by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 3 of
SHO~OCK! KAPPA SHOCK! Enta has special feelings for his best friend and former soccer teammate? Alright, this probably didn't come as a surprise to anyone except Nyantaro, but it was slightly shocking to see the extent of Enta's romantic obsession given his otherwise meek demeanor. This episode brings new meaning to the phrase "I only have eyes for you," as Enta literally projects Kazuki's image onto all the other important people in his life, no matter what his real beloved does or says, and no matter how hard everyone else tries not to be invisible in Enta's rapidly narrowing tunnel vision. As Kazuki puts it: "Enta, you're a mess."
But to anyone who's ever been gay and 14, Enta's a highly relatable mess, making this a much simpler and cozier story by Sarazanmai (and Ikuhara)'s standards than usual. Following in the footsteps of blissfully wide-eyed pure boys in love like Miki or Tsuwabuki from Revolutionary Girl Utena, with just a splash of Lulu's self-hating third-wheel pathos from Yuri Kuma Arashi, Enta's emotional vulnerability gives viewers a far more direct path to his heart than we've gotten for Kazuki or Toi. That's great for warm-fuzzies and giggles now, but I would also argue that this direct path to his heart actually makes Enta the greatest liability for the trio when those otter cops eventually pin down the kappas' geo-location and decide to go on the offensive.
Prior to this week, the connections between the kappa boys and the zombies they fight have been pretty straightforward. The box-zombie established the separation between each boy's desire and the packages they carry, making it clear that no amount of boxes can carry a weight inside someone that cannot be exposed to the light. The cat-zombie illustrated the separation between criminal acts and the often sympathetic motivations behind them, proving that exposing someone's misdeeds is not the same thing as addressing their causes. But this week, Enta's undying love for Kazuki alone is compared to a serial marriage fraudster, who collects kisses from women like fish from a river. How could these polar opposites have anything in common? To find the answer, we must once again cross that gap between motives and actions, and consider the inability of society to deliver satisfaction to those whose desires cannot be boxed up.
Even though it's for entirely different reasons, Enta and the Fish-Zombie have a tendency to project the same face onto every person in their lives: a face that offers salvation. At first, this is frankly hilarious. As soon as the dramatic brass sting cuts in at the appearance of fantasy-Kazuki, we know Enta can't be seeing the same reality as his friends and family. His world is only painted in Kazuki's colors, and it's a kinder, simpler world where best friends exchange cutesy yet painfully grand promises while striking a sentai pose in unison. Enta's high on the ecstasy of his first crush, but his feelings remain invisible to the rest of the world as it moves and changes relentlessly around him.
It's that invisibility that makes Enta's struggle so heartbreaking. If Kazuki was a girl, Enta would be able to confess his feelings much more easily. But because he's a boy, even after Enta's feelings are revealed to his crush against his will, Kazuki searches his mind for any heterosexual explanation to avoid conflict. The sad truth is that some people will always find an explanation, no matter how absurd, that keeps them safe from that "uncomfortable" invisible world, severing so many connections before they even start. It's a shame, because Enta's world is a little silly, but it's also beautiful, and he deserves someone to share it with. Right now, I feel safe in saying that person should absolutely not be Kazuki, because Enta's not even in love with the real Kazuki at all!
So let's go back to that fish-zombie. The "boxed bride" image is a favorite of Ikuhara's, as a delightfully straightforward metaphor for how men commoditize women based on what services they provide for them: mother, wife, mistress, etc. However, Kiis's particular strain of entitlement runs much deeper than usual, because he wants the same thing from presumably every woman in his life: a promise kiss. "Promise kiss" is a useful term Ikuhara came up with in Yuri Kuma Arashi to describe the desire to share eternal, unconditional love with another person—and another person and another person and another person, in Kiis's case. The man just can't stop trying to get married, because in his mind, marriage is like purchasing a promise kiss straight from Kappazon! Every contract signed is a shot of endorphins to his brain, so he endlessly rolls the gacha machine for the ultra-rare waifu who might fill the void this time. With a world of options at his fingertips, Kiis has gorged himself on love and forgotten what it means to give love in return.
Enta's still young and goodhearted, but he already feels this intensely toward only one person, so when that person doesn't seem to want him back, he turns everyone else into Kazuki, to absolutely nobody's benefit. He accidentally gives Kazuki's new miçanga to his sister, he misattributes Toi's rescue to Kazuki, and he even gives a sloppy smackeroo to Prince Keppi instead! Upon first viewing, it's easy to feel sorry for Enta, since he's bearing the brunt of the pain from these unrequited feelings. But when you think about it, Enta is basically ignoring the kindnesses of other people in his life and attaching them to an imagined version of Kazuki that will never exist. He's so obsessed with being part of the "Golden Duo" again that he doesn't even notice his sister is in grave danger—he only sees the miçanga on her ankle. Loving another person can make you blind to the world around you, but loving the idea of another person makes you even blinder.
The sad truth is that Enta loves Kazuki because he believes that he's nothing without his friend. He is the player who passes Kazuki the winning goal, but he never scores it himself. Therefore, if Kazuki doesn't play soccer, Enta will never score a goal. This is contrasted directly with Harukappa's feelings about his brother playing soccer. Haru wants Kazuki to play soccer again because he believes that it makes Kazuki happy, but Enta wants Kazuki to play soccer again because he secretly believes that it's the only way he can achieve happiness for himself. Unfortunately, Enta thinks so little of himself that he can't consider desires fulfilled for his own sake worth acting on. But if they were Kazuki's feelings—a special person like Kazuki, not a loser like himself—then Enta would "selflessly" do anything to grant them, even though he's only acting on his own interests deep-down. Until they learn to love themselves, Enta and Kiis's feelings for others, however borne out of sincere affection, are more likely to be a burden than a blessing, and I hope Enta comes to understand that truth before the otter cops get their diabolical claws into him.
