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Sarazanmai Rewatch 2020 #1: “I Never Asked Anyone to Understand Me”

Watching Sarazanmai, a story about the ways people navigate relationships and isolation, with technology playing a role in the story as a flawed tool of connection, is an interesting exercise in 2020, where connections are as important but logistically frustrating as ever. That being said, I’ve wanted to do a rewatch blog series for a while now, as it’s a series that means a lot to me since I first watched it as it aired last year. Specifically, I knew I’d want to record my analysis and thoughts with a special focus on Kazuki Yasaka. I want to note this specifically because I knew that a rewatch from my perspective and observations would undoubtably end up being biased to Kazuki, and thus I think it’s best to state that beforehand. He is one of the main characters after all, and regardless of many reviewers and fans’ interesting mixed feelings about him, I do think his role in the show is very fascinating on both a storytelling and personal level.

Like most of my blog posts, I can’t guarantee how consistent I will be with this series, but I do want to make a post for every episode, since it’s been a while since I watched the show straightforwardly and I’d like an occasion to organize thoughts on this series that I’ve had for a while.

So without further ado: Sarazanmai Episode 1: “I Want to Connect, but I Want to Lie”

I note the usual things in this first episode which set the tone for the rest of the series–the stunning and beautiful dream scene of Kazuki running along the river to gentle piano music, the wondrous surreality of the the shower of signs raining down on him, the ominous yet resigned statement he makes of how “connections can be easily lost.” Kazuki, as our introductory character, seems to be set up in this moment (and this episode overall) as the one around which the series will revolve, but as we see in the summery opening sequence, our other two co-protagonists, Enta and Toi, are of equal stature to him, as they join hands, dance, and exit the sequence laughing, their arms wrapped affectionately around each other.

1) The emptiness of this shot (despite there being other students in the room
2) The distance between Kazuki and Enta
3) A distance that Enta crosses, going over to Kazuki, not the other way around

The joyous connectedness of the OP is a sharp contrast to how the show presents Kazuki in this episode, where we see him distinctly inward focused, living in a world of his own strange and individual “rules” that seem to separate him from the faceless people around him. He retreats to alleyways, parking lots, and side streets, someone who is content to handle his business alone. When he does come into contact with others, it is when they are being aggressive to him–Toi chases and attacks him, Enta angrily confronts him. Enta specifically confronts Kazuki for not confiding in him with his sudden decision to quit the soccer team, and takes it as a breach of trust.  Kazuki does not reach out to people. The other two members of the trio have their issues too, as we will learn in subsequent episodes, but it’s notable that the initial focus is put on Kazuki as the foundation before moving onto their stories.

The first episode puts the strangeness of the series front and center, and while an initial watching is somewhat confusing due to the rapid influx of new and contextless information being given, and jumping between dream sequences and magical kappa-induced amnesia and illusions, it actually does a very great job at introducing the mood, characters, and themes of the world we will spend the next ten episodes immersed in. And it does it in a way that’s entertaining, fun, visually impressive, and shocking. I am aware of cultural differences and that kappa lore and general nudity or sexual content would be more weird to western audiences than in Japan, I can’t imagine that the entire song and dance extraction sequence isn’t at least somewhat of a doozy to first time watchers, even if just for the sheer visual spectacle of it all. 

High-budget, well animated scenes of Kappa boys trying to pull a magical ball out of a giant zombies squelching, leaking asshole make for good chuckles and entertainment when watching further reaction videos. But at least for me when watching this for the first time, wanted to know whether it would be simply spectacle, or something more. During the leak sequence, where Kazuki sees himself for the first time and has his “secret” revealed to the others, crying desperately “No! Don’t Look!” before bursting into an explosion of red petals, I was hooked and intrigued at where the story would be going, if still not entirely convinced. It was the ending of this episode was when I knew I was in for something interesting and special on an emotional level, and not just for the shock value of “male character crossdresses! Who can believe it!”

After they complete the sarazanmai successfully, Kazuki is full of shame and anger, but not necessarily just at himself. In fact, his angry outburst is specifically in response to kindness. Enta reassures Kazuki that this new information has no impact on their friendship, and when Toi is dismissive, Enta reprimands him–a sign of brash but well-intentioned heroism and friendship, but one that Kazuki vehemently rejects. “I never asked anyone to understand me,” he says angrily, tossing his “secret” back into his box. “This is my own business.” 

I’d always focused so much on the “I never asked anyone to understand me” line, I missed the “This is my business” line. Interesting, because that’s a phrase that is repeated to great significance later in the series.

That sequence, seconds before it cuts to the ending title card, was what hooked me for the rest of the series, and what I continually find myself returning to when I think about what Sarazanmai means to me, personally.  Despite everything I didn’t understand, despite all the weirdness, that is what forms the heart of the series for me. Kazuki’s statement feels baffling on the surface–wouldn’t one want to be understood? Isn’t it a good thing when your best friend responds to your embarrassing situation with kindness rather than cruelty? But things are never that simple, and thus is the start of Sarazanmai digging into a very specific mindset and thought process of frustration that I, for the first time, found something I could deeply relate to in a series. This isn’t a Special Educational Episode about how Kindness to  Friends and Accepting them will result in them immediately feeling better and solving all their problems. Yes, kindness is good, acceptance is good, but the ways in which characters, and people in general, may respond to that kindness will not always make sense upon first glance. It’s not something I always understand in myself, when I have negative responses to what should be encouragement, and feel frustration at things that should be positive. Explaining the convoluted reasons for why you Feel a Certain Way can be at times an  exhausting exercise in the failures of interpersonal communication, so in some ways, it becomes quicker and more comfortable to find your own ways of understanding yourself, and thus proclaim as Kazuki does here: “This is my own business,” rather than reaching out to others in any sort of way.

This first episode spends a lot of time on his thoughts and from his perspective, and the surreal, dreamlike feel of most of the episode creates an intimate atmosphere. However, despite this very personal focus, ultimately the story takes place in a world that exists outside of just Kazuki’s individual troubles and worries. Rewatching this series knowing what is to come, it is curious that the next two episodes serve to do the opposite of the first, in that it focuses less on Kazuki’s specific feelings and perspective, and more on grounding and establishing how everyone else relates to the world, and how they are impacted by him and his decisions.  Kazuki’s storyline is compelling to me and others because of that reason, for the flaws and relatable factors, as well as how we see him deal with his perspectives being challenged as well. He is not simple, and neither is anyone around him, and those competing interactions are what ultimately make the story great. 

Author: maiden theory

I'm just a Bird whose intentions are good

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