Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
Season 1 (Parts 1 & 2) DVD/BD
Kusuo Saiki is a psychic. And a telepath. And a telekinetic. You know what, just assume that any psychic power you've ever heard of is available to him. But apart from that, he's a regular grumpy sixteen-year-old boy who just wants to be left alone to enjoy his coffee jelly. Unfortunately for him, that's not likely to happen – with the school's hottest girl crushing on him, friends who either can see ghosts, think they're superpowered, or are too dumb to live, and parents who can't quite keep it together, Saiki's life is anything but calm as he finds himself using his powers to keep the world functioning.
Poor Saiki. Just because he's got amazing, massive, psychic powers, he's forced to live a life much less quiet and based around consuming desserts than he wants. From the time he was born, Kusuo Saiki has been extraordinary – teleporting, reading minds, you name it – he never even needs to speak out loud, he can just think at people and they assume that he's opening his mouth to talk. Even without his powers being widely known outside his immediate family, Saiki constantly finds himself having to monitor how he does things so as not to stand out or to correct the amazing stupidity of his classmates. As he's fond of saying, what a pain.
Of course, this series is a comedy, so nothing too serious ever happens. And as a comedy, this show succeeds very well. This is true of both language tracks – this show actually works almost equally well in both English and Japanese thanks to some stellar delivery on the parts of both casts. In fact, some pieces work better in Japanese (a few jokes and the random English titles like “Love Fantasy”) while others function better in English (such as a few of Saiki's shorter lines and exclamations of disbelief). Both casts do make the characters their own, which also affects which one will work better for you in terms of humor – Jerry Jewell's Saiki is much drier in tone than Hiroshi Kamiya, while Daisuke Ono's Nendou is a little less buddy-buddy than David Wald's, for example. (Wald's Nendou was a real highlight of the dub for me.) Interestingly enough, the English track gets higher-pitched as the series enters its second half; both Morgan Garrett as Saiki's mom and Micah Solusod reach impressive pitches, although it isn't entirely clear why Garrett's squeak-factor is increasing based on what's happening in the show.
While most of the humor is derived from the ridiculous situations the characters get themselves into, there are a few fun linguistic puns as well. Saiki's name when presented in Japanese naming order, Saiki Kusuo, has the pronunciation of “psychic” in Japanese, “saikiku,” while the school he attends is PK Academy, with PK standing for a specific psychic phenomenon. One of Saiki's later rivals in the second half of the series is named “Saiko,” which given his self-proclaimed rival status and his actions, may be a homophone for “psycho.”
The series' humor is largely reliant on the absurdities faced by Saiki and the people who think they are his friends. (He'd largely beg to differ.) From the fact that all members of Nendou's family are dead-ringers for each other to the fact that chuunibiyou Kaidou has his own theme music when he's in the throes of his Dark Reunion delusions, there's plenty of flat-out bizarreness that makes the series work. It would have been perfectly fine just that way, but the addition of more intelligent humor and metafictional jokes keeps things from ever feeling old. Saiki frequently addresses the audience as a self-aware narrator, and there are a fair number of references to the fact that the show is based on a manga – in fact, Saiki explains that he's basically responsible for all anime tropes ever. Alongside this are a lot of random AKB-48 jokes and a few other fun pop culture references, like Mr. Saiki's job at Weekly Shonen Cognac.
That said, plenty of episodes poke fun at more grounded or familiar subjects as well, with the show generally growing more cohesive in its second half, which is more likely to feature episodes that deal with one plotline rather than four or five shorter stories. Of these, episode twenty's send-up of art history and art critics is particularly wonderful, managing to lampoon perceptions of modern art and gallery snobbery beautifully without being cruel. Likewise the episode where everyone tries to figure out how Halloween works is pretty great, with some of the lazy costumes actually looking better than what hits the streets in some neighborhoods. It's especially striking that when you step back and look at him, Saiki's actually a normal introverted teenager – he loves TV, he has his own rhythm, and he's not quite what everyone assumes about him. It's easy to lose track of this because everyone around him is so over-the-top (and he's got psychic powers), but at the end of the day, Saiki's inherent normalcy grounds the show and allows its more absurd elements to take off.
If you're in the mood for some goofy comedy with a nice variety of jokes, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is a good bet. It's funny in either English or Japanese, it plays with its different levels and layers of humor to keep things from feeling stale. While neither set has much in the way of extras – commentaries for the first and last episodes, clean songs, and trailers – the show itself is funny and enjoyable enough that it really doesn't matter.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Varied in its humor with strong casts in both language tracks, first ending theme is really catchy
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