Fortunately, it seems like the kindness Enta receives from others might be starting to break through his lovestruck delusions, little by little. Toi is curiously sympathetic to his plight (even if he's still not giving up any wish-dishes), and Harukappa offers him a miçanga of solidarity after Enta resolves to give up on Kazuki for the time being. (I predict this resolution will not last long.) The episode's cruelest sting comes after their conversation, when it's revealed that Harukappa uses a wheelchair and may be suffering from a serious illness of some kind. I'm getting a clearer picture of why Kazuki has been fighting so fervently to preserve his little brother's innocence, and I can only hope all these kappa boys' selfish sacrifices won't bite them in the bottom too hard when the cops come calling.
Invisibility: As an American, it's interesting to watch media about social disenfranchisement in Japan because of the universally human and yet culturally specific ways that oppression is characterized. In more Western stories about LGBT youth, the struggle is often framed through extreme violence. Queer people don't come out because they're afraid of being harmed in large public ways and losing connections or opportunities in a loud and ugly fashion. But in Japanese stories like Sarazanmai, greater emphasis is placed on passive erasure. People seem more likely to be quietly excluded from society than attacked after they are exposed as "deviant", as seen in Enta's denied confession and the silent deaths of the zombies whose desires were outlawed. The result of being slain by a bang or a whimper is ultimately the same, so the feelings underneath remain universal. (And of course, this is a broad generalization. There are many Western narratives about LGBT invisibility and Japanese narratives about violence toward queer people, but the generalized trend toward one or the other does seem to reflect some differences in modern culture.)
Simply SARA Report: Sara's obtuse ticker is fairly goofy this week, in keeping with the more laid-back tone of this episode. She connects the imagery of brides with cooking for a recipe that turns violent, with imagery of an animal's blood being drained to sustain someone else's life, a quick visual shortcut for the idea of surreptitiously selfish love. I have no idea what brushing your teeth with cucumbers is supposed to mean. Sometimes a cuke is just a cuke.
The Fish-Zombie: While he's overwhelmingly the least sympathetic of the zombies so far, I think the decision to hold focus on Kiis's great gloppy tears and the many saddened women he leaves behind implies that Ikuhara does hold some love in his heart for this salty seducer. He's a horribly irresponsible heartbreaker, and he'd have to change his ways and issue many apologies to make up for his actions, but I do think his desire to feel loved unconditionally is coming from a sincere place. Like Enta, I suspect that he's more self-absorbed than outright malicious, but that matters not to the long paw of the law. And while it's predominantly a pun on a common way to serve fish for breakfast in Japan (and a common male fantasy of having hot threesomes), his desire to "slice kisu into thirds" also reflects the tripartite imagery echoed throughout Sarazanmai, so I'm interested to see if his episode plays out differently once we understand what makes that number so important to this story.
Otter Cops: There are a couple tweaks to the otter dance this week worth pointing out. For one thing, the division of two versus three (otter versus kappa) in Sarazanmai has come into sharper relief, as Mabu and Reo literally split into two bodies each when referencing their "two fates", and Reo is allied with the color red (life and desire) while Mabu is aligned with blue (death and invisibility). This isn't a change mind you, but it occurs to me that there are three otters on the taiko drum when Reo says "desire" and only one present when Mabu says "love". If their definition of love is the true uncompromised union of desires (maybe three desires specifically?), it's no wonder they haven't been able to find it yet! That sounds like a rare commodity even in a world so richly supplied with Kappazon boxes. (Final note: Reo is always looking at Mabu during their dance, but Mabu looks directly at the audience instead. What's that about?)
The Otter Empire: Apparently, when the kappa erase zombies from existence, they are also erasing the desire that Mabu and Reo worked so hard to extract, which means the duo aren't meeting their quotas anymore—and betrayal of the otter empire means death! I have no idea who the Otter Empire is supposed to be, but this confirms that the cops are not rogue agents in pursuit of their own agenda. They're serving an ominous capitalistic force either by choice or coercion, and right now it's anybody's guess what all of this has to do with Prince Keppi or Sara Azuma.
This was certainly an entertaining episode of Sarazanmai (as every episode going forward probably will be), but I have to admit that I found it fairly weak compared to the majority of Ikuhara's past efforts. Don't get me wrong; a mediocre Ikuhara episode still delivers harder than most anime ever do in their entire broadcast runs, and I get the feeling we'll look back on this moment of levity with more appreciation when things inevitably darken in the future. But this is ground Ikuhara has tread many times before with more unique and thought-provoking imagery, so as an Ikuni fanatic, I kind of felt like I was playing his game on Easy Mode when I'm used to playing on Lunatic. Wake me up when Enta's sweet fantasies get challenged more mercilessly, and then I'll be excited to see what kind of kappa he evolves into under pressure. Next time, we'll finally be learning more about the bad boy in our trio, and previews indicate that the fallout is going to be intense. I know I was just wishing for more oomph, but I hope Sarazanmai doesn't plop too much tragedy on our grumpy boy's plate.
Sarazanmai is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Jacob also enjoys yelling about anime on Twitter and YouTube. If you're thirsting for more Ikuhara content, he's written many episode analyses of Revolutionary Girl Utena that will resume after Sarazanmai concludes.
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