The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. ?
What is this?
Saiki Kusuo is a psychic. If it involves his mind, he can do anything: telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, teleportation, precognition…you name it, he's got it. But ever since a disastrous kindergarten incident that won him notoriety as “Rock-Paper-Scissors Boy” he's kept his talents strictly between himself and his parents, who have never realized that he's unusual. Now a second-year at PK Gakuen, Saiki just wants to get through the day without anyone finding out about his powers. Good thing he's got a best friend who's too dumb to have thoughts to read and a classmate who thinks he has magical powers instead! Now if only his parents would leave him alone to eat his dessert in peace…although he might have bigger problems when the self-proclaimed prettiest girl in school, Kokomi, decides that she's in love with him. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Funimation, Sundays at 2:05 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
So the big debate about this series is going to be whether it is best enjoyed in the five minute vignettes that it was originally broadcast in over five days or as a single episode composed of those five vignettes glued together with a single opener and closer at the beginning and end. I think it's beyond debate that the series is, at a minimum, sporadically funny.
I watched it in full-episode form, and frankly, I don't think it matters. I could see these vignettes easily being satisfying on a one-a-day basis, but I did not think that they lost a thing being viewed back-to-back. After all, this would hardly be the first successful comedy series to air as a full episode composed of short-length vignettes – not by a longshot! – and the experience isn't any different from watching several omake back-to-back off of a DVD or Blu-Ray release. Hence I think the best way to view entirely comes down to personal preference.
In the case of this set of five vignettes, I did not see any concern about how they might overlap. Sure, Saiki and his psychic powers (and predilection towards not using them frivolously, lest he attract unwanted attention) are at the center of all of them, but beyond that each one presents a very different aspect of what he has to deal with as a high school student. Each one is also quite funny, but in different ways. For instance, the one involving his parents is funny for how cheerfully mean his parents are to each other before they make up (due to Saiki's subtle interference) and the one about the pretty girl is funny for how her efforts backfire on her and she doesn't even realize that they have, which will no doubt inflict endless amounts of distractions on Saiki in future installments. The notion that there is someone in school so stupid that Saiki can't read him (when he can read even animals) is also good for a few chuckles, as is the irony that he really does have the powers that the chunibyo guy claims that he does.
The production merits on the series aren't anything special – in fact, the art and animation are both pretty simple – but they don't need to be to get the humor across. Beloved veteran seiyuu Hiroshi Kamiya also does a wonderful job with Saiki's dry, matter-of-fact delivery, which helps a lot. And yes, I did get the pun inherent in the series' name.
Whichever way you take it, this looks like a great palette-cleanser kind of show to watch in between other series.
There was one moment of Saiki K's first episode that was actually a little amusing. In the episode's fourth skit (this first episode is basically just a collection of shorts gracelessly grafted together), the show introduces a chuunibyou character whose joke is “I am the chuunibyou character.” At one point, he says he has tentatively named an escaped snake the “Murder-Dragoram-Snake,” and we get an artist's depiction of what a Murder-Dragoram-Snake might look like, complete with snake-horns. That is a nicely whimsical image.
Everything else about this episode was basically torture. The premise here is that Kusuo is a psychic whose powers only cause inconvenience for him, but the joke is pretty much always “other people make loud noises, Kusuo says 'ugh, why do people have to make loud noises around me.'” The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is pretty much Exhibit A for why having a straight man explain your jokes only makes things less funny. None of the gags in this episode are particularly clever, and none of them are allowed to stand on their own, either. After every single silly action, Kusuo steps in to explain exactly why it was silly, sigh, and ramble about what a bother everything is.
Every unusual action by any character earns a “that was an unusual action and here is why” explanation from Kusuo. Every turn is predicated and followed by tedious internal monologue from our leading man. Not a single beat is allowed the breathing room to even try to be funny. Bad jokes are one thing, but bad jokes that are immediately explained over and over again feel like a kind of punishment.
Saiki K's aesthetics match the level of its humor. The show really does feel like a bunch of gag shorts strung together - there's no flow to any of the show's setups, and it doesn't actually return to any of its own beats in order to create more ambitious or at least multifaceted punchlines. The art style reminds me of low-tier early 00s shows, and it would be generous to the point of misleading to refer to this show as animated at all. Characters are still frames that hover across the screen to avoid the articulation of movement. There is very little you could describe as visual comedy here, because Saiki K is just a collection of still panels colored in and accompanied with voice acting.
I really don't have anything good to say about this show - it's ugly, tedious, and basically never funny. The problems endemic in this show are frankly common to a lot of anime (“let's explain the joke,” “someone acting mildly unusual is a joke by itself,” “everyone loves loud noises”), but they're rarely expressed so consistently and succinctly. Comedies don't get much less compelling than this.
