After finishing Sarazanmai, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s newest anime this year about kappas, butts, and the mortifying ordeal of being known, it would be the largest understatement in the world to say that I absolutely could not get enough of it. It was fun enough talking with friends on twitter and discord, making dramatic fanart, sharing funny takes and theories and headcanons with other fellow fans, but still I craved MORE.
Since I didn’t really have anyone to rewatch the series with in person, I turned to the next best thing…. YouTube anime reaction videos! Reaction videos, especially those that were recorded as the episodes dropped, have a freshness and honesty to them that I find very endearing. It makes me feel like I’m experiencing the excitement of the show all over again, and that’s one reason why I found them so addicting. As Sarazanmai is a fairly fast-paced story full of bizarre twists, wacky visuals, and deeply affecting emotions, it was extremely amusing and insightful to watch other people go through the same emotional rollercoaster that I and other fans went through when we first watched the series. Listening to and watching reaction videos, often put on as background noise while I finished commissions and personal projects, gave me a lot of time to process my own thoughts on the series, and the insight into the different ways people respond to it as well.
As my extremely clickbait-y title suggests, I did indeed watch all the reaction videos I could find, although I will note that yes, there are several caveats to my statement. As a rule, I tried to watch everything that turns up when you search “Sarazanmai Reaction” into Youtube. I started with the most popular videos, and moved on to trying to search for lesser known channels as well. I stuck with English-language videos since I am extremely monolingual, although I did watch a couple in Spanish out of curiosity. I also tried to only watch reaction series that covered all 11 episodes of the show, since there were series that I started only to realize that the reactor had dropped the series, and reactions that didn’t use certain slurs in its title or description, which luckily was the majority of them. I also listened to a few podcast reviews of the series as well, which I greatly enjoyed, but I categorize as distinct than reaction videos, since usually they are more centered around deeper discussion and analysis. I’ve included a list at the bottom of this post of all the different reactors and podcasts I watched and listened to, so definitely check them out and support them if you feel so inclined!
The fun part about watching reaction videos is how different people, well, react. Some are more pensive and thoughtful, others are chatty and vocal the whole time. Some like to focus on analysis and predictions on what direction the story will take, others are more attuned to the emotional beats of the characters and prefer to follow along the story as it goes. Natural variations aside, reactors had predictably similar reactions of “WTF” to various specific events: the first shirikodama extraction and sarazanmai, the revelation of Toi’s weed dealing business, the first Kawausoiya dance. I say predictable because those are scenes specifically made to be weird, shocking, and humorous, and are successful at producing responses in pretty much everyone. However, while it’s extremely amusing to watch people lose their minds in response to the weirdness and funny moments, the parts I’m most curious about is responses to the subtler emotional elements and to the series as a whole. In my observations both within and outside of the overall fandom, the characters and dynamics people end up loving or hating depends a lot on your personal experience, and that aspect is always interesting to me.
Many reactors, upon finishing the series, would say things along the lines of “WTF was that??” or “I still don’t know what is going on, but that was cool and I couldn’t stop watching.” These reactions are expected given the bizarre imagery the anime hurls at the viewer and the emotionally intense themes it covers. But what’s particularly interesting to me are how most reactors would exclaim “I didn’t understand anything I just watched!” but then would proceed to discuss the series and characters in a way that, to me at least, demonstrated that they did have a very good understanding of the themes and characters. While this might seem like a bizarre contradiction, I personally take it as a testament to the effectiveness of Sarazanmai’s emotional storytelling. While it’s true that much of the technical aspects of Sarazanmai’s worldbuilding is minimal, it is internally consistent enough so as to emphasize, rather than distract from, the characters and relationships in the series.
After all, characterization is one of the strongest aspects of Sarazanmai. Most reactors, being well versed in common anime tropes, could pick out from the first episode the roles that the protagonists were set to play from the beginning, and that made for very interesting ways in which expectations could be both met and subverted, and almost everyone, of course, latched onto faves early on. My observations seemed to be that just about everyone loved emo criminal boy Toi from the beginning, which I mean, look at him, how could you not?
Enta garnered a lot of split reactions, with people waffling between sympathizing with his desires and getting annoyed at his behavior. Kazuki, the first of the trio, seemed to frustrate a lot of people due to the convoluted nature of his own situation and emotions, with some people being annoyed at his immaturity and paradoxical mix of selflessness and self-centeredness and others relating to it.
