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This Week in Anime
Is Sakugan Underrated?

by Nicholas Dupree & Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Jean-Karlo and Nick check out Satelight's original series about one down-on-his-luck dad and his genius daughter as they get up to all kinds of trouble underground. Like the show's premise, Sakugan has stayed under the radar, but it might be the best show you aren't watching.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

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 film ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Jean-Karlo, I sadly couldn't be here when TWIA covered Ranking of Kings and Bojji, but I will be kaiju poop before I miss the chance to talk about my other adopted anime child this season. Please humor me as I go full Maes Hughes and show everyone these pictures of my daughter.

What's with this sassy... lost child?
She's not lost! She arguably has too much parental supervision!
Coulda fooled me...
Never said it was good supervision. Just that there's a lot of it. Anyway, this tiny tot with the enormous forehead is Memempu, one half of this season's new mech offering, SAKUGAN. AKA the show with the most Divorced energy of the entire year.
Get ready to see those cup noodles a ton, because these guys eat those like they're sponsored or something. Watch out there, Memempu, that's a lot of sodium!
It just makes sense. Cup Noodles are what you eat when you're a) a single parent or b) drowning in student loan debt, and that's our two protagonists to a T.
For the record, Memempu is all of nine years old. But we don't watch anime for realistic depictions of the educational system, we watch them for... ah... well... hmmm... "Wow, cool robot!"?
His name is BIG TONY, thank you very much. So named because he is both big and probably a NY Mets fan.
Well, there are two Tony's, the first being this guy here, but we're getting way ahead of ourselves...

See, if we're gonna talk about SAKUGAN being "Divorced Dad: The Anime™", we gotta talk about the actual Divorced Dad: Gagumber
Gagumber is actually probably my favorite character in this. I love Memempu with all my heart and soul, but I also love seeing characters who hit close to home and feel real. And lemme tell ya, I've seen a lot of Gagumbers in the world.
The story goes like this: Memempu and Gagumber live in an undeground colony, one of many. All of humanity has spent their lives underground in these colonies, isolated from one another by an endless subterranean labyrinth. Markers explore the Labyrinth in their mechs in order to transport goods from one colony to another or to generally map out the area, which is an uphill battle given how much seismic activity causes the labyrinth's geography to change.

Memempu, genius that she is, has her heart set on becoming a Marker. Gagumber, father that he is, isn't about to let Memempu out of his sight although at first he doesn't seem too keen to tell her why. So the two battle wits as they get in each other's hair.
Gagumber's just happy getting by as a miner, working that old Fred Flintsone 9-5 with Memempu as his co-pilot. But Memempu is just bursting with dreams of exploring the world. That's why her forehead's so big: it's full of dreams.
Literally! Memempu has had visions of a mysterious tower that she's never actually seen before--one against a backdrop of actual stars, and not just the projection of stars from the ceiling screens.
And wouldn't ya know it, some mysterious person sends her a cryptic map to that "dream place" in the mail. Definitely nothing suspect there. I'm sure it's just something that happens to all 9 year olds in this world.
Gagumber is still reluctant to do anything that involves leaving the colony, but sometimes the call to adventure comes to you in the form of a kaiju that levels your colony and annihilates your best friends.

The plot thickens when Gagumber reveals his own Marker mech hidden in the garage, the aforementioned Big Tony. After taking their explosive revenge on the kaiju, Gabumber finally relents and enlists as a Marker so as to help Memempu find the tower from her dreams.

Yeah, that's the part of SAKUGAN that might catch some off-guard. 90% of the time it's basically A Goofy Movie but with robots and kaiju adventures. Then 10% of the time it's A Goofy Movie if Max watched Pete and PJ get mauled by a bear.