Comedy is by far the most subjective emotional experience to try and quantify. I know I really hate trying to grade comedies myself. If it's a dramedy or a show with some comic elements that don't form the core of its entire appeal, that's totally fine. But if the end-all-be-all of a show is whether it makes me laugh or not, there's not much to say besides "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," with the caveat that my thumbs are completely different from any other given person's thumbs.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's nothing overtly wrong with Saiki K., and I can definitely think of anime fans I might recommend it to for its goofy premise and occasional clever visual gags, but dammit, the show just never made me laugh. Not once. And as a pure gag comedy, that's the only real purpose it serves, so I can't fall back on anything else the show might have done right to balance out its floundering punchlines. So I rated it with a "harmless shrug" number, right in the middle between 0 and 5, not because the jokes were bad, but because something in the execution just wasn't allowing them to land with a laugh.
It's really hard to explain your own sense of humor to others, but I think the problem was twofold for me on this one. Saiki K has both a timing problem and a production problem that undercuts its comedy. In the former case, the show's pace never really changes to either let gags stew longer or throw in a blink-and-you-miss-it guffaw moment. It does the weird '90s kids anime thing where someone has to be talking in every single shot, as if the show is terrified of losing your attention with any millisecond of silence. So even when the dialogue is really clever, you don't get the chance to react to it before the show barrels into another conversation or train of thought entirely. On the production side, Saiki is very simple and bland-looking, but it never pushes that aesthetic far enough into cartoon ugliness that it could enhance the comedy or animation. There's not much creativity in the storyboarding either, so most of what you're looking at is flatly colored and shaded manga panels of characters staring at each other against basic backgrounds.
Saiki K. is at least as chuckle-worthy as Handa-kun in concept, but it falls pretty flat in execution. Everyone's taste in humor is wildly different, so it might work better for you, but this one just wasn't speaking to me, in the same way that understanding a joke after it's explained to you won't make you think it was funny.
I have a soft spot for absurd comedy, and The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. fills that need this season. First broadcast in snippets, the full first episode is still very choppy, divided into four segments about different people Saiki interacts with – his oblivious parents, his dumbass friend Nendou, delusional Kaidou, and self-proclaimed nice and kind beauty Kokomi. While the sections don't precisely build on each other, they do come together to form a funny whole, with my favorite being the Kaidou segment. The other three, while amusing, don't quite take things far enough, particularly Nendou's part, which relies on him being so dumb that there's no mind for Saiki to read. He's the only person besides his parents Saiki can use his powers around because he either doesn't notice anything going on or misattributes it to something else. Kokomi, meanwhile, can't fathom that Saiki simply might not want her attentions and ends up accidentally convincing herself that she's in love with him, which is definitely going to be a source of humor (and possibly irritation) going forward.
Kaidou, on the other hand, believes that he has a monster living in his arm and the magical powers to fight a conspiracy that exists only in his mind. He also thinks that Saiki has powers, but he's too delusional for Saiki to really worry about it. In his section of the episode, a snake escapes from its tank and Kaidou gives it the awesome name of “Murder Dragoram Snake” and plans to use his “Judgement Knights of Thunder” to defeat it. Apart from the fact that a town not too far from me is <a href="http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/29/large-snake-spotted-eating-beaver-on-banks-of-river-in-westbrook/>having" a little issue with a rogue serpent</a> so this felt very timely on a personal level, the fact that the background music for Kaidou's big face-off with the “monster” is actually a song about Judgement Knights of Thunder is an excellent touch that just sells the whole thing. It's the kind of absurdity that really works, taking itself just seriously enough that the lunacy becomes solid.
This sort of detail is seen throughout the episode, although never quite as perfectly as with the song. The BL fantasy after Nendou tries to save someone via unnecessary mouth-to-mouth is fun and Saiki's parents are utterly insane. They're more a vehicle to explain his powers, but Rikako Aikawa as Saiki's mother is amazing, getting an impressive range that really makes the character and, in some ways, the episode section. The animation isn't terrific, with a lot of still shots against brightly-colored backgrounds, but the voice acting is fabulously frenetic and makes up for it for the most part. I do hope we eventually get an explanation for why Saiki has two game controllers on his hair clips, and I'm not sure how I feel about only the important characters having wacky or bright hair, a device I've never quite been at peace with. On the whole, though, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.. just wants to be an absurd show about a guy who wants to live normally (despite his fashion choices saying otherwise) and keep his powers under wraps. We'll see how that works out for him.
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