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Score: 7.65/10

Sarazanmai

JP Title : さらざんまい

Year : 2019

Genre : Action, Fantasy, Supernatural

Season : Spring 2019

Status : Complete

Rating : PG-13 - Teens 13 or older

Episodes : 11/11

Duration : 22 min. per ep.

Studios : MAPPA, Lapin Track

Synopsis

After the noble Kappa Kingdom falls to the Otter Empire, the Kappa prince Keppi loses much of his power and becomes helpless against the unseen Kapa-zombies. These zombies plague the world, and are the creations of the Otters and manifestations of people's deepest desires. With no other choice, Keppi must rely on three young boys: Kazuki Yasaka, who must carry a box with him wherever he goes; Enta Jinnai, Kazuki's childhood friend; and Tooi Kuji, a delinquent and a school truant. By having the mythical organ called a shirikodama removed from them, the boys are able to become Kappa themselves and fight the Kapa-zombies. However, to defeat them, the boys must connect with each other via their minds, bodies, and—most importantly—secrets. As the Kappa Kingdom relies on these boys, they must reveal themselves as they have never done before, all the while learning that connections are fragile and truly precious things. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Regardless of your personal feelings on the works of Kunihiko Ikuhara, you’d have a tough time describing any of them as boring. The director is acclaimed both for the wild aesthetic creativity of his works and how each of his productions dive deep into poignant social issues, reflecting on topics as diverse as familial alienation, terrorism, and the various problems of modern patriarchal societies. His works draw from classic anime, literature, and diverse visual and performing arts, often so driven by their imagery and metaphors that watching them feels like solving a puzzle. His rich and challenging productions tend to either thrill people or bounce off them entirely, and if you expected him to slow down for Sarazanmai, you’re in for a rough ride.

Sarazanmai’s premiere hustles through a dazzling array of transformations and visual set pieces, introducing fresh concepts to the Ikuhara canon while still feeling deeply indebted to his past catalog. There’s a sprinkling of the theatrical mode of dialogue he adopted for Yuri Kuma Arashi and a return to the frequent mysterious signage and faceless background characters of Penguin Drum. There are monsters and metamorphoses that seem to draw equally from sentai programs, Pretty Cure, and musical theater. There’s a truly gleeful fascination with butt-related shenanigans, drawing on the kappas’ mission to steal your special anus ball (really, look it up) as a reflection of our own sense of shame when it comes to exposing our desires and identity. There’s a bunch of ambiguous imagery related to boxes and social media, alongside far more on-the-nose declarations about assimilating your secrets into your identity. In short, Sarazanmai is absolutely brimming with all the delirious imagery and still-ambiguous social commentary you’d expect from an Ikuhara production. If his style doesn’t appeal to you, Sarazanmai won’t change your mind in the slightest, but if you like your stories mysterious, thematically rich, and visually inventive, you’re in for a treat.

Personally, my biggest point of contention with Ikuhara dramas is that he can let his worldbuilding or thematic goals overwhelm the human element, making his stories feel somewhat didactic. I didn’t have that sort of trouble with Sarazanmai; this episode did a fine job of humanizing our reluctant kappa Kazuki, mirroring our confusion with his own and ending on a painful reveal of his precious secret. The premiere is full of images and threads that will likely be developed later (the false intimacy of modern connection through social media, the complexity of gender and self-image, the nature of desire and shame), but it also works well as a high-concept fantasy drama. The closest point of comparison in Ikuhara’s catalog would probably be Penguin Drum, which also worked hard to keep its story thrilling on a beat-to-beat level, while grounding its drama in the rich and alienating wilderness of the modern world.

Incidentally, this also might be the best-looking Ikuhara show yet. After the very modest animation of Yuri Kuma Arashi, I was keeping my expectations muted in terms of visual execution, but this premiere is absolutely brimming with lush backgrounds and expressive characters, equally comfortable embracing traditional animation, CG objects, and even some live action footage. The animation is also fluid and evocative throughout, with standout sequences like our heroes’ journey back into the human world offering some of the most beautiful cuts of the season so far. I loved this episode’s Precure-esque monster design, was impressed by the expressiveness of its minimalist kappas, and was delighted to see Ikuhara continuing to experiment with borders and other visual framing devices. Sarazanmai is certainly the most visually creative premiere of the season along with being one of the best-animated.