But personally I like the moment where Lynda and her father get got. It's a swift gut punch that establishes there are legit stakes in this adventure, and things could very well end horribly for our duo if they don't stick together.
It's also a big slap to the face for Memempu and Gagumber. Lynda and Walsh are everything Memempu and Gagumber aren't, in terms of a duo, Lynda is older, experienced, and has much more slack from her father than Memempu does, which Memempu clearly envies and desires. Walsh has control over himself, has absolute respect from his daughter and is otherwise unflappable, while Gagumber can barely blink both eyes at once and couldn't lead a dog on a leash.
Yep, they both have a lot to learn, including from each other. Believe in the Fivehead, Gagumber!

Even when they go out, Lynda and Walsh have nothing but absolute love for each other. Whatever they had gone through only made them stronger as a family, and they were able to meet their end comforted in the knowledge that they had each other. So when they're gone, Memempu gets her first taste of just how dangerous being a Marker is, while Gagumber remembers the words of Jim Carrey ("You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.").

Still, progress is a process, and these two have a tendency to fall back on old habits. Even as they're beginning their adventure and trying to become real partners, they return to bickering the moment things settle down, so much so that they wind up disturbing the local ecology and getting thrown in jail by the smuggest suit in the underworld.
Guy needs a pompadour and a couple hundred visits to BooBies before I'd ever call the likes of him "Dandy"... but Merooro up there is a smug snake in a cheap suit, so I'll give him that.
I only trust his as far as I can throw him, which is not at all. Because he'd have me arrested for throwing him and make me do community service by navigating the Minotaur's labyrinth and fix the world's air conditioning.
I dunno, if it means preserving the habitats of these cute little capybara, I'm game.
Just saying, there have to be better ways of maintaining public infrastructure than conscripting 9-year-olds.

But hey, I'll give Merooro credit for not betraying everyone (yet!) and also taking us to a cool ass place with a ton of neat worldbuilding implications. Like the idea of a giant machine keeping the underground world habitable is cool enough, but that it's apparently so old that nobody alive remembers how to fix it is even cooler.
That's a really cool bit of writing; a sector of the Labyrinth had gone to waste, and it turns out it's all because a corresponding section of the climate control complex (which IIRC the show refers to as a shrine) is damaged. Memempu is the only one creative enough to put it all together and restore the section.

As much as I hate "ancient civilization" conspiracy theories, tech coming around to be seen as inherently-divine by cultures post-disaster is still a cool bit of fiction that I deeply appreciate.
Granted it also raises a whole lot of questions, much like the duo's pit stop in Cave Italy.
Let's put a pin in that for a minute, because for now we need to talk about another aspect of society: class warfare.
And profiling! We as a society need to acknowledge that not all deadbeat anime dads are criminals.

But yeah, after Gagumber and Memempu serve their time they're immediately roped into a gang of sewer orphans, because that's just how this show rolls.
God, I love that headline. Massive "Splat Tim Does It!" energy.
The 3 exclamation marks are the sign of good journalism.
Anyway, Yuri (of The Yuri team fame) is from a colony that espouses total equality among its citizens. Yuri and his friends find that hilarious; Yuri was a disabled boy whose arms were replaced with prosthetics, giving him an aptitude with computers. But he and his friends were still "useless" to the orphanage that raised them, so they went into the sewers and did the Robin Hood thing with hopes of becoming like a gang called The Shibito (who we'll also be putting a pin in for now).

Yuri's intro episode has a lot going for it, though it's sadly hampered by having to cram so much into so little time. But I do appreciate how it tempers the show's typical sardonic absurdity by being incredibly accurate to modern politics.

Replace "orphanage" with "free school lunch" and you've got a regular news spot in America.
Yeah, if Yuri's introduction is the worst episode it's not because of the politics--it's because it tries to juggle so much in just half an hour. Yuri's backstory, his desire to change the Underground, his desire to be like the Shibito, forshadowing who the Shibito are, how Gagumber spanks him into behaving... it's a lot and the resolution feels a bit too tacked on.
Yeah that's the one part that doesn't feel accurate. If the last 5 years has taught me anything it's that duplicitous politicians do not give a flying fuck about getting caught with their pants down. But at least Memempu and Yuri make adorable friends.

