by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Don't take your love away from me
Don't you leave my heart in misery
If you go then I'll be blue
'Cause breaking up is hard to do
After seven episodes of sharing in comic mischief and troublesome relationships, a deeper darkness has finally fallen over the lives of Sarazanmai's cast, driving them further apart even as they desire more than ever to stay together. The boys have begun to realize that in order to maintain their new connection with each other, they would have to sever other connections in their lives that matter to them. Toi would have to part ways with his brother, his only remaining family member to whom he owes his very life, destroying everything he's worked toward in the past. Enta would have to part ways with his dreams of a Golden Combo with Kazuki, abandoning his beautiful fantasies of their romantic future to support him as just one friend of many in his life. And yes, even Reo & Mabu must eventually communicate their true desires and accept that the kind of relationship they once shared already died many years ago. As hard as it is to build connections, it can be even more difficult to dissolve them. After all, why would anyone want to break up something they had to work so hard to create in the first place?
If we all had unlimited time in this world, then connecting and disconnecting with others would be much easier. Perhaps like the immutable Prince Keppi and Sara, we wouldn't take the many ebbs and flows of life so seriously. But as everyone learns the hard way in this episode, you only get one chance at life, so you must choose your connections wisely, before the one you've disconnected from is gone forever, or the toxic connection you're clinging to rots beyond the point of no return. When little Toi tells little Kazuki that "some dreams come true because you're disconnected" in their long-forgotten first meeting, it's the first time in Sarazanmai that we've seen the idea of losing connections portrayed in a positive light. When Kazuki literally looks up to Toi on the bridge in awe, someone who's lost connections and still come out looking so cool and strong, he finds himself inspired to reach out to others again by pursuing a team sport. So it's a shame that Toi couldn't remember to take his own advice, as he ultimately chooses a dead-end connection with his brother over the frightening unknown of starting over. Maybe Kazuki will have to return those words to Toi when he finally recalls this precious memory that allowed him to connect to Enta through soccer.
But for now, our kappa trio spends the majority of this episode disconnected, alone with their conflicting thoughts about each other. Well, not completely alone. Enta gains some fresh perspective by spending time with his polar opposite in Chikai, after he decides to help the wanted fugitive evade the cops as thanks for winning him a jackpot round of pachinko. It's just one of a series of happenstances that make this feel like the most ramshackle episode of Sarazanmai; this is largely a transparent series of transitions to get everyone in place for the final act, right down to shuttling Keppi and Sara into an abstract theatrical space to keep them away from the plot. (Ikuhara does love his abstract theatrical spaces! Fortunately, so do I.)
Anyway, much like the many balls he lost in his panicked game of pachinko, Enta is realizing that all the dishes of hope and overtures of kindness he offered to Kazuki might as well have never existed when stacked against his decision to take those things back once Toi entered the picture. It didn't matter how much he loved Kazuki or how much he was willing to sacrifice for their friendship if it depended on an equal level of sacrifice that Kazuki could never return, and if their desires can't connect, their friendship may not have a future no matter how hard he works for it. Or in his own simpler words: "No matter how much you do for someone, it's not worth anything if it doesn't bear fruit." Enta's love was a gamble that didn't pay off the way he wanted, and even if Kazuki wants to repair their connection, Enta will have to forsake his incompatible desires if he wants to maintain their friendship this time. He can't just say that he's giving up on pursuing Kazuki in real life, but continue pursuing the fantasy Kazuki in his mind. Even if he's not a real person like Toi's brother or Reo's undead lover, fantasy-Kazuki is connected to Enta so strongly that he's taking precedence over his other connections, so it's time for Enta to follow Kazuki's example and step away from that comforting fantasy to connect with real people once again.
