Itoshiki Nozomu is a man in despair. Life just never turns out as he wants it to, and quite frankly, he wouldn’t mind ending it all- at least if that sort of thing wasn’t so dangerous. Nonetheless, in between bouts of despair, Itoshiki has to teach a class of high school students, each of whom has their own personal issues. A suicidal teacher is one thing, but what sort of insanity can arise when his students include a hikikomori, a stalker, a tail obsessive and a girl whose optimism and positive attitude defy belief?
Thanks to the likes of Pani Poni Dash and Negima!?, SHAFT have already made a name for themselves in the field of crazy classroom comedy, but with the latter proving to be something of a disappointment, the studio only had twelve episodes in which to prove they could make the darker humour of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei into a hit. Fortunately, they proved to be right on the money, staying faithful to the original manga whilst keeping that unique SHAFT spin that viewers will either love or hate.
Whether its crazy comedy or dark humour that interests you, however, Sayonara Zetsubou is certainly worth trying since it has both in ready supply. Each episode is divided into segments which either concern themselves with introducing a new character and their idiosyncrasies or letting the existing characters pick a topic and put their own unique spin on it. From discussing hopeless ambitions for the future to the tried-and-true practice of blaming someone else when things go wrong, most segments manage to blend the random and the ironic, and whilst it has to be admitted that not every episode will engage the interest, there are enough times when you can either smile knowingly or laugh at the insanity to make the series worth watching.
Like many series of this type, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is packed with characters, each with their own running joke. Don’t expect much in the way of character development; this is about playing on existing character foibles rather than establishing any depth or complexity. Since that is only to be expected, however, it’s best just to go with the flow and enjoy the interplay between the various off-kilter personalities.
Visually, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei sticks with the manga’s high contrast style, with simple yet technically accomplished designs and striking blacks alongside coloured textures. The overall effect is memorable and largely pleasing on the eye, although the similarities between many of the character designs can sometimes make it hard to remember who’s who. The OP and ED themes are suitably off-kilter, whilst the background music tends to complement a scene rather than being memorable in its own right.
Like any comedy, enjoyment of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is very much a personal preference, but anyone who likes random craziness or the darker side of humour won’t lose out by giving it a try. And once you’ve whetted your appetite with these twelve episodes, the second season will be the perfect way to follow it up.