Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: Sarazanmai

Original Run: April 12, 2019 - June 21, 2019
Number of Episodes: 11
Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Sarazanamai. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Within us all are secrets and desires we hope to keep locked away. That is no different for three middle schoolers, Kazuki Yasaka, Toi Kuji, and Enta Jinnai (voiced respectively by Ayumu Murase, Koki Uchiyama, and Shun Horie). However, sometimes, those parts of us we don’t want anyone to know about will come out.

One day, Kazuki, Toi, and Enta accidentally break the statue of Tokyo’s Asakusa district’s guardian deity. This awakens the long sleeping prince of the Kappa Kingdom who immediately turns the trio into kappas. The prince then assigns the boys a mission.

In Asakusa, people have been turning into mysterious zombie-like creatures. To break the spell, Kazuki, Toi, and Enta, in their kappa forms, must retrieve the transformed person’s shirikodama (the mystical organ which houses desire). Upon successful retrieval, the kappa prince bestows onto the boys a Dish of Hope. When enough dishes are collected, a wish can then be granted.

Unfortunately, obtaining a shirikodama requires one of the three to reveal a secret of their own.

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Series Positives

This show was weird, and I think that’s understating things.

I have reviewed enough anime to trust my gut when it appears a series is relying on a facet of Japanese culture I am unfamiliar with. With Sarazanmai, I wouldn’t say I am ignorant about kappas, but after watching this show, I do have a few new questions.

For a little context: A kappa is a beast from Japanese folklore. They are often depicted as humanoid creatures that are part-turtle and part-frog, with, perhaps, a little bit of duck thrown in. Kappas have a shell on their backs and a water dish atop their heads. They are also typically found near rivers and enjoy cucumbers, as well as sumo wrestling. Depending on the story, kappas can be either notorious tricksters or friendly troublemakers.

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Just so we are clear, that was my basic understanding of kappa lore when I went into Sarazanmai. Apparently, though, the little detail about kappas removing a person’s “shirikodama” (a mythical organ) was something I had never run into before.

What is a shirikodama, Odyssey, and how does it play into this show’s weirdness?

Well, according to Sarazanmai, a shirikodama houses a person’s secrets and desires, and a kappa can extract it through the anus.

Here is where I would usually give you a moment to let that sink in, but under these circumstances, it wouldn’t matter. Sarazanami was very, VERY detailed in its visual explanations.

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With that said, among Sarazanami’s best features were its visuals. This was an exceedingly beautiful show. If nothing else, you cannot accuse this series of not having an imagination. This whole story was style-focused. If there was something that could have been explained through actions, settings, or basic audience deductions skills, then there was never a push to have stiff, lifeless exposition.

For example, main character Kazuki Yasaka was introduced as someone who would do anything to protect the happiness of his younger brother, Haruka (voiced by Rie Kugimiya). For a while, it wasn’t explained why Kazuki felt so strongly about that. After all, every time he interacted with Haruka, Haruka looked well. Then in a quiet, no-flare scene, Sarazanami showed us, not lectured us – and that was what was so crucial – the information we needed to see.

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We all know the saying: A picture is worth a thousand words. With that in mind, visual storytellers need to have faith that their audiences have working brains. Most people do not require their hands to be held, and you would be surprised by how many blanks a person can correctly fill on their own. Sarazanamai understood this concept, and it benefited as a result.

On top of that, don’t let this series’ wacky, over-the-top visuals fool you. While everything might look silly and this story wasn’t afraid to be goofy, this was not a for-younger-audiences comedy. Sarazanmai was willing to bring up considerably more mature subjects than what its animation style would suggest. Nowhere was this more apparent than with Enta Jinnai and Toi Kuji.

With Enta, he was this show’s interpretation of jealousy. Before the start of this story, Enta’s only friend was Kazuki. Therefore, when Toi came into the picture, the balance was disrupted. It also didn’t help that, according to Enta, Toi was bad news and he would only drag Kazuki down.

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With Toi, he was unlike most other delinquent characters I have come across. In the past, series have described delinquents as street brawlers, pickpockets, and, occasionally, petty criminals. Toi wasn’t any of those. He was in a much deeper, darker hole. There was so much more to his life than being a simple schoolyard punk. Toi was far more complex.

A major element to Sarazanmai was uncovering people’s closest guarded secrets. Kazuki, Enta, and Toi, to do what they had to do, needed to expose people at their weakest. And in order to do that, the trio had to reveal their own skeletons. This show didn’t mess around.

The utter strangeness of Sarazanmai turned this into a total wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing situation. And I, for one, was all for it.

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Series Negatives

I will admit, I enjoyed this series. I would also go as far as to say Sarazanmai was pretty damn good. However, it would be wrong of me to ignore the fact this show did suffer from a case of style-over-substance syndrome.

There were times when Sarazanmai lost track of what it was doing. The ending, in particular, was a bit of a mess, and it was the weakest part of this story. But I can forgive the ending; it was coherent enough. However, this show made it a habit to shoot itself in the foot.

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It is not impossible to mix screwball comedy and drama. It’s hard, yes, but it’s not impossible. Unfortunately, Sarazanmai wasn’t the best example of that happening.

It was difficult to take things seriously, and that was a problem given some of the subject matter found in this show. Jumping from happy-go-lucky slapstick to a traumatic backstory which involved the murder of a gang leader isn’t something a story can just do willy-nilly. While a narrative can have both, there does need to be a bridge of some kind, any kind. Sarazanmai provided nothing of the sort.

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I may have given you an extreme example, but trust me, there were still plenty of others I could have brought up.

In addition, I will never fault an anime for being weird. To tell you the truth, that weirdness was my favorite part of Sarazanmai, and at first, that was what made this a fun watch. Sadly, the novelty grew old, and this series fell into a routine. Things became very formulaic, and that feels so strange to say knowing how insane things could get in this show.

Nevertheless, by the final few episodes of Sarazanmai, there were no longer any surprises. The big bang this series started off with, barely carried it through to the finale.

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Final Thoughts

I was legitimately blown away by this show – initially, that is.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a ton to like about this one.

  • Outstanding animation
  • Fascinating scenarios
  • Fun humor
  • Great characters

For the majority of this series, everything was firing on all cylinders. But by the end, it was clear things were running out of steam.

Fortunately, the finish line was crossed, and that is why Sarazanamai has earned a recommendation.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Sarazanamai? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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