Chikai's response to all this melodrama is that Enta should simply do whatever is easiest in the moment, which explains a lot about his own tortured relationship with Toi. The biggest red flag is raised by how he quantifies their relationship as one of need rather than want; Chikai thinks that brothers should travel together because they "need" each other, speaking to an emotional codependence that neither of them realize has developed. (In practical terms, the two don't need each other at all! Toi would be a greater liability than asset on the lam, and Chikai has no place in the happier life his brother has started to build in Asakusa.) While Chikai has sacrificed every other connection in his life with ease, sacrificing a relationship with his brother, who's trying so hard to maintain their connection, would be more difficult than simply letting it fester. "Breaking up is hard to do" not only because it's emotionally painful, but because it takes real work to push someone out of your life once they're inside your circle, and Chikai remains a big baby who's content to keep running away from the consequences of his actions (and pushing other children like Enta into the line of fire!). If you've shared a connection with someone since birth, it may seem easier to superficially maintain the comfort of something that's always been there, even if that link to the past ends up destroying your life. After being wounded deeply by his parents' abandonment-by-suicide, Chikai's become so obsessed with survival and protecting his only chance at life that he's failed to realize the ways in which connections with others could prolong and support it. Dragging Toi away from the circle that makes up the world won't keep Chikai safe; it will only connect them both in death as two names sharing a headline in yesterday's news.
This inevitability is only reinforced when Enta sees the otter cops sacrificing a criminal to use as evidence in their prosecution of Chikai (and for zombie fodder, of course). According to the other officers, this murder wasn't justifiable as self-defense, and it's obvious that Chikai could not have committed the crime, but facts have far less impact on our collective consciousness than feelings. Especially in the modern era, where one giant news story quickly swallows another the next day, our society's collective memory will be decided by those with the greatest amount of power and connections—in this case, the Otter Empire. Because humans seek connection so fervently, we tend to define ourselves by concentric circles of tribes, and anyone with a perspective that's too inconvenient to that majority will be silenced by whatever system approves the group's desires and their place in the circle. Of course, when you get to systems the size of a government or a corporation, there's no room to care about individual people as anything but batteries to reinforce the power of that system, and provided that the system continues providing for the circle that gives it power (in this case by pumping out boxes full of things that people want), this cycle can continue uninterrupted so long as the sacrifices chosen are already disconnected from it. This is also why large criminal families are largely safe from law enforcement, while individual criminals are not. Everyone eventually forgets about those who are excluded, because to act out on criminalized desires is to sacrifice your right to be heard and believed. This comes back to haunt Enta when even his best efforts to make things right with Kazuki by returning the dishes and sharing his rival Toi's unspoken feelings are only met with "why should I believe anything you say?" Enta's incompatible desires have already excluded him from Kazuki's circle, even if his actions show greater love than Toi's abandonment of his friends.
On that note, I love how each boy in this triad is able to connect to another on different levels that the third wheel in each instance doesn't understand. Earlier in the series, this was most obvious in how Enta's purity and privilege excluded him from understanding the sacrifices that Kazuki and Toi made to maintain their more broken families. But as time went on, Toi and Enta gradually became closer as the two boys most self-aware about the depth of their own feelings, leading to an unexpected camaraderie between them when they realize that they only resented each other because they both loved the more obtuse Kazuki, the kind of boy who dramatically throws himself into expressing feelings he doesn't understand through actions that don't make much sense. And as we round the bend into Sarazanmai's final act, Kazuki and Enta also reconnect by choosing to clash with one another directly instead of bottling their feelings and drifting away like the too-sacrificial Toi.
Just like Kazuki's declaration that he hates Haruka didn't last (in truth, he loved his brother so much that being near him after the accident was too painful), I don't think Kazuki saying he didn't want Enta in his life would have lasted, either. Enta, still so much in love with Kazuki that he couldn't even say he hated him to make things easier, probably would have walked away and drowned his sorrows in a stack of cucumbers until Kazuki came back to him with a little encouragement from Haruka, and Toi would have simply vanished from their circle just like he planned. But the long-anticipated arrival of Reo & Mabu has accelerated this trio's need for reconciliation, as the veil between life and death that these young boys took for granted thins to an invisible wisp in the wake of one fateful gunshot. Even at the cost of his own life, Enta chooses not to take the slippery Chikai's advice to chase the easiest option and save his own skin in a crisis. In the battle between desire and love in Enta's heart, it's safe to say that love won out, but now there's no one left by Kazuki's side to help him save the Golden Combo from being lost forever. All their hope has been confiscated by a toxic couple for whom there is no future, and it's anyone's guess if Sara Azuma can unfreeze Prince Keppi in time to finish what he started by bringing these boys together again in the sarazanmai.
