kunihiko ikuhara

#1 — Mawaru Penguindrum (2011)

Seizon senryaku, bitches.

(I don’t usually spoiler tag things because I expect people to realize that this is a very spoilery blog, but just in case, MAJOR CONTENT SPOILERS for Mawaru Penguindrum.)

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#4 — Yuri Kuma Arashi (2015)

I didn’t enjoy Yuri Kuma Arashi all that much on first watch. I enjoyed dissecting it and writing about it, but it didn’t fill me with the same exuberance of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s other works (Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum). The ending was phenomenal but the series itself felt too dense. The characters were too distant and cold. And the series felt like it had more than its 12 episodes allowed it to say.

I’ve not-so-coincidentally mentioned this regarding Sarazanmai‘s placement in my personal top ten of the decade as well, and expect that I’ll feel differently after watching it a few times as well, but I don’t think it will ever top Yurikuma for me due to personal reasons. With every rewatch, Yurikuma remains dense but admirably concise in its storytelling. Like any Ikuhara series, there is more to discover with every rewatch, but only with Yurikuma have I loved the series exponentially more with each viewing.

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#9 — Sarazanmai (2019)

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.

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[Eleven] I want to discuss, but I don’t want to be an authority — Sarazanmai

My first foray into anime blogging was a Cardcaptor Sakura Angelfire fan site. I had recently discovered the internet — thanks, in part, to Sailor Moon — and with that discovery came the subsequent unearthing of Cardcaptor Sakura, not to be confused with Cardcaptors, since the latter was, according to other fan sites, an abomination and a tragedy.

I didn’t know this myself until I managed to buy a few VHS tapes and DVDs of the original, and didn’t take a hard line on it one way or the other. The way I saw it then (and still see it to this day) was that Cardcaptors had at least introduced me to Cardcaptor Sakura. It may not have been very good, but it was an important gateway. I couldn’t bring myself to fully hate it. Yet, upon discovering the original, I felt compelled to write about it.

The site was about as awful as any free Angelfire site of the early aughts. It was pale pink with dark pink and white accents. The homepage autoplayed a midi version of the Cardcaptor Sakura opening, “Catch You, Catch Me.” It had episode writeups of both Cardcaptors and Cardcaptor Sakura, organized in airing order, where I would give my opinions on each episode that I had seen.

I never worried about whether my opinion was valid or meaningful in any way. I simply wrote.

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Let’s sing an endless song for the sake of this shitty society — Sarazanmai Episode 10

There are people in my industry that give me hope for the future. I’ve told them as such. As it continues to grind forward into the future, they are the ones keeping others in check. They are brave, frequently eschewing or challenging existing systems or a general status quo. I’m fortunate to know them because, quite frankly, I’m a bit of a coward.

In an interview about Sarazanmai, director Kunihiko Ikuhara mentions the future, and specifically how it’s always marketed as something good. “The future is sparkling,” he paraphrases a commodified message. Everything in post-war Japan is “an improvement” and whatever lies in the future is certainly better than the past. You can see this in the upcoming preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo — which not-so-coincidentally are featured in the skyline frequently in Sarazanmai.

If there is hope for the future, it’s not in commodified messages or Ama-Kappa-zon boxes of desire. The challenge of Sarazanmai is the same one that my friends are rising to face in my industry: wading through oceans of societal bullshit and infrastructure while fighting it with genuine passion.

The future isn’t always sparkling, but even Sarazanmai — a series that argues heavily against looking towards the future with a blanket rosy outlook from the marketing machine — has hope. A better future is possible, it’s just not the one that’s been marketed or promised.

First, the story of Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu, the two who perpetuated the system.

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