Posted on 25 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

I must admit that days after watching this finale I still can’t wrap my head around all the events happened in this episode. Sarazanmai ends in a happy tone, something I didn’t expect from Ikuhara to be honest. On the most surface level, it’s a rescue mission from Kazuki and Enta to bring Toi back. Toi has lost all the hope after the death of his brother, and with the influence of Otter, ha’s about to erase his own existence from this life. This finale saves much of its budget in the first half (hey, I have no complain. It’s an artistic choice) by recycling all the events happened before with Toi’s slowly spirited away. Before this finale, I was thinking Sarazanmai would delve into physical desire vs love conflict, but turns out it’s more about existential crisis, about the desire to live in order to make connection, knowing that it will hurt. That might sound abstract but hey, even the Otter mutters that he is a concept (I have a good laugh here because it could apply to all of Ikuhara’s works). This time we have a musical number playing in full, prince Keppi resolves his own issues by literally embracing his dark self, Reo and Mabu come back like a light, and the trio taking shirikodama out of butt for the last time.

If we split this finale in half, there are some interesting parallels interplay between these two. Just as the first half concerns with flashbacks, the latter half brings us to its flash-forwards about possible futures of the trio. These flashforward images aren’t the happy ending though, as we see either they have to face the harsh truth (Toi is in the youth detention for his actions), the disappointment (Enta still can’t express his love) and the pain as well (Kazuki breaks his leg that caused him not to play football again). Keppi sums it nicely with “Hope and despair are both one with life.” Also metaphorically, the two halves have the motifs of these boys diving down the water. The early half is when they face the circle of connection, and the second half is when Toi jumps off the bridge and meets the others there. Well, I said “metaphorical” because it otherwise makes no literal sense to me why Toi jumps.

As a whole, even with me as a hard Ikuhara fan, Sarazaimai’s events sure are hard to pin down and make sense of it all. I enjoy the ending well enough as I think it does wrap up the story nicely, and for me Sarazanmai is a tad bit better than Ikuhara’s previous YuriKuma. I will give this show a rewatch once the year ends to see if the story holds up by then, and this is a kind of show that requires multiple viewings (and reading, too), but as far as this first watch goes I’d safely say that Sarazanmai once again proves Ikuhara as one of the most original anime directors in our lifetime. Full review will come shortly.

Posted on 17 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

The body count keeps rising up in the final stretch of Sarazanmai. With this episode we get to the end of Reo and Mabu’s pair, and it’s certainly a bittersweet experience. As it turns out, we eventually learn that Mabu sacrifices his “desire” to Reo in order to physically stays behind him. So it’s Reo who upsets by Mabu’s change and ruins their relationship. Their star-crossed love certainly touches on many Sarazanmai’s core themes, those being the desire to connect with the one they love but even to their best interest, they’re still failed to reach it. Well, there’s this evil Otter who asserted himself as “desire” and “take whatever form others desire the most” that always want to mess with others, but Mabu’s final confession to Reo, knowing the outcome, that is emotional powerful and closes their relationship in a bitter end. For Sarazanmai, although the term “connection” is shouted by all the characters, Sarazanmai’s philosophy isn’t simply about the ability to connect (although there are plenty of these – take Haruki and his younger brother, for example), but it’s also about the love vs desire, the feeling of love vs physical temptation – and more than our trio, Mabu & Reo relationship is a perfect illustration of that theme.

With the cops’ relationship, while they fully love each other, evil Otter is the one who exploits their desire from each other. What Otter believe is that love and desire can never be in conjunction with each other, and that the desire is some form of sin (to extract love or desire – if you hit “desire”, you’ll turn into kappa zombie). With that I can understand the condition he gave to Mabu: if Mabu wants to stay with Reo, he has to give up love. Sarazanmai further explores that central theme by having the Evil Otter in the form of Reo going on top of Mabu. It’s all the fitting (and bittersweet) that when Mabu decides to embrace his true feelings with Reo, his heart explodes. Although now in retrospect, I would love to know more about the Cops (who we learn used to be kappa themselves), especially in the first half we barely know about them, the show did wrap their tragic story in an emotional note.

At the same time, we get the reveal where that Dark Kappi in cage is our Kappi split in half. While I don’t mind this flow of information, the manner in which Sarazanmai displays, info-dumping us with details we can’t figure out by ourselves, is a tad bit disappointment. I have never been fully invested by the Kappa vs Otter war, and now I have come to believe the show has the same opinions because they are hardly relevant in this final stretch. Otter turns out to be a manifestation of each character’s desire, but where exactly does he born and how many of them?