Simply SARA Report: We learn this week that Prince Keppi and Sara have some kind of shared history with Reo & Mabu, and true to the series' theme of selfish things done for selfless reasons (and vice versa), Sara wants to make it clear to both Keppi and the audience that even though these two have done something terrible by taking Enta's life, we shouldn't judge them too harshly, because she believes they are still good people underneath. (At least Mabu urges Kazuki to get Enta to intensive care for some chance at survival, which again raises the question of why he's been going along with Reo's murderous plans for so long.)
Pachinko Balls: "Balls" are not only a metaphor for the human soul in Sarazanmai, they are also common yakuza slang for someone's life, making Chikai's remarks about only having one ball to use at the pachinko table even more literal than expected. While most of their halfhearted attempts to connect in this episode fall flat, I do think the relentlessly persistent Enta takes Chikai's one bit of useful advice to heart—that he's been taking the good things in his life (like a friendship with Kazuki) for granted so far, but he won't get unlimited chances to make things right again, so he should make whatever shot he does get count. It's too bad that this led him to make such a dramatic sacrifice for his friend, but Enta is nothing if not true to his powerful feelings in every situation, even when it's life-or-death.
Candy: This is yet another spherical symbol in Sarazanmai's stockpile, but I think it means something very different from the more eternal emblems of sara, shirikodama, and soccer balls. Even though they exchange favors with one another throughout this episode, Enta and Chikai don't come to an understanding of each other's perspectives that will lead them to connect, like Kazuki and Toi's more antagonistic visit to the amusement park did. Even as they bare their feelings along the way, Enta and Chikai remain divided by the frame, and even though they helped each other out, they were never actually able to connect. (Frankly, their meeting is more useful for getting Enta caught up on plot information than developing any kind of relationship with Chikai.) So instead of sharing soccer, the two of them share candy, which I think symbolizes a passing gesture of kindness from someone who doesn't ultimately join the circle of your life. It's a gift of pre-packaged disposable sweetness that lasts for a short time, evidence of a connection that lasted for a minute, an hour, or a day before its remains are lost to the garbage bin of your memory. Chikai practically lives off these fleeting exchanges of human kindness, forever walking around Kappabashi with a sucker in his mouth, but it's not the same thing as actually connecting desires with someone else, and it hardly matters that Chikai gives Enta candy to share with his friends after he shoves him into the path of an oncoming katana. I would also consider this a word of warning that Chikai's clear human capacity for wisdom or kindness does not mean he is worth connecting with in the long run. He clearly loves his brother just as deeply as Kazuki loves Haruka, but that doesn't mean he will make the right decisions in their relationship, and Toi will still be better off without Chikai in his life. Chikai is characterized with nuance and humanity because people who can't connect aren't evil monsters or anything, but Ikuhara still makes sure to drive home that Chikai cannot be saved through self-sacrificial love, and I suspect this holds true for poor Reo & Mabu as well.
