The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
In distant future, long after the Western calendar is no longer used, humans live shoulder-to-shoulder, cramped in the "Labyrinth," an underground world deep below the surface. The place is known for extreme high temperatures, but also for lodes of gold, silver, and other riches. In one of the colonies named Pin-in, a curious nine-year-old girl named Memempu and her father Gagumber board a two-person work robot and mine for ore. They eke a living as the lowest of lowest "Worker" occupations. One day, Memempu begs her father to set out as Markers — those who chart the innards of the Labyrinth as a spelunker — to search for her mother who left their home. A Marker is the most dangerous, but also the most lucrative, job. Gagumber decides he cannot hold back the ever-curious Memempu from going off on her own countless times, and finally gives in. The two embark on a journey together in the work robot.
How was the first episode?
Hello everyone, ANN's official depressed anime dad lover has signed on to give my exclusive and specialized rating of the newest sad daddy anime, Sakugan. I gotta say, this has it all: parent/child squabbling, a messy living space, a sad past, pontificating about what it means to be a parent and watch your child grow up, and lingering shots of muscular dad thighs! It has everything a gal could want.
Okay, it's not all DILF fetish, but it's made absolutely, one hundred percent clear that parenthood and father-daughter relationships are the central themes here. The first episode is called “Fathers & Daughters,” Gagumber and Memempu have foils in Walsh and Lynda, and the script hammers hard on Gagumber's complicated relationship with fatherhood, especially when it comes to being the single parent of a brilliantly intelligent, complicated nine-year-old girl. The episode's entire arc is about him coming to terms with the fact that even though she's still a child, she's strong-willed enough that either he has to bend a bit on letting her explore the Labyrinth, or their relationship is going to break.
Plus, you can't tell me they didn't know exactly what they were doing when his shirt falls while he's hanging upside-down, exposing his toned abs, or when the camera puts his thighs in the foreground as he snoozes on the couch in his boxers.
A huge part of what makes this work is also that Memempu is a fully-realized person in her own right. Too often, the daughters (because it's always daughters) in single dad anime are primarily objects to build their fathers' character arcs around, or are basically docile little bunny rabbits to make the primary audience go, “Awww.” While Memempu and Gagumber were clearly developed in conjunction with each other, she has her own thoughts and feelings and ideas so that she feels like more than just a foil for her dad.
Even if you're not soft for disaster dads and badass daughters, there's still more than enough to Sakugan to keep most viewers engaged. The world is something like Gurren Lagann meets Made in Abyss meets Deca-Dence – underground cities connected by a mysterious, monster-infested labyrinth that has never been fully explored, where humans explore, fight, and do labor in mechs. Pinyin, where Gagumber and Memempu live, has a delightfully grungy, lived-in feeling. Every frame, every background bursts with personality.
Between its energy, design, character writing, and clear-cut themes, Sakugan clearly has a strong sense of its own identity. It knows exactly what it is and the story it wants to tell, and I am here for it.
Despite its sci-fi trappings of giant robots and sprawling underground civilization, Sakugan's first episode really isn't about mecha fighting monsters. Rather, it's about the relationship between a single father and his daughter. Gagumber is a man who doesn't really know how to be a father beyond keeping his daughter fed, clothed, and with a roof over her head. He works hard, drinks hard, and then passes out on the couch. That's not to say he doesn't care about his daughter, however. He cares about her desperately—he just doesn't know how to express it. This has led to a serious lack of decisiveness in his parenting; because he doesn't know the right thing to do, he often does nothing.
Perhaps this would have all worked itself out on its own if Memempu were a normal little girl, but she's not. She's smart far beyond her years, but without the maturity that comes with growing up. Memempu still sees the world through a child's eyes—as a place for daring adventure rather than the dangerous place it actually is. Worse yet, her incredible faculties mean that it's only a matter of time before she'll be able to head out into the world with Gagumber unable to stop her.
Then comes the big climax of this episode, where Memenpu is forced to confront the adult world in the worst way possible. As she watches her friends die, she comes to a heartbreaking realization: Even when faced with the brutal fragility of their existence, her very soul still screams to go out and adventure.
And it's at this moment that Gagumber realizes he can't stop her, no matter what he says or does. He has only two options: let her go alone or go with her. And to Gagumber's credit, he makes his choice in an instant. He does what any good parent would do, which is to ensure that he is there to protect and nurture his daughter.
Sure, this isn't a fix to their dysfunctional relationship, but it is a first step along the path to mending it. I'm sure they will continue to have fights and backslide from time to time but I'm excited to see their relationship grow as the series continues.
It's going to be hard for me to not make comparisons between Sakugan and Made in Abyss, mostly because the former seems to be working as a conscious reaction to the latter. The superficial similarities are easy to spot, too: Both shows take place in settings that revolve in some way around the mysterious, fantastical labyrinths of beasties and mysteries that lie at the center of their worlds, and those who are willing to brave the unknown and the monsters that lurk within it are treated as the paragons of society. Both stories also star brilliant young girls who want nothing more than to take on the mantle of exploration for themselves, consequences be damned, and their journeys are spurned forward when they receive an ominous invitation from the greatest adventurers of their time.
There's a lot that Sakugan does to set itself apart from the likes of Made in Abyss, though, and a lot of those choices seem very intentional. MiA is a dark, haunting elegy that treats its heroine's doomed journey as an allegory for coming to terms with death itself; Sakugan almost feels like a Studio Trigger B-Side, all manic cartoon energy wrapped up in an earnest lust for grand adventure. Also, the Markers that explore the Labyrinth that links the human colonies use mechas to fight the underground kaiju. Sure, there's a sharp tinge of tragedy when the monsters arrive in full force in the climax of Sakugan's premiere, but I get the impression that, however much the anime might eventually break our hearts, it isn't going to outright assault us in the same way that Made in Abyss can.
