Saikano was the first super dramatic anime I had watched when I was still a rookie in the medium. Back then I didn’t know how bad GONZO was as a studio and had no idea of how manipulative shock factor can be into liking a show. Thus to no surprise it brought tears to my eyes. After all these years, I now see things more clearly and know what it really was all along. One big pile of SHOCK FACTOR! But I still admit that it was one hell of a good show in making you all emotional as long as you shut your mind. It had created a tsunami of emotions in the fandom and everybody was praising it for its extreme drama and cruel fates of the characters. Some fansubbers even went as far as warning people not to watch the last episodes if they didn’t want to witness and extremely unsettling and tragic ending. So yeah, was very successful at what it set out to do.
This show is a war drama combined with tragic romance and some science fiction. The romance part is so overblown with love triangles that boarders a cheesy soap opera. Here is a general overview to get what I mean.
- Chise is a shy, low-esteemed, and seemingly frail high school girl. She is turned by the military into their ultimate weapon as means to defend the country against an invading army. She has a crush with Tetsu for looking like a more bold Shuji.
- Shuji is a high school boy who has a hard time expressing his emotions. He loves Chie but the war and her mutation makes it even harder to admit it. He is seduced by Fuyumi’s bold advances on him.
- Akemi is their schoolmate. She loves Shuji but seeing she can’t have him, does her best to see him happy with Chise and as means to get over it dates Atsushi.
- Atsushi is another of their schoolmates who loves Akemi. She never really loves him and does it just for the sake of Shuji, making him feel left out entirely.
- Fuyumi is a married woman who seduces Shuji, because he looks like her neglecting husband Testsu.
- Tetsu is a military man who neglects his wife Fuyumi, and ends up feeling so sorry for Chise that he falls in love with her.
And this is just the basics; there is a lot more mess where that came from. If you like this sort of stuff, you will get gallons of it here. If you want to fully enjoy it, you should never try to rationalize the reasons behind the plot. If you ever wonder why does everything play out in such and over-the-top tragic way, the answer is simple: Because this way it is tragic. And indeed, Saikano is an anime basing its appeal entirely on making you feel sad and miserable and not on excusing its internal logic. As long as you don’t think what the devil is going on with the plot, what’s this war all about, what’s that ending of the world, what’s that magical land of nothingness in the finale, you will definitely enjoy it. Even more in case it is your first super tragic one, since in later years it became sort of a trend to shovel as much tragedy as possible.
Anyways, the core plot is basically young people being constantly thrown in a most tragic situation, in the worst moment possible. Bad things happen to them all the time and they are all pretty much cowards or too passive to react boldly in any of all that, ending up manipulated, crushed, and disappointed with everything. All that occurring because love is painful, war is heartless, and nothing makes sense in the story. This is the winning formula of the show and it does it great. Any difference in it would definitely have a much less effect on your emotions and would literally work against the goal of the show. I would prefer the characters being bolder with their feelings. This way they would have the courage to face their problems easier but at the same time they wouldn’t feel so helpless and the drama wouldn’t kick you in the guts every five minutes. I would also prefer the story making more sense but this way the senseless killings during the war wouldn’t feel tragic either.
The production values of the show aren’t particularly good but the directing was good to the most part and the tragedy was so heavy that made you to completely neglect to think how basic and crude things looked most of the time. Especially with the female character designs; man, they look so cartoony and chubby! The soundtrack is also unimpressive and voice acting is usually too overblown with corny romantic jargon. They fit the feeling of the show though and the directing is done right so they don’t feel out of sync.
But who cares about all that if you are taken in by a setting where a normal carefree life suddenly turns to a living hell? What it matters if you witness cute young people having to kill or be killed in a battle field? And that stuff actually happens; the scriptwriter does not miraculously save them just because they are major characters. In the contrary he does his best to kill most of them in a most pitiful, senseless, and unfair way imaginable, just to make the tragedy even bigger than it already is. He also never tries to make the actions scenes to be cool, or anyone to be super awesome for killing and destroying. He leaves everyone to be scared, weak, confused, and desperate, seeking love in a world gone mad.
So does that mean the anime is great for what it is? On the very basics, yes, it does it well in spades. That still does not save it from being too corny and senseless in the longrun. If for any reason you don’t sympathise the characters, the whole show will feel like an impossible to tolerate unrealistic war drama/soap opera with stupid science fiction and ridiculous plot twists. It is also true that the story overtakes the characters to the most part, because they are all too weak and miserable to affect the plot in the slightest way. Being passive observers to events that are past their powers only makes the viewer to be a plaything in the hands of the scriptwriter, who bases all the appeal of the show on shock effect. See past the shock effect and you lose most of the charm of the whole anime. Of course it was never intended to be seen past the tragedy or the weak characters but I am just saying it is the only thing it bets everything. It requires from the viewer to be in a very specific mindset and it’s definitely not for mass viewing or that accessible to most of anime fans.
I still recommended as a medium-low war tragedy based on manipulation of emotions. It is also quite the uncommon anime coming from a studio which loves to trash wonderful premises with retarded fan service and horribly bad CGI.