When I first read the description for Saikano, I already developed preconceived notions about the series. Taking into account the DVD’s front cover and genres, I was expecting a series along the lines of a heart-warming romance or maybe even a heroine that kicked ass the whole series. Either of these ideas could have been great, but this isn’t what Saikano is about. Saikano is about war, its hardships, and the eternal power of love.
The plot was great when you look at how the characters were put together, but the setting of the story had a few loose ends and holes in it. Considering that the backdrop of the series is the war, it would have been nice to know a bit of history behind it. During and after watching the series, you would continuously be asking yourself: Why is Japan facing complete annihilation? Why is most of Japan gone? How long has this war been going on? Who are the Japanese fighting? Where are all these earthquakes coming from? Despite these little details the creator opted to leave out, they don’t hinder the overall mood, atmosphere, or direction of the story. But answering them would have definitely given more depth to the story. You are just left to assume that Japan is facing total annihilation. However, despite the many flaws with the story’s setting, the actual plot makes up for it.
Saikano's story is told mainly from Shuji’s point of view, but the story does shift from one charcter to another to allow the viewer to feel and see other character's situation. The story centers on Shuji and Chise’s love relationship, and their friend’s problems with dealing with the war. Everyone experiences death and tragedy in war - it is an unfortunate consequence. This is one of main themes of Saikano. The creator really went out of their way to create a drama for most support characters, thus allowing them to feel realistic. You’ll definitely be able to connect and associate with their emotions and predicaments.
Viewers that would like a happy ending should stop after watching episode 10. Although it sounds weird to warn viewers about watching Saikano all the way through, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. From episode 11 to the end, the story becomes even more depressing. The story however does come to a full circle in the last episode. While you would think it would tie up the loose ends in the story, but it doesn’t. It also was a missed opportunity to explain Chise’s history and role in the war.
Despite Chise and Shuji’s relationship facing turmoil and hardship, I always felt that their relationship was forced and unnatural. Were they really in love? I’m not really sure. Apparently in Shuji and Chise’s mind they were, but from my point of view, they both seem too weak to actually be in love. They never spent enough time together to even figure that out. But then again, Saikano wouldn’t be Saikano without the love relationship between Chise and Shuji. Throughout the series, Chise becomes less human and the only thing that sustains her is Shuji’s love, which is a pivotal part of the story. Both endure great hardships, but still love each other in the end.
In all, Saikanos plot depicts a doomed Japan who seems to be at war with many nations. Who these enemies are, we don’t know. But what we do know is that without Chise, Japan would have been gone long ago. Saikano expresses a clear anti-war message and the theme that love is eternal.
The animation isn’t groundbreaking or awe inspiring. The animator has an unusual style of making all characters appear to be blushing all the time. It may appear weird at first, but you probably would get used to it after a few episodes. Male and female character design was typical, but there was a particular emphasis on women’s lips and characters crying, which was done really well. There were many bloody scenes and explosions, but fortunately the violence and blood wasn’t toned down.
Unfortunately, despite the great DVD covers of Chise in her "Ultimate Weapon" mode, you never really see her in real time battle. Although it is not the main focus of the story, I was hoping for at least one action sequence depicting what she typically did. Most of the time you assume that she is just plain powerful. It really would have been great to see the great "goddess of death" in action.
The opening and end themes "Koisuru Kimochi" and "Sayonara" were great. They were composed and performed by Yuria Yato, and both themes really fit the melancholy, yet hopeful mood of the series. Most of the Saikano OST comprises of acoustic and electric guitar tracks. The songs are easy to recognize which is great. I was able to add another good OST to my play list. The mood of the songs range from depressing to exciting, which is a nice mix.
The seiyuu that performed in Saikano were very good. All characters were able to expresses each character’s personality and mood effectively. My favorite seiyuu from Saikano is Yuu Sugimoto, the seiyuu for Akemi. It’s too bad she hasn’t done more voice acting for more anime. I thought she did a superb job, especially in the episode called Akemi. You probably would recognize Chise’s voice done by Fumiko Orikasa. Her most notable roles are from playing Seras Victoria in Hellsing, Yayoi in Stellvia, and Meia in Vandread. She did a nice job in expressing Chise’s character.
While Saikano’s story and setting have holes in it, Saikano’s characters were really developed well. Saikano mainly focuses on how each character dealt with the war. Both main and support characters have some sort of history or relationship with each other.
Saikano is told from Shuji’s point of view and he is the most developed of all the characters. He loves Chise who happens to have a weak and clumsy personality, but ironically is turning into the "Ultimate Weapon". Throughout Saikano, Chise fights for Japan’s survival, but her regular high school and love life is compromised in the process. As the war drags on, Chise spends less and less time with Shuji, but Shuji and Chise always hang on to their love for each other despite the many hardships they have to endure. Shuji had to endure the loss of his many friends and love ones, and always had to resist the temptation to become unfaithful to Chise.
Sadly, I found Chise’s character to be more underdeveloped than I would have liked. She is one of the main characters, but yet you would be asking questions about Chise such as: What is Chises origin? How did Chise come to be? What is Chise’s purpose? The list goes on and on, but I think those are the main questions. For some reason, the creator shrouds Chise’s origin and purpose in mystery. I’m not sure why he would want to do that, but yet again you are left to assume that Chise is the "Ultimate Weapon" and how she came to be that way is irrelevant. I thought it was a big let down because she is one of the main characters in Saikano. Even the title is referring to her. Knowing more about her origin and past would have helped in connecting with her character. However, despite her hidden past, her strength, perseverance, and love for Shuji more than make up for those linger questions about her past. Chise always has to face heartbreak when she has to be called away from her normal life to fight for Japan. Without her help, Japan probably would be already destroyed. The more that she fights, the less human and more machine-like she gets. But even through all those hardships, she always thinks about Shuji and their love for each other. It is what kept her from being a total weapon. Love is what kept her human self alive.
As for support characters, they received good back stories. One friend joins the military to protect the girl he loves, but she doesn’t love him back. Another friend struggles to cope with the death of her former boyfriend caused by the enemy. A woman struggles to find love in others because her husband is away serving in the military. Another classmate copes with unrequited love. They all are like mini snapshots of what people have to endure during the course of a war. Enemies aren’t the only people that suffer and die, innocent bystanders suffer and die as well.
Although Saikano has excellent character development, it can’t hide the many holes and weaknesses in its plot. Saikano’s characters are hard to forget because of effort the creator made to develop them. He managed to induce emotional attachments to Saikano’s characters. Once these characters become engulfed with hardship, grief, or even death, the viewer is able immediately feel their emotions. Moreover, the all-important anti-war theme is prevalent throughout the series. The depressing mood the anime provokes emotions that are usually not felt in ordinary, peaceful times. War sucks; there are no winners, only losers.
Saikano has quite a bit of value, and I believe it was successful in expressing its themes. Saikano isn’t an anime that can be "enjoyed" in the sense of it making you feel happy or feel complete. Instead, it serves to only depress you, and make you think about the ramifications of war. You are able to experience each character’s burdens and hardships while watching, and experience emotions that you wouldn’t normally feel in peaceful times. It is because of these emotions that Saikano awakens that makes Saikano so great.
In the not-so-distant future, mankind is at war with itself. The lives of Chise and Shuu are torn apart when Chise is chosen to become the ultimate weapon to fight for Japan against their enemies. Death, sadness, and the hardships of love accompany Sai Kano in its grim look at war and its consequences.