In a way, I still think that the 1-cour structure fits Sarazanmai’s story neatly, as the show resolves the Mabu-Reo conflict one episode before the finale, which means that the last episode is when the spotlight again squarely focus on our main trio. And what a series of twists and turns in the final moments when Toi shows up to demand the Golden Dish, when Kazuki in on his verge of reviving Enta. The after-credit scene immediately resolves this conflict, but at a price of Toi being exploited by Evil Otter. Toi is broken at the moment, which serves as a perfect victim for Otter. Only 1 episode left, Sarazanmai is on its way for an ultimate roller-coaster ride.

Posted on 8 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

Well, I definitely didn’t see all this coming. Sarazanmai comes back in a big way, at least for me, now that every plot thread starts to go in the same direction. We have Kazuki, Toi and Leo are all losing someone dear to them and trying to get a Dish of Hope so they can revive that person. Before I get into the details, I consider both the prologue and epilogue this week as Sarazanmai’s highlights, as each segment showcases different side of this show that tell you a lot about its identity. The prologue is the most playful (read: bizarre) segment except maybe for “getting the shards out of zombie’s butt” part, where Sara slips the freeze-Kappi out to the street and he literally gets broken in pieces. It’s bizarre and it’s wonderful. The epilogue goes in opposite direction and serves as Sarazanmai’s most tender moments. Not only the sad piano tune does its job, the use of montage the constantly swifts between their memory together and their current situation pretty much brings the emotions forward.

The rest of the episode is no slouch either. While I’m one of those who lament the fact that Ikuhara’s ambition is too great for a 1-cour series, one of the strength of having only 11 episodes is that the plot is much tighter and has more purpose than his longer series. This week, for example, not only one, but three characters, are having someone close slipping away from them, although it’s hard for me to draw more parallel regarding their relationships. While Reo & Mabu and Toi & Chikai relationships go in dark places, the way Kazuki feels about Enta is in totally different light. It would make much more sense if Entai was the one saving Kazuki. By no mean, what I just said meant to be a criticism, more like an observation, given Kazuki is a MAIN main character. With Enta is in his (death)bed, it’s time for him to re-examine how much Enta meant to him and comes to learn Enta’s affection. At the same time, Keppi is revived (or more like, reanimated) and he also revives Enta (in a way) in his kappa form, although the clock is literally ticking here. Kazuki also has a chance to truly talks to his brother for the first time. Those are nice developments, albeit predictable moves to get Kazuki into the centre of conflicts.

Because the other threads aren’t that straight-forward. I must say that even now I don’t really buy the Otter vs Kappa war and I’m glad that it isn’t really the focus of Sarazanmai. In fact, this episode gives some reasons for me to care about Mabu and Reo. Reo has been struggling with the feeling he has for  the new Mabu (love or desire), one who has similar appearances yet behaves like a stranger. But the interesting twist happens when the red-eye otter intimating himself as Reo to suck out the “desire” from Mabu. The fake-Reo inserts that he’s the “desire” inside Reo, more as an implication that Reo’s love for Mabu is all about desire and obsession. The other interesting angle is that Reo keeps rejecting the current-Mabu. What if it wasn’t Mabu but Reo’s own perspective change? In any case this thread weaves tightly the the “connection” theme and to the main overarching narrative. And speaking of that, the fact that both Otter King and Keppi have the same red eyes strike me as odd. Maybe they are more similar than you would think.

Lastly, the title of this week could apply to any character in Sazaranmai, but it fits best to Chikai. The one big lesson we learn this week about him: he’s an bad egg all the way and he’s incapable of loving someone, save maybe for Toi. It’s this dark and tormented relationship between Toi and Chikai is where Sarazanmai shines the brightest. From Chikai’s point of view, he knows that he’s using Toi, but he does it anyway. “You’re a little too good to be my little brother!” pretty much sums up their chemistry. Toi is desperately following him around and even protecting him, while it becomes clearer and clearer that Toi is walking down the dark path. Sarazanmai raises a red flag right there where Chikai shoots his subordinate to cover his track. Would he do the same to Toi, when Toi is not needed anymore? Maybe. While the flashback and his final remark “Connection is just a pain” and his cash might appear that he was intended to get out for good with Toi, his resentful delivery tells me otherwise. For Chikai, only the bad survives and my take is that with Toi’s unshaken devotion to him, it’s only a matter of time before he self-destructs and kills Toi instead. That’s all beside the point now, though. With the final Dish of Hope that served as the new MacGuffin, the last two episodes are going to be thrilling, and I would expect – unpredictable.

