I was on board with Sarazanmai as soon as I heard it existed. If Kunihiko Ikuhara (Sailor Moon S, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, Yuri Kuma Arashi) is attached to a project, it’s a guarantee that I will not only watch it, but likely have a lot to say about it because he’s a director who never does anything without something specific to say. Sarazanmai is no different.
That being said, Sarazanmai is (spoilers, but not really if you’ve read anything on this blog ever) the lowest-ranked Ikuhara series on this decade list. A lot of it is an inherent course-correction against recency bias. I mentioned this in the Honorable Mentions post when talking about Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight, but it’s more difficult to rate more recent series with less time between an initial viewing and this write-up, as well as less time to rewatch it.
Currently, Sarazanmai stands as my least-favorite Ikuhara series, which still makes it one of my favorite anime series in existence, and easily the best anime of 2019. I still have no fewer than eight completely spoiler-filled posts that will inevitably end up on here some day soon after another rewatch.
For the record, upon first viewing I thought Yuri Kuma Arashi felt a bit rushed, but have since grown to enjoy it significantly more than I did when it aired. Sarazanmai seemed even more rushed while I was watched it, despite obviously having a lot to say. The story of Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu remains the most glaring example within the series, since their manga and social media backstory gives so much more to their weight in the narrative.
Admittedly, I now love Yuri Kuma Arashi having watched it multiple times since its 2015 run, and I think it will also continue to resonate with me a bit more personally than Sarazanmai simply due to the fact that I’m a queer woman and not a queer man.
Like Yuri Kuma Arashi, Sarazanmai is significantly shorter than Ikuhara’s other works (which have been receiving progressively fewer episodes through the years). It follows Ikuhara’s template and uses repetition as (and in certain ways even more) effectively as any of his previous works. Unlike Penguindrum (in-universe covers of Japanese rock group ARB) or Utena (different songs that play during the series’ episodic duels) Sarazanmai employs a more musical theatre approach with characters actively singing out their desires and roles, which neatly slots into Ikuhara’s style as well as the Greek chorus elements he’s employed for years. I dare anyone who watches this series to not let an audible “Kawausoiya!” slip at one point or another.
Above all else, Sarazanmai is about human connections and how major corporations exploit and market those connections. All three of Sarazanmai‘s main characters — Kazuki Yasaka, Toi Kuji, and Enta Jinai — reach out to each other in a variety of ways only to find out that their connections have been severed, perverted, or commodified in some way. Reo and Mabu’s entire narrative arc is about how they’ve already been corrupted and forced to police the societal system that ruined their lives. Ikuhara’s Tokyo Sky Metro line (Penguindrum) that progress shouldn’t be made simply for the sake of progress is back in full force with the idea that the future isn’t always sparkling. We cannot dwell on the pain of our past, but to forget it completely is equally dangerous, especially when it comes as a solution to that pain, in stamped “Kappazon” boxes.