two, on the other hand, was some sort (really, with a show like Zetsubou, you can never be sure) of ‘prologue’ to the first as it ‘focused’ on how Zetsubou-sensei came to meet his students. Each episode focused on a single student and revealed their backgrounds, ideologies and whatnot. If there’s one thing about Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei that you can absolutely praise, that would be its creativity and inventiveness, a number of which, I think, are lost in translation. For example, my favorite character Kiri Komori is a hikikomori. Unless you know what a hikikomori means, you wouldn’t get why she was named that way. In fact, all the names of Zetsubou’s students represent their defining characteristics with each student themselves representing a group of the Japanese populace.
If you think about it real hard (after getting past all the slapstick and weird humor), Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei is actually a comical take on humanity and philosophy. True, it contains nuggets of more or less useless information but it makes you think. It gives you room to actually step back and take a look at the bigger picture. And a show that lets you do something like that is something that, nowadays, doesn’t come by that often.
Itoshiki Nozomu. More commonly known as Zetsubou-sensei – as the characters for his name can also be read as zetsubou or ‘despair’ – he’s a young man who maintains an old way of life. He falls into despair about the most ordinary topics of life, his thoughts of which he shares with his students. Thus, his classes become philosophy classes, more than anything. He’s the adviser of class 2-H (or 2-8, in one episode) and maintains a more or less close relationship with them, despite the fact that his class contains the weirdest bunch of students.