This week on Sasami-san: deconstruction of the .Hack genre.
|Sasami-san@Ganbaranai hit the ground running with an exciting first episode, but the lack of exposition (or any sort of logic driving the events) had many of us, including me, scratching our heads. This episode managed to deliver some much needed explanations while also building Sasami’s hikikomori character, but the comparatively uninteresting Yagami sisters weighed it down too much.|
Yup, it’s by Shaft, alright.
The 2nd episode started off the bat answering a lot of questions that were raised in the first one. As at least one of us had guessed, the chocolate monster was a result of Kamiomi’s desires. He is, as Omo had correctly deduced, a god of sorts, having the power of Amaterasu, the
player character of Okami god of the sun/universe in Shintoism. Oh, and 3 years ago, Sasami herself had that power. Unfortunately, the explanations ended there, though perhaps future episodes will also feature Sasami providing explanations through her reports.
The episode proper was an interesting contrast to the spiritual and sober tone of the cold open, with its wacky slapstick comedy. The extent to which Sasami was transformed in her animations went farther than anime tends to go, though perhaps in line with Shaft’s pattern with the -Monogatari series. Though I was most reminded of the very fluid designs in Gainax’s classic OVA from the turn of the century FLCL. Those art shifts definitely helped add some kick to the gags as Sasami became increasingly upset over the Yagami sisters’ actions, but they were too mild and predictable to elicit more than a little smirk. And the non-slapstick shots treaded territory all too familiar for Shaft, obvious budget-saving shortcuts and all.
Like the main antagonist of FLCL, Sasami throws left-handed. Strange, as she swings the bat right-handed at the end of episode 1. That combination almost never happens.
I was caught off-guard by many of Sasami’s actions this episode. Given her abrasive personality in the first one, I had expected her to be a misanthropic loner like hikikomori are often depicted, but she was actually very receptive to helping the Yagami sisters out. Even though Tsurugi is technically her teacher, she didn’t really hold any leverage over her. Furthermore, she was embarrassed by her status in the game, going to great lengths to hide it, indicating that she cared about her stature in others’ eyes. Unexpected from someone who stubbornly spends her days parked in front of her computer and just finished rattling off reasons for owning so many computers, most of them games.
But the 1st episode had made the point that Sasami does not wish to remain a hikikomori. She attempted twice to go out, throwing up both times (with every indication that she knew that it would happen). Despite her extreme quirks, she isn’t that far off from being just another girl. She seems vaguely aware of this, and her actions betray her desire to right the ship that took her in a dark direction some years ago. After all, she never exercised the option she had at any point of kicking everyone out of her room and away from her computers. I wasn’t expecting a nuanced depiction of psychological issues from this show. Of course, Shaft’s Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko also played with similar tropes before losing steam halfway through, so this isn’t uncharted territory, and neither is it guaranteed to be successful. But I do appreciate the extra depth that has gone into Sasami, making the protagonist of this show a more complete person than is usually expected. That’s a good thing.
Shaft up to their old tricks with the faraway shots and shafts of light.
I’m not so positive on the other characters who still remain too mysterious to be interesting. At the very least, the voice actors have done a good job. The oldest sister Tsurugi is a role built for Shaft’s Chiwa Saito. Her loli-teacher-in-the-classroom bits had me thinking of her Becky from Shaft’s 2005 show Pani Poni Dash! (she even has the white lab coat!), while her nasty personality reminded me more of Stella from Shaft’s 2010 show Arakawa Under the Bridge. Yes, she is most famous recently for her more stoic roles as Bakemonogatari‘s Senjougahara and Madoka‘s Homura, but above all, Chiwa Saito is a loli master. Being a faux loli, Tsurugi has shown restraint fitting an adult, but I’m sure Shaft will soon exploit Saito’s talents as they so often do.
Just like Tsurugi, the youngest sister Tama seems exactly fit for her voice actor, the lovely Ai Nonaka. She’s being built up as one of those happy characters with an unexpectedly dark side, considering her murderous comment to Kamiomi in her introductory scene and her rather disturbing avatar in the game. She always has an innocent smile, but you just know that she’s thinking of something that would send shivers up your spine. This, of course, should remind you of her role in Shaft’s 2007 black comedy masterpiece Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, in which she played the impossibly positive girl Kafuka Fuura. Besides the implications of the parental abuse and abandonment she suffered, she had a knack for making things worse – usually deadly worse – with her cheerful prescriptions for her depressed teacher’s problems. But before that, Nonaka co-starred in Pani Poni Dash with Saito as the mysterious class representative Ichijou. That girl wasn’t ever quite as dark as Kafuka, but every new thing we learned about her had a way of making us more scared of her.
Looking kinda yandere there, Tama.
The middle sister Kagami is the odd one out, as I can’t really think of a comparison like with the others. Kana Hanazawa simply hasn’t been around as long as her costars, either in the industry or working with Shaft, so this is to be expected. Also, Kagami’s character archetype is a bit more obscure than her sisters'; even anime isn’t exactly brimming with unemotional cyborg (or possibly android?) girls. Her mech abilities are pretty cool, with what’s probably a 3G Internet connection built in to her body, but her personality is quite lacking.
That’s the main problem with Sasami-san right now. The characters not named Sasami are uninteresting. The 1st episode got a pass thanks to its excellent production values working in concert with its self-indulgent humor, but that was largely absent in this one. The thread of Sasami’s psychological issues shows promise, picking up from the excellent depiction of her anxiety attacks last episode with her embarrassment over her gaming in this one. Cross that with the show’s Shintoism bend which allows her brother’s thoughts to affect reality, and you have what could be a killer formula. But the Orochi MMORPG story felt rather limp due to the infodump resolution. And the Yagami sisters and the purposefully boring Kamiomi have taken over the screen without doing much to make us care for them or understand who they are. That needs to change. Given the talent behind this show, I have hope that Sasami-san will turn things around, but this was still a disappointing misstep after a fantastic opening episode.
There’s no doubt that Sasami-san has the visual chops, but when Shaft is resorting to their classic budget-saving techniques, it just isn’t enough to carry the whole show.