In an attempt to force myself to write about anime again, I chose to participate in Anime Secret Santa for the first time since 2011. For the uninitiated, it’s the same thing you play at work but with anime recommendations instead of gifts. It was started by The Reverse Thieves in 2009, but it’s current incarnation is run by All Geeks Considered.
The anime I was tasked with reviewing back then was Now and Then, Here and There. If there was an award for Best Anime About Torturing Children, Now and Then would be a top contender. I had so much fun with my review that I returned for a second dance with Anime Santa in 2012, but I gave up before the deadline.
Halfway through Sarazanmai, I considered doing this again.
Sarazanmai is an 11-episode series that aired during this years spring season on the Noitamina block. It was created by a fucking lunatic named Kunihiko Ikuhara, who’s best known for directing Revolutionary Girl Utena. I read somewhere that he lied during his initial pitch for this show. Considering the plot, that would not surprise me.
Sarazanmai is kind of like if you combined Inuyasha and Gantz, but there’s no tits, nothing is at stake, and every time our heroes locate a shard of the sacred jewel, they have to pull it out of someones ass. Also, Kagome is a frog demon.
Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I just wanted to make an absurd comparison. I’ll try my best to actually explain the plot, but you’re going to think I’m making it up.
The protagonists are three high schoolers — Used to Play Soccer, Glasses Kid, and AnimeWeedLord420. It’s unclear why they hang out. They’re kind of friends, but kind of not. Used to Play Soccer and Glasses Kid were best friends at one point, but they stopped hanging out when Used to Play Soccer stopped playing soccer. Glasses Kid is still upset about this.
AnimeWeedLord420 doesn’t like either of them, but continues to hang out with them everyday after school because the plot demands it.
For reasons I don’t remember, the three are enlisted to fight in a war between kappa and otters. Kappa are kind of like demon frog turtles. According to Wikipedia, kappas “are often accused of assaulting humans in water and removing a mythical organ called the shirikodama from their victim’s anus.”
That Kagome joke is funny now, isn’t it? Still no. Fuck.
Anyway, they meet a kappa that turns them into kappas by way of aggressive rimjobs and sends them to fight kappa zombies, which are controlled by otters because…well, they just do.
They defeat each kappa zombie by pulling a jewel out of its ass. This is animated in great detail with nothing being left to the imagination. If they do this five times, the kappa will grant any wish they desire. Except the first time he just does it, probably to demonstrate that he can.
It’s sort of implied that a Monkey’s Paw situation could happen if they aren’t careful with their wishes, but that’s dropped when it’s not longer convenient to the plot.
If I wasn’t making it obvious enough, I did not have a good time with this show. The first half was painfully formulaic. I could have watched the same episode five times in a row and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
A big part of this is because of the obnoxious level of recycled animation. I’m told that this is Ikuhara’s thing. But why? It makes senses when you have to make a thousand episodes of Sailor Moon on a tight budget, but this show wasn’t even the normal 13 episodes.
For what it’s worth, the recycled sequences are spectacular. They’re two song and dance numbers with highly fluid animation and brilliant color schemes, but they comprise nearly half the runtime of each episode, so their impressiveness wears off quickly. The songs are dumb, but you’ll hear them so many times they’ll be stuck in your head by the end of the show whether you like it or not.
One reviewer said this show was particularly noteworthy because of it’s positive portrayal of gay people. We must have been watching different shows. The main gay relationship explored is between two police officers who spend the entire series killing [mostly] innocent people and trying to take over the city.
There is a boy/boy kiss between Used to Play Soccer and Glasses Kid, but one of them is unconscious and the romantic subplot is never revisited after the second episode.
And that’s one of the biggest problems I had with Sarazanmai. They failed to explore the more interesting elements of the plot. I wanna know what happens between Used to Play Soccer and Glasses Kid after the kiss. Glasses Kid does a full blown love confession but after the episode ends it’s like it never happened.
There was also a subplot where Used to Play Soccer would dress up as a popular lady celebrity and pretend he was her. He would text his little brother in character, making his brother think he was friends with the lady. There are zero consequences when he’s finally caught. They just move on to the next plot point.
The show also expected me to like the murderous cop characters at the end. Like, what? I just spent ten episode watching these assholes murder people in cold blood. Why should I care that being a murder cop is putting a strain on their relationship?
It wasn’t all bad, though. Things pick up around episode six. The singing and dancing is put on hold and we start to focus more on what makes our characters interesting. Sort of. We don’t learn much about Glasses Kid beyond that he’s in love with Used to Play Soccer, but the rest of the cast gets better treatment.
The problem is that this took too long. When your show is only 11 episodes, you can’t afford to waste anytime fucking around. The only reason I got to the good parts is because I agreed to review this for Anime Secret Santa. Otherwise, I would have given up after three episodes.
It’s also very pretty. Sarazanmai looks better than most shows that I like. But that only takes you so far. The Tree of Life was really interesting to look at, but I still fell asleep 20 minutes in.
A lot of people liked Sarazanmai when it came out, so maybe I just don’t get it. That’s okay. Ten years ago, I think I would have had a better time. The absurdity of the plot would have carried me through some of the weaker points in the narrative. But watching it now in my 30’s reminds me of that goth kid in high school that was always trying too hard to be weird.
Wait, that kid was me. Fuck!