Posted on 1 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

In a way, this is an episode where Sarazanmai breaks many of its formula: it’s the first episode where it doesn’t feature any dance routine, it’s the episode when finally the cops meet our leads for the first time (with disastrous results), but for me these last two episodes is where Sarazanmai loses its steams a little. It brings many characters together for the bigger plots, with two main developments: Toi decided to part way in order to follow his brother, and Enta gets shot and presumably dead. Before going to details for each of them, I will address the details that I’m not fond of at the moment: the miçanga. Ikuhara loves to reveal the intriguing past his characters have for each other. This episode he uses the same trick as we eventually learn that Toi and Kazuki already met in the past – right where Toi decides to give up what he treasures the most at the time – soccer – in order to follow his brother. The issue I have with that is that it frames their chemistry as “fate”, and that somewhat negates the “connection’ theme Sarazanmai aims for.

But the miçanga thread also does one thing right: it brings Enta’s jealousy into forefront and jealousy is a “shade” I want to see more from this series. All he did last episode was out of jealousy with the amount of attention Kazuki has for Toi. Interesting, Enta spends the entirety of this episode with Toi’s brother Chikai, who doesn’t aware that Enta knows his brother. Chikai’s attitude towards Toi is unhealthy, to say the least, as he realizes Toi giving up his precious for him, yet kind of expect him to. Toi gave up his soccer path once, and now just when he makes friends, he’s forced to give them up. With Enta – Chikai scenes, we get to see more of Toi’s hidden emotions side.

But those scenes work for another purpose, in the name of Reo and Mabu and they go full-villain mode: Killing people on the street and brainwashing witnesses, which I’m not sure if I like it or not. Speaking of which, I’m not to sure how Reo’s “extracting” gun work. Why do some of them become a zombie kappa, other just die from the gunshot? That brings me to the cliffhanger where Enta was shot as he saves Kazuki. There’s subtle hint in the ED where we only see 2 shadows that could imply that Enta stays dead. I would definitely prefer it that way, although I won’t be surprised if it’s just a cop out. Fake death is something anime medium isn’t shy of, sadly. Speaking of positive, I quite like how Kazuki goes through some sort of a mood-swing regarding Entai. At this very stage he doesn’t really know how to feel about his friend’s betrayal, and hopefully he will learn a thing or two about Entai’s affection after this turn of event.

Posted on 29 May 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

Well, I’m back. After 2 weeks of summer breeze and rain like crazy in Cannes, along with films frenzy (I managed to watch 37 movies while I was there), now I’m back in the Down under with severed cold (and rain), jetlag and lots of anime to catch up. But enough of my vacation dairy, let’s get back to where Sarazanmai left off. While previous weeks I said that I felt Kazuki’s characteristic to be inconsistent, episode 5 does a magnificent job on exploring the complex chemistry he has towards his little brother Haruka. The tricky part of it is that it’s not merely one dominant feeling he has for his brother, but a whirlwind of conflicting emotions that tear him apart and that he still tries to make sense. First off, despite claiming at the end of episode 4 that he hates Haruka, the well runs much deeper than that. It starts with a realization that he isn’t blood-related to any member of his current family, thus lead to him feeling “the odd one out”. In Sarazanmai, the underlying theme is the thrive to connect to one another, and placing him as the “perfect stranger” makes sense.

(more…)

Posted on 3 May 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

Despite the staff mentioned in early weeks that episode was gonna be a game-changer, nothing happens out of ordinary this week (except maybe for the after-credits reveal, which has become Sarazanmai tradition now). Prior to what Kazuki said (which kinda negate what I’m about to say), I’d single out the similarities in these main characters’ relationships. It’s true that the main theme regarding the trio is their “connections” to the ones they love, but this episode makes it quite clear that they’re in for destructive relationships themselves. A good analogy is that they’re charging their heads into the thick wall. “I’ve decided I’d live by nii-san’s side for his sake, I don’t care what anyone says about me”, Toi said so in the episode. The issue with all that is, the other person doesn’t ask for it. Whether it’s Toi’s brother Chikai, Kazuki’s bedridden brother Haruka, or Haruki himself don’t really want to receive that connection, not that way anyway. For Toi, Ikuhara has planted many symbolic objects that inform his relationship to others, and they are udon, gun, lollipop. For example, the motif of this week, udon, tells us about his relationship to his family. Gun represents his leap to this dark, violent upbringing and serves as the loss of innocence for him. Finally, lollipop represents what maybe his devotion to his brother. But on that last point I’m not going into details because the imagery of Lolita messed me up.

