The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Sabagebu! Survival Game Club!

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3


Transfer student Momoka is sick and tired of being a transfer student. She's tired of making nice, she's tired of having to make friends, and pretty much, she's just over it. This time, though, it looks as though things might just turn around. On her first day of school, she's rescued from a groper by a handgun-wielding gal named Mio. She turns out to be the president of the school's Survival Game Club!, and she's keen on having Momoka as a new member.

Inevitably, a show like Sabagebu! invites itself to be compared to Stella C3-bu, considering both series are about survival game clubs at all-girls high schools. Or even Girls und Panzer, which doesn't have any handheld guns, but certainly has weapons and strategy, and Upotte!! which also has girls and guns. But although Sabagebu! bears superficial similarities to the aforementioned series, it's also very much its own show. Unlike Stella C3-bu and Girls und Panzer, Sabagebu! takes itself much less seriously, throwing in self-aware cracks about its shoujo manga origins, and the cliched-ness of some of its elements. On the one hand, it helps set it apart from its predecessors, but on the other hand, only time will tell whether this line of humor will be sustainable in the long run, or if it will run out of fuel—and jokes—too soon.

In fact, the fact that the show is loaded with cute girls and guns isn't really the most common thing about it. The first episode is crammed with (tongue-in-cheek, perhaps) clichés, like the popular senpai (who in this case is a weird gun nut who dresses in combat clothing and carries Airsoft guns with her wherever she goes), the bullies who hate anyone who gets close to her, and the girl running to school with toast in her mouth. It's all addressed with a WINK-WINK-NUDGE, but that kind of "it's funny because it's bad, see? See?" can only go so far without burning out.

For the time being, though, it's okay. It's possible that the series will be able to ace the balancing act required for such humor to succeed. And it certainly does give the actual survival game scenes a little wiggle room for action—at one point, while the girls are blasting bullets at each other and bleeding out of their tits (ouch), the narrator sagely says, "This is in their imagination." It would have been better if those scenes had been contrasted with what the games looked like in real life, but for those viewers who want the look of a action series, but the heart of a school comedy, it's a reasonable middle ground.

Overall, though, there are a lot of things about the series that could have been better if they'd been executed a little differently. As it stands, the first episode is just okay. I enjoy Airsoft enough that I'll tune in for a couple weeks, but I worry that the series will lose steam. For now, we'll see.

Sabagebu! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 2


Sabagebu! is a comedy about airsoft-totin' hyperactive high school girls who take their hobbies to the extreme and stage "survival games" between each other in their wacky imaginations. From the very first second, it's being sold on the yuks above all else, so here's the only important question: is it funny?

I think the answer is "sometimes, but not often enough." For what it's worth, Sabagebu! isn't a tepid, syrupy sunset glow kind of "comedy" that takes aim at more giggles than laughs. It's rowdy and ludicrous, and it commits to its own craziness in a way that's kind of admirable. Its goal is clearly to make you laugh, even at the expense of its main girls' potential sex appeal, and it's packed with narrator jokes, slapstick, and just a pinch of non-sequitur. The high frequency of jokes ensures that some of them land solidly, but unfortunately, there's still a lot not to like here. I don't like how cheap the show looks, it's easily one of the flattest and most unattractive of the season. Even Rail Wars! looks nicer, or at least stays on-model more consistently. I don't like how overwritten a lot of the jokes are, to the degree that the show will take a funny gag and then stomp all over it by hammering it over and over in the following few seconds. Then there's the worst problem: I don't like the hyperviolence played for laughs, at least not in execution. In theory, the blood-spattering mayhem Sabegebu! indulges at the end could be very funny. Plenty of anime do harsh or bloody slapstick well, from Great Teacher Onizuka to School Rumble, but it doesn't work here. It just comes across as tasteless and off-putting due to poor timing and framing.

For the jokes it gets right and its commitment to shameless silliness, I can give the show a little credit, but this is as much of an acquired taste as you can possibly get when it comes to hyperactive cartoon comedy. Outside of the few aspects that work, Sabegebu! is cheap-looking, obnoxious, and the jokes that don't land crash down miserably with tryhard tastelessness. Can't really recommend it when there's much better comedies out this season.

Sabagebu! Survival Game Club! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 2


Poor Momoka is always transferring schools because of her dad's work. She's got the pattern down to an art, however, so she doesn't expect this latest transfer to be any different...until she's groped on the train and a girl whips out two guns to save her. It turns out that the girl is Miou, an upperclassman at her new school, and that she has designs on Momoka: she wants her to join the Survival Game Club!. While the premise of this show makes me very uncomfortable – real or not, I am not a fan of shooting guns at another person – it handles things with a light, humorous touch that really works and even got me to laugh a couple of times. In large part this is due to the weird older man narrator, who reminds us that the girls are using BB guns and that the blood and bullets are entirely in their imaginations. He also makes snide comments about, well, everything, which is reminiscent of the early seasons of Hayate the Combat Butler. Tesshō Genda is no Norio Wakamoto, but he still does a terrific job of interjecting a little sarcasm into the proceedings. That the show is quite self-aware is also a plus, with Momoka at one point asking who the middle aged man was who just said something along with a couple of other more metafictional moments.

