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Now that's what I call the start of a series!

Some series begin with the main character dying. Few begin with the main character attempting suicide.

Optimism is the view that the glass is half full. Pessimism is the view that the glass is half empty.

At least, that’s the way they’re normally represented.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, however, portrays them a bit differently than usual.

Optimism in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the view that while there is most definitely bad things in the world, there’s no possible way it can happen often enough to enter the optimists life, and anything resembling bad in nearby life is really just exaggerated circumstances.

Pessimism in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the view that because the world is becoming faster paced, everything is going down into oblivion and the only way to escape is to hang yourself from a cherry tree.

Gods I love this show.

First Impressions

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is my favorite show so far this summer season, and is in the running for my favorite show of the year already.

Yeah, that means it is giving Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann a run for its money.

It’s also completely different from pretty much anything else airing right now.

Well, okay, I guess Lucky Star is sort of in the same vein of school comedy slice of life. However, while Lucky Star is a moe-focused conversation fest with some utterly absurd bits of randomness, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a twisted, cheerfully evil take on the more traditional “class of crazies” school comedy slice of life as seen in Azumanga Daioh. Its level of exaggeration on the students and their teacher’s neuroses pushes the series into the realm of parody, with a lot of emphasis on dark humor.

I’m not going to talk too much about the actual story, since really, a series of this nature thrives not on its plot but on its characters.

However, the plot does deserve mention, for simply having the most absurd setup ever.

The first episode begins with Fuura Kafuka (pen name) merrily skipping through a park with blossoming cherry trees and thinking to herself how full of hope she is on such a beautiful day.

However, the traditional Japanese storytelling memes that associate cherry blossoms with death manage to catch up with this series, and among the falling cherry blossoms she sees a man trying to hang himself from a tree using a hangman’s noose.

Not one to let anyone die on her watch, she immediately tackles the hanging man telling him to not end his life. The man stands up, exclaims, “WHAT IF I HAD DIED?!” and with that the two fall into a natural comedy routine. Though initially Kafuka thought he was attempting suicide, she eventually comes to the conclusion that he was simply trying to make himself taller. Likewise, the man who has just exclaimed discontent at the idea of dying reveals that he actually was trying to kill himself. Too bad Kafuka won’t be hearing any of that. She also doesn’t listen to his complaints of her suddenly naming him “Pink Supervisor,” as she named the particular cherry tree he was hanging from “Pink Young CEO.”

Yeah, it’s that twisted. Its hatred for convention and the oft-occuring absurd tangents are almost Monty Python-esque. The random animations and text only compounds that. Every episode needs to be watched twice, since the number of random textual references hiding in the background go by so fast it requires pausing at almost every scene change. Especially if you wanna read the rants in the opening credits, which are somewhere between Douglas Adams style narration and Kyon style narration.

So back to the story. From then on, the story takes its focus to Kafuka and her classmates, as it turns out this suicidal man is their homeroom teacher, Itoshiki Nozomu. So pretty much the story is about how Itoshiki handles his class of emotional fuckups. And trust me, hyperoptimistic girl Kafuka is the LEAST of his worries.


All the characters in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei have names that play with the Japanese language to extremes. Provided for easy reference are the puns here, as explained at the end of each episode by the current fansubbing group, a.f.k.

Zetsubou Sensei Profile

Itoshiki Nozomu

Name Pun: Written horizontally, the two kanji in itoshiki become Zetsu, and his given name becomes Bou, giving him the nickname Zetsubou, or Despair, Sensei.

Living up to his namesake is the titular character, Itoshiki Nozomu, aka, Zetsubou Sensei, aka, Pink Supervisor. Dio Bravo calls him a drama queen, and while I think that messes up the gender pronoun, it describes him rather well. This is a man who is driven to suicide by minor things like a baseball team manager having no hair yet wearing a cap for a team whose symbol resembles the kanji for hair, or the mere thought that because he keeps his rail pass in his wallet someone is skimming his credit card data. However, every time he almost dies, he exclaims “What if I had died?!” Plus, is unconventional methods for some reason continually net him praise, though that may be his boss being kinda dumb.

However, if he had stupid reasons for committing suicide before, he may want to look to his class for good reasons for ending his own life. He may be insane with depression, but he’s not the biggest fuckup in his classroom.

