At a Glance: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Depression and constantly attempting suicide has never been this funny. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is about a teacher, Nozomu Itoshiki, for whom almost everything leaves in despair. He's incredibly pessimistic, countering the usual teaching practice of believing in your students' potential. Politics and social absurdities weigh heavily on his psyche. When I say "constantly attempting suicide", I mean it, almost nothing is so small that it won't make the titular Zetsubou Sensei want to kill himself. But it's played for black humor, and I have a feeling our title character and protagonist isn't really going anywhere.
Of course, a teacher isn't a teacher without students. And almost all of Itoshiki's students are as crazy, if not more so, than himself. We have a relentless optimist who counters all of Itoshiki's negative comments. There's a girl obsessed with precision and correctness. There's a hikkikomori (shut-in) girl who cannot be persuaded to join the outside world. There's two foreign girls, one from America and one from an unnamed Third World country. Sensei gets himself a stalker who copies his style by also wearing a kimono. Altogether, it seems less and less like a classroom and more and more like an insane asylum as the series progresses.
Sayanora Zetsubou Sensei
Manga by Kōji Kumeta
Comedy, Mature Humor, Satire
38 (Season 1: 12, Season 2: 13, Season 3: 13)
OVAs (5 episodes total)
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is one of the more intelligent comedy animes around. The humor is very sophisticated. One problem is that, for a foreign audience, it might be hard to understand all the Japanese-language-specific wordplay jokes; there are a ton of them. It also helps to know something about Japanese culture and society, because a lot of the social commentary and satire is specific to Japan.
Despite this problem for the foreign viewer, I still enjoyed the witty sarcasm and zany antics of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. It's essentially black comedy with a heart of gold, because real feeling is shown in the characters, and the characters' strong feelings and intense passions drive the story. So I would recommend Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei for people looking for mature, psychologically intriguing comedy. If they can also tolerate a heaping helping of kanji jokes, that helps too.