In the near dystopian future, Japanese society is declining. The work force is stagnating and the NEET (No Education, Employment, or Training) youth community is constant reminder to working citizens that something is amiss. Then, amidst the social and economic recession, twelve individuals from different backgrounds are given cell phones loaded with 10 billion yen in credit. These funds can only be accessed by the phone holder through an intermediary concierge, Juiz, who can only be contacted through a fingerprint swipe on the phone.
The phones, however, come at a price. Each person given one must participate in a game—and, in order to win, one of them must save Japan. If they do not succeed, or another player succeeds first, the phone holder is assassinated. From the start of the game, one of the players—the Supporter—lies waiting to enforce the rules, without fear of being killed themselves. The Supporter also awaits phone holders who refuse to play, who exceed their balance, or who use their funds for selfish reasons.
Eden of the East is an interesting addition to the dystopian canon. It doesn’t take place too far in the future, but subtle things have changed; it’s more Children of Men than it is Blade Runner. It tackles more contemporary issues, particularly those of contemporary youth and their uncertain role in society. Outside of the central plot of the cell-phone game, most of the show interacts with how young people, especially NEETs, interact with the rest of society. Personally, I was totally lost by how older characters in the show characterized of NEETs so nastily, but it slowly became clear that this was a word used to describe the youth demographic that is analogous to the word Millenial.
The fun part of watching Eden of the East is its quirky and uneven subversion of the contemporary NEET controversy in Japan. The heroes of the show consider themselves to be champions of the NEETs despite only being college graduates. They plan on launching a revolutionary social network that will invigorate and mobilize the youth population of Japan, thus creating a game-winning scenario for the show’s protagonist. Meanwhile, authority figures who ignore the needs of NEETs and young characters who blindly join the corporate workforce to distance themselves from the NEET lifestyle are antagonized throughout the series’ run. As far as the main plot goes, NEETs are treated almost reverently. In fact, despite their nearly constant disparagement, it is the NEETs who repeatedly save Japan.
But before Eden of the East is adopted as the siren song of the millennial generation, it should be understood that the show doesn’t quite fully throw their support in the NEET camp. NEETs are often brainless—in a scene parodying Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, they infest a shopping mall while the heroes hide in a movie theatre. Their usefulness generally comes from their sheer numbers (crowdsourcing, anyone?), which are most often directed by the college-educated minds of the protagonists. The NEETs are portrayed as all-male and terrified of women. One female character reassures the other that the “NEETs” wouldn’t be interested in her since they aren’t two dimensional (a reference to the stereotyped popularity of hentai within this demographic in Japan). The message of Eden of the East seems to be less, “respect the incoming generation”, and more, “the incoming generation isn’t as useless as you’d think, but they’re still idiots, albeit useful ones”.
Eden of the East is by no means as profound or serious a dystopian story as something like Children of Men, but it is a lot of fun. The uneven handling of NEETs throughout the story reflects the social debate regarding whether youth are the harbingers of the future or whether they’re somehow inferior to their predecessors. If you’re sick of hearing how lazy and entitled Millennials are, it’s a fun parodic romp through most of the tropes facing our generation.