The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide SukaSuka
How would you rate episode 1 of
What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I suspect that the old English folk song that plays over the opening credits of this show, “Scarborough Fair,” will have a lot to do with the direction this series goes in. The song, nominally about a fair in the Yorkshire town of Scarborough, is about one lover delivering a series of impossible tasks to the other. If the second can complete them, the first will take them back – “then he'll be a true lover of mine.” But they're called impossible for a reason.
This fits in well with what is revealed to be the setting of SukaSuka (thank god for abbreviations!) – 525 years ago, humanity was all but wiped out, presumably by the beastpeople who now make up the majority of the population. Lone human Willem has been around for all that time and now is charged with the care of “weapons” who look alarmingly like little human girls. Saving them, and possibly restoring humanity, is definitely looking like an impossible task.
So is giving this show a happy ending, I suspect, given the opening scenes of death and destruction, although hey, if Willem has been around for over five hundred years, maybe a head-first drop out of a plane won't kill him. There's certainly precedent within the episode for that: not counting that flash-forward, he catches girls and falls twice over the course of these twenty-four minutes. If that isn't foreshadowing then it's a case of seriously repetitive writing. Given the nearly identical scenes of the four little girls snooping at doors and falling through them, I wouldn't put it past SukaSuka to rely on repetition, but the falling seems more significant.
Thus far SukaSuka seems to linger between melancholy and happiness. The world culture is fascinating and the kids, and humanoid troll Nygglatho, are clearly meant to take the sting out of some of the darker parts with their bubbly adorability, but there's an uneven darkness undercutting the episode. We even see it in the juxtaposition of colors – from dark exteriors and claustrophobic cityscapes to bucolic scenery and charming interiors, everything points to something grim lurking just around the corner. I have to admit that that makes me very nervous and unlikely to continue the show, but I also must say that it is a very well done episode, one that almost makes me willing to put aside my reservations about where it's headed.
Ultimately all of this ties back into the symbolism of the ballad, where each herb named represents the hope that things may not be as doom-laden as they at this point appear: parsley mitigates sour emotions, sage is for wisdom, rosemary is for remembrance, and thyme for happiness. Maybe the task before Willem isn't as impossible as it seems. If you don't mind the likelihood of this becoming a dead kids story, I suspect it will be worth it to find out.
Consensus is still out on the best English shortening of SukaSuka, but don't let its intimidating name keep you from checking out a mostly stellar opening episode. The narrative saves its biggest reveal for the end but in the mean time sets up plenty of intriguing questions about its setting. In this world of floating islands and animal people, do apex predators hold the most political sway? Do cat people keep normal cats as pets? Can the armadillo humanoids get leprosy? Are food animal people harvested for meat or just non-sentient animals?
Unfortunately, SukaSuka wasn't interested in answering my very important questions about the ins and outs of furry society and would rather focus on the endangered humans running about and living in a “weapons warehouse.” Our protagonist Willem (of the non-Defoe variety) is in charge of the humans living there. At first glance, he looks like the new headmaster of an orphanage but if the opening segment is any indication, all these kids can kill him. The exact circumstances surrounding their powers and purpose are still a mystery, although a quick check of ANN's Encyclopedia entry sheds some more light on what's to come.
The premiere episode spends its time introducing viewers to labyrinth city of alleyways, stairs, and spiraling towers. It does a great job of creating a world that feels lived-in instead of merely tacked on for the sake of exoticism. It later moves into a shady pub run by a sheep bartender and then out into the swampy boonies to the last half. A well-crafted fantasy world is a rare sight in light novel adaptations that are usually more interested in telling you, either through overwrought narration or dialogue, how a world works instead of dropping the audience in to discover naturally.
The introduction of child soldiers was also a risky one. Not necessarily because of the inherit sympathy they illicit but because as a whole there is a fine line between accuracy and obnoxious. I was impressed with how the show managed to toe the kids' general curiosity and speaking style and mannerisms without making any of them seem too precious.
SukaSuka is off to a great start. I'm steeling myself for what seems like the inevitable ending of dead kids. Do what you want with that information before investing time into the show, but maybe it'll pull a happy ending out Chtholly's giant hat.
Anime fans often decry dumps of setting info at the beginning of a series in favor of gradually revealing details, but SukaSuka (the abbreviation used for the source light novel series) is one that could probably stand to be a little more forthcoming up front. After a flash-forward to dire battles, it proceeds with the first chance meeting of Willem and Chtholly (and yes, a lot of the names are that awkward), and viewers are left to piece together on their own that Willem is a sole remaining human in a world where the surface is uninhabitable and those that are left in the floating islands are either animal people or goblinoids; the episode's epilogue even suggests that Willem was part of the battles which wiped out humanity more than 500 years earlier, which suggests that this may be somewhat of an Utawarerumono scenario. Exactly how he ended up being a man out of time hasn't even been hinted at yet but provides one heck of a mystery to open the series on.
