Sarazanmai 1: "...But I Want To Lie"

Ikuhara Kunihiko, the guy who made Revolutionary Girl Utena (well, half the team) is known for being generally bizarre, putting way too much symbolism in his shows, and then adding a topping of unhealthy sexual content, and wow I didn’t even do that one on purpose.

Anyway, he has a new show, called Sarazanmai, and unlike Utena it gets to all of that in the first episode. So, uh, content warning for this entire blog series! I’ll be more specific for individual episodes, but for now you should read the Wikipedia article on kappa and decide if you want to proceed.

SARAZANMAI

Two years ago I did a watchthrough series for Psycho-Pass, where I posted my thoughts (and snark) after each episode. I also did an abbreviated version of this for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Both times it was a lot of fun, and I think friends who had already watched the shows enjoyed them. This time I get to do it for a show that’s still airing, though I’m a few episodes behind already. The audience for Sarazanmai might be more limited, though.

These posts are meant to be read after you’ve already watched the episode. Like the Psycho-Pass posts, I don’t want to fill up the front page of my blog with these, so future posts will be under the tag “Sarazanmai watchthrough”.


Okay, let’s get started! /me watches the first episode.

My first problem with this plan is that Sarazanmai is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what to take pictures of. I don’t know what to talk about.

"The world is filled with connections."

Ikuhara, are you trolling me already? I wouldn’t put it past you.

So okay, what are we working with? There’s three boys, probably in middle school: The Narrator, The Delinquent, and The Childhood Friend (never mind that they’re kinda all still children). The Delinquent and the Narrator accidentally break a kappa statue in the middle of their kappa-themed world—

THE BOX SAYS KAPPAZON.CO.JP!

—and thus start having kappa visions throughout their otherwise-normal (?) school day. They eventually go back to the statue and discover that they’ve released the King of All Cosmos.

"I am Keppi, heir to the kappa kingdom, kero."

The King, er, Prince asks them to help him with a problem. The Delinquent refuses and calls him a frog. This leads to our first incidence of, um, shirikodama extraction, which turns the two kids into kappas. What’s a shirikodama again?

"It's an organ inside the anus of every human."

I’m honestly not looking forward to having to go through this every episode. Shirikodama extraction is effectively anal rape, and if you want to turn off the show (and this blog) at this point I am in fact totally with you. Never mind that it’s part of the kappa mythology to begin with. Ikuhara knows he’s showing something unpleasant, however stylized, psychadelic, and background-musicked, and (I suspect) he’s doing it half to make a point and half just to mess with viewers. More on the former later.

The Childhood Friend shows up and gets turned into a kappa too, because, I don’t know, “connections”. The three kids are now in the kappa world, and in order to get back they have to defeat the Cardboard Box Zombie Kappa that’s been stealing everyone’s Kappazon boxes. Yes, really. One of them (I think the Delinquent) says

"We're taking back what they took from us."

“…That’s all.” And, uh, yeah, we all know how these “one time” things go. (This is also basically how Utena started, but I guess don’t mess with what works.)

Then there’s a musical number

"There's something I need to take back..."

and then a battle sequence that ends up being three kids *sigh* performing shirikodama extraction from a giant box demon. And here’s where we get the symbolism: a shirikodama represents your secret desires (think Mirror of Erised), and extracting it means that your secret is revealed. (And may or may not mean that you no longer have that desire? Unclear.) So the physical violation also represents a mental violation, and if I set aside my revulsion at Ikuhara’s choice of metaphor I actually get some late-story Umineko vibes from that.1

Anyway, the kids win their first battle, and discover that they have to perform the sarazanmai.

(holding up a shirikodama labeled "BUTT") "What is this?"

"What the hell is the sarazanmai?"

You and me both, kids.

Sarazanmai is

  • a ritual to return shirikodama to the Prince of All Kappa
  • a time where minds meld and some of those secret desires “leak” out (that is the word they use, “leak”)
  • basically sex

And so we get the one big reveal of the episode (if you don’t count the absolute ??? of the rest of it):

The Narrator's box contains clothes like the TV idol's from the start of the episode.

I was definitely surprised! I thought something more subtle was going on with the bizarre selfie moment in the beginning.

Delinquent: "What are you doing?"

And then I hoped that the Narrator would actually be trans, but…well, it’s not clear, but it seems more like he’s doing it to make a little kid happy, thinking that an idol’s actually interacting with them. Childhood Friend…seems to be okay with it! The Delinquent is not.

…and then the episode ends.

Oh, there’s a post-credits scene, too.

(police officer holding a gun with an attachment labeled "EXTRACT")

*gasp* Mechanized extraction! Oh yeah, this police officer and his partner are supposed to be important at some point too. We only saw them for a bit, earlier, keeping an eye on Box Demon’s human form. Kinda want them to be more than just the villains causing the zombie kappa, but right now they give me a very Black Rose vibe (Utena again). Guess I’ll find out.


So. What the hell did I just watch?

If it hadn’t been for Utena, I’d probably stop here. I expect every episode to have unpleasant sequences as a baseline given the mechanic they’re using. (Unpleasant for me, at least.) But Utena, for all its problematic-ness and some extremely uncomfortable scenes in the later episodes (in a different way), definitely paid off and was and is worth it for the ideas it explores, and so I’m giving Sarazanmai a chance.

I feel like the kappa part of this is Ikuhara’s answer to Madoka or something, but maybe I only think that because I haven’t actually seen that much magical girl anime. Still, we’ve got a fair number of parallels in setup: conscripted kids who have to extract organs from baddies and return them to a mythical creature with questionable goals. In Madoka the exploration was in the “conscription” and the “questionable goals”; in Sarazanmai, however, I expect it to be around “desires”, “secrets”, and that oft-repeated “connections”.

I skipped over a number of “interesting side notes” I noticed in this episode, like the pop idol being dish-themed (another kappa reference, actually, but also “dish” is “sara”), or the ア (“A”) that appeared on everything. I’ll try to skew more towards that next time instead of this meta-narration.

Until then…

Sarazanmai is available on Crunchyroll. Future posts will be under the “Sarazanmai watchthrough” tag.

  1. Unfortunately, discussing that further here would be a spoiler for Umineko. ↩︎