「つながりたいけど, つながれない」 (Tsunagaritai kedo, Tsunagarenai)
“I Want to Connect, but I Can’t”
We have seen tragedy in several forms throughout Sarazanmai. Whether it be Kuji losing his older brother, Haruka losing his ability to walk, or Enta’s near-death experience, we’ve been encountering circumstances that would otherwise cause someone to lose hope. But as we learn with this episode, the two characters whose continued existence is built on being tortured is our police officer duo, Reo and Mabu.
So far, the anime has been purposefully obtuse about what is happening with Reo and Mabu as to make sure none of the show’s secrets are spilled out too early. In this episode, however, the developments that occur between the two explain in exact detail everything that the poor couple has endured. Not only were they quickly revealed to be kappa who were lead astray the Otter’s will, but the Otter has also been bending their wills so that they can become easier to manipulate and break. The most devastating detail that was finally revealed was that Mabu is the same as he always was; he was forced to act like he didn’t love Reo to ensure that his mechanical heart wouldn’t expire and he could continue existing around Reo. However, because of this, it creates a double-bind where Mabu is forced to watch Reo degrade and disrespect him for being unresponsive to Reo’s desires for affection and is trapped under the Otter’s influence so that he would have never been able to break out.
It makes it all the more painful when Mabu is reminded by Reo about how he never expresses any kind of endearment for him, calling attention to the wall that Mabu is forced to put up in order to stay alive for long enough to continue being by Reo’s side. As this wall collapses, however, Mabu sees his love for Reo as more important to him than desire, prompting Mabu to push himself into a position to have his shirikodama extracted and sacrifice his life so that he can re-establish his connection with Reo in death. If you haven’t remembered all of the times Miyano Mamoru has been a powerhouse of a voice actor, Sarazanmai is a friendly reminder that the man is a brilliant actor who reels you into the misery, despair, and agony that his characters feel as they are torn apart by their conditions. That last scene where Reo goes from mourning Mabu’s death to angrily declaring he’ll bring him back to forgetting everything about him except for the feelings he left behind is absolutely painful, and Miyano’s crumbling voice as he tries his hardest to piece together his memories of Mabu after his sacrifice is intense, searing, and tortuous. Whereas the struggles the main trio have encountered throughout the anime have focused on trying to connect and keep their connections alive, Reo and Mabu’s connection were tragically torn asunder and have had their entire journey revolve around being helpless in being able to do anything to recover them when their connection was doomed from the start.
Through Reo and Mabu’s shared suffering, we also learn more about who the Otter is and what his intentions may be regarding how he operates. As an agent of chaos, the Otter is keen on using desire as a means of corrupting kappa towards having their desires consume them entirely, allowing him to feed off of their desires until they become zombified. We see it more prevalently throughout this episode as each of the characters face the Otter’s corruption. The ultimate reveal with Mabu showed that the Otter was capable of using the vulnerabilities that he had to be reunited with Reo to make sure he was bound by his contract, keeping him addicted to his desire to be with Reo by taking advantage of him, all the while he was disguised as his true love. The same could not be said for Enta, who the Otter had also tried to influence by shapeshifting into Kazuki and having him take the last dish by tapping into his desire to be with him. However, as an indicator for the amount of development and strength Enta went through to surpass his desires for Kazuki, his preference to hold onto his connection with him dearly allowed him to break free from the Otter’s trance. The Dark Keppei that is comprised of the concentrated darkness that flowed through Keppei when he was held captive by the Otter is also looking to play a role in helping the Otter take over Kuji. Tapping into the despair he felt when Chiaki died, Kuji is lead astray by the Otter when he takes on his late brother’s form to convince Kuji to be dragged into the darkness that would ally him with the Otter Kingdom. It was a devastating episode that helped to clear the air on many of the mysteries and secrets that were initially undivulged in Sarazanmai, but I’m eagerly awaiting what will happen with Kuji, Kazuki, and Enta knowing that everything will come to its conclusion in the next and final episode.