Plus, there's the biggest difference between MiA's Riko and Sakugan's Memempu, which is that Memempu actually has a father who will be accompanying her on her quest. Admittedly, I find the way that Sakugan handles the “nine-year-old super genius” angle a little tiring, but Memempu's dynamic with her deadbeat dad, Gagumber, does eventually become endearing. Their bickering initially exhausted me in the same way that some folks reacted to the cast of Takt Op. Destiny, but I found the concept of a whole adventure framed around this father-daughter relationship to be refreshing enough to bear with the shenanigans.
Overall, I really dug Sakugan, even if I didn't adore it as much as I hoped I would. Studio Satelight is clearly putting a lot of effort into making an engaging and thrilling anime here, and I'm eager to see what surprises that the show has in store for us. At the very least, I hope Memempu and her pop have a better time of things than Riko and Reg have had.
I was already pretty primed to like Sakugan. I'm a longtime fan of most of Studio Satelight's brand of mecha action, plus I love me some good single parent stories, and so I put it as my most anticipated show of the season. With anime originals that can be a bit of a gamble, so I tried my best to temper expectations coming in. But I needn't have bothered, since this premiere went above and beyond any of my hopes for it prior to watching.
First off, the animation in this is just lovely. The bouncy, energetic, and stretchy character acting on display is a delight to watch, especially with Memempu, whose oversized boots, gloves, and forehead allow her to express her mischievous and precocious nature with every movement. The environments are great too, with wonderfully realized backgrounds and mechanical designs that make this underground sci-fi town feel lived-in and unique. The CG monsters at the end of the episode leave a little to be desired, but the actual mechs we see are charming as all hell. This is top to bottom a great-looking premiere.
Of course, none of that would work to save this if the actual meat of the show wasn't any good. But Sakugan starts with a rock-solid setup and executes on it flawlessly so far. Memempu and her father are loud, rowdy, and antagonistic, but all in a way that makes them feel like real family. You can tell they've had these arguments hundreds of times before, and even as they get mad at each other and toss barbed comments (“This is why Mom left you, isn't it!?”) there's a familiarity that shines through. Memempu is a wonderfully sneaky little science gremlin and much more endearing than your typical child genius character, while Gagumber emits unbridled Divorced Dad energy in his increasingly frustrated attempts at relating with his brilliant, ambitious daughter. And for all their arguing there's obvious affection too. Gagumber clearly loves his daughter, and feels conflicted between keeping her in a safe and stable environment or letting her explore the greater world and achieve her dreams. Memempu loves him back, but also wants the sense of purpose and achievement that he can never give her by staying in their little colony.
It also helps that the show's willing to play hard and fast with its stakes. Lynda and her father seem like pitch-perfect foils to our main duo, and get a lot of screen time both fleshing out their own relationship while giving the other pair advice or support. And then they're unceremoniously gone in a brutally fast and surprising blow that left me reeling. Plus I love Gagumberr's ultimate conclusion – if even this can't dissuade his daughter, and his only other option is to trust her to take care of herself, then he'll just have to come with her!
So yeah, Sakugan gave me everything I could ask for and more this episode, and I'm absolutely thrilled to see where it goes from here. Do not sleep on this one.
I know a lot of people were looking forward to this one, so I was disappointed when I found myself desperately wanting to turn it off after the first scene. This may be entirely my own issue, but I truly dislike it when characters just yell back and forth at each other without actually listening, and that's what happens an awful lot in this episode. Memempu desperately wants to become a “Marker,” which is in- world speak for “explorer/kaiju fighter,” possibly in part because her mother (?) Lynda and Lynda's father Walsh do that for a living, and it's arguably more exciting than Memempu's own father's job of “Worker,” which is pretty much what it sounds like. Gagumber, the father in question, however, really doesn't want his kid running headlong into danger and so refuses to allow her to switch jobs, despite the fact that she's apparently already graduated from college. But since she's somewhere between the ages of eight and ten, he kind of has a leg to stand on in forbidding it.
What I did like is that the episode does show us that while Memempu's intellect may be sky-high, her emotions are much closer to her actual age. She's precocious and brilliant, but she's still a little kid, and when terrible things happen towards the end of the episode, she reacts with the sort of shocked disbelief of someone seeing death and destruction for the first time and being largely unable to really process it. Somewhat ironically, this is what makes Gagumber decide to accede to her wishes, but his decision to go with her strikes a balance between wanting to protect his child and allowing her to live her own life, at least in a manner of speaking. While this could foreshadow more annoying screaming matches (I'm sorry, “banter”), it could also be seen as a step towards father and daughter beginning to understand each other better. After all, Memempu just got an eyeful of precisely what Gagumber has been worrying about when Lynda and Walsh are killed right in front of her.
That all means that this may be the least of the episodes this series has to offer. Certainly its world- building is unique and interesting enough that it may be worth dealing with Memempu's brattier aspects to learn more. We know that people live in underground colonies and that kaiju plague the areas around them, but what caused all of this isn't yet fully clear. It certainly seems to be implied that there was a time when humans lived aboveground; the Markers may in fact be marking a path back to that world, or at least checking to see if life above the earth is at all possible. I get some City of Ember feelings from this; Jeanne duPrau's middle grade science fiction series laid some very interesting groundwork that this show could build on. If Memempu's able to overcome the overconfidence that her intelligence apparently gave her, there's also potential for her relationship with her father to become an interesting feature of the story. It all depends on how the characters' interactions shape up, because right now, they're enough of a deterrent that I'm not sure I want to stick around to find out more about the world outside the colony.
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