It’s no coincidence that Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu were marketed as a couple well before Sarazanmai‘s first episode aired.
It’s also no coincidence that they were cops.
Of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s works, Sarazanmai featured the most elaborate pre-release marketing strategy. It included a Twitter account run by both Reo and Mabu called @keeponly1luv and a short manga called Reo and Mabu~ Together They Are Sarazanmai.
Many Ikuhara series have come with an accompanying manga as part of a multimedia package, but in the unique case of Sarazanmai, Reo and Mabu is not a retelling of the anime’s storyline. Instead it very specifically appears to be set prior to the events of the anime, making it a prequel to the series. Reo and Mabu is a fairly fluffy slice-of-life one-shot that, while weird and esoteric at times, presents Reo and Mabu as a canonically gay couple who raise a baby they find in the street: Sara Azuma. It’s an easy read, easy on the eyes, and a generally cute BL manga. This is the first part of Sarazanmai‘s pre-release marketing strategy: market Reo and Mabu in a traditional, easily-accepted manner.
Reo and Mabu’s Twitter account is a bit trickier to parse — especially since the tweets have since been deleted completely — and shows how societal factors slowly seep and poison their relationship. Their joint Twitter journey begins innocuously with a tweet from Mabu on Nov. 11, 2018 that reads “We’re going to keep law and order in Asakusa” with an accompanying blurry Mabu selfie and location pin. Ten minutes later, Reo tweets from the account and asks why he’s tweeting, while also calling Mabu out for the blurry picture.
Their social media presence continues in this manner with both policemen tweeting seemingly meaningless snapshots of their daily patrols from the account. Slowly, things like the kawauso heart symbol and the Katakana “a” (ア) begin to creep into photo backgrounds and mobile devices. Mabu’s last tweet comes on March 30, 2019, 12 days before the series airs. The subsequent two tweets feature Reo frantically searching for Mabu, and saying that he won’t let go of his desire. On March 31, 2019, the @keeponly1luv account disappears.
There is a lot of interesting speculation regarding this Twitter timeline (especially it’s “true” chronology, which has been pinpointed to approximately 2007-8 but what I want to specifically focus on for this post is how it markets Reo and Mabu together. While the manga is slice-of-life fluff, the social media account tells a more fraught story of their relationship, with the sinister edge that they are policing Asakusa.
Within the series, Reo and Mabu are together in that they’re partnered together at their job, but state of their romantic relationship is unclear. They don’t communicate with each other despite both doing things for the other that they believe to be for the best, all while policing Asakusa deviants in the name of a faceless corporation.
The most obvious reason for Reo and Mabu’s existence is to show how a toxic societal system employs the very people it’s designed to keep down. Unlike the Judgmens of Yuri Kuma Arashi who reside in the (figurative and literal) Wall of Severance and are the system itself, Reo and Mabu are both victims of a capitalist system that exploits them and are made complicit in punishing people “like them.” Their stage song “Kawausoiya” features them dancing in front of a factory line of other people’s desires, which they take and market in the most palatable way possible much like, well, the way their own manga was marketed prior to the series.
This isn’t to say that Reo and Mabu can’t have their happiness, or their fluffy slice-of-life moments. In fact, the series gives them a happy ending where they become rickshaw drivers rather than policemen. But the softer, pared-down version of their relationship isn’t all that Reo and Mabu are as characters or as a couple, it’s simply the most marketable.