Does “Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei” Promote Suicide?

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (さよなら絶望先生) is a manga series by Kumeta Kouji (久米田 康治).  It spawned 3 anime seasons with a number of OVA’s.

Today’s post is not a topic that I’m enthusiastic in discussing.  But as a fan of SZS, I feel the need to at least defend it from those “critics”—more like ignorant weasels who haven’t even watched the anime, but just saw pictures of Nozomu hanging himself under a tree—who think that it promotes suicide.

I can understand why some may think this way.  After all, the main protagonist, Itoshiki Nozomu, is always attempting to kill himself but ends up failing every single time (Well, he died in an episode but that was like a side-story in an alternate universe).  This happens so often that it is one of the series’ iconic running gags, and of course one of its main themes, as well.

Understand that it’s Satire

Because of this, you may think that the series is belittling such a serious and sensitive issue as suicide.  I think, however, that people shouldn’t be too quick to criticize it.  You should know beforehand that this is a satirical series.  Like any good satire, it shines light upon a lot of issues plaguing our society by ridiculing and parodying them.  It just so happens that one of the issues they’re tackling in this series is “suicide”.

Suicide in Japanese Culture

If you’ve studied Japanese Culture before, you know that suicide is a critical social issue on a national level.  Additionally, the country has a long history with seppuku or the honourable suicide among the Samurai.  In modern Japan, depression is the top culprit, which is personified in this show by the character of Itoshiki Nozomu.  Nozomu is an extremely depressed, paranoid, negative high school teacher.

sayonara zetsubou sensei-despair
Zetsubou shitaaaaaaaaa!!!
I’m in despair!!!

For Mature Audience ONLY

Don’t get me wrong, though.  As much as I like this series, I certainly don’t recommend it to children or to anyone who isn’t mature enough (and goodness knows that there’s a lot of immature adults out there).  With its plethora of panty shots and bouncy boobs, it’s not a show that you would want your own child to watch (unless your parents are like mine who veer towards a more liberal parenting style).  And because it’s satire, it tackles and makes fun of a lot of issues that only those with mature minds will understand.  If you’re not mature enough on the emotional & mental level, then this series is NOT for you.

So what’s my position to the question:  Does Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Promote Suicide?

NO, it doesn’t promote suicide.

Of course I may be wrong, but I think that the fact that Nozomu being constantly foiled in his suicide attempts is already an indication that the show does not promote suicide.  On the contrary, I think that it’s actually seeking to prevent it.  Also note that Nozomu’s suicide attempts have become fewer in the second and third seasons of the anime, as he bonds with his harem of female students.  I think that the series is encouraging us to stop for a moment, take a breath, and really look at the reasons why some of us are contemplating suicide.  Depression is the main reason that the show suggests.

nozomu itoshiki hanging by the sakura tree - sayonara zetsubou sensei

Another very interesting trait that the show parodies is extreme optimism, personified in the character of Kafuka, the overly positive student of Nozomu.  She is the complete opposite of her negative teacher.  Unlike Nozomu who only focuses on what might go wrong, Kafka only sees the bright side of everything.  The two of them are like the Yin & Yang of the universe; they balance each other out.

Balancing the Negatives and the Positives

I think that SZS doesn’t promote suicide but aims to discourage it.  With Kafuka’s overly optimistic character, it seems to me that the series is encouraging us to look for “what’s going right” in our lives instead of just focusing on “what’s going wrong”.  I also like to think that the Negative Nozomu & the Positive Kafuka can be interpreted as allegories to the evil and good influences in our lives.  If we know how to balance these two forces without tipping too much on either side, then we would experience fruitful lives without feeling miserable or idiotically carefree—two dangerous states to be in.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Is Not For Everyone, But It’s a Damn Good Show

Not everyone will be able to stomach a satirical anime show like SZS.  I personally find it entertaining.  Beyond its ability to make me laugh out loud lies its harsh interpretations not only of modern Japan but also of our own respective societies; not to make us feel hopeless, but to drive us into improvement.

What about you?  Have you watched Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei yet?  If so,  what did you think about it?  Do you think that it promotes suicide?  Would you recommend it to others?  If you haven’t watched it yet, are you considering watching it?

Links:
Official Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei First Season Anime Website at Star Child (Japanese)
Official Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Second Season Anime Website at Star Child (Japanese)
Official Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Third Season Anime Website at Star Child (Japanese)


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28 thoughts on “Does “Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei” Promote Suicide?”

  1. I think it would be better for immature adults to watch Sayonara as it might help open their eyes to the sensitive topic of suicide.

    I mean, it’s not like these kind of people won’t hate it or not understand it anyways. Being depressed is considered fashionable nowadays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It depends on the level of immaturity, I guess. Because if someone is really immature and close-minded, that person wouldn’t really get the type of humour in this series. But of course, it’s always worth a try to watch this series. Even I cringed a lot watching this show, but I do appreciate the parody. Ahahaha. Oh well. Yeah, emo much. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the anime. But it seems to me that most Americans don’t understand. When I told some American players (in an online RPG game) that there’s a Japanese anime about suicide and it’s really funny, they didn’t believe me.

    They also didn’t understand how anyone could use suicide as a theme in a comedy. I should show them your article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not surprised that they have that kind of reaction. I think I would also have the same reaction if I didn’t know the scope of themes anime covers. And I would appreciate that very much. Thank you. SZS is a surprisingly layered anime filled with deeper meanings. It’s definitely worth the watch, although it’s an acquired taste.

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  3. I watched this show and its sequels several years ago. It’s great! I’m not sure how people could not understand that this is satirical. In my opinion, you can’t really take the show at face value, but you should laugh and then think about why you laughed. Because it’s absurd? Or maybe because it strikes a nerve?