For an anime based off a manga from Nakayoshi (original home of Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura, among other titles), Sabagebu! is surprisingly mature and fanservicey. Maya, one of the other girls in the club, is a gravure model and gets shot in the nipples during the game, and Miou's short-shorts are kind of tight in the crotch. The (fake) violence is also a little more graphic than one might expect, with the girls playing their game in a room designed to look like a bombed out cityscape and plenty of bullets flying. That the narrator tells us they are fake is minimally reassuring – if you didn't like the last survival game anime, you probably won't like this one either, even though it is significantly lighter fare. Adding to this is blocky artwork and some scenes of intense bullying played for laughs (thanks, narrator!), so while it does have a few things going for it, Sabagebu! mostly just left me feeling vaguely icky and uncomfortable.

Sabagebu! Survival Game Club! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Theron Martin

Rating:  3 (of 5)

Review: First-year high school student Momoka Sonokawa has just transferred into the all-girls Aogiri High School. She's been through the routine before, due to her father moving around a lot for work, and is tired of it, but still puts up a good enough front to get by. While contemplating whether or not the school has anything unusual for clubs, she notices an unusual individual: a girl walking around with an apparent hand gun, who is the same girl who helped her out with a chikan (a molester who illicitly tries to cop a feel on a train) that morning. She soon discovers that the girl, one Miou Ootori, is the president of the school's Survival Game Club!, which is gung-ho about playing airsoft (the subtitles say BBs) and also the school's most idolized girl – and she knows it, too. Momoka soon gets shanghaied into joining the club of loonies and quickly proves to be a natural.

The premise of this series invites inevitable comparisons to last year's Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3. While the structures of their first episodes are somewhat similar, the approaches are entirely different. Whereas C3-bu was a vastly more introspective piece focused on charm, character development, and meticulous detail, this one is a brassy, goofy comedy in which even the narrator gets in on the jokes. Momoka is not a timid girl trying to break out of a shell; she is a restrained beast whose vengeance is savage when girls try to bully her and who ruthlessly takes advantage of opportunities during the practice survival game at the end of the episode. Miou is also a delight as the improbably popular eccentric who is adored even for being egotistical (and the fact that she is popular despite her character and interests is, presumably, part of the joke). More depressing parts aren't dwelled on, as the point is to get to the jokes and parodies. And some of the jokes are, indeed, pretty funny, such as the completely over-the-top survival game store or what, exactly, being a “Chosen” turns out to be. The art style is less refined than C3-bu’s, with a focus clearly aimed more at fan service that being cute, though what fan service the first episode has is not too brazen.

Another major difference between Sabagebu! and C3-bu is that this one is completely willing to sacrifice philosophy and realism for joke value. That means that, while you will see meticulous detail in weapon rendering, you will not see any display or discussion of safety procedures (the girls do not even wear goggles for the survival game), rules, the spirit of the game, or anything of the sort. The imagination of the girls, in terms of playing up the war scenario, is also vastly more graphically violent. Beyond its occasional bits of tastelessness, though, this is an entertaining and sometimes bitingly funny show which looks like it intends to poke fun at everything it can in gun-oriented game and movie genres.

Sabagebu! – Survial Game Club - is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 3.5

Review: Do we really need another show about wacky girls doing wacky stuff in a wacky school club? If it's a comedy by Masahiko Ohta, then yes. Yes we do. Ohta isn't always the most reliable director—he couldn't do anything interesting with Yuruyuri and he let Love Lab destroy itself trying to be an emotional drama—but if there's one thing he does well, it's comedy. Very well.

And Sabagebu! is pure comedy. No emotional entanglements. No dramatic ambitions. No gravitas. When our heroine, acerbic transfer student Momoka, gets into bully trouble while trying to fool everyone into thinking she's sweet and innocent, the show's narrator butts in to assure us that this isn't going to get all dark and depressing. And he's right. Momoka is too tough and cynical for bullying to affect her. She just bides her time, quietly exasperated, until she can deliver retribution with pointy-toothed relish.

And that's pretty much the way it goes. The show wastes no time puncturing every school-anime cliché it can get its absurd hands on. The obligatory train-car molestation descends into wonderfully surreal territory when Momoka is rescued—though she clearly doesn't need it—by Mio, president of the titular Survival Club, who threatens the molester with twin Desert Eagles. The elderly molester thinks of his kind wife and college-age daughter back home, finds the will to live, and defends his precious life with his middle-school karate. It's a gut-bustingly dumb fight, with a sight-gag finish to die for.

As the episode proceeds and Momoka gets conned and drugged (yes, drugged) into joining Mio's club Ohta delivers a staccato stream of such silliness, all served up with impeccable timing and a killer eye for funny-bone-abusing visuals (the ghillie suit alone is worth the price of admission). It's not a deep strategy by any stretch, but with this much fun to be had, who cares?

Sabagebu! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

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