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.
In two weeks, director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s latest original anime, Sarazanmai, will air in Japan. I’ve found few anime as immersive, both coy and direct with their symbolism, and as emotionally-affecting as Ikuhara’s original works, which include Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Yurikuma Arashi. They all have something important to say and reward watching (and rewatching) with a careful eye. To say that I’m looking forward to Sarazanmai is an understatement.
I rarely preview series, but in the interest of digging into Sarazanmai as soon as possible, and organizing my own thoughts before the first episode airs on April 11, here is a collection of themes that the series may be looking to tackle, based on the information available thus far and Ikuhara’s previous work.
“A stage that never ends. Taking on the shine that this stage requires enough for someone else as well. Such is the atonement for a stage girl who must surely die. The stage of fate that she has chosen.”
Previously I had thought of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight‘s giraffe as an arbiter of the system, similar to Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s Judgmens who preside over the Severance Court. In Yuri Kuma Arashi, the three Judgmens are the only body allowed to permit relationships — there’s even an offical stamp that says “Yuri approved!” — a reminder of societal constructs and barriers that the leads eventually break by the end of the series. The giraffe seemed to be of this vein, presiding over the toxic top star system of the Takarazuka Revue at Revue Starlight‘s Seisho Music Academy. This is why he always cheered or commented during the duels, kept track of the top star standings in his room, and was an important signature on Hikari Kagura’s transfer documents. Because the giraffe is the system, naturally he would have a hand in her “transfer” from Seisho once she reached the top star stage.
Yet, the giraffe’s true identity is revealed in Revue Starlight‘s finale. This revelation recontextualizes the giraffe’s actions throughout the series. While it’s not wrong that he’s an arbiter, he’s also something concrete and very familiar to anyone who has watched a stage production.
Tomohiro Furukawa’s overarching direction of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is an interesting cycle of influence. Furukawa worked alongside Kunihiko Ikuhara on Mawaru Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi. Ikuhara’s directorial flair has clearly inspired a lot in Revue Starlight, especially in the mechanical transformation sequence that transitions Karen Aijou from Seisho Music Academy to a surreal underground dueling stage