Fuura Kafka

Fuura Kafuka (Pen Name)

Name Pun: Kafuka is not her real name. It is instead a reference to one of two things: Franz Kafka, the author of Metamorphosis, or a novel by Japanese contemporary novelist Haruki Murakami called Kafka on the Shore. Either way, it’s a literary reference, and to surreal works at that.

Optimistic to the point of blind insanity, Fuura Kafuka wanders through life seemingly totally unaware that bad things could happen, and if a bad thing DOES happen, it’s not as bad as it seems. Her teacher isn’t trying to kill himself! He’s trying to make himself taller! That shut-in girl isn’t socially awkward! She’s a spirit who brings bad luck if she’s let out! That girl isn’t a stalker! She’s just demonstrating her Deep Love!

I shit you not, these are the excuses she makes.

It is unclear just what turned this girl into the insane optimistic fuckup that she is, but one thing is certain: she and Zetsubou Sensei make a great comedy duo.

Kitsu Chiri

Name Pun: If the tsu in Kitsu when written in hirigana is made small (which is used in japanese to indicate a stop-gap in vocals,) her name becomes kicchiri, which implies anal retentiveness.

So, we have a pessimistic fuckup and an optimistic fuckup. What other kind of damaging-in-excess neuroses can we come up with?

I know! Obsessive Compulsive!

Chiri is the titular character from that amusing american TV mystery show Monk turned into a japanese schoolgirl. Class president, member of the Tea Ceremony Club, and all around Anal Retentive. She carries around knee sock glue for the sole purpose of keeping up OTHER GIRLS knee socks. She goes Super Saiyajin at the prospect of having to divide a strawberry cake with only four strawberries among 7 people before deciding to toss the cake in a blender and make smoothies. She accidentally rolls over in her bed in the nurses office to end up in Zetsubou Sensei’s bed and determines the two of them MUST go all the way.

Yeaaaaaaaah… she’s a bit crazy. She’s also really fun.

Komori Kiri

Komori Kiri

Name Pun: Komorikiri is essentially the same as Hikikomori, or a shut-in who locks themselves away in a dark room.

Well, we’ve got pessimism, optimism, and obsessive compulsive disorder. What other mental conditions can we turn into black humor fodder?

How about being a social outcast who locks themselves away in their room?

Komori Kiri is thus far the most subdued female in the series, though her own nature leads to a particularly amusing running gag. After Zetsubou and Kafuka work together to get her out of her room and come to school (well, okay, so Kafuka was trying to get her to stay IN her room and the result backfired,) Komori has ended up shutting herself away inside the school. Her random appearances behind various doors punctuated by her cheerful grin at seeing her favorite pessimistic suicidal teacher are both adorable and kinda scary, but generally hilarious. She needs a hug.

Tsunetsuki Matoi

Tsunetsuki Matoi

Name Pun: Insert the particle ni between Tsune and Tsuki, and you get the phrase tsune ni tsukimatoi, which means to follow around. Or in this case, to stalk.

Whoo boy. You knew this was coming. In a class of fuckups with slight leanings towards a harem cast (if the humor weren’t so dark,) there’s gotta be at least one stalker. And like the other exaggerations, Matoi happens to be quite messed up. Every action one associates with stalkers, she performs. Not only that, though, she changes her object of affection at the drop of a hat. Zetsubou-sensei, being an idiot, ends up not only telling her that the truest expression of love between to people is to commit suicide together, he also says he’d be willing to die alongside her any time. This leads her to dump her current stalking target and begin chasing Zetsubou.

She’s also so strongly a stalker that she infects others. The punchline for the first segment featuring her is… well, this.

Stalker train

Whoo boy. There goes the neighborhood.

Arai Chie

Name Pun: Written in kunyomi, the Japanese sound system, her name is read niichie (knee-chee-é), which is a reference to everyone’s favorite (either to quote or to bash) philosopher, Nietzsche.

The one non-fuckup in the cast so far, Chie is the school guidance counselor who finds herself counseling Zetsubou Sensei more than other students. She seems to have taken an interest into figuring out just why Zetsubou wants to kill himself, even though normally school policy should be that she doesn’t counsel teachers. Aside from that, she’s much more down to earth and realist than the fuckups in Zetsubou’s class.

Parting Note

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has my favorite art style in an anime since Gankutsuou. It takes some of the ideas of Gankutsuou and applies them in such a way that the eyes are never overwhelmed by a mixture of moving texture and heavy cgi graphicgasms. It’s also gorgeous when it goes stylized colors, and the bleak but bright lighting only adds to the general mood of despair mixed with hope. It is beautiful.