Sarazanmai Series Review and Discussion of Themes

From the beginning to the end, we are all connected in a big circle.
~Haruka from Sarazanmai episode 5

Let’s Rant! First is a brief introduction, followed by a look into the five categories: visuals, audio, characters, story, and enjoyment. Then we’ll talk a bit about the themes and motifs in the anime.

Sarazanmai is an original work, animated by MAPPA studio and aired in spring 2019. Some people compare it to Mawaru Penguin Drum, since both were created by Kunihiko Ikuhara. He was also the director of the classic Revolutionary Girl Utena. Despite all their weirdness, I love Penguindrum and Utena. They’re psychological, thought-provoking, and funny. So is Sarazanmai, and although it’s not quite as good and classic as Utena, I enjoyed it just as much as Penguindrum. I recommend this series to anyone who’s prepared for some weird shit… like kappas sucking souls out of butts!

Visuals: 7/10 Good

Quality of animation was what you’d expect from a 2000-teens anime by an expanding studio; it’s done pretty well. However, it’s overall a bit cheaper than optimal. The style is very endearing, though. Character designs are cute. Shading and lighting look good. I love the sequences for when the kappas dance, sing, and fight the zombie-kappas. The repeated footage for these scenes doesn’t bother me, because I enjoy it no matter how many times I see it.

Occasionally, the backgrounds appear poor, but it could be because the style is impressionist with those images: rough, blurry, and faded. In some other shots, the backgrounds are great. Every anime has some good and some bad background art. All the humans walking around, except the main characters, are faceles, white stick-figures with strange hairstyles. That’s a lot more entertaining than just making all the background people CGI. It’s distinctive.

Audio: 8/10 Great

I love the seiyuu cast, so the audio in Sarazanmai wins major points! Main characters Kazuki, Kuji, and Enta are voiced by Murase Ayumu, Uchiyama Kouki, and Horie Shun, respectively. I’m not as familiar with Horie, but I’m a big fan of Murase and Uchiyama. The former has a unique voice capable of high pitch and gentle tones; the latter sounds cool, detached, low. My favorite role of Murase was Shun in Shin Sekai Yori, and for Uchiyama, it’s Meruem from Hunter x Hunter. Keppi’s voiced by Junichi Suwabe, an acclaimed and talented seiyuu who has played more characters than I can comfortably count. Mamoru Miyano is equally well-known and respected, and he plays Reo Niiboshi.

(Uchiyama Kouki as Toi Kuji)

The opening song, “Massara” by KANA-BOON, is upbeat and fun, but I prefer the outro song, “Stand By Me” by The Peggies. For most of the series, there wasn’t a lot of instrumental music that stuck out at me. However, there were some exceptions. For example, I noticed some wonderful music in episode 10. I don’t know the title of the song that the cops sing in almost every episode, but it’s fun to listen to, and the lyrics are surprisingly meaningful. “Sarazanmai no Uta” is the song the kappa boys sing in most episodes, and it’s absolutely adorable, and super catchy!

Characters: 9/10 Magnificent

The characters in Sarazanmai are entertaining and difficult to forget. My favorite is probably Kazuki because of his sweetness, cleverness, and relatable emotions with regards to family and friendships. Toi is a highly interesting character, with his devotion to his brother, his unfortunate past, and criminal actions like breaking into cars and selling weed. Enta is so adorable, but he does cause a lot of trouble and can be aggravating. Everyone loves the gay cop couple, Reo and Mabu. They are intriguing (and sometimes endearing) antagonists. Keppi is great, too.

In the first episode, Kazuki, Enta, and Toi were established in a satisfactory way. In the second episode, we learned a lot more about the three main characters, plus the cops Mabu and Reo, the cops. Episode 3 focuses a lot on Enta, episode 4 on Toi, and episode 5 on Kazuki and his family situation. The stories and struggles of Reo and Mabu are explored throughout the series, but especially in in episodes 7 and 10. Episodes 8-10 show a lot of the character relationships and connections falling apart, and episode 11 builds them back up and restores them.

Character evelopment and information is spread over the series very well. At the end, there were a few loose ends that weren’t tied up, or a few things about the characters that were never developed, such as what made Keppi despair, and Enta’s romantic love for Kazuki. Still, for a short series, Sarazanmai has excellent characterization.

Story: 8/10 Great

The early episodes are very formulaic, which the style of Ikuhara. Episodes 01-04 are fine, in my opinion, because we’re getting to know the characters and learning to understand what’s happening with the zombies and shirikodamas. But it did feel like not enough information was covered soon enough, and episode 5 felt almost like a filler until the end. There was nothing big in episode 3 to hook the audience; just more of the same. If you think about the story given that it’s only going to have 11 episodes, the pacing in the first half wasn’t so great.

That being said, episode 6 was brilliant from all angles. I watched it thinking, “Wow, this is how you do a gripping midseason episode.” After that point, the series became less formulaic. The drama and emotional chaos of various episodes, such as 5, 8 and 10, were handled and presented expertly. Episode 11 may have stuffed a little too much into one episode, but I’ve seen worse. At least it makes sense on close inspection. Overall, this complicated eleventh episode was done beautifully, having everything we needed for a last chapter and then some. I think the story structure was excellent in Sarazanmai, with just a few hiccups. Also, it was a breath of fresh air to have a happy and coherent ending in an Ikuhara work.