Keppi Theater: Uh oh, it looks like Ikuhara has finally broken out the eternal stage for Sarazanmai. I mentioned before that space aliens are commonly employed in his work to signify a perspective that breaks the fourth wall to act as his superego within the story. In similar fashion, Ikuhara likes to bust out stage plays to foreshadow things that have already happened before and are sure to happen again, symbolizing the recursion of history. Since they're literally a story within a story, the characters within Sarazanmai (or Revolutionary Girl Utena for an example where the heroines were literally watching the play, since there's no audience but us in this case) won't recognize any parallels no matter how obvious, just as regurgitating our history through storytelling does not keep us from repeating it in the real world. This device isn't unique to Ikuhara—Shakespeare was another big fan of it—but it's a useful way to get the audience thinking about where a story is going without realizing that they're thinking about that. We're just watching a silly play, after all! So for as nonsensical as it seems on the surface, what happens to Prince Keppi on stage should give us a clue about what may have happened to him in the past, and where he may be headed in the future as history repeats itself. When Keppi finds Reo & Mabu again, he tries to capture them using a machine that's explicitly inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion's entry plugs. (In EVA, the entry plugs symbolized a psychological "return to the womb" for their wounded teen characters. I don't know if that has anything to do with Sarazanmai or if it's just a fun gag in this case, but take that however you like.) Unfortunately, Keppi falls into his own trap when Sara's attempt to strengthen their connection by sharing cucumbers with him goes awry. (Much like a fart, a sneeze is an involuntary emission, which may speak to Sara involuntarily leaking her desires in some way.) Then Sara is forced to leave him behind to tend to her broadcast duties. So in general terms, Keppi wanted to "freeze" Reo & Mabu with a machine reminiscent of a return to childhood, but his own relationship with a girl who ruined everything in her own attempt to connect left him frozen instead. It's circles within circles all over again!
Mabu's Ningyou-yaki: This episode offers further evidence that Mabu's love for Reo has not been diminished by his transformation under the Otter Empire. For one thing, Mabu likes to steal indirect kisses from Reo's teacup behind his back, implying that while he cannot share his desires outwardly, they still burn fervently in his mechanical heart. We also learn that Mabu was the cook in their partnership before the fall (which might explain his morose expression when trying to eat Reo's bad microwave meals), and ningyou-yaki was the staple treat they shared. Mabu's inability to replicate the ningyou-yaki he used to bake has only become further proof to Reo that he's just an empty doll, but we know that Mabu's treats are only half-baked because the Otter Empire's pressure (aka the pressure of desire) is forcing him to rush the process. Poor Mabu! Much like Enta, he's just desperate to win back Reo's affection, but healing a fatal wound to a relationship takes time and space. One last tangent: the word for "doll" in Japanese (ningyou) is very close to the word for "mermaid" (ningyo), which further ties Mabu to the fish alongside Reo's cat in the catfish combo that's sure to shake the earth with its burgeoning toxicity. So does that also make Mabu like Hans Christian Andersen's fabled little mermaid, who gave up something precious for a chance at love that tragically had no hope to blossom? That famous fairytale is now widely accepted to be a metaphor for the pain and anguish that follows unfulfilled same-sex attraction (Andersen himself was a gay man), so I don't think that bodes well for our poor otter couple.
The Ryounkaku Plaque: It's brief, but we get a glimpse of the plaque commemorating the collapse of the Ryounkaku tower in this episode, confirming that the Kappa Kingdom was not a separate world from our own, and the difference between modern-day humans and pre-war kappa is superfluous. It would take a historian with a lot more brain power than myself to break down what the fall of Ryounkaku has to do with the subsequent World War and boom of capitalism in Japan, but at least it's safe to say that Ikuhara intends to connect these factors explicitly in Sarazanmai.
Despite being the messiest installment of Sarazanmai overall, with a few too many spare coincidences and world-building details that distracted from the emotional themes being explored, episode 8 served as a nice bridge between the cucumber-salad days of friendship that our kappa trio shared and the dark trials that face them ahead. Though these three friends are now divided by the river of life and death that flows under Kappabashi, at least that innocuous micanga that connects them is still in Kazuki's hands. This would probably be a good time to mention that there's an urban legend in Japan that if you wear a micanga for so long that it unravels off your ankle, you will be granted a wish. Now that we know this fateful bracelet has passed through the lives of all three boys (and Harukappa), whose wish will it grant when it finally breaks?
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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