“The more boxes you have, the happier you’ll be! Take a Happy Selfie, send it to your special someone, and you’ll be even happier, dish~”
-Sara Azuma, Sarazanmai, Episode 1
Prior to Sarazanmai‘s television debut, director Kunihiko Ikuhara said in an interview with Pash+ “We live in an age where, with our smart phones and social media, connecting with people is a daily activity––so I wanted to ask, what does that all mean? What do we want to do with [those connections]?”
Sarazanmai is the most outwardly direct Ikuhara has been in a series premiere. Even the tagline of Sarazanmai‘s first episode, “I Want to be Connected, But I Want to Lie” neatly bookends the entirety of episode’s fairly self-contained plot. Naturally there’s a lot more to dig into, but in terms of Ikuhara premieres, this one was surprisingly succinct.
In Asakusa, across the Sumida River, Kazuki Yasaka has a secret. He carries that secret openly, in a cardboard box, wherever he goes. Carrying that box is one of his three rules to life.
In Asakusa, across the Sumida River, Toi Kuji has a secret. He hides it in a cardboard box in a storage locker. Inside that box, he keeps a gun.
In Asakusa, across the Sumida River, Enta Jinai has a secret. He received it in a cardboard box. It was a gift for someone special, but he can’t give it to that person any longer.
All of these secrets are much more than the items in their boxes suggest. They’re icons, much like the faceless crowds of people that drift through Asakusa in the backgrounds of Sarazanmai. Toi’s gun is a tenuous connection to his older brother that we know little about. Enta’s Kappazon branded fitness tracker was a gift for Kazuki when both of them were on the soccer team, yet Kazuki recently quit. Each of these items represent a connection that Toi and Enta have with someone that has been boiled down and turned into an icon that arrives in a Kappazon-branded box.
While blogging Mawaru Penguindrum, one writer of a now-defunct blog said something that has resonated with me ever since, and is applicable to Sarazanmai as well. In the rush to identify the Kiga apple sticker or the Penguinforce apple sticker we forget that apples in their natural state are unbranded completely.
In previous Ikuhara works, boxes have similarly held a character’s innermost desires — something that they wish to keep hidden or completely static and unchanging. As we continue on this journey to digest what Sarazanmai is telling us, let’s remember that like the Penguindrum apple, cardboard boxes don’t have to be branded. By contrast, unlike the apple, cardboard boxes are by default a vehicle with which to transport material goods. They’re man-made, and frequently branded.
Onto Kazuki’s Kappazon-branded Sara Azuma outfit. It’s a costume that outs him as a crossdresser and possible superfan of local Asakusa idol Sara by posing as instructed for her “Lucky Selfies.”
In extracting the shirikodama — in Japanese folklore, a small anus ball that kappa steal from humans, in Sarazanmai, a human’s innermost desire also stolen from the anus, like in folklore — from their first episode opponent, a box zombie, Kazuki exclaims that he understands. Before discovering the box zombie’s secret, he yells at the zombie, saying that it’s the zombie’s fault for having a secret that could get them in trouble. Despite the zombie’s pleas to stop the extraction, they continue, and the entire process reveals that this person’s desire was related to stealing boxes and wearing them over his head while naked. Kazuki doesn’t show a lot of empathy towards someone whose secret he forcibly exposed, and his seemingly heartlessness is subsequently revealed as a deep self-loathing when Kazuki’s own crossdressing secret and impersonation of Sara is exposed to the other two boys.
Sarazanmai gives us enough clues to know that it’s not simply an infatuation with Sara. It’s somehow related to Kazuki’s sibling, Haruka, who is a Sara superfan. While packing the Sara costume back into his branded box, Kazuki yells that he would do anything for Haruka. Kazuki’s secret isn’t simple, it’s complex and deeply personal, like most true desires. It can’t be simplified down to just a Sara costume.
Earlier in the episode, we see the policeman duo of Reo and Mabu interrogating the same young man, pre-zombification, at their police station. At the end of the episode, Reo and Mabu extract the desire from another human at the station — presumably the next episode’s kappa zombie. Kappa prince Keppi (with the trio of boys) and Reo and Mabu seem to be similarly-motivated, but their methods and outlooks aren’t in agreement.
Today’s Fortune from Sara Azuma:
“Normal humans can’t see him. Simply Asakusa Sara TV. I’m looking for my prince. They need to have a sexy voice, smell nice, have nice pale skin, and not be a frog.”
Every week, I’m going to dedicate the final section of these episodic posts to Sara’s fortune. I’m standing by the prediction that she’s going to be used as a Greek chorus element, even if she’s also going to be actively involved in the show as a person and not simply through a phone or billboard screen, as Kazuki’s activities would suggest.
Her fortune for this episode involves searching for a prince whose description matches Keppi, foreshadowing his arrival. Her aforementioned Lucky Selfie item is a box, which becomes the item representing the person behind the zombie in this episode.