Akiyuki Shinbou’s 2007 parody/gag show titled Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was scheduled to be one season, 12 episodes. Positive fan reception and strong DVD sales prompted the making of a second season. Thus they made Zoku, another 13 episodes. Then came Goku, a three episode OVA. Just when you thought they were finished, they made Zan, another 13 episodes, followed by 2 additional OVAs. All together, a total of 45 episodes have been produced over a three year span. Anyone looking to embark upon this beast of a franchise will probably ask: Does the show keep the same level of quality throughout all its seasons? And perhaps more importanlty, can one maintain sanity while marathoning all three seasons and OVAs? Personally, the answers to those questions are yes and no respectively.
The titular character, Nozumu Itoshiki, has an eternally negative outlook on life. Even the most mundane things have a tendency of plunging him into full despair. As he tries to hang himself one day, he is saved by the buoyantly positive girl Fuura Kafuka. Having escaped death, Nozumu continues on to his day job as a teacher, only to find out that the girl who saved him is part of his class. Thus begins the story of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, a witty parody-comedy that follows the crazy antics of Nozumu as well as his entire homeroom (class 2-H).
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei portrays Japanese society, politics, and media in a very satirical manner. Much of the comedy draws heavily from popular culture and thus requires prior knowledge of Japanese societal norms to fully appreciate. This reason alone often makes or breaks the show for many viewers. The comedy can be likened to Arakawa Under the Bridge in many ways. Both shows embellish their respective stories with numerous gags, parodies, puns, and popular culture references while somehow maintaining a certain aura of intelligence throughout.
The true strength of this show lies within its cast of characters. Each one of Nozomu’s students highlights a particular group of outcasts or social ills perceived in modern day Japanese society. Despite fitting their respective stereotypes a little too well, the show does not downplay this fact. In actuality, the huge cast of characters that make of class 2-H fit remarkably well into the show’s premise of dark humor and parody. The only fault of the show is that once the characters are introduced, it becomes more or less the same routine, even more so than it was before. Unlike Arakawa under the Bridge which focuses on primarily its main characters for season 1 and leaves its side characters for season 2, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s characters undergo most of their development in the first season, which leaves the entire rest of the show hugely formulaic. A good thing or a bad thing depending on well the character resonated with the viewer.
The art style of the show is gorgeously minimalistic. Fans of Akiyuki Shinbou and Hiroshi Kato will not be disappointed. The animation and screenplay is intentionally jarring, often times cutting to random pans and still shots. Kenji Ohtsuki, who also composed the theme for Welcome to the NHK, brings forth a stellar theme song performance for the first two seasons of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei as well.
Final Thoughts: 8/10
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a show with a highly definitive target audience. The first season maintains a good balance between developing the main character while revealing and fleshing out the various side characters. With the characters established, the subsequent seasons shift into full-time situational comedy. The first season is still admittedly my favorite and is a must-see for anyone looking for an intelligently done comedy series.