The developing responses to Reo and Mabu were interesting to see as well, since while the two start out as straightforward villains, the show slowly reveals more pieces of information about them up until the end. In my time in the Twitter fandom, I’ve seen various fans discuss ReoMabu’s storyline, the entirety of which is covered in various other media and thus not completely explored in the anime itself. ReoMabu had a dedicated twitter account full of in-character posts exploring their relationship prior to the events, as well as a short spinoff manga and extra scenes in the light novel adaption. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get more of that content in the anime itself, but while I did see reactors be confused by a lot of the earlier scenes, by the time episode 10 ends–with all terrible secrets finally brought into the light, and Mabu’s clear-as-day confession–most had come around to understanding what was going on.
This was especially apparent with one particular reactor who, to my absolute horror, accidentally skipped the post-credit sequences of episodes 5-7. At the time, I wondered how they were going to understand the story without knowledge of the scenes that I and many other fans considered vital information. However, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that despite missing out, this reactor was one of the fastest to recognize Reo and Mabu’s relationship as a clearly romantic one, and managed to intuit the type of trapped situation they were in based solely on the small elements given in the anime alone. At the end of episode 7 during the revelations of Enta’s littering crimes and ugly emotions, another scene that seemed to confuse some people, they also immediately deduced his feelings of jealousy and anger as well. While I still hold that the post-credit scenes are an essential element of experiencing the full story of Sarazanmai (luckily this reactor did NOT skip the post-credits of the last episodes), I’m still in awe of how much they were able to appreciate and connect with the story overall, and was very happy to see them say that it was one of their favorite series of the season.
When it comes to Ikuhara’s work, I feel like there can be a tendency to over-intellectualize responses to it, to focus on taking it apart with the hope of finding its secret messages that are only accessible to people smart or observant enough to deduce them. Part of this is expected, because Ikuhara’s works are always very abstract and multifaceted, with plenty of symbolism, visual language, media influences, and obscure literary themes for fans to eternally pore over and argue about. I personally love those kinds of fandom deep dives, and am in no way discouraging them. Sometimes, however, I feel like those approaches can miss the point. Sarazanmai is not good only because it can be read as a commentary on portrayals of gay relationships in anime or the ways in which technology and capitalism both connects and disconnects people. It’s not valuable just because of its use of clever homages, it’s beautiful cinematography, or the way it sits in conversation with the imagery and themes of former Ikuhara anime. All of these elements are a part of what makes Sarazanmai as good as it is, but one of the most important elements to me is how it makes people feel. For me, I connected deeply with Sarazanmai on a personal level, since several parts gave me emotions in how it reflected things in my own life, and various other fans I’ve interacted with have had similar experiences as well. While some reactors are definitely interested in theorizing and analysis, “reacting” on its own is ultimately driven by feelings and immediate responses to what the viewer is seeing. Watching people’s reaction videos, and seeing the pure tumult of emotions and excitement of people making their own connections and relationships to the story, really is a kind of pure experience, and one that for me, is a great way of experiencing the story I love all over again. I’m pretty sure this is a big reason why, in my observations, the reactors who were just casually along for the ride accepting the weirdness as it went along, were able to enjoy and understand the meaning of the show and characters just as well, if not better, than those who went into it with the intent to dissect and analyze it.
This all feels very consistent with what Ikuhara himself has said– that while he appreciates people praising his work (In this casual translation, I interpret this as him meaning evaluation on a more intellectual level) the feedback he most enjoys is hearing that people enjoyed it. Sarazanmai is an experience, and like our three kappa boys, it may be strange and disturbing to jump into, but if you keep calm and sing along, you’ll find yourself in sync soon enough.
Anyways, Here is my reactor list! I watched a lot more videos than these, but keeping my list to reactors who reached the end of the series. Since I was mostly only interested in Sarazanmai, I don’t subscribe to all of these people, and thus am not familiar with all their other content, so just keep that in mind.
In this post, I tried to avoid making direct references to specific reactors since personally, it feels a little… strange and invasive to analyze people’s reactions directly since it feels like it’s such a unique and personal thing that is different for everyone, and while there are certain types of reactors I personally find more entertaining, everyone naturally does it differently, and that natural aspect is what makes it interesting.
- JennAnime Reactions
- Coyah Tahagi
- WooHoo Lad (loud noise warning)
- J Reacts
- Kaito by the Sea
- Anime Caveman
- Turkai Centeno (For some reason I could only find videos for episodes 8-11, but the show as a whole is discussed)
- Warui Deshou: Stream of Thought
- Kappa Connections (subset of Imagine Me and Utena podcast)
- Dub Talk