I’d regard this episode a success, if not for the fact that it brings up the conflict of Kazuki asked Toi to help him kidnapping the idol girl Sara Azuma, and then completely abandons that plot thread. So did Haruka be able to meet the real Sara Azuma? The way Kazuki seems to be oblivious of a lot of things (last week’s Enta’s crush and this week Toi’s problem) start to get on my nerve. His character is very inconsistent for me so far and I don’t think I am fond of it. Not because of the cliffhanger by all mean. Actually I believe the reveal that he doesn’t cosplay for his brother’s sake make their relationship more intriguing. As for now I suppose it’s a mixture between love/hate relationship, like he might be jealous with all the attention his brother has, but we won’t know for sure until we see more of his motive. That reveal makes me wonder, then, that maybe Haruka knows about Kazuki impersonating after all?

The flashback of Toi, on the other hand, is quite solid overall. One important detail from his backstory is that he was the one who pulled the trigger, and that his brother shot the poor man down so that Toi doesn’t carry the guilt. On the visual side the flashback goes for more simple, soft art-styles, which works wonderfully for me. Sarazanmai also ties up his past with the case of this week, soba Man and his crime of stealing a freaking bathwater because he wanted it as a soba broth. Now that the trio all have their turns in the spotlight, and now that the Cops promise to be more active, it’s time for Sarazanmai to shake off this current formula and take a new direction. Well, it better be given more than one third of its length is already gone.

Sarazanmai weekly lottery: what crazy object is going to float around next week? 4 episodes and Ikuhara hasn’t disappointed once. My random 3-take for next week: lollipop (Toiiii), dress (since Kazuki crossdresses), and elephant (I don’t fucking know why but now that idea won’t leave my head)

Posted on 29 April 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

Sarazanmai spends this episode on the remaining lead of the trio, Enta, and answers some questions, while at the same time, asks more question into the mix. I’ll be honest, while I still enjoy this episode immensely, I find this episode my least favorite so far of Sarazanmai, by a small margin. Most of that because I find Enta’s the least intriguing character out of the lead trio. If you are about to scream at my face with “WHAT”, I said that because apart from his queer crush (which is totally risque and admirable by the way) to Kazuki, there’s not much about him we can elaborate on. True, there’s also his older sister who gets herself into bizarre situation this time, which I will get to that later, but I don’t feel much of a emotional connection here. His mind is squarely about Kazuki and about wanting to express his love to Kazuki (to the point of multiple hilarious day-dreaming) that it overshadows everything else. A dealbreaker for me for now is that we don’t learn anything about Kazuki’s response towards Enta’s crush. When you think about it, the Memory Leaking would inform Kazuki very well about Enta’s affection towards him, but he acts totally oblivious. If by next week, Sarazanmai doesn’t address this issue I’d certainly feel very cheated and I’m gonna mark the show down for that.

The way Sarazanmai introduces the its bizarre theme of this week, on the other hand, is pure genius. It starts with Enta’s kiss, which was the cliffhanger from last week. It both serves as a continuity, and much later on do we learn that everything happens in this episode have to do with the “kiss” puns – kisu fish, the kiss, and the poor criminal named KISU who steals women’s kisses and transforms them into kisu fish. Ikuhara, you’ve got a perfect 100% score for originality here!! Of course, “kiss” theme here has to do with Enta’s affection towards his childhood friend, as they were together as a golden duo during their soccer team together, and he considers their playground as his sanctuary. It’s certainly praiseworthy to see him so determined to express his feeling for Kazuki, but for an Ikuhara show I would prefer them to deal with it right way, and not fake out by presenting them as Enta’s fantasy. It still works in this episode, I just hope that it won’t remain the case in the next ones. His sister, who we see interacts with him in several occasions, eventually gets mixed into this week’s phenomenal, but I feel that plot thread is under-developed in order to squeeze out some thematic relevance about it.

