This Week in Anime
What the Hell is Happening in Sarazanmai?

by Michelle Liu & Steve Jones,

Kappas and otters and butts, oh my! Kunihiko Ikuhara's latest surrealist dramedy has arrived in a box marked "Sarazanmai". This week, Micchy and Steve share their interpretations of this confoundingly queer urban fantasy so far.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You can read our weekly coverage of Sarazanmai here!

So I don't know about you Steve, but I've always wanted to see an anime about gay weed dealer kappa who steal people's souls out of their butts, and at long last I've had my wish granted.
There is an absolute madman out there in the anime industry and his name is Kepp-- I mean, Kunihiko Ikuhara.
God it's so good to have Ikuhara back, and by "good" I mean it's weird and gross and layered with symbolism, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I couldn't believe how much sheer delight the first episode of Sarazanmai delivered. Ikuhara is my favorite anime director, and he still managed to exceed my expectations and throw me more curveballs than I expected.
Just don't ask where those balls came from...
Spoilers: it's the butt. It's the distressingly jiggly kappa bubble butt.
"Spoilers: it's the butt" sums up most of Sarazanmai so far, to be honest.
But yes, Ikuni is back in a more concentrated dose than ever (just eleven episodes!), and Sarazanmai looks like an elaborate shitpost at first glance. And while it's true that half of the show hinges on extremely stupid puns, of course there's a lot more going on, and the only question is what?
Well, the characters themselves sure as hell don't know.
Ikuhara's shows (Utena, Penguindrum, Yuri Kuma Arashi, and now Sarazanmai) are famously dense, and it's more or less a fool's errand to try and unravel all the potential interpretations from a single viewing, especially when it's still airing, but that's also the fun of watching his stories unfold!
I mean, how complicated could it be? There are Amazon boxes, sexy dancing otter cops, and teenage mutant turtle boys who turn themselves into oversized anal beads to save the day. It's all very straightforward!
I do appreciate that the characters have such
relatable motivations.
Seriously, ignoring all the bizarre magical stuff, I think these three episodes have been some of Ikuhara's most economical and successful in terms of setting up these characters and their struggles. All of Ikuhara's protagonists are deeply flawed people who he nevertheless always humanizes, and our three good boy-kappas are no exception.
There's our first good boy, Kazuki, who may or may not be a boy on the inside. He's something like the Takakura siblings from Penguindrum: fiercely protective of his younger brother Haruka in the worst of ways. He's the kind of kid who thinks his brother's happiness is worth a few white lies, like assuming another identity to communicate with him, even though Haruka would honestly rather hang out with Kazuki in person. But honest connections are hard, and the otter cops will no doubt take advantage of those fears.
Kazuki has good intentions, but as the story progresses, we've been seeing more and more of what's brimming under his surface, and I'm excited to see where all that goes! Since this is an Ikuhara show, I don't think there was any doubt that it was gonna get gay, but Kazuki moonlighting as the idol Sara Azuma points at Ikuhara tackling gender directly, and I'm cautiously optimistic about where this could go.
Plus, his selfie game is strong.
I'm sure Kazuki's relationship to gender is nothing so easily labeled, but that seems to be part of the point of the show. Kazuki keeps the Sara outfit boxed away out of sight, literally compartmentalizing different aspects of himself to avoid acknowledging his own complexity.
Of course, the otter cops are all about them boxes.
Ikuhara fucking loves boxes.
Hell yeah he does.
In previous shows, they've been used as metaphors for death or sealing parts of oneself away from the cruelty of society, and now in Sarazanmai, they're all branded by Amazon. So needless to say, I'm very ready for anti-capitalist Ikuhara. His stories only get richer the more you think about them.
But these otter cops got moves, and I'm so happy that Ikuhara has joined the church of the Essential
Male Nipple.

It's quite impressive that the dancing otter cops are themselves a distraction from the horrors of whatever system they work for. Society's too enamored with the aesthetics of their authoritarianism to notice when they're getting screwed over.
Or to put it another way, the "yeah we gay, keep scrolling" cops distracted me so badly that I initially forgot to pay attention to the background of the scene where they were stuffing people into boxes and turning them into capitalist zombies. Ya got me there, Ikuni.
See, this is why I love anime like these, because everything you said is spot-on, but the first time I watched this scene, I was simply overcome with delight that these two hot cops suddenly broke out into song and dance in the middle of a police briefing. I will always argue that Ikuhara's wicked sense of humor is one of his strongest qualities as a director.