Sarazanmai employs a tactic where serious, grim things are masked by a humorous or bizarre presentation. For example, Reo and Mabu are serial killers, and every time they sing their kawausoya song, they’re killing another unconvicted criminal. In episode 6, the hundreds of boxes at the Otter Headquarters most likely contain body parts of victims being sent to the shredder. Until episode 6, it’s not made entirely clear that taking a zombie-kappa’s shirikodama erased it from ever existing. Hiding dark content with silliness and having viewers gradually realize the gravity of events is an interesting storytelling technique.

Enjoyment: 9/10: Magnificent

There was so much I enjoyed in this series. Here are a few highlights.

Who doesn’t enjoy the Sarazanmai theme song that the kappas sing almost every episode? It’s so much fun to learn the lyrics, and the little kappas are so cute!! It was hilarious in episode 4 when Toi sang the kappa song. I had the same feeling of amusement when Reo sang it in episode 10. I love Enta’s crush on Kazuki; it’s just adorable, especially in episodes 3 and 5. The song and dance of Reo and Mabu is catchy too. Kawauso-ya, soya, soya! Needless to say, I love the gay cops Reo and Mabu and their relationship. I ship them so hard!

By episode 6, the way the friendship has changed and grown between Kazuki, Enta, and Kuji was so touching. Even Toi, who acts aloff all the time, has grown to truly care about Kazuki. And when he used a gun to shoot apart the machine Keppi summoned to transplant Kazuki’s shirikodama, I cheered. It was bad-ass! I was moved by the ending of Sarazanmai. Basically, I cried my eyes out. And they weren’t sad tears, but tears of relief, and of appreciation of a beautiful and meaningful story. Once done bawling like a baby, I felt uplifted.

Overall Score For Sarazanmai: 8.2/10.0

Themes in Sarazanmai

Themes in Sarazanmai include the need for connections to others, sibling relationships, the struggles of connectioning to others, secrets, desires, and the impermanence of connections. Another less obvious theme is the debate about crime and human culpability. Let me briefly touch on each motif in this section.

The theme of connection to siblings begins to appear in episode 2, when it’s revealed that Kazuki is crossdressing and stealing a cat in order to make his little brother Haruka happy. In episode 5, there’s more about siblings, and what it means to be a “true” family. Kazuki’s family situation is revealed, as well as what happened to Haruka that made him unable to walk. There are also strong sibling bonds between Toi and his older brother Chikai, explored mostly in eps 4 and 9.

Now, humans are social creatures. We all want to connect to someone else, whether it is a friend, a lover, someone you admire, or a family member. Sarazanmai makes the need for connection clear with the way each character desperately needs someone else. It’s true of the three boys and Reo and Mabu. But making and maintaining connections is tough. This is another major motif. The episode titles are good examples of how difficult relationships can be. (“I want to connect, but I want to lie,” ep 1. “I want to connect, but I can’t be forgiven,” ep 5. “I want to connect, but I want to betray,” ep 7. “I want to connect, but I can’t express it,” episode 9.)

Connections require being honest and vulnerable, but it’s tough having your secrets revealed. Episodes 1-5 show this best. Having secrets is just one example of what can make connections difficult. Something else that creates hardships is desires. Sometimes, selfish desires will lead you astray from making and keeping connections and relationships. Examples of theme can be found anywhere in the series. Throughout Sarazanmai, there are zombie-kappas who commit crimes and cause chaos because they are being manipulated by their desires. Reo and Mabu are also being manipulated by Otter, the personification of desire.

Unfortunately, no connection lasts forever. Connections fall apart easily, as we see in episodes 8-10. It’s easy to take them for granted until they’re broken. As Toi says in episode 8, “People realize they were connected when they no longer are.” It’s painful to connect if you know all connections come to an end. Sara says in episode 11, “If it has form, it will someday break and be lost.” Keppi says, “But the future is not necessarily a bright one. Hope and despair are both one with life.” Is it worth it to care when you know you’re investing in something fragile and finite? I believe so. The boys in Sarazanmai also come to the conclusion that it’s better to be together, even if it doesn’t last.

“Never forget that only those who connect their desires through the pain of loss
can take the future in their hands.”

~Sara from Sarazanmai Episode 11

I mentioned desire and how it manipulated the characters all over the series. Are Reo and Mabu responsible for their actions even though they were being controlled? Desire is only one thing that can control us. Behavior and decision-making is also influenced by genetics, individual neurology, socio-economic status, environment, drugs, alcohol, and many other factors. Free will is an illusion created by our brains. So, are humans really culpable for crimes and mistakes? Legally, and to maintain society, yes, we must each be held accountable for what we do, whether or not we are in control. However, I believe that the focus of the justice system shouldn’t be on punishment, but on practical reduction of crime with confinement and rehab. Isn’t it funny that an anime about little kappas sparked this discussion?

That is all for my Sarazanmai series review. This is 7mononoke of Anime Rants. Thanks a ton for reading my post today! Have a wonderful rest of your day. Ja, ne!

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(Images from: Sarazanmai. Dir. K Ikuhara. Mappa, Lapin Track. 2019.)

Categories Anime Review, Spring 2019Tags , , ,

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