On the whole, while Sarazanmai’s kaleidoscopic imagery, theatrical narrative style, and heavy emphasis on Butt Stuff will undoubtedly put off some viewers, basically every element of this premiere felt like Ikuhara at his best, and a resounding reiteration of why he’s such a beloved creator. I don’t know where this train is going, but I am absolutely along for the ride. You can also free Sarazanmai anime watch online and free anime download.

Sarazanmai is Kunihiko Ikuhara’s first director project since 2015. It’s been four years since we were graced by his body of creativity. This man is no doubt a legend. Whether you enjoy his style of creative content or not, he has been involved with outstanding anime that people still talk about today. These include the iconic Sailor Moon, the infamous Revolutionary Girl Utena, and one of the most bizarre shows of the past decade, Mawaru Penguindrum. Yuri Kuma Arashi may have been one of his lesser known projects but to make a comeback with this show called Sarazanmai is a feat of itself. Be prepared to be graced again by his absurd talent that few can step into the shoes in. To ask the obvious, what is Sarazanmai really about? Looking at the synopsis will probably raise a few eyebrows just judging by its bizarre plot. Within the first episode alone, we are introduced to mysterious creatures based on the amphibious youkai demons known as kappa. Anyone who is familiar with Japanese folklore will recognize their character design. With their green bodies, duck-shaped mouths, and long legs, you can’t help but find this show to be decorated with bizarreness. Of course, this isn’t a big surprise considering Ikuhara’s unorthodox style. What actually make a break for the show is the unusual storytelling. With our main characters connected by the bizarre creature known as Keppi, this evolves into a labyrinth of crazy adventures. Indeed, the opening episode of Sarazanmai is devoted to establish our main characters – Kazuki Yasaka, Tooi Kuji, and Enta Jinrai. Their personalities are what you can easily find in middle school students. However, the show’s story reveals more about their secrets with every episode. This connects to the overall tone of the main plot as the boys are tasked to collect the Dishes of Hope for Keppi. As strange as it sounds, the overall execution of this idea makes a lot of sense. It helps us understand these boys besides what they seem to be on the surface. On the other hand, there are also two policeman – Reo and Mabu who fights against Keppi’s Kappa Kingdom. The show sets a tone for carefully exploiting characters’ motives. With Reo and Mabu’s involvement in the plot, everything gets even more complicated. But truth to be told, Sarazanmai itself is not an overly complicated show. Some longtime fans of Ikuhara may take time to get used to this anime as it’s his first directing project with a main set of male characters. However, don’t let that alarm you. His unorthodox style can still be felt with the overall craziness of the show. As one of the core themes, we have character connections. The show builds on how humans convey their feelings and hidden desires that each of us have. The elephant in the room can also be addressed as well with some noticeable BL tones. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact meaning of this show as a whole but understanding the connections and desires of the characters is ever so important. On a scale of 1 to say…100, Sarazanmai can be judged for a variety of content. Ikuhara delivers his own creativity that does a lot more than just telling or showing. Sometimes, I feel like he can write just about anything he sets his mind on. Even before I watched the first episode, I knew what a ride this would be with the charismatic character trailers. The show seems to communicate through visual dialogues and graphic sequences. What we have here is more than just a straightforward story. In fact, many of the first episodes follows a monster of the week format but always staying connected to its central themes. Asakua (the setting of the show) is also a beautiful place for this show’s motifs. However, don’t be alarmed if you’re not Japanese. The show may take some more time to digest but once you get sucked into this, there may be no turning back. Of course, it’s easy to say Sarazanmai is a niche type of show. You either like it or will reject it as a dumpster fire. Anyone who is unfamiliar with Ikuhara’s creative mind will get lost easily. Hell, it took me a half dozen times to get this show myself. Also, I wouldn’t say the story itself is outstanding. To believe that sounds outlandish considering at least half the show follows like a loop-like format. There’s not much plot developing despite different events happening. To say the least, I’m not too surprised by the overall content of this show’s plot elements. Still, there’s definitely praise to give for this show with how eyecatchy it is. The charismatic dances is one of the prime examples of being able to hook a viewer on in the early stages. While not being an idol show, it’s distinctive of how much energetic aura it contains. Just looking at a group of kappas performing in outrageous dances will get you staring at your TV. Guess what? Kunihiko Ikuhara is back and he brings with him his avant-garde creativity. What Sarazanmai delivers is a show people will talk about for many reasons. The most common one is just how peculiar it is especially in regards with the overall execution. There’s a set of characters that brings you human emotions despite how offbeat the show may get. You may have to watch this more than once to really appreciate what it is. But for now, I just want to say, welcome back Kunihiko Ikuhara. Welcome back, you magnificent Brainaic.

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