We’re back with the second episode of Sarazanmai: “I Want to Connect, but I Want to Take”. New episodes seem to be coming out on Saturdays, so I might catch up this weekend, or I might take another week.
We start off finding out what the stakes of the game are, cause we ran out of time in the last episode: wish dishes. Forget a castle of eternity; kappa can actually make things real. I skipped over the opening credits last time, but they’re kinda just a whole bunch of standard anime things thrown together, often with kappa. Including this watery bit that I remember from Psycho-Pass.
I mean, they’re only kinda fighting the sky for no reason.
Anyway, we get to meet Kazuki’s family
and honestly after Madoka and Erased I think I just have a soft spot for caring parents in anime? I want to see more of Kazuki’s family. (I guess Enta—childhood friend—has an okay family too.)
It’s not just Kazuki and Enta, though.
…okay, what is it with these shiny metal rulers being used as weapons? Like, yeah, they’d actually be pretty good weapons, and I guess they’re not restricted…eh, whatever.
Anyway, I guess Toi and Kazuki both have brother connections! Maybe that’s going to be a theme? Utena did a lot with brother/sister pairings. *shrug*
Meanwhile, we get an introduction to these two.
These guys are giving me the strongest Utena vibes of the series—smirky blond guy is clearly Touga on caffeine, and his partner is…well, okay, he doesn’t match up exactly with an Utena character, but he’s just as much a part of it all even if he’s serious about it, so I might just call him Saionji anyway. We get another frickin’ dance
which feels vaguely exoticized South Asian, ugh (Utena again), and end with
…well, at this point Ikuhara’s not even pretending it’s not Utena; he’s just messing with us. Also, exoticized queerness too I guess (from my friend L—more below). Even setting that aside, though, why does this show need so many musical numbers?
Y’know, I don’t have too much to say about this episode. Like, sure, there’s the slapstick of being forced to act as a couple—why did Kazuki (the one I originally called “the Narrator”) go along with this plan anyway? There’s the somewhat bland “leak” of Kazuki having stolen a cat in order to make his brother happy—why does his brother need extra attention, anyway? And there’s strong hints that the cop duo are bad guys after all, the ones responsible for the kappa zombies.
And then, in the post-credits scene, we get this.
Like, okay, let’s unpack that. It’s okay for a kid to have romantic feelings towards his friend. It’s okay for him to not know how to express them. But I can’t tell what the show’s baseline on gay relationships is—heck, I don’t even know the in-universe answer is to that, but I have to assume it’s not great. I don’t know if the show is going to try to encourage Enta, but right now it’s mocking him (the cat). And besides all that, Enta’s kissing Kazuki without consent.
tl;dr the fucking cat screaming bloody murder at that consent violation, we all know it was there to underline that two boys kissed and not the consent violation, and I hate it so fucking much
That’s from my friend L, who’s thought much more about both queerness and human desire than I have, and who is a lot more upset with the show than I am. (Though L is on ep 3 already and apparently it makes this last part worse.) The show is trying to deal with connections and secrets but it’s doing it by presenting desires as perversions. The secrets so far aren’t things you necessarily want to keep secret; they’re just things society will shame you for if they
Here we have humiliation as propeller. That these kids feel shame about what they feel pushed to is presented with no critique, as if it didn’t need to be noted as unnatural to the audience. To be gender-nonnormative, to be in love with someone, all assumed unnatural, twisted into unnaturalness.
My contribution to this is on the side of the kappa zombies, of which we’ve only seen two: a man who likes wearing boxes on his head while naked, and a man who was dumped and blames it on his ex’s cat, and so wishes he were a cat so that he could get the same attention. The zombies are clearly ashamed of these things, and while Kazuki does in fact show a bit of sympathy when it’s revealed, Toi immediately shuts it down. That’s in character for him, but the viewers are clearly supposed to think these desires are weird and icky, and therefore any sympathy you have as a viewer is probably still condescending.
I’ll quote one more line from L (actually from earlier in the conversation, which has already influenced several paragraphs):
I’m so f—n tired of Ikuhara […] presenting desire as shameful, which is honestly discourse that’s several decades out of date.
That’s true. Even if Sarazanmai were entirely about these kids learning to understand that their desires aren’t shameful—and sure, throw the zombies in there too—that’s…really basic at this point, even for me. Just watch Steven Universe instead. You gotta at least make it a critique of society, not an individual show of strength.
I really liked Utena, not because it subverts tropes but because it deconstructs the subversions. It had its collateral damage, to be sure, not to mention a high content warning level even for what it’s doing on purpose. But Sarazanmai, as of yet, is not Utena, and I’m not sure if it’ll get there.