by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
How would you rate episode 3 of
Of all the mecha shows airing this season, Sakugan was easily my most anticipated, and it came firing right out of the gate. The premiere was far and away my favorite of the preview guide, building the foundation of a fun sci-fi adventure while also establishing an airtight dynamic between our two leads. It was just a joy to watch from start to finish, including its more serious moments, and thankfully that's stayed true across the following episodes as well.
Part of that is, of course, the robotic action on display. While the enemy kaiju designs leave something to be desired, the sheer energy and creativity on display with Gagumber and Memempu's “Big Tony” mech more than makes up for it. I'm always a sucker for transforming robots, and Tony's got a fun, eyecatching bulkiness to it that threads the needle between toyetic and grounded mechanical design really well. More importantly, the bouncy way it runs, along with the high-flying tether swinging that it uses both in fights and traversal, just make it really god damn fun to look at. Studio Satelight has a long-established history with CG robots, and a lot of that skill is on display here to make the big action moments a blast to follow, especially in episode two.
But even the best robots can't save a show without good characters, so thankfully our father-daughter duo go above and beyond carrying their weight in that regard. There's been an influx of single father anime the last few years, to varying degrees of success, but Sakugan has probably the most outwardly combative I've seen in a long time. It all makes sense though – Gagumber isn't a bad father per se, but he's got obvious issues with relating to his hyper-intelligent daughter who's all but become the “adult” in their household. He loves her, worries about her, and absolutely puts her safety above anything else, but those instincts also mean she feels stifled and patronized when working with him. It's a strong emotional hook that I think any parent can relate to, trying to balance between keeping your child safe and allowing them to grow into their own independence.
Memempu is a bit more complicated, but no less lovable. She's a child genius, which could potentially turn her into a walking cliché, but Sakugan makes sure to remind us that for all her technical smarts and inventiveness, she's still a 9-year-old at heart. She gets antsy and impatient if things don't go her way. She gets overconfident as soon as she achieves something, often inviting danger as she charges ahead without proper patience. She literally has to add in booster pedals to even operate her half of Big Tony. I especially love the way her being a gods damned college graduate as a kid works to inform her personality: she's largely been the “smarter” person in any conversation or relationship she's ever had, and that's both left her with big expectations for herself and no way to cope when she fails or messes up. In a lesser show Memempu's big brain (and bigger forehead) could just be a crutch to justify having her be an active character, but here it's a key element of what makes her interesting in the first place.
The best part is that nearly all of this is conveyed through action. We learn so much about how Gagumber and Memempu tick just by following them through their rowdy day-to-day lives, and then in how they react to crisis later on. Gagumber is seasoned and able to stay calm under pressure, but also very much stuck in his ways and slow to adapt to new concepts like the Kaiju tearing their own cords. Memempu is his obvious foil, quickly analyzing situations and coming up with clever solutions, but oftentimes walking into danger her dad saw coming a mile away. It's a damn fine dynamic that lets both of them play to different strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately emphasizes why they're best as a team – all delivered with a ton of expressive and elastic character animation. I especially love Memempu's shiny forehead for all the room it allows her face to contort and morph to really sell her emotions.
It's not all fun and games though, and so far the series has demonstrated a strong grasp for drama to go along with the fun stuff. The best scene in the premiere is Gagumber's drunk, somber monologue when he thinks Memempu is sleeping, showing that he's not the thoughtless fool he lets people think he is. The deaths of Walsh and Lynda are fast and jarring, perfect for knocking the wind out of Memempu and the audience just when you're expecting a big hero moment. And there's even an appreciable amount of time mourning their loss, as well as hammering home that this madcap adventure into the unknown is all but guaranteed to turn tragic. I found the detail that becoming a Marker means relinquishing citizenship, so as not to burden the colonies if one dies or gets injured, especially striking. This show has mostly been fun times, but its world has the capacity to kick the viewer in the teeth if the writing decides to.
Right now the biggest question mark about Sakugan is its overall plot. The nebulous end goal of finding Memempu's “dream place” and uncovering the mystery of who sent her the map make for a solid setup, but the devil is always in the details, and we have rather few of those to go on right now. There's some obvious hints that the kaiju are being controlled by somebody to hunt down Memempu's map, and the smug-looking man we meet at the end of episode three seems like our first major antagonist, but for now the show is getting by on character and tone more than any elaborate plot. We also haven't seen much of our supporting cast, though their brief appearances in the OP promise no shortage of personality. I'm hoping they're equally as fun and engaging as our main duo, because a fully fleshed-out core could really make this story stand tall. For now though, this is a damn strong opening adventure, and I can't wait to see what new depths we'll plumb next.
Sakugan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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