The setting is Asakusa. One day, second-years in middle school Kazuki Yasaka, Toi Kuji, and Enta Jinnai meet Keppi, a mysterious kappa-like creature, who steals their shirikodama and transforms them into kappas. "To return to your original forms," Keppi tells them, "you must fight the zombies and take the shirikodama from them." Can the boys connect with each other and steal the zombies' shirikodama?! At the same time, something is happening at the police box where Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu work. This is the story of three boys who can't connect with someone important to them, learning about what it truly means to do so.
I Want to be Connected but I Want to Lie
I Want to Connect, but I Want to Take
I Want to Connect, but It's Not Meant to Be
I Want to Connect, but You're So Far Away
I Want to Connect, but I Can't Be Forgiven
I Want to Connect, so I'm Not Giving Up
I Want to Connect, but I Want to Betray
I Want to Connect, but We'll Never Meet Again
I Want to Connect, but I Can't Express It
I Want to Connect, but I Can't
I Want to Connect, so Sarazanmai
Otterly Painful (Spoiler-free review) Sarazanmai is the latest brain-fart of "visionary" anime director Kunihiko Ikuhara, creator of such acclaimed cult classics as Penguindrum and Revolutionary Girl Utena. As the first of Kunihiko Ikuhara's works I've encountered, Sarazanmai, needless to say, does not exactly convince me of the quality of the others, so I can't comment on expectations that come with this show having seen the director's other works, as I went into this with a fresh perspective. If you want a perspective from an Ikuhara vet or fanboy, look elsewhere. No strings or bias here! With its uneccessary scattering of arbitrary symbolism and surreal, gross-out imagery, as well as its mish-mash of random themes and ill-fitting storylines with unlikable characters, It's plain to see just from this atrocity exactly the kind of director Ikuhara is, so there's a pretty good chance this is as far as I'll get into his catalogue. That said, on to the review: Sarazanmai holds no regard for the viewer from the first second to the last. From the opener of the first episode there's a lot of arbitrary symbolism, talk about "connections" and really transparent themes that are hammered in and glazed over with metaphors and sprinkled with random visual symbols to hide their simplistic nature. As transparent as the themes are from the beginning, the feeling which such instant overcrowding of the senses with meaningless symbolism can only be described as pretentious. At least that's the vibe I got from it. Ikuhara never bothers to contextualize any of this symbolism leaving it to float around without attribution, hoping I guess that at some point people will notice that "oh, that random thing which meant nothing now still means nothing in retrospect because it held no narritive weight, but at least I know it's connected to this thing now. That's... super". And that exchange repeats itself. I do not know what was intended to be accomplished with this overwashing of bizzare imagery, because most works of fiction dealing with heavy symbolism always draw appropriate attention to these things when they're needed to keep them in the viewer's mind and contextualize them to the plot at hand, so they can connect parts of the plot, but this doesn't happen in Sarazanmai. They're just floating there needlessly, poising as if to say "look what I did, I bet you're wondering what this means" without ever paying off. That's the least of my complaints there, is the over-saturated metaphorical nature of the presentation, but that's only surface level. It's the real meat of the show which is flawed. This anime is themed based on a lot of obscure Japanese mythos and culture, which is cool all things considered, until you see how it's presented, and then it's just gross. Like, I get it, it wants to be wacky, it wants to be bizarre. But rather than rely on comedic beats, timing, good directing, or denial of expectation in any tasteful way, Sarazanmai's entire comedic spirit and everything else relies only on the merits of how weird and cRaZy and lol's teh random it is, that there are these kappas stealing metaphorical balls out of people's anuses (graphically), and looking like they're constipated while pushing out a kappa version of the person they just assulted, in full anus juice-covered disgusting fasion. Ha... ha. Very entertaining. Now I'm not here to judge people's tastes, but this kind of "bold and brash" imagery is... disgusting. It's stupid. It's gross. It's the kind of "artistic" choice that I don't want to see. I legitimately don't understand what's appealing or funny about this. It's tasteless and weird in ways that just aren't okay. I suppose that's one of my main criticisms of this anime. It's very shameless. This kind of thing that doesn't take the viewer into account at all, this is what you're getting whether you like it or not. And this is coming from someone who delights in surreal and weird anime, like FLCL, Space Dandy episodes even, Flip Flappers, Mononoke, Boogiepop Phantom... there are an infinite amount of ways to be creative with this medium and this is a perfect example of how not to do it. Some will say it's due to the folklore. This is after all how the Japanese myth of the kappa goes, or at least one of the versions. But are we really supposed to take something like that seriously or even create this kind of rendition for it? Mythical depictions of weird creatures are fine to study their weirdness, but I don't understand the choice of basing an entire anime around it. But I digress. Some people bloody love the kappas and their anuses and apparently it's the funniest thing in the world, no one cares that it's gross. So fine, moving on to other less subjective criticisms then. This is actually a monster-of-the-week kind of show. Now you may think when I say that, this means a kind of episodic week-to-week breakdown where a team of heroes fights a single threat in some differing but similar way, saturday morning cartoon style. We've seen this kind of storytelling in Anime like Stardust Crusaders or Blood Blockade Battlefront. It's cool and it's