|Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (roughly Sasami at Doesn’t Try Hard) is the latest show from Shaft of course, a 1-cour adaptation of a light novel series by the same title. Besides the omnipresent director Akiyuki Shinbo, there’s writer Katsuhiko Takayama, a Shaft regular who also happened to work on the last non-Shinbo directed Shaft shows, the Ef series. Tack on an impressive and indeed familiar cast of female talents, and it’s obvious why this show has been drawing so much hype, even before knowing much about its premise, which hasn’t been the most clear from its hectic promo material. I must admit, I’m always a little skeptical of new works by Shaft, but I’m also enough of a fanboy that I know I’m going to have fun no matter what. So, on how much of the hype did Sasami-san deliver?|
One would hope that she’s good at this by now.
What caught me first was the watercolor effect on the house interior. I was somewhat reminded of the famous 18th episode of Sengoku Collection which had a pastel or crayon thing going with its backdrops. Shaft is no stranger to making use of different and highly unusual art styles for various effects, such as the witches’ realms in the Madoka series. The soft lighting and bright colors gave everything a comfortable and safe feeling, fitting for this hikikomori’s home.
The effects when Sasami attempted to go outside, on the other hand, were not so pleasant, and in a very believable way to me. I’m not a hikikomori (though I used to be borderline one), but I’ve had an anxiety attack before, and some of the visual depictions felt spot on. The blinding light of the sun, the nearby objects feeling impossibly far away, hazy tunnel vision. I’m not saying it was giving me flashbacks, but that was actually a pretty intense scene.
As cliche as it may have been, I liked this scene.
The believability of Sasami’s anxiety attack made her much easier to feel sympathy for, a good thing for the title character. Up until that point, her bratty entitled selfish possessive attitude toward her brother had just made her kind of a hard person to like. I still think she could be handling the whole situation better, but she’s really just a lonely girl with (at least) one majorly debilitating psychological issue that her brother’s doting personality wasn’t helping her with.
Is Kamiomi the main character of Sasami-san? I assumed so going in, but he was just so blank and simple that I couldn’t really see him as a person. What was the point of his constant face covering? The obvious reason, often invoked for characters like Master Chief, is that the lack of a face makes one easier for the audience to insert oneself. This is a very common theme in this medium dominated by wish fulfillment, usually in the form of an overly average and typical main character (with maybe one unusual thing). But Sasami-san’s male protagonist actively does it to himself blatantly. I’m not sure if it goes beyond simple Shaft self indulgence. They’ve usually hit the self-deprecating meta jokes pretty hard, and he showed all the signs of that, such as his Hare Hare Yukai dance in the library, or the fact that he knew nothing of Valentine’s Day. He’s a little too obviously a viewer stand in in that Shaft sort of way.
In some ways, Sasami seems like the better stand in, in some ways not.
Along with the watercolor, the house interior scenes featured a plethora of faraway shots, often single-cut and still camera, showing the characters moving around the frame much like actors on a stage. Those who have followed Shaft’s shows for a while might have been reminded of some of their older works like Tsukuyomi Moonphase and Pani Poni Dash!, both of which featured meta jokes depicting the characters as performing on a sound stage (also both had Chiwa Saito as a powerful loli character, as she was again here). Sasami’s double-speed changing stuck in my mind for its obvious gimmick and the background music reminiscent of Tatami Galaxy‘s ending theme sung by Etsuko Yakushimaru. The episode used quite the variety of background tracks, most of them energetic and lively. The piece with the saxaphone (or whatever brass instrument that was) that played during the climax was certainly a lot of fun. Even when a monster is destroying the city, this is a happy show.
When the world was turning into chocolate before Sasami’s eyes, I first thought that it must be another one of Shaft’s abstractions, a peek into the mind of a girl obsessed with getting chocolate for her brother. The truth was a lot cooler, as the world literally became chocolate – the whole universe, actually, by the looks of it. I hadn’t done much reading into this show, so I was quite caught off guard by all this. The climactic battle wasn’t exactly jaw dropping, but it was still a quality bit of animation, plenty filled with excitement. Kagami’s ample weapons were quite the sight.
Of course, one was left wondering the explanation for the chocolate monster in the first place. My first thought was, did Sasami’s chocolate obsession turn into a monster that came to attack the city, a la Haruhi or Panty & Stocking? That seems a little far-fetched, to be honest, but the show does have the audacious spirit to do anything that might be unexpected. There’s probably a reason why the sisters had to go to her house when turning the world back, so they wll probably keep barging into her life, at least.
Lesser Shaft shows needed 7 whole episodes to build up to this sort of scene.
I must admit to enjoying this episode much more than I had expected. When I observed that the staffing and cast was sort of a throwback for Shaft, I thought we might be in for something like them from the late 2000s, and that’s more or less what it was. Well, except if they actually had a budget to work with, as the action bits showed off. I wonder how large a focus that will be to this show. The way this episode played it was right, throwing us into battle with the Yagami sisters without needless exposition. But I do hope that some explanation is forthcoming. There is still so much to learn about these sisters, but the show has that Shaft boldness and quirkiness and great production to boot, so I’m loving how Sasami-san is turning out. Can’t wait for more zaniness next episode.
Shaft certainly knows how to deliver with the visuals. That’s all I’m asking for, really.