    (I kind of read the manga and gee whiz the ending is something else).

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, perhaps because they’re already judged it as an inappropriate show based on the screencaps and suspicious images floating around without even first watching it and learning the context of those images. I haven’t watched read the manga yet. Is it different from the anime?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That sounds like to be the case, yeah. How silly.

        Hmmm some gags are different. They took some from several chapters and would put them in a single episode. Last I checked a lot of chapters were not scanlated, either.

        The ending was a twist, but it was hinted at throughout the manga. I think the anime had some foreshadowing, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This series is definitely one that’s hard to describe. “Yeah, the guy tries to kill himself, but it’s not what it seems! He’s a teacher and his students are crazy too! There’s a stalker and an online bully and… Why are you looking at me like that?! I’m not crazy!”

    Anyways, it doesn’t promote suicide, but it’s easy for it to be misconstrued as one. I’d probably think it was based on certain screencaps and summaries. I’m sad the English manga release stopped.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! I know, right? It’s the kind of series that should be watched first to really know the context of those suspicious screencaps. Oh, it stopped? I haven’t read the manga yet, so I’m not familiar with it. I only watched the anime.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve read the manga and for what its worth it’s a beautiful solid story. Like a lot of media that Japan comes out with, it’s cute and fluffy nature balances out the seriousness behind the story, and makes it that more loveable and relatable in some way. I always thought this story brings out the goodness in life and embracing what you have, and to not be like Nozomu, who seemed unable to see the pleasures and gains in life. And of course aiming around high school students who wear positive and youthful, I thought it was a nice aim for those at a certain age to understand that being an adult is tough, but you don’t have to be like Nozomu. Most anime/manga are very serious based and dark in their own growling way, the playfulness behind it is just to bring that balance – To think that stories like this still have a massive negative output is slightly shocking. If so, those ‘critics’ really aren’t thinking about the bigger picture, they’re typically thinking about ‘harmful content’. Another great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello. Thanks for your comment. I haven’t read the manga, only watched the anime. I don’t think I’ll use cute and fluffy as words to describe this series, but I agree that the combined lightheartedness and seriousness make this series easier to stomach, although I must admit that it doesn’t make it less offensive to others who can’t take this kind of series. And I agree with you that it brings out goodness in life, by showing us and exaggerating the problems in our society. I guess not everyone gets that and they just blast the series for being a bad influence. Thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate it very much. I’m glad to learn that you like this series too. Cheers!

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  6. I didn’t much like this anime but oddly it was more that the characters annoyed me rather than any issue with the subject matter or theme. As with most issues surrounding censorship I’m all for freedom to express what you like through art but ensure suitable warnings are given so that those that aren’t inclined to agree or enjoy (or may in fact have personal reasons to avoid a topic) can make an informed choice about their viewing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, they’re intended to be over-the-top characters with singular running gags attached to them. The major characters parody a certain group of people. I like that this series make me think and notice societal issues, even when entertained by the characters’ ridiculous antics. As for warnings and informed choices, well, I think that both the production & the viewer share responsibility for ensuring that the content is appropriate for viewing to certain groups of people. If a viewer finds something offensive in a show, then he/she is free to stop watching. I just personally don’t like judging a show based on its rating or short synopsis without watching at least a couple of episodes first. I guess I’m too curious and want to judge by myself. Anyway, indeed SZS is not for everyone. But when viewed in a big picture, it’s a minefield for a lot of discussions concerning societal issues and human nature.

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your opinions. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I heard the manga ended and has a really “interesting” end, managed to avoid spoilers myself so far, so really need to check out the manga soon myself to see just what is this “end” people are speaking of.

    Anyway, nice post! Just like with a lot of other comedy anime, satirical jokes are among the most common used in anime, and indeed, it just so happens SZS tackles suicide. I just think of Kafka as a foil to Nozomu, but I like your interpretation that the presence of Kafka reinforces the idea that the series doesn’t promote suicide, but is against it; and also how the negative Nozomu and the optimistic Kafka represents the both “good and bad” of our lives, and how that contrast seeks to balance it. Interesting idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read the manga; just watched the anime. I don’t know about that interesting end, but it sounds intriguing.

      Thank you very much. Indeed, Kafuka acts as a foil to Nozomu. She’s a very extreme character, much like Nozomu. That’s why I think that these two extreme characters contrasting actually works in favour of the series because they balance each other out. Thank you for sharing your opinion with me. Much appreciated. Cheers!

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  8. I read 5 or so volumes of the manga years ago and it never occurred to me that it was “promoting suicide”. If I was to interpret a “message” it would be something like: lots of people are crazy, life can be fun, don’t try to quit.
    Good blog post btw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read the manga (will do that when I’m in the mood), but I really enjoyed the anime. I think that because one of the anime’s most iconic images is the hanging under the tree, some people mistake it for a series about suicide without even taking the time to know more about it. Thank you for dropping by and sharing what you think. Have you watched the anime yet? Cheers!

      Like

  9. I heard about this show a lot some years ago when i got into anime, but I never ended up checking it out and now I’m sad. XD I never heard about the whole “promoting suicide” controvercy, but I never thought of that despite knowing what it was about. Some people just like to point fingers left and right at everything lately…I’ll put this anime on my priority list now !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome! I don’t know it you’ll like it as much as I did, though. No guarantees, but I’m glad that you’re giving it a chance. Hmm. I think it’s not really a “controversy” per se, just a few comments here and there that I’ve encountered. I think that most of them haven’t really watched the anime; just saw the pictures of the hanging.

      Liked by 1 person

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