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.