With this episode, we also learn that the Cops trying to capture and turn these criminals into Kappa Zombie in order to extract and store up their Desire, and they are served under sone Kingdom, which for now my take is that that Kingdom has totally opposite functions compare to that of Prince Kappi. We also learn that the person who becomes Kappa Zombie will have their existence erased if they get their shirikodama pulled out from their butt. At this moments, there’s a lot of mystery behind this world – with Ikuhara, nothing is ever straightforward – but at the same times, we get enough information and characters’ motivation that we don’t feel lost of overwhelmed over the huge amount of symbolisms. While narratively it’s not as complex or fresh than the first two weeks, this week gains a huge bonus point for its sheer determination of portraying queer crush of a middle-schooler kid. Speaking of that, Ikuhara’s latest interview, where he admitted that he didn’t mention “butt” in his pitch, but added later on instead, is pure bliss. It’s so Ikuhara thing to do and it is another statement for an auteur who isn’t afraid of back down on their own idea, even to a fault. And that is exactly why I always admire the man. We, as the audience, will have to follow their vision and whatever they cook up with, not the other way around.

Posted on 23 April 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sarazanmai

And the wild ride is here. In turn for cardboard zombies last week, our three kappa-who-are-pooped-out-by-someone-else have to fight cat zombies, an acid bee-themed amusement park, a person with a cat face who clearly reference Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lamb, weeds and a (yuri) kiss at the end of the rainbow. It’s too much of Ikuhara’s quirks for sure. Does the whole episode make sense? Well, yes and no for me. There are still many unexplained threads, and sometimes it feels as if Sarazanmai is bizzare for the sake of weirdness, but there’s certainly charming and fun. First, It might not be clear what exactly are these cops, and what their true motives, but we do learn in this episode that they are in fact the ones who create the zombies. There is not enough information to classify them as villains, however. While it’s clear that they’re manipulative, for now I consider their action as trying to pull out something, whatever that something might be. Desire? Possibly since they shout “desire extraction” right there, but for what purpose? Nevertheless their theatrical performance inside the police station reminds me a lot of his previous works, especially when one pulls the heart out of the other, literally. Striking? Yes. Self-indulgent? Yes, as well. For this bit alone Ikuhara just repeats himself right there.

As with all Ikuhara’s features, well except maybe Yuri Kuma Arashi, there’s a big play on repetition here. At least, the formula pans out the same as with first episode. Kappa Zombies will appear in the sky in some bizzare forms (let’s take a random guess on what could appear next, I’d say, cucumber?), these three characters turn into kappa and do their musical sequence to get the shirikodama out of their butts. So what is the catch? Well, please welcome “the Dishes of Hope”, which can grant anyone’s wish. In fact, the main conflict of this episode lies not in the fight between them and zombie, but within the cast themselves. It’s where things get a bit more complicated, but more relatable. Kazuki wants the dish so that he can support his brother, Haruka, whom he has been crossdressing as an idol Sara Azuma for. It’s clear after two episodes that he would go for such length to protect his brother’s smile, but I still believe there are more than meet the eyes here. Whereas Toi has another sibling issue as well. His brother is a gangster and is apparently in some kind of debt, and within these two episodes we can see that Toi is playing with fire. He carjacks, he sells weeds and he has a gun (and doesn’t hesitate to use it). This sets off the first real character conflict and so far it’s nicely done.

That leaves Enta as the least complex character out of these three… until the revealing of the post-credit. Well, objectively he’s still the least determined to get the Dish for himself, but damn Ikuhara doesn’t beat around the bush this time. He’s in love with Kazuki and I’m curious to see how this angle is going to play out. Visually, Sarazanmai is IMPRESSIVE, especially in the sequence where Toi and Kazuki pretend to be a couple to catch the weed-eating cat in the amusement park. The layers, and the level of details are so detailed and a feast to the eye that this single screenshot (the top left) becomes my favorite single shot of this year so far (thanks Wooper for sharing the shot to me). Ikuhara himself said that Sarazanmai is about “connection”, and if you’re familiar with his works he isn’t subtle, nor straightforward about his themes. The characters will repeat that phase multiple times in an episode, there are tons of symbolisms will be thrown around our faces (case in point: the cops’ musical routine of touching pulling out one’s heart). But, let’s me ask my the earlier questions again? Does Sarazanmai make sense? Yes (thematically) and no (narratively). Does it really matter? Not one bit. Sarazanmai remains one of the most refreshing visual medium (not only anime) that I’ve encountered in recent years.

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