Sasami-san @ Ganbaranai Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 278 minutes approx.
The Hikikimori phenomenon has proven to be fertile ground for writers in Japan, giving us such works as Welcome To The NHK and Heaven’s Memo Pad. The mononymous Akira has added his/her voice to the genre with this surreal offering, brought to us in animated form by – who else? – maverick studio Shaft.
The reclusive protagonist is the titular Sasami Tsukuyomi, a girl who has refused to go to school and prefers to hide behind her bank of computer screens to interact with the world, when she’s not sleeping that is. At her beck and call is her older and creepily subservient brother Kamiomi to pander to Sasami’s every whim and need with unfailing delight.
But they are no ordinary siblings – Kamiomi unknowingly possesses the power of the goddess Amaterasu, a hereditary gift transferred incestuously. Originally Sasami was to inherit this power but after running away from the Tsukuyomi shrine where she trained as a maiden and discovering the Internet, Sasami left for good taking Kamiomi with her. But the gods wish to appease Kamiomi creating havoc in daily life which is where the Yagami sisters come into the picture.
If that sounds like a lot to take in, as the cliché goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Akira has quite the imagination, enough to fill eleven light novels and counting, from which director Akiyuki Shinbo and writer Katsuhiko Takayama have selected an eclectic batch of chapters for this adaptation. But, if you are familiar with Shaft’s work you’d expect nothing less from them.
The result is a fractured narrative in this collection of twelve episodes which divides its time between a coherent(-ish) plot and random silliness. Of course the premise is absurd fantasy nonsense anyway so by its very nature, convention is low on the agenda. The problem is, as it always is with Shaft’s works, that the story is obfuscated and compromised by the visual and quirky excesses which are either an attraction or a distraction.
By way of illustration, the opening episode is a curious take about the Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolate tradition in causing the whole town to be turned into chocolate! While Sasami stays at home, the aforementioned Yagami sisters – the eldest Tsurugi, a pervy woman in a small girl’s body, ditzy Tama and robot Kagami, who is one woman war machine – step in to sort out the problem.
From here the actual possession of the divine powers changes hosts a lot for reasons which you’ll have to watch to understand since the whole mythos of the Tsukuyomi family is a complex one. The siblings mother, Juju, makes an appearance for a mid series mini-arc which delves into Sasami’s past and how she fits in with the lineage of being a God, which as you can imagine is far from linear.
The final third of the series sees a new face, Jou Edogawa, show up with world domination on her mind, leading to the obligatory yuri fan service segment, complete with the ubiquitous beach/onsen trip. Jou has a startling secret which Sasami accidentally discovers but is sworn to secrecy upon pain of death. The gags naturally write themselves, if you are that way inclined of course.
You’ll have to forgive the glibness and lack of details about the content but there is a lot of ideas crammed into this series and keeping up with them is no easy task. Shaft’s habit of quick cut frippery, such as text, obscure camera angles and obtuse cutaways (including the omnipotent telephone poles) offers further distraction so paying attention is paramount. In all fairness this trademark has been toned right down but it still can be a nuisance.
Admittedly there are some nice ideas and a unique approach to the well worn anime staple of battling Gods, with plenty of fun to be had in the process. However, as mentioned earlier, the unsavoury and often disturbing running theme of incest is frankly unnecessary. It’s bad enough Kamiomi is constantly begging for Sasami to indulge in physical congress with him but the siblings also came from the same gene pool. Yup.
Yet I hate to say it but Kamiomi is still an amusing character despite being a hideous pervert, always hiding his face with either his briefcase or anything close to hand. Sasami herself is a curious lead – part tsundere, part tease, part sympathetic heroine part lazy cow. The Yagami sisters seem to be designed as pure comic fodder yet Tama gets to show some heart as the series progresses.
Presentation wise this is unmistakably a Shaft project with their usual angular quirks and offbeat flourishes, yet they have done something rather unique – Sasami’s bedroom is rendered in washed out watercolours while the characters appear as lightly pencilled figures; outside the house and the colours are bold and sharp and the artwork detailed and rich in depth, creating an interesting dichotomy to illustrate Sasami’s contrasting worlds.
Visually this show is a delight to behold but quite what the meaning or message of it is doesn’t reveal itself as immediately obvious. The opening episode suggests another hikikimori satire before slipping into a traditional folklore based fantasy battle yarn only to end up as a yuri ecchi comedy. Perhaps I missed something, but ultimately the haphazard storytelling and lack of focus on its themes proves to be a serious hurdle to get over.
In many ways this is one of Shaft’s more accessible works and is less a chore to sit through than the Monogatari shows, but there is still a heavily surreal and off kilter bent which makes this something of a niche product and too dense for a wider audience to appreciate.
Sasami-san @ Ganbaranai is nothing if not adventurous and has a lot to offer behind the seedier material and convoluted plot detours but is likely to appeal mostly to fans of Shaft and their individual presentation style.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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