usually a favorite formula of mine, simply for the variety they're able to bring sometimes in having a different enemy every episode and having it be its own contained little situation. But this show absolutely destroys the idea of this formula in a really disappointing way. The goal is apparently to have these three little boys turn into kappas so they can steal a zombie's shirikodama (from their anus lololol) so that it stops wrecking havoc on the world. And this brings us to a major problem with both the Story and the Animation. This anime has no problem in shamelessly re-using Animation assets. The battles presented week-to-week aren't just repeditive, they're the same set of frames, taking up 3 minutes of every episode at least. And they're choreographed. It's lazy, and it doesn't just grow old because it wasn't even cool the first time. And the worst is the singing. For some reason because the kappas in the weird zombie world taking you completely out of the real-world experiences the characters are getting into just to participate in this isn't enough, they figured they need a song-and-dance routine to go with it every time too. It's actually really obnoxious and I wish they'd stop, but it happens every episode. Someone could be dying and they'd pop into this little sequence like the episode minute count depends on it. And it's almost completely seperate from the events of the show. I'm really baffled among all the other choices made in this show, with this one right here. The rest of the animation is actually quite good, thanks to the staff on hand. It looks decent enough and I have hardly any complaints with the actual quality of the visuals besides this, which is why the animation rating is so high. But yeah, those sequences. Repeditive, annoying, and just plain dumb. This leads me to the next point, the loosely interconnected storylines. Every character in the main trio along with two other characters, have their own kind of arc they go through, so there's about 4 different arcs. This actually ties right into a singular legitimate Praise I have for the show, but I'll get to that in a minute: the kappa anus shenanigans and surreal imagery and useless symbolism and re-used monster of the week battles is all surface level. These 4 story arcs is what the show's really about (rendering all of those other elements COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS) so just consider this if you're into Story and Characters. One storyline follows the main character Kazuki and his brother Haruka as they deal with some kind of relationship thing involving a lot of unrelatable stuff like crossdressing for no reason, angst, and general nonsense. And I care about none of it. It makes no sense and isn't interesting at all. A second storyline follows the inner workings of Enta's mind, one of the other three boys, as he pines after his gay crush Kazuki in really creepy ways, and stuff happens. I just couldn't care less, man. A third follows Toi Kuji, the third of the main trio, as he deals with the loss of his family members, the pressure from his brother's illegal mafia life, and the dealings therein which are actually really quite well realized and has some good emotional weight to it. Yeah. I said it. I like this aspect of the show. I wish this aspect of the show WAS the show. It's relatable, it's grounded and down to earth, and it's well presented. I really wish it was a complete show. But it isn't. I'll get to that. The fourth and final follows an almost completely unrelated duo of characters, two cops, mabu and reo who happen to be attracted to members of the opposite sex which is both beautiful and brave, and their relationship and dealings with a mysterious force. Oh, and adding in about the repeated animation: New footage machine broke, but the yaoi machine is working just fine They all get really twisted in. Some of them have one entire episode dedicated to their arc. Lucky me! Because I can skip the others and just watch Toi's, which works perfectly well as a standalone without watching any of the other episodes. But sadly as it goes on, it becomes a complete mess of the four, all jammed in together to save time, no well thought out locations for emotional beats, bleeding into one another, and... it's really just a sad mess. Especially for the fact that I don't care about most of it, at least let the viewer focus completely on one of your four threads if you aren't going to have them hardly be connected. Enta as I said, is just kinda creepy, the show tries to present him in a cutesy way but it's very just self-serving and weird. Probably my least favorite character. There is at least something more to Kazuki. He cares deeply for his brother which is something, but the way he goes about it is both embarrassing and needless. The whole thing really should just be about his brother but the kappa thing finds a way to crowd in. There isn't much to Toi but his situation makes me care about him, so they succeeded there. And lastly the gay cops. All there is to them is they love each other. That's literally it. The Opening sucks, the ending theme is decent but really unfitting for the show, and the rest of the sound design is again just as repeditive as some of the animation. The show's themes are connections, desires, secrets, and other such things which could potentially be very interestingly explored. But they aren't. Instead this anime's ambitions are hidden away in super secret symbolism and subtext leaving the audience to gawk at a few transparent messages amongst a wave of weird visuals and a story and world that's as fragile and nonsensical and gross and alienating as it wants to be, but never having a reason to be so. Needless to say, all of that doesn't make me want to be connected in any way, to Sarazanmai. 2/10 ______________________________________________________________________________________ Reccomendations: If you're into anime with some complex themes and bizarre visuals, I would strongly divert you to something like FLCL and its sequels, Flip Flappers, Mob Psycho 100, or if you want to get really out there, Space Patrol Luluco. If you actually read this, wow that's amazing, and thank you!
