Cool gods don’t look at explosions.
|So Shaft followed up a confusing but very fun first episode with a much less confusing but also underwhelming 2nd episode. Could Shinbo right this ship for the 3rd? I can say that I liked this episode better than the last, but Shaft’s reliance on narration over narrative to explain the story made what should have been an early-season climax fall somewhat limp.|
Shaft making sure to please the Touhou crowd with this episode.
The veil of mystery surrounding these characters have been peeled back, so we at least know who they are now. Basically, everyone is Amaterasu or some part or vessel thereof, with the eldest Yagami sister Tsurugi the origin, the one who was born Amaterasu before deciding to relinquish her powers. There’s a parallel to be made here between her and Sasami, who became the lazy hikikomori she is after discovering the internet upon running away from her duties at her uptight religious home.
Sasami’s story is designed to bring to mind oppressed children in Japan – and other East Asian countries such as Korea and China – who have to suffer the abuse of their tiger moms until they finally snap, burn out, and lose all motivation. It not quite as prominent a problem in the West, though it’s certainly not uncommon. Perhaps Americans might be reminded of another example (that maintains the religious element), a young Amish man becoming enamored in modern technology during his time away from the community.
Shaft has found success before with shows about problem children, though they’ve faltered as well. I find Sasami-san‘s Shintoism bend to be genuinely interesting, and it’s done well with the fantastical setting it’s built up to allow for its wacky antics (Tsurugi’s explanation for protecting Sasami’s everyday life bordered on meta). That Sasami had the power of Amaterasu inside her all along was an unexpected twist, and it connected directly to Sasami’s psychological issues, showing that she didn’t have to rely on her brother because the power to control her life had been inside her all along. A cheesy but heartfelt lesson for this teenage girl who is so unwilling to admit or unable to see just how hard she really tries at her very sad and tragic life.
Shaft’s experience with stark lighting comes through in these anxiety attack scenes.
But all of this had to be told in the most blunt way possible, through narration from Sasami, then from Tsurugi. Shinbo tends to do the whole show-don’t-tell thing pretty well, so perhaps this was a case of overly close adaptation as in the -Monogatari series and its famously long-winded conversations. But those had some silliness and were complemented by creative and engaging visuals. The outdoor scenery was admittedly beautiful most of the time, including another great panic attack out in the sun, but they were all too lacking in imagination compared to what we’ve come to expect from Shaft.
The action scenes were once again competent, with a visibly generous budget, but it’s getting clear that they are not Shaft’s forte. Neither the fight between Kamiomi and Tama nor Kagami’s massacre of the military vehicles was as well directed as the chocolate monster scene from the 1st episode. And there just wasn’t enough buildup or even context (for unmanned tanks?) to give excitement to them. I wrote it last week, and it’s still true: excepting that introductory episode, Sasami-san simply hasn’t had the visual chops to make up for its obscured narrative.
I’d point out that this shot was spectacular if not for how utterly cliche it was.
Sasami managing to overcome her hikikomori tendencies seems to be the close of the show’s first arc. It was somewhat reminiscent of and all around more poorly handled than the first 3 episodes of Shaft’s 2011 show Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko. That show did a wonderful job setting up Erio’s problems and Makoto’s budding relationship with her before its cathartic early-season climax, but in Sasami-san, the explanations came too late and too dense. It couldn’t build up a coherent narrative to displace the confusion already in our minds. While it was heartening to see Sasami finally successfully step out to go to school, it just lacked impact. A show can’t cash in emotional chips it hasn’t earned yet. Denpa Onna went downhill quickly after its 3rd episode, and I hope that Sasami-san won’t suffer a similar fate. Whatever it might have up its sleeve, the time to take it out is now.
I haven’t been able to find any information on the voice actor for this servant girl, but she sounded a lot like Hitomi Harada, or Nori from Hidamari Sketch.