Thoughts on Sarazanmai Episodes 1-2

I see that many anime bloggers spend a lot of time on seasonal reviews of anime episode-by-episode as they air. I decided to try to a variation of this myself and see if I enjoy it. For most of the spring anime, I’m waiting for 3 episodes to air. Then I’ll do reviews on a 3-episode basis, or the first fourth of Spring 2019. However, in the case of Saranzanmai, I just can’t wait another week for episode 3. Thus, here are my first impressions for episodes 1 and 2 of the anime.

A lot of people are comparing Sarazanmai to Mawaru Penguin Drum, since it is directed by Nobuyuki Takeuchi and created by Kunihiko Ikuhara, who were also director and creator (repsectively) of Penguindrum. Despite all its weirdness, mixed metaphors, and broken pieces of narrative, I love that show. Penguindrum is psychological, thought-provoking, and most of all, ridiculoudly funny. So I’ve been looking forward to Sarazanmai since I heard about it from another blogger. It’s an original work, animated by MAPPA studio.

Story: Shirikodama? Butt Ball? Is This Anime on Drugs?

If you thought Penguindrum was a big WTF, then you won’t survive the gigantic WTF that is Sarazanmai. The concept is interesting and original– three boys are turned into kappas by the kappa god Keppi after they break his statue. But then what? What do they do when they are kappas, and how do they restore their human forms? What are the themes in the story and what might the symbolism might mean? It’s best to take this on an episode-by-episode basis.

So what even happened after the boys became kappas in episode one? What was that “shirikodama extraction” about? I imagine some of it is up to interpretation. There are also things that I know I missed or am overlooking as I consider. That being said, I believe the first episode is about two things: secrets and desire. The “zombie kappa” causing trouble and collecting boxes in the city is the ghost of a man who liked to hang out naked in boxes. That’s why he stole Kazuki’s box. The box had Kazu’s biggest secret in it: how he likes to dress up as a female idol. (There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. Breaking into cars is the wrong thing here.)

By turning the boys into kappas and taking away their Shirikodamas (butt balls), Keppi took away their desires, which are crucial parts of being human. In order to live and become humans again, Kazuki and company must extract a shirikodama from a ghost. Then Keppi will use its power to revert the kids to humans. Taking the shirikodama of the zombie-kappa destroyed it, since it is no longer has desire (in this case sexual desire) to drive it to action. I predict that in almost every episode, Keppi will perform an extraction and make the boys go defeat a ghost.

And here’s what I think happened in episode 2. The theme is siblings, which I know all about, having 6 of them. Kuji, Kazuki, and Jinnai/Enta each have a sibling they care about deeply. The motif of secrets comes back because this time Kazuki’s secret is that he stole the cat Nyantaro and made it “the neighborhood cat” to make his little brother happy. Just like in episode one, extracting the desire of the zombie-kappa, or Nekoyama, causes it to fade away. The Nekoyama’s desire was to shave or even skin cats and use the fur to become more catlike to please his insane girlfriend. The desire (shirikodamo) of the zombie must be eaten by one of the kappas, who must also have his secret revealed in order to return to being a human.

As for those two cops, Akutsu and Niiboshi, they were somehow responsible for extracting desire from the human Nekoyama and turning him into that spirit-cat-zombie. I’m not exactly sure how that works. It seems to me like it’s something like this. The desire can vary. Nekoyama had his desire for love extracted, which turned him into a zombie-spirit. Then he had his desire to keep his secret taken by the three kappa boys.

All of this speculation, for episodes 1 and 2, could all be horribly and humorously wrong, and I could be missing some obvious things. That’s because it usually takes me two watches while mentally and chemically stable to get full understanding of an anime. As it is, this is the first watch, and I’m withdrawing from one of my meds. The headaches are not fun. Wish me luck. Now back to the review.

Appearance: Amazing Art and Animation

I liked what I saw in episode one. Character designs were cute, lighting was good, and colors were bright and varied. Quality of base animation was what you’d expect from a 2000-teens anime by a studio that’s doing well. Numerous artistic effects were used, just like they were in penguindrum. The animation is thus impressive and creative. I loved the innovative shots and camera angles, and the explosive colors and movement in the scenes where the kappas are trying to get Kazu’s box back (ep 1). The same for fighting the Nekoyama creature in ep 2.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seemed like things looked even better in episode 2. There were some cheap backgrounds, but the art for the characters is truly eye-catching. (And yes, the background people look like faceless sign illustrations, but that’s better than making them CG and a more feasible than animating all of them with the normal style.) Anyway, for its overall quality and creativtiy, I’m hoping to put art at 9/10 if it stays consistent.

Sound: Splendid Seiyuu and Moving Music

Main characters Kazuki, Kuji, and Enta are voiced by Murase Ayumu, Uchiyama Kouki, and Horie Shun, respectively. I’m a fan of the first two. Uchiyama has played so many memorable roles that I don’t know where to start. Meruem from Hunter x Hunter is a solid example. And if you watched Run with the Wind, Uchiyama voiced Shindo. Murase is extremely talented, and I know his voice mainly as Hinata from Haikyuu and Asuka from Devilman: Crybaby.

(Keppi is played by Junichi Suwabe)

I immediately recognized Keppi’s voice as Junichi Suwabe, who has played more characters than I can count. Recently, he was Victor in Yuri on Ice, and Eraserhead from My Hero Academia. In the first and second episodes, the performances of these seiyuu were all spont-on, as usual. I also recognized Sakurai Takahiro as Niiboshi Reo, one of those two unusual cops who are so excellent at dancing. Sakurai has been in countless anime roles, so I can’t even give a good sample of them. To give at least one, he played Reigen in Mob Psycho.

The opening song was ok, but I much prefer the ED, “Stand By Me” by The Peggies. What I’ve heard of the instrumental music I’ve liked, and in general the sound effects are amusing.

Characters: Criminal, Crossdresser, and Companion

It’s hard to tell if the characters are growing or being developed at all when the artwork, themes, and (positive) absurdity of the show constantly gets in the way. In the first episode, Kazuki, Enta, and Kuji were established in a satisfactory way. Their secrets were revealed to each other and to the audience. In the second episode, we learned a lot more about the three main characters and we were introduced to their siblings, plus the cops Akutsu Mabu and Niiboshi Reo. All of them seem interesting to me, but I’m especially intrigued by Kuji and why he needs money so badly he deals cannabis, breaks into cars, and owns a gun. I’m also fascinated to see what happens with Enta, what with his apparent romantic love for his best friend Kazuki.

Enjoyment and Overall Score: 7.8/10

As of episode 2, I’m enjoying this anime a lot. I rate the story at 7/10, art 8/10, sound 8/10, characters 8/10, and enjoyment 8/10. The overall score so far, then, is 7.8/10, just between good and excellent. I’m sure my ratings will change again by the four or five episode mark. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the first two episodes of Sarazanmai. I hope it continues to have a lot to offer with its visual art, unique storytelling, and profound or throught-provoking themes. Jya, ne!

Click to Read my Review for Episodes 3 and 4

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