There is that saying which goes “Don’t Just a Book By Its Cover”. I don’t necessarily follow that ideology given the number of times I have picked up a novel or series based on the cover alone and found my new favourite thing. Browsing the shelves of my local JB Hi-Fi the other week, given I still prefer owning physical copies of anime, I was looking for a new series which strayed away from the harem, combat or downright unusual series I tend to watch. With a cover featuring an all-male cast, adorable kappa and a bright and colourful motif, I had expectations that Sarazanmai would fit the bill.
But when pressing play and discovering that this was a noitaminA production created by Kunihiko Ikuhara, it was clear this was not going to be just a standard series. Fortunately, however, it turned out to be an addictive eleven-episode series I binge-watched in a single sitting.
Kunihiko Ikuhara is the brains behind many brilliant anime franchises which have received accolades for not only their cleverly crafted narratives and themes but breaking the mould in terms of delivering such concepts. Sarazanmai is no exception to this, providing an experience that can be enjoyed as you watch it for the first time with all its zaniness and creative use of music, before going back a second time and really appreciating the levels of complexity involved between the characters.
Sarazanmai follows the tale of three middle school students, Kazuki Yasaka, Toi Kuji and Enta Jinnai. Each has what some would consider an abnormal youth, with secrets and histories which define their personalities and actions, and kept very close to their chests. This all changes after Kazuki and Toi accidentally destroy a kappa statue in an otherwise obscured Tokyo side-street. Although their memories of the event are mostly wiped, they along with classmate Enta find themselves back at the street, with a few unwise words causing them to be transformed into Kappa by Keppei – the prince of the once glorious Kappa Kingdom.
The only way to regain their forms is to collect the shirikodama of zombies which have begun causing supernatural events around the town. While turned back after their first successful mission, they continue transforming in the hope of acquiring Dishes of Hope – which will fulfil any wish they desire. But things get complicated for all three of them, as completing the missions cause their own secrets to leak out to the others, and the mysterious police officers Reo and Mabu begin converting more city-goers into zombies.
Following in the footsteps of Mawaru Penguindrum, Sarazanmai shines in both its supernatural elements involving the war between the Kappa and Otter Kingdoms and the ample character development given to all the main characters. Some might initially raise an eyebrow given how formulaic the first half of the season is broken down, including the same two musical sequences and a battle against a new zombie to cap things off. But as the narrative progresses, they do shake the status quo they develop, leading to a more noticeable merger between the supernatural and youth-trouble elements. My only qualm is that Sarazanmai feels to be an episode or two short, and felt like it lacked a lot more depth on the supernatural-side which felt hurriedly forced upon viewers in the series’ latter half. Aside from that, though, this show was a fun romp with the right balance between fun moments and scenes with emotional complexity.
Although Sarazanmai first aired on CrunchyRoll with only the original Japanese dub, through their partnership with Funimation on this home video release, a dual-audio track featuring both Japanese and English voice-overs are available in this collection. The good news is that you really cannot go wrong based on which voice cast you go with, as both are of a high standard and shine in their ways.
The easy highlight of the English voice cast is Ian Sinclair as Reo. However, the other lead voice cast members including Alejandro Saab as Kazuki, Justin Briner as Enta, Toi as Ricco and Daman Mills as Mabu all shine and bring a level of authenticity to their characters – both emotionally and physically (reflecting the ages of their respective characters). While we are seeing more and more English dubs incorporate localised songs performed by the voice casts, these at least feel more oriented to shows with female characters. All five lead characters sing on an almost every-episode basis, and while a little shaky in the earlier episodes, really do shine by the show’s end. Oh, and Sinclair really has an amazing voice, which needs to be heard more often!
With affordable subscriptions offering a year of anime for little more than the price of one Blu-ray anime release, unless you are a super fan of a series, the extra on-disc content may be the true deciding factor on how you watch your favourite shows. Sarazanmai comes with only a small collection of in-disc extras including:
- English Voice Cast / Producer commentary for Episode 11 (Final Episode)
- Web Trailers
- Clean opening and ending sequences
The only worthwhile piece of extra content on-disc is the audio commentary track, which was highly enjoyable and interesting to listen to. I wouldn’t have minded an extra couple of episodes receiving these tracks with different cast members, as again, it felt like they had too many stories to share in just one 20-25 minutes stint.
Final Words on Sarazanmai
For those who may prefer to stick with mainstream anime series, Sarazanmai is probably a show you can happily pass over for many others. However, for those who like the unusual, the emotional, shows with musical numbers or heartfelt stories around young teenagers growing up and facing their demons, I highly recommend Kunihiko Ikuhara’s latest creation. Check it out now on AnimeLab (dubbed in English), your preferred official anime streaming platform for your territory or from your local retailer of anime DVDs and Blu-rays!