SPOILERFREE Verdict: Must-Watch for everyone not put off by a bit surrealism in the beginning and with enough attention span to piece the story together over multiple episodes. It offers a lot for you. Story: How to talk about it without spoilers? The synopsis sounds quite bonkers and could be off-putting to some. But in typical Ikuhara fashion nothing is as it seems in the beginning. The show starts by just telling you the central message of the show: It’s about the connections you form with other people. What that really means is for the viewer to puzzle together. The creators, however, don’t just throw out nebulous metaphors. They take great care that they also present all tools for you to piece it together yourself while expanding the story with more context to explain it. In the end, everything that was “wtf” in the beginning falls together into one picture. They take the viewer by the hand to give them a general direction, but still enable the viewer to form their own theories, explanations and meanings along the way. It’s refreshing that a show don’t present something with the premise that the viewer is too stupid to understand it. The show treats its consumer as a mature person without being condescending or self-indulgent. One part of the puzzle pieces are the flood of word plays and puns. It’s a lot of fun to hunt them down, as these are the little details that fuel the story development in the beginning until things get made more clear. You can pick up on many hints and clues if you pay attention to these little things. You can divide the story into three main components that influence each other. You first have the general concept, the theme of ‘connections’, that get explored by the characters , which in turn live through and drive forward the plot. The character study and exploration of their motives is, imo, the meat of the show, while the general plot of kappas, kappa-zombies, otters and butt-stuff take a back-seat for them. More about them characters below. With concern about spoilers, I’ll just say that the plot is more than it seems in the beginning. Animation/Design: The animation is great. It’s animated on a high frame count and therefore delivers on fluid and beautiful movements. Storyboarding is also great with many unique and creative shot-compositions that greatly enhance the meaning of the scenes. The creators painstakingly crafted every miniscule detail to either enhance the story or to give the world more life. In the animations department you can see many details that weren’t necessary, like a sliding door bouncing back a little bit after being closed. You can count the shows that would spend time and resources on animating such little details on both of your hands. The action scenes are animated on 1s or 2s, meaning that a new drawing every 1-2 frames is used. Slower scenes are animated on 3-4s. Which makes this on par with Mob Psycho 100 or other highly acclaimed animations, in terms of production value. It’s less flashy with the rotating camera work than shounen battle series are, but still the camera work, perspectives and realistic movement of 2D characters in a 3 dimensional room are utilized with great effect. Also in typical Ikuhara fashion is the use of repetition. The transformation scene and the fighting scenes, that are pure and weird eyecandy, get repeated to enhance the themes. They get rearranged, cut and done with different characters to reflect the mental states of characters, to enhance themes or to reinforce metaphors. That’s how you use repetition as a stylistic method. Great designs for the characters, each and every one looks unique, is easily recognizable and just looks great without being over-designed. Simple is sometimes more effective. Everything is presented in a colorful and bubbly way. The characters look cute or, in the case of the cops, hot. The world’s design is really great. Ikuhara and colleagues are talented in making a world look lived in. Even though the background characters are just paper-cutouts, the environment makes them look more like normal humans than most of the other shows are able to. Every scene is crafted with a lot of little details without being littered. The composition and the realistic filling of the environment makes you feel intimately familiar with the town and the homes of the characters. And of course, there are all the crazy visuals and buttstuff. Sound/Voices/Music: The overall sound design is good, with every action being accompanied by fitting sound effects that leave a mark and are creatively used. It’s good, although nothing that special, but where the show really shines are the voice acting and the music. Voices simply fit for every character. Among the main trio the voices represent the mental state and maturity of their characters. Enta, who is much more childish than the others, lets this reflect in his voice with more erratic intonation and less control over his voice than the more mature Tooi. Keppi’s voice sounds more noble while also giving room for other interpretations and theories. The villain perfectly encapsulates “creepy motherfucker” by how calm yet threatening he speaks. A perfectly timed pause and then his agonizingly drawn out “Ussssoooo..” show how much care they put into the voice directing. The voices although excel in the dramatic moments. For sake of a spoiler free review I won’t go into details, but when tragedy strikes, you can just feel the pure pain, hurt and desperation in the voices. It’s raw and unfiltered emotion to the point that it can make you uncomfortable. The music. Man, the music. I simply love it. Usually I would just judge the OP and ED here, but this show delivers much