Warning: spoilers for SARAZANMAI.
Kappas. Weed. Ghosts. Cross-dressing. The Mafia. Butt marbles. Musical numbers. Welcome to SARAZANMAI.
SARAZANMAI is the Gemini of anime: two different shows for the price of one. It’s fast-paced and fun, with silly antics and simple humor. At the same time, it has some extreme drama and emotional pain. Somehow, it comes together like puzzle pieces to create one unique show. But with all this chaos, can it really be a good watch? Read on to see if SARAZANMAI’s execution lives up to its lofty goals.
Wet N Wild
SARAZANMAI tells the story of three middle schoolers in Asakusa. They meet and anger Keppi, the prince of the Kappa Kingdom, who transforms them into kappas. The boys work together to stop the Otters, enemies of the kappas who create evil monsters from people’s unexpressed desires. Each battle is a musical number that ends in the unveiling of one of the boys’ deepest secrets.
Of course, traditional kappa stories usually don’t result in crime fighting. In folklore, kappas were turtle-frog monsters that lived by the water. When a human approached, the kappa would try to drag them in. They would remove the human’s shirikodama, a kind of marble found inside the butt, in order to eat the liver. As you might expect, folklore ruled that humans usually died as a result of these encounters. It is a refreshing change of pace to see the stories reinterpreted. Rather than kappas permanently removing the shirikodama and the human dying, the kappa temporarily removes the shirikodama, causing the human to lose their human form in favor of a kappa one. The creators updated the myth, making it a little kinder, and I think there’s a lot more that can be done with this version.
Not only does the show repackage mythology, SARAZANMAI interprets its own versions of anime tropes. The desire-spirits, created by the Otters, echo the ghosts from PANTY AND STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT. The Otters’ henchmen, Reo and Mabu, have a dance sequence like a racy version of the Team Rocket Motto. Then, the boys’ transformation sequence into kappas strongly parallels magical girl anime. Creativity can mean finding ways to innovate on old material, and SARAZANMAI Frankensteined their way into something brand new.
Big Kappas Don’t Cry
Even with an entirely male main cast, SARAZANMAI does a lot of gender role destruction. These fall into two main categories: the prominence of queer characters, and the treatment of their boys.
Here, our queer couple is Reo and Mabu, two police officers working for the Otters. Despite being antagonists for much of the series, the two are sympathetic and complex. Reo evokes curiosity in the way he clearly both adores and hates Mabu. Mabu’s action-based communication foreshadows the pair’s true nature. The mystery of how they became this way unfolds over time. Their complete and fulfilling ending is just as important as their devoted relationship. If I had done my research, I wouldn’t have been as surprised at their inclusion. Kunihiko Ikuhara, the creator, has a long history of doing well by queer characters. Heard of SAILOR MOON and REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA?
On the other end of the anime’s gender role subversion is the emphasis on accepting emotion. Around the world, many expect men to suppress their feelings in favor of logic or physicality. But the kappas can only save the day through revealing their deepest desires. And when they do so, they have the opportunity, just as anyone else would, of being shamed for it. They don’t. Their revelations meet with acceptance or forgiveness. Showing that these boys don’t get punished for feeling is just as important as them being able to reveal them in the first place.
Relatedly, SARAZANMAI is unique in having peaceful “battle scenes.” In their fights, the kappas only dodge and sing. In a world where hyper-masculinity and boys’ media emphasize violence, SARAZANMAI shows that peaceful actions can still solve problems.
Let’s Get Weird
The first SARAZANMAI clip I ever saw involved a shriveled, stoner-eyed kappa, a cat stealing marijuana, and a boy in drag forced into a ninja/bee-themed date with a juvenile delinquent. Needless to say, I was hooked. From there, the show did not disappoint.
SARAZANMAI is not afraid to get weird. In fact, its main source of humor is its strangeness. It’s hard to beat the concept — a kappa literally sucking a marble out of your butthole is pretty wild. The creators don’t shy away from trying to one-up it, though.
However, the content might not be objectively funny. More so, as you struggle to put together all the bizarre things that are happening, the brain interprets it as humor. Like watching Russian dash cam videos: it’s chaos, but you can’t look away. This even extends to serious parts of the plot. Moments of real peril are so surprising in a show that’s mostly nonsense, even that can become comical. You will see chibi kappas holding guns. It does not stop being funny.
At the very least, you can shock people when you tell them you watched the butt-marble-weed-kappa anime. And aren’t bragging rights the greatest gift a show can bring you?
As The Plate Turns
Unfortunately, the show isn’t all sunshine and cucumbers. Part of having a bizarre or chaotic feel is having things happen so quickly that they’re difficult to fully process. As a result, SARAZANMAI’s chaotic pacing extends into its more serious plotlines. To top it off, each event then has to stand out by being more shocking than the last. The last few episodes have so much going on, it can be a little overwhelming. It gets close to a soap opera.
Speaking of soap opera writing, some of those questionable techniques made it into Enta’s character arc. Enta has a crush on his friend Kazuki. While it makes for a great launch into his personal battle, Enta slips into the “predatory gay” trope. Most notably, Enta kisses Kazuki without his permission. Enta has the chance to gain forgiveness later, but the fact that it happens at all is just a reminder of old stereotypes. Even with the arc’s resolution, it still rings loud.
Lastly, this drama walks another slippery slope in anime: the possible sexualization of children. Magical girl transformations, on which the kappa transformations draw, often include the character briefly turning into a naked, shining figure. The same happens here. Most magical girl anime do not have a creature sucking on the transformer’s butt. It’s not inherently sexual. Even the desires presented in the show are loosely defined to be of any kind. Rather, it can just be uncomfortable. I don’t think that it’s supposed to be creepy, or taken in a bad way. And after a certain point, I barely registered it. But it does give me pause, and I do think it might be uncomfortable for other viewers as well.
Ikuhara Strikes Again
Despite all the chaos in SARAZANMAI’s storytelling, it is ultimately a story about relationships. As the main plot unfolds, we see more of a focus on following your own desires. For all the main characters, their desires ultimately came down to having fun with the people they care about. Reo and Mabu wanted to be with each other in whatever way they could. Kuji and Kazuki want what is best for their families. And of course, Enta, Kazuki, and Kuji come to depend on each other for support and joy. Not to mention, more literally, they can’t stop a zombie unless all three of them are there. It doesn’t seem like the kind of show that would touch your heart emotionally when you first start watching it. But by the end, you’re rooting for the main characters to find happiness.
You can watch SARAZANMAI for free on Crunchyroll. There is also a spinoff manga called REO AND MABU: TOGETHER THEY’RE SARAZANMAI. It features Reo and Mabu as they take care of their adopted daughter and future princess of the Kappa kingdom, Sara.
Have you seen SARAZANMAI? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image from IMDb.