Finally, some good fucking food.
Kunihiko Ikuhara is back, four years after he unleashed Yurikuma Arashi on unsuspecting Western audiences. Wait, you didn’t watch it? Really? Bummer. It was a really great show that I think was unfairly shunned by most audiences. Sure, it wasn’t the most easy-to-grasp or mainstream thing, but it was one of the most fascinating examinations of queerness to ever come out of the anime industry. I mean, it used cute, mascot-like bears and Nazi parallels to explore the oppression of the LGBT community in Japan, and did so while baiting otaku with heaving anime bosoms. It was a great bait-and-switch show, a profound work of philosophical depth, and, honestly, a fantastic example of using corporate capital to do big idea activism.
Of course, Ikuhara’s no stranger to that last one. He arguably made Sailor Moon a more profound and queer-friendly work of art than its own creator did, and is largely responsible for all the stuff that Western audiences remember it for. Plus, it’s impossible to talk about queer representation in anime without mentioning his landmark Revolutionary Girl Utena, which broke down a lot of barriers in terms of allowing major anime productions to show same-sex romance. Somehow, this man keeps getting big money to make the gayest shit possible, and all while rocking sick Sailor Moon cosplay.
Oh, and Penguindrum was good too. It has really nothing to do with queerness, but it’s weird and cool and more people should watch it.
Anyway. Ikuhara’s back with a vengeance this season with Sarazanmai, an anime about kappa, idols, Amazon.com, and, ah… butt stuff. A whole lotta butt stuff.
See, the show follows three high school boys who live in a society that’s kinda, sorta, maybe like ours. One’s a shy boy, one’s an edgy emo boy, and one’s a sporty nerd boy. They all seem like super good boys that should be protected all costs. There’s also an idol girl who ends each sentence with “dish” (an oblique Di Gi Charat reference? You decide!) whose face is plastered all over the televisions, billboards, and smartphones of the world, and who everybody seems to love.
Early on, said Idol Girl catches Edge Boy trying to break into a car. Edge Boy gives chase, winds up running into Shy Boy, and both get an argument which leads to them breaking a sacred kappa statue. A kappa spirit comes out of the statue, gets angry that the good boys call him a frog, and then violates them anally.
No, that’s not a joke. He actually rockets himself into their no-no space and, through a series of magical and strange events, turns them into kappa. He informs them that he’s stolen their shirikodama, which is basically their soul. In order to get it back and turn back to normal, they’re tasked with fighting kappa-zombies and getting back the “plates of hope,” which are magical talismans that grant wishes. Soon, Nerd Boy gets turned into a kappa as well, and all three boys are dragged into a world of sodomizing giant monsters and trying to quell desires that have run amok.
You with me? This make sense so far? Okay, good.
In this first episode, we see the evil manifestation of a man who likes to run around naked with Amazon.com boxes on his head and presumably masturbate. The boys defeat him by breaking out their best JoJo poses, doing a musical number, then removing the monster’s soul from his bunghole. After this, they’re returned to their human form (presumably on a temporary basis,) and we discover that the Idol Girl that Edgy Boy was chasing was actually a crossdressing Shy Boy. As it turns out, Shy Boy dresses up as Idol Girl for social media attention, and it’s hinted that his latent desire is to actually just be a girl. And… scene.
That’s the first episode of Sarazanmai, and I can tell we’re gonna be in for a wild ride. Already, we’re grappling with perverse societal greed represented by Amazon boxes, gender dysphoria as seen through the lens of Japanese idol culture, shonen-esque battles carried out through musical numbers and anal play… it’s A Lot (tm.) But the thing is, I can trust Ikuhara to deliver at the end of the day. A lot of people like to call his work confusing and “objectively bad,” but really, I think that’s a whole lotta bull.
As seen in this episode, Ikuhara is not a traditional narrative storyteller. He’s interested in telling moment-to-moment stories in dynamic, often shocking ways, and meanwhile instilling said stories with very relevant social themes that are often miles ahead of what other anime storytellers are doing. All the while, he continues to show his unbridled love for his own fascinations – magical girls, human sexuality, pop music, et cetera. He’s genuinely one of anime’s few auteurs in that each of his productions, while all wildly different, have his unmistakable hallmarks. Point being, I think it’s disingenuous to call his work “confusing” just because it doesn’t spoonfeed you its narrative, spell out all its messaging, or deliver things in a “traditional” way. Anime is a medium that often frustrates me, especially these days, with its childish storytelling, vapid thematic elements and confused idea that “marketable” has to mean “fucking dull.”
Anyway, Sarazanmai reminds me how good this medium can be. With this and Mob Psycho 100 II coming out this year, I’ve felt really emboldened against people who tell me my standards are too high. To just “give this titty show a chance.” That “isekai shows aren’t the new moeblob, I swear.” That “you have bad tastes because you think Blood-C‘s a good show, why doncha watch something good like *insert flavor-of-the-week show here.*” Because here’s the thing – I’ve been into this shit for a long time. I know how \ good it can be if people try, and dammit, Ikuhara is trying. He’s trying to say something new, to do something new, to deliver something challenging to the status quo in the ways that only anime can do.
So go check it out on Crunchyroll. I’d hazard to guess it’ll stay good throughout.