Much more obvious is that Chtholly and the younger girls who appear later on are not humans themselves but some kind of genetic weapons. Though this nature is not explicitly revealed until right before the closer, all signs during the episode – including the irony of rambunctious little kids being dangerous weapons – point in that direction, and that does seem to be Chtholly with red hair instead of blue being featured in the prologue. (Possibly the hair color change is a manifestation of her powers?)The closer also shows her flying with fairy-like wings, though whether that is meant literally or figuratively is unclear at this point.
What is clear is that the opening episode is trying play both the Cute Little Kids card and the Melancholic Future cards. Surprisingly, it actually succeeds at both. The gaggle of girls whom Willem meets at the “warehouse” can charm viewers from their first appearances, and somehow the series manages the pull that off without disrupting the early tone established by the use of “Scarborough Fair” as a theme song during early scenes where Willem shows Chtholly around town. While I can see this unevenness in tone as a distraction, the lighter parts seem more like a set-up for making darker parts to come all the harsher. I just can't see this story ending all that well.
But hey, getting me interested in how it's going to play out means that the first episode has done its job well. Some fairly sharp artistry and technical merits, courtesy of Satelight, also don't hurt.
SukaSuka (as it's mercifully abridged to in Japanese) seemed to be the fantasy light novel darling coming into this spring season. Given the events and tone of this first episode, I'm beginning to see why. In a sea of similar fantasy adventures, SukaSuka seems to be taking a route similar to the Grimgar approach. People actually live in these worlds, or at least, we're expected to believe these characters do. And action theatrics aside, living in a fantasy world is already a gateway to wonder.
This premiere moves slowly through setup, even indulging in a lengthy musical montage in its very first quarter. The main “hook” of the first half is mostly just the world that protagonists Willem and Chtholly (the names get pretty strange) inhabit. Inconsistent but often beautiful backgrounds introduce us to a vertically constructed medieval city, a city we soon learn was built to maximize space on a flying island. Flying islands aren't themselves particularly novel, but SukaSuka's approach is. Focusing on the clamor of the streets and the sense of physical space, this world is made into a living character before we know almost anything about the people within it.
SukaSuka's non-visual worldbuilding is much more understated, to its benefit. There's a little dragging out of the premiere's big reveal at the end (they really walk around the obvious conclusion that the children themselves are the weapons Willem is guarding), but otherwise, elements of this world, this story, and these characters' pasts come up only as they're relevant to ongoing conversations. We learn Willem has some fond but painful memories of taking care of children, and we learn humans are nearly extinct in this world. There are allusions to characters' histories, but nothing approaching direct exposition. The only real storytelling hiccup is the post-credit scenes, which tells us a fair amount of stuff that really ought to be either spaced out or inferred.
Based on the babysitting-focused shots that open the show's ending song, it seems likely that the show will continue to focus on Willem's relationship with this episode's mysteriously powerful children. That's totally fine by me - the conversation between Willem and the kids revealed this show really understands how to make child characters endearing, and I'm very on board for a more slice of life-oriented drama in a beautiful fantasy world. If I have any other reservations, they'd be the fact that the show is somewhat inconsistent in its background art, and that the three leads we've met so far all feel a little archetypal. But this premiere did a lot of stuff right, so I'm willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt.
Let's just get this out of the way now: this show has a silly, obnoxiously long title. The good news is that the series itself seems to be more interesting than its name might imply. It's definitely an odd story, so much so that I can't think of anything to directly compare it to. The closest I can get is the somewhat obscure Humanity Has Declined, which had a similar sense of picking through the wreckage after the end of the world. This show doesn't have the same bizarre sense of humor, but it definitely has a case of the post-apocalyptic blues.
This episode overplays its hand in the early going, starting off with a melodramatic monologue and following it up with the heavy-handed revelation that ordinary humans have become something of an endangered species. Thankfully, it improves from there; there's a sadly sweet vibe to Willem and Chtholly's trip through town, possibly because that scene isn't burdened by an excess of dialogue. The script takes a step back for a minute, and suddenly the emotions of the characters feel much more genuine.
From that point forward, the audience is prompted to ask all kinds of questions about what's going on and how the world ended up in its present state. We don't get much in the way of concrete answers, but the setup feels just different enough to be intriguing. That curiosity takes a backseat once Willem arrives at the “warehouse,” due in large part to the sudden onslaught of new and blindingly cute characters. As the girls upstage Willem in order to introduce themselves, it gets even harder to tell what kind of series this will be. Is this supposed to be a quite and contemplative piece, or is it meant to be a livelier slice of life comedy? Even the writing seems uncertain at the moment.
I'm really torn on this one. There are parts of this episode that I really like, and it's a reasonably good-looking production. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that the writing is up to the task of answering all the questions it puts forward. The tone feels inconsistent, and the dialogue needs an extra layer of subtlety if it's going to deal with the characters' inevitably tragic backstories. That said, I'll watch just about anything as long as it promises to do something new or unusual. Give this show a try, but be prepared to bail out later in the season if it can't live up to its potential.
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