Absolutely, though I think he may have become too powerful this time around. I still can't believe he just straight-up didn't mention the Butts when pitching this show.
We stan a legend.
That man is unstoppable now.
I mean, would you want to stop this?
Incidentally, he also seems to have given up on subtlety. If you had any doubts that Sarazanmai was about gay butt stuff, well...
Gotta love those classic black-on-red Ikuhara silhouettes. Or, in this case, clASSic. Honestly, I'm less surprised by the butt stuff and more surprised that he was able to make one of his main characters a child weed dealer.
Oh yeah, Toi's whole thing is kind of a big deal considering Japan's anti-drug laws. Substance possession is one of those crimes that gets actors removed from projects or even imprisoned. It's super frowned-upon, which makes it especially hard-hitting when you learn Toi's reasons for his adolescent crime sprees. He has a real complicated relationship with his yakuza brother, who seems to be his only real human connection—it doesn't look like he has anyone else to care for him. So he resorts to petty crime in an effort to maintain the one meaningful relationship in his life.
There's a particularly great moment of irony in the second episode when Enta accuses Toi of being nothing like Kazuki, when in actuality they're both committing crimes for their brothers.
Kazuki's arguably the worse one here, since he's convinced himself that he's being selfless. At least Toi goes all-out in embracing his life of crime.
I'm firmly in the "Toi has done nothing wrong"
camp right now.
I'm pretty sure waterboarding some guy in a bathtub counts as "wrong", but that's just me.
Incidentally, episodes revolving around fat cats is another bit of classic Ikuhara.

According to Ikuhara, Garfield is just constantly blazed.
That checks out. By the way, true story: a couple friends and I made plans to get high during Sakura-con on 4/20 and watch the new episode of Sarazanmai, and this was before we knew that the episode would be about chasing a big stoned cat. I'm convinced Ikuhara did this specifically for us, and I hope I can thank him personally one day.
Man, I made the mistake of watching it the day it came out. It's not like I was sober then either, but now I feel like I missed out on part of the experience.
It was Quite the time! Anyway, last but not least, let's talk about dear Enta.
Enta did nothing wrong, I tell you!
Nyantaro disagrees.
But I'm with you there. My heart went out to him so much in episode 3.
Okay sure, he's bad at this whole "consent" thing, and he is a total mess, but let's be real, who among us hasn't sniffed their best pal's gym clothes when they're not looking? (Okay, this is coming from someone who definitely didn't spend most of 9th grade biology sniffing her best friend's hair.) I'm just saying that Enta's a relatable gay disaster, and I will protect him with my life.
Growing up and figuring out how your feelings interact with the feelings of others can be the worst, and exponentially so when you're queer. That said, I appreciated how direct and unequivocal this episode was about Enta being in love with Kazuki. There's literally zero room for misinterpretation. He gay.

Enta, very heterosexually, picks the most phallic object out of Kazuki's desk for an indirect kiss.
Just Really Good Friend Things™
Maybe too good of friends...
You said it, Kazuki.
It's ironic that Kazuki is this jumble of complicated motivations and desires that nonetheless spurs him into action, while Enta is absolutely sure of his feelings but doesn't feel like he can act on any of them.
Kazuki has no beginning, because he doesn't even know where to start in sorting out his desires or identity. Enta has no end, because he knows who he is and what he wants, but he can't take that crucial step forward. And Toi's the one who most obviously lacks connections to other people, but I guess that could apply to all three of the boys too.
They're all messes, but together they might be able to work through their issues and figure out a way to create and maintain the kinds of connections they desire. And to think, all this is catalyzed by them leaking their deepest darkest secrets out of their butts.
Ikuhara is nothing if not a genius. So the last thing I'm wondering about is those otter cops. Ikuhara villains tend to be more symbols than actual characters, but I'm curious how exactly Reo and Mabu are linked to Keppi and Sara.
Indeed. Like the kappas, they have their own method of extracting and consuming the desires of others, but to seemingly different (and more nefarious) ends.
Their puns are just as bad though.
The otters (kawauso) take advantage of the lies (uso) that people tell themselves, so it's thematically appropriate, but still a terrible pun. Also terrible: when they chant "tama, tama" (as in shirikodama or perhaps tamashii meaning soul) all I can hear is "balls, balls". Y'know, just in case you forgot this show was 80% gay sex jokes by volume.
I can guarantee you that's what Ikuhara wants you to hear.
So are the cops gay men who got recruited into a nefarious system? Did they do it willingly or were they coerced? Is this a case of the oppressed becoming the oppressors, hence their "two fates"?
I know there's a prequel manga where they raise Sara as their adopted daughter, so she's definitely wrapped up in the otters' scheme somehow. But yeah, there are many open questions whose answers I'm sure will be appropriately tragic.
It's pretty murky at this point, but I'm sure we'll get some answers within the next two months! It's just gonna be painful to wait that long.
I mean, they're prominently featured together in the OP, which is never a good sign.
Whatever the future holds, I'm looking forward to the conclusion ripping my heart out, just like the rest of Ikuhara's oeuvre.
Sounds like we're in the same boat then! Whatever happens, we're on Ikuhara's Wild Ride for good, and I can't wait for the rest of it to come out. In the meantime, I'm gonna see if I can get my hands on the official butt saucer. Yes, that is a thing that exists.

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