Yuri is otherwise a weird addition to the show. We already have a wide-eyed idealist in the form of Memempu; giving her a friend to bounce off of is nice, but Yuri himself feels like a weird character to have been turned into a recurring feature in the show.

Perhaps some of the later episodes will give him more to do, but for now I don't see it.

I think he makes for a solid foil to Memempu. He's juuuuust old enough to think he's an adult, but without the super smarts to keep him from instantly getting in over his head unlike the brain gremlin. Plus he adds an element of chaos that the other "adults" can't, like getting fucked up on cactus juice.
Honestly, Zackletu is a better character--and I'm not just saying that because news recently broke out that Christina Valenzuela is gonna be voicing her in the upcoming English dub!
I like Yuri as Memempu's adopted weirdo older brother, but I am ALL about her bad influence adult step-sister.
Zackletu is a fascinating character. Right off the bat, she's able to wrap Gagumper around her fingers for her own benefit--the entire reason he and Memempu get roped into Yuri's schemes is because she enlisted Yuri's help to track down Gagumper so she could collect a $1 million debt from him (that she would then use to pay Yuri for hacking Gagumper's records so she could track him down in the first place).
Oh she plays this man like a fiddle. That day "Gale Force Gagumber" turned into "Down Bad Gagumber" and he never recovered.
What a rush it was to find out that she actually has a vendetta against Gagumber! As it turns out, there's a reason Gagumber had a Marker mech in his garage: he actually used to be a Marker. His partner Rufus died under mysterious circumstances, leaving his younger sibling Zack behind. Gagumber is gobmsacked to discover "Zack" was short for "Zackletu"--and she outright holds Gagumber responsible for Rufus's death.
Now the narrative somewhat implies the whole thing with Zackletu's identity is they lived in an unsafe colony and needed to keep things under wraps. But they never say it outright so I choose to congratulate a queen on her transition. Good for her. Gagumber should let her shoot him to celebrate.
This is another episode where the resolution left me a bit wanting. Outside of Zackletu regretting that Memempu got involved (even though she kidnapped Memempu in the first place), the whole episode just... blows over Zackletu's anger at Gagumber. By the next episode, it's all water under the bridge, no fallout at all even though Gagumber had a whole chunk of his arm blown out.
For me it makes sense in that Zackletu isn't so much angry about losing her brother - she seems to have coped with that over the years - and more hurt to see the big, strong hero she looked up to having turned out to be a washed up dumbass who can't even take care of his own kid right. So seeing him actually step up in their fight and do the right thing is enough to give some closure. Sometimes being able to just move on is more important than anything.
I can buy that. And the end result somehow does work out into a healthy family unit. The whole family only really has brain cells because Memempu bucks the curve, but they work well together. What Memempu has in inginuity, everyone else makes up for in intuition and experience. A really good example is when a cave-in traps the gang on a desert island. Memempu has a ton of good ideas for escaping, but none of them work for their given situation. It's not until Gagumber reminds her to be in the moment that she can find a solution that works.
It's a really sweet follow-up, especially after the pair have a serious falling out during all the cactus juice shenanigans earlier. And it cements what I like about Gagumber as a flawed but very familiar kind of parent.

He's a fuck up, no doubt, and struggles a lot with understanding a daughter who's vastly different from him. He falls back on bad habits and is often content to sleep where he lands even if it's for the worse. But he does earnestly care and wants to be there for her. Watching that all play out is what has kept me with this show through its ups and downs.
The relationship between Gagumber and Memempu is certainly refreshing, we don't get a lot of anime about family like this. Gagumber and Memempu travelling together is almost more important than all the other lore. Where is that starry tower? Who cares? The real meat of the show is Gagumber and Memempu trying to find it.

Not to say the rest of the show is unimportant--after all, Gagumber and Rufus were looking for a place called "Core City", a treasure trove for Markers. And then there's the Shibito...

