OP: 「まっさら」 (Massara) by Kana-Boom
[つながりたいけど, 偽りたい] Tsunagaritai kedo, Itsuwaritai
“I Want to be Connected but I Want to Lie”
A proper discussion of Sarazanmai would feel incomplete without mentioning director Ikuhara Kunihiko’s penchant for analyzing gender and sexuality. Ever since the sections of Sailor Moon with Neptune and Uranus, his work has included a wide range of yuri-inspired anime centered around how female characters feel for one another while also challenging the hegemonic standards that keep them locked into their pre-ordained roles. Whether it be through Anthy and Utena’s bond in Revolutionary Girl Utena or the over-the-top metaphors that encapsulate Yuri Kuma Arashi, his niche has been thoroughly defined throughout the years to emphasize his interest in challenging pre-conceived notions of intimacy. Some of his works have dabbled in same-sex male bonds such as Utena where the “everyone is bi” rule extending to the men of the student council and Mawaru Penguindrum where Shouma’s faceless male friend was confirmed to have a crush on him in a drama CD. Sarazanmai, however, marks a different yet familiar trend with Ikuhara as it handles male characters and the secrets they carry. But will the show be able to tell a meaningful story through its surreal concept and metaphorical meaning like Utena and Penguindrum or will it fall into the same pitfalls as Yuri Kuma and become too overindulgent in its symbolism to focus on giving its story substance? Lets find out!
Right off the bat, I can say that Sarazanmai exceeded my expectations in a premiere that hooked me in as quickly as Penguindrum, balancing its eccentric take on the shameful secrets its cast harbors and having enough respect in its characters to actually give them depth. Its overall premise is surprisingly straightforward for an Ikuhara anime with our three protagonists being tasked to unearth the shameful secrets of the people of Asakura that are stolen, repressed, and kept within kappa zombies after freeing Keppei (Suwabe Junichi), a kappa spirit, from his shrine. That’s simple enough. Where it starts to get crazy is all the stuff in-between. This anime’s equivalent of “opening up a lily in a girl’s chest for two bear girls to simultaneously lick” is placing emphasis on shirikodama, an organ that kappa have been mythologically known to steal from people’s anuses. In Sarazanmai, this is employed in several instances as the main characters have theirs removed straight from the source by Keppei to transform them into zombie-fighting kappa soldiers. Because shirikodama embody shameful secrets, they also have to be extracted from the zombies as well to free them from the restraints of their mischief. Of course, this also means they have to go deep within a zombie’s anus to extract the shirikodama. In the process of our protagonists becoming kappa, their shirikodama-removal turns out to be what gives us insight on their own personal secrets, opening the floodgates for the three to have a completely different dynamic now that they know what they enjoy in secret.
If you haven’t clicked the X on the top-right side of the screen just yet, I have to sincerely thank you for your support and dedication. But what I’m enjoying about Sarazanmai so far is that it has your standard trappings for an Ikuhara anime from the explicit metaphors to the musical segments without compromising the story to the point of being a borderline parody of his previous series’. For instance, it feels like the premise of societal shame and repressed desires are something that Sarazanmai has a ton of potential towards actually fleshing out. Outside of the zaniness and surreal butt-stuff, it is fascinating to peel back the layers of the first episode and not feel like I’m forcing myself to give depth to the characters when our three protagonists are very interesting so far. Yasaka Kazuki (Murase Ayumu) is shaping up to be the most interesting so far as we start out assuming he is merely highly dedicated to a shrine maiden idol named Azuma Sara who has him take on ritualistic tasks to connect with her. However, after consuming the shirikodama from the kappa zombie (it’s best not to think about where it’s been), it’s revealed that Kazuki was Azuma Sara this whole time. In the process, delinquent Kuji Toi (Uchiyama Kouki) was caught car-jacking when Kazuki, dressed as Azuma, had a brush-in with him earlier that morning. On the same coin, Kazuki’s friend Jinnai Enta (Horie Shun) was revealed to be one of Azuma’s adoring fans. In lieu of all the craziness, I found myself a little sad that there wasn’t more episode to go off of because the story really ended up pulling me in. It left me wanting to know more about what will happen not just with mysterious characters like the desire-extracting policemen Niiboshi Reo (Miyano Mamoru) and Akutsu Mabu(Hosoya Yoshimasa), but also what will happen with the main characters’ mission now that they know each other’s secrets. Will Kazuki continue being Azuma? Would it change anything about Enta wanting Kazuki to stay in their school club and following Azuma? Will Toi be cooperative in all of this? What underlying consequences will there be if they continue doing Keppei’s bidding and unearth more and more secrets until they start to find out the secrets of others around them? There’s so much to Sarazanmai that goes beyond its odd concepts, surreal butt-play, and its amazing OP/ED combo that make the series a wonderful addition to the Spring season.
ED: 「スタンドバイミー」 (Stand By Me) by The Peggies