by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
How dare you, Ikuhara. How very dare you open an episode this way. I watched and loved Yuri Kuma Arashi, and this is how you repay me? This sadistic director isn't done hurting Haruka (and with him, the pure spirit of Yurikuma's Mirun) for our amusement, but I guess that makes me a masochist, because I wouldn't have it any other way.
The time has finally come for Kazuki to force his fake relationship with Haruka into reality, and I'm sure that absolutely nothing will go wrong in this idol kidnapping plot. All Kazuki has to do is exchange a secret phrase from LINE with his little brother in real life: "You and I are connected in a big circle, from the beginning to the end." And then, at long last, Kazuki's damaged connection with Haruka in meatspace will no longer matter. It won't matter that he was adopted into the Yasaka family because his "real" mother wasn't able to care for him. It won't matter that his futile attempt to bridge these gaps between families without connecting them left poor little Haruka without the use of his legs. Even if everyone else sees it as fake, Kazuki will finally have a genuine connection with Haruka as a famous, kind, and beautiful girl who only ever brings him happiness, while simultaneously protecting the sensitive little boy from any harsh truths he cannot handle in the real world, like a good big brother should. He can be the mom and the dad, the good cop and the bad, all connected in a circle from beginning to end.
It's the exact kind of nonsense a child who's trying to be an adult might come up with, and despite the best efforts of Kazuki and Toi (can we call them the Silver Combo?), this fated meet-and-greet leads to the end of Haruka's beautiful friendship with Sara Azuma. (In fairness to her furious manager, I'd also be steaming mad if someone attacked me while my cucumber was out.) When he's exposed as an imposter, Kazuki realizes he's being unmasked not just as a fake Sara Azuma, but as a fake sibling, because he sees his biological mother's scent pouch in Haruka's pocket, proving that he knows more about that secret connection than his innocent little face lets on. (How long has Haruka known the truth? Where did he get Kazuki's mom's sachet? I have so many questions about this!) Not only was Kazuki unable to protect Haruka from his own limitations as a brother, he's even lost his guarantee of holding the position of "brother" in Haruka's heart at all. Now that he's fallen to his lowest point, it's no wonder that the trio's ensuing fight against another zombie goes so poorly, but if finally losing everything is what it takes to force Kazuki to start making real connections with others, maybe this fate isn't as cruel as it seems on the surface.
Just like his fellow kappa Toi and Enta, Kazuki was always fighting a losing battle for a specific kind of connection he could never possess, and nothing exemplifies this more than the desire target of the week: an indescribably nostalgic scent. Smell is one of the most powerful senses for two major conflicting reasons. On the one hand, scent seems to form the deepest grooves in our memory centers; a familiar smell can cause people to flash back to incredibly specific moments in their lives, regardless of their often unrelated present surroundings. (I don't know the exact brain science behind this, but scent's unique connection to memory is at least anecdotally irrefutable.) On the other hand, despite its mysteriously deep roots in our lizard-brain, scent can also be the most difficult stimulus to capture or replicate, because it originates from chemistry, which is dependent on change and therefore fleeting. Things largely do not "possess" a smell intrinsically, they generate it through some ongoing process, and when that process ends, their unique scent will be gone forever. It's also relevant to note that when people are grieving a loss, they often remark that losing the smell of their loved one was particularly unexpected and difficult to handle, and many cultures have folk theories that ascribe running across a deceased loved one's scent unexpectedly to being invisibly visited by their spirit.
The point is that Kazuki will never be able to capture the "smell of happiness" that he remembers from his childhood. It was generated by an innocence about his own identity and how it connects (or more often doesn't) with the desires of others that has died, and it won't even come back if he takes on a completely new identity. As he gradually becomes a man, there will be many things about Kazuki that others find unacceptable or insufficient, which is why teen boys compartmentalize any desires that don't belong in their wold into safe boxes with deceiving labels. "I'm pursuing this other boy because we're great at soccer together." "I'm committing all these crimes because I'm a cool bad guy." "I'm pretending to be Sara Azuma to make my brother happy." All these lies are accepted in their convenient packages by the society that molds cucumber-children into whatever we consider manhood at any given time in history, and the invisible desires fester in their shirikodama until enough frustration has leaked out to justify erasing these "depraved" men who can't connect properly from the conversation. Kazuki can't stop time from flowing. He can't protect Haruka from being hurt by a world made of boxes any more than he could protect himself, but the light of hope at the end of all this dish-aster is that I think Kazuki has taken his first webbed steps toward realizing the way forward, for both himself and his chosen family.