Ah yes, our actual bad guys who have finally shown up 10 episodes in. Thankfully before they arrive Merooro gives us a power point to catch everyone up on what their deal is.
Now, remember how some colonies had stuff like the Coliseum in them? As it turns out--this was by design. For whatever reason, the colonies are an attempt at preserving human culture at large, with each colony arguably serving as an exhibit for the museum piece that is an old city. Merooro's agency is tasked with maintaining these colonies and any bit of biodiversity they can get their hands on, like capybaras.
He's doing God's work, there.
This is part of why Markers are a big deal: ordinarily, the protocol for preserving humanity means nobody would be leaving colonies at all. But the logistics of living underground means that someone needs to venture out, hence the Markers. The show comments on how this is restrictive, but doesn't talk much about it. For good reason: it's hard to argue for "personal freedoms" when humanity is on the verge of extinction and the alternative is wandering out into an unstable environment (also on the verge of extinction) where predatory kaiju lie in wait.

Also, they literally produce noodles as part of a "bread and circuses"-deal. Hey, it works for Gagumber, guy loves his noods.

Like I said, I've known a lot of Gagumbers in my life. Most of them were the dads of my friends who wore wrestling t-shirts in middle school.
For folks who've watched Laid-back Camp, you'd know instant noodles are considered "camping food" in Japan, just in case Gagumber's food of choice seems weird. I'd imagine an American take on Gagumber just loves him some pork and beans right out of the tin.
I think the American take on Gagumber is just early-era Homer Simpson.

Though I don't think Homer ever had to protect Lisa from a team of assassins. But I stopped watching at like season 13 so who knows now.

See, this is where the Shibito come in. While the Colonies are all overseen by a governing body that makes sure things run smoothly and people don't get too mad at not being allowed to leave their colonies, the Shibito lurked in the background for several episodes. It's revealed the Shibito are violent anarchists who just want to destroy the system in place, devil take the consequences. Yuri idolizes them, Merooro point out that the raw destruction they wreak just kills people senselessly.

It's also around here that I started really, really wondering how long this show is supposed to be. Because these are a lot of heavy ideas to wrap up in like 3 episodes, but we haven't had any word on whether this is a 2-cour show, or if it'll get another season.
I agree. Going back to Homer Simpson, the Shibito are basically all those people who refuse to get their shots even if it means suffering getting Measles. "Liberation for the masses" doesn't sound as attractive when there aren't any safe, livable spaces for humans outside of the colonies. It would take one heck of a swerve in the show to redeem them basically ruining whole habitats because, I dunno, the Labyrinth is secretly super-livable and the Bureau was hiding it the whole time. Like, you gotta stretch like Earth Maiden Arjuna's "magic ghost worms will prove for us if you stop eating hamburgers and taking birth control" ending. And you couldn't do that even if you had four episodes to go.
It's a lot, and that's not even getting into the other dozen hanging threads the show keeps occasionally tugging at. Like how Memempu's "dream" may actually be a memory from her birth that features a heavily wounded Gagumber. Or how it's hinted that Gagumber's memory has been altered to obscure how Rufus actually died. Or the spooky mummy who may or may not be the legendary Marker, Urorop, that possibly set this whole thing in motion by sending that map to Memempu.
Also, Gagumber has superpowers. As it turns out, all colonials have tracker chips inside of them; Gagumber's was hacked to give him super-speed at the cost of potentially overtaxing his nervous system, hence his nickname "Gale-Force Gagumber". Why? To be determined.

But hey, how this all does or doesn't resolve is Future Nick's problem. At present I've really enjoyed this show and its wholesome, sometimes uneven adventures. I can handle a lot of plot wonkiness if the heart of your show is solid, and that's definitely the case here. Besides, where else am I going to get gremlin content this powerful?
Look, man

I love the grown-up kung-fu bugmen in spandex, I love the predatory demon-women with sad backstories who have every reason to be angry, I love the feral boys, I like the Carnelians and the Dragon Quests and dunking on stuff

But kids and their favorite toy? That hits home.

You heard it here everyone: go watch SAKUGAN and help us protect this smile.

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