“I never asked anyone to understand me! This is my own business. It’s the connection between me and Harukappa. For that, I’ll pretend to be anything!”
-Kazuki Yasaka, Sarazanmai, Episode 1
Naturally, some of the questions inspired by Kazuki Yasaka’s outburst is of Harukappa, who they are, and what Kazuki’s relationship or connection to them is exactly.
The short answer is that Harukappa is Harukawa Yasaka, a kid who lives with Kazuki and is likely Kazuki’s younger sibling.
(a few mild spoilers for Mawaru Penguindrum, specifically Episode 9)
The longer answer involves Kazuki’s “desire box,” which is packed with a Sara Azuma costume, makeup, and a wig in order for Kazuki to crossdress as Sara to take her lucky selfies. One of his primary motivators for doing this daily is Haruka. Before delving into that, I want to return to another Kunihiko Ikuhara property in Mawaru Penguindrum for a framework, and one particular creator involved with both series among many other things: Nobuyuki Takeuchi.
Takeuchi is fairly well-known for his work at SHAFT on various parts of the Monogatari series. He was a supervisor under Ikuhara for Revolutionary Girl Utena, and draws from some similar influences but has his own tweaks to his style.
This was particularly evident in his episode of Penguindrum, “Frozen World” where he combined his visual style and a few tricks that he had learned at SHAFT with Ikuhara’s overall vision of the series. It was one of the most well-received episodes of that entire series. Takeuchi did everything from direction, to storyboarding, to key animation. “Frozen World” revisits a scene from the series’ first episode and tells it from Himari’s point of view. While in the real world, Himari is unconscious due to her mysterious illness, Himari is spiritually visiting Sanetoshi Watase at his Hole in the Sky library.
“Frozen World” marks a major turning point for both Himari Takakura and the audience’s understanding of the entire Penguindrum narrative. It’s a one-episode journey that Himari specifically takes through her own memories of her friends and family as well as outside events that affected those relationships. At the end of her adventure, Sanetoshi gives her the penguin hat — the “real” one being an aquarium gift shop souvenir that Shouma Takakura purchased for Himari — and Himari enacts the survival strategy. “Frozen World” recontextualizes every episode that came before it and informs episodes that follow.
Takeuchi uses a lot of the same tricks from “Frozen World” in the cold open of Sarazanmai‘s first episode, “I Want to be Connected, but I Want to Lie.”
While Kazuki is running at night we see a camera pan along the Sumida River underneath Azumabashi (Azuma Bridge). The imagery is similar to Himari being entranced by the reflection off of the water at the aquarium. A voice (presumably Haruka) calls out “Kazu-chan!”
Throughout Kazuki’s inner monologue about connections, a circle is being cut from a piece of sheet metal. When the circle is closed, a large metal sign (or dish) with the ubiquitous character “㋐” appears. As the voice cries out, Kazuki turns, avoiding the falling dish from the sky moments later, which falls next to him. However, he doesn’t truly avoid the dish because he’s caught up in it the next moment. Takeuchi uses water imagery and repeats a similar latticework from the aquarium elevator to show falling ㋐s from the sky. (As a sidenote, the smaller ㋐ dish icons are reminiscent of blood droplet icons from Penguindrum.)
The visuals, coupled with Takeuchi’s work on “Frozen World,” hint that a similar revelation could be to come later in Sarazanmai. Kazuki has been affected by something prior to even his kappa transformation. Perhaps the large metal ㋐ sign killed him before the timeframe of the series even began (note: this is pure speculation). If the otter/kawauso and taiko drum appearing during the ㋐ scene is anything to go by, he may have undergone a similar transformation to the kappa zombies created by policeman duo Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu. One odd thing to note is that it’s a single otter and not the mitsudomoe imagery that accompanies Reo and Mabu.
A microcosm of this within Sarazanmai already happens when Enta Jinai’s desire box begins to float in the air and quickly takes off into the sky, leaving Enta and his sister dumbfounded. Later events in the first episode reveal that this happened because of a kappa zombie on the parallel spiritual plane of the “Field of Desires.” These zombies, along with Keppi and the main trio in kappa form, are not visible to, as Sara Azuma says in her daily fortune, normal humans. Keppi’s revelation of their existence recontextualizes the floating box that Enta saw, and the myriad floating boxes around the city. Similarly, there’s an interesting discrepancy between who Toi Kuji initially perceived (Sara Azuma) and the reality revealed during the sarazanmai connection (Kazuki dressed as Sara Azuma).
What we do know of Kazuki’s activities is as follows: he waits for Sara to reveal her lucky selfie item, dresses up as Sara, takes a picture of himself as Sara, and sends this lucky selfie to “Harukappa” or Haruka as Sara. All signs point to Haruka not knowing that it’s Kazuki at all, and thinking that they’re receiving selfies from Sara herself. This idea is further supported by texts on Kazuki’s phone with a goodnight message (shown during the cold open) and bookended by Haruka in bed, about to fall asleep, texting “Sara” goodnight.