I love that Toi and Enta have developed the same relationship with Kazuki that he was trying to foster with Haruka, a kind of "mom and dad" or "good cop and bad cop" rapport, where Toi confronts Kazuki with brutally honest tough love and Enta supports Kazuki blindly with bottomless forgiveness. It works in this case because it's coming in earnest from both boys as they truly are, whereas Kazuki's balancing act relied on him splitting his strong but sensitive self into two false extremes. Together, they help Kazuki start to process that while he isn't to blame for his brother's tragic accident, his fear and self-hatred are causing him to double down on the mistakes he made that inadvertently led to that tragedy. And this is only possible because the three of them did not complete the sarazanmai process! The memory of Haruka's accident is far too painful for Kazuki to relive so intimately, so he opts to share his burdens with Toi and Enta in a more conventional way, by simply telling them the truth about why Haruka can't play soccer with him anymore.
I think one of Sarazanmai's thematic goals is to dispel the illusion that people would all become closer if we could somehow mind-meld, because social media has techn(olog)ically brought us closer to that reality without actually deepening intimacy between people at all! Now, social media is very good at forging connections between individuals where they just plain didn't exist previously, allowing people to form communities across time and space that would previously have been impossible, and drawing the characters of Sarazanmai together where they may not have ever connected in a simpler world, but social media (and the sarazanmai process) does not automatically make those new connections stronger. As these five episodes have demonstrated through the ghostly fates of the kappa-zombies, sometimes the overload of information we get about others can destroy connections when it's divorced from intimate context, to say nothing of the choice every person must make for themselves of whether or not to sympathize with another person. Empathy can be aided by information sometimes, but it almost never relies on information. People tend to depend on their gut (or perhaps shirikodama?) to decide whether or not they find someone else's desires acceptable enough to connect with on either a private or public level.
Ultimately, I think the boys are starting to discover the best way to connect with someone isn't to stalk their timeline, but just to listen to their perspective in their own words. Love and desire aren't logical feelings, so knowing how to understand and communicate with people you care about is a matter of instinct first and then hard work once that connection is made. Of course, even if this little therapy session is good for the boys' growing friendship, it puts them at odds with Prince Keppi's own goals, so he leaves them trapped as kappa between worlds with little concern for their feelings. How can they protect the people they love when they've become invisible to the world? I'm beginning to sense that Prince Keppi is not as trustworthy as he claims.
Sara Cannot Be Contained in Boxes, Dish: Sara's amazing escape act is just as adorable as it is hilarious, but there's a suspicious subtext to her flexibility as well. She can seemingly switch between human and kappa forms with ease (if that little ball of mochi is indeed a beakless kappa), and the only common factor between Toi's many failed plans is that they all involve a prison shaped like a box. What does it actually mean to be immune to the power of boxes? And if Sara is a kappa like Keppi, does this mean she shares his powers of immortality?
Simply SARA Report: There are only two types of people in this world: those who can cut the peel off an apple, and those who can't. This is awfully similar to that refrain about people who can connect desires and those who cannot. While the answer to that second question is bound to be much more complicated, the secret to peeling an apple is that your thumb must connect safely with the knife. So this is a straightforward metaphor for risking pain in order to truly connect with others, which Kazuki hasn't been willing to do since his granddad's cruel remark forced him to carry so many open wounds in his little hands. Apples have not been brought up in Sarazanmai before (this show is more interested in cucumbers), but they were an important symbol in Penguindrum, where they represented...uh...everything? For simplicity's sake, I think we can assume that apples are equivalent to dishes—they represent the enclosed circle of many elements that compose a person's soul, so they can be twisted and flipped around to mean different things depending on each story's needs.
The Sachet-Zombie: Because I'm a terrible person, the imagery of this zombie's crime had me laughing so hard I almost fell down, but it took me a little research to understand what the hell I was looking at. The animal being experimented on with blazing-hot curry is the Japanese giant salamander, who apparently emits a curiously spicy smell in its slime. But it just wasn't spicy enough for this felon, because he's trying to capture the specific foot-stank of the woman he loves. It's definitely cruel and unusual, but this metaphor works perfectly to demonstrate the futility and pain of trying to recapture a nostalgic memory when the one you shared it with has gone far away.
We conclude with another visit to the police box, where there's trouble in paradise between Reo and Mabu. Now that failure after failure has diminished their quotas to the Otter Empire, Mabu needs to somehow acquire "desire" from elsewhere to prolong his frozen life. However, Reo isn't interested in sharing his beloved with anyone, so if he has to ramp up arrests to keep Mabu all to himself, he'll do whatever it takes. Let's hope his otterly drastic measures don't lead him straight to the kappa who are in no shape to fight back just yet!
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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