more. The show has two main musical numbers that you can listen to on repeat by itself *cue sexy cops song*, but they get shook up and changed or cut according to the story, with the Kappa’s song changing to who sings it and what the theme of the episode is. Once again, that’s how you do repetition. The OP is an upbeat song about the struggle and beauty of forming and maintaining connections. It’s an optimistic view on the theme of the show. It shows the bonds and connections between the main trio and other characters in a positive and more lighthearted way. I like it. The ED on the other hand is about the pain of losing that connection, emphasized by incorporating the boys into the real world. They are shown separate from each other and appear a bit alien in that world, emphasizing the isolation and pain that losing such connections entails. Although this is the weakest song in the show, it’s still good and is accompanied by some great visuals. Characters: This is the real meat of the show, the general plot often takes a backseat for the character development. Once again, no spoilers make it hard to explain why they are so great, as the secrets they keep, what connections they have and how they behave is slowly revealed in the course of the show. While watching it weekly on release it was a great joy to discuss all the hints and theories about the characters. The secrets and stories behind the characters were written compelling and their story beats are unique and fresh. As of date, no other show had the balls to portray certain characters in such a realistic, loving and honest way. The show treats it characters with respect, despite the tragedies of the story. For the characters are the three main boys: Kazuki, Enta and Tooi. Each of them have their own circle of connections they try to protect and maintain. They have to come to terms with the pain and risks they entail and have to grow as characters with them. And oh boy they do. The character development for all characters complete a full arc and leave no open threads. How far would you take to protect the connections that are important to you and what are these connections anyway? Love? Lust? Desire? All these questions get raised and each character responds uniquely to these questions without getting preachy to the viewer. That’s how the characters propel the theme of the show forward. You will understand the terms, but the show won’t explain to you if that is the correct explanation or answer. The characters are mostly ambivalent and leave room for the viewer to make their own sense of it. The construction of the show’s characters is painfully realistic. While some character actions are over the top, many others are simply what you believe the character would do or come up with. They resonate with the viewer because they are so realistic. E.g.: You’ll probably say something along the line of “But why, Enta?” while cringing and dying a little inside watching it, but after all, these are actions that an immature 13/14 year old boy would do. The characters are acting exactly how a kid with their individual level of maturity would react. The same with adult characters in the show. Them going through intense trauma, ending desperate and feeling cornered makes you feel sympathetic towards them, despite their actions. What really resonated with me is the portrayal of LGBT characters. This is one of the few shows where gay characters got crafted with such depth and love for them. Both the warmth and tragedy of these characters is portrayed naturally and without clichés. Knowing I’m gay early in my life, and growing up with the hardships and pain that entails, makes me really glad that they tackled this topic with such delicacy and love, without omitting the hard parts. Overall: This show jumped to the second place of my list of favorite anime for a reason. It managed to resonate with me personally, a feat that only a few shows pulled off. In fact, I could count them on one hand probably. To be real for a second, I’m long through that age, but still, seeing it like that had a healing effect for me and made me remember a lot of things from when I was that age. Having to lie, not being able to be honest, the fear of rejection. The moment when hope is more painful than giving up, the moment when hope becomes the best feeling in the world, the moment you realize you love somebody, when you get accepted for who you are. Forming connections when you get accepted. Losing connections when you’re not. Good and bad parts of my life and even if it hurt once, it showed me again the beauty in having experienced it. That’s why the show and certain characters are special to me. It’s a great show and as long as you don’t reject it out of stubbornness you will find something in there for you. It has a lot to offer, from the enjoyment of piecing a story together yourself, exploring unique characters and finding a bit of yourself in them or just for the spectacle of the great and weird visuals. It’s definitely worth a watch. P.S. This was the short version. I could write so much more.
This is simply one of the best rollercoaster rides out there but I can't tell you how many g-forces you'll be experiencing. I also can't tell you how many barrel rolls there are, I can't tell you how many bunny hops there will be and I also can't tell you how crazy the freefall drop will be. You simply just have to experience it. You'll be asking yourself tons of questions because you really have no idea what to expect. It'll be exciting and you'll be curious to find out what's going to happen next. So sit down, buckle up and enjoy a damn good ride!
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