In last week’s episode of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai: devils! veterinarians! online games!
I don’t have a grand over-encompassing thesis for this post the way I did for the last one, so instead what you are receiving here is not so much an essay as it is a compilation of thoughts I thought were worth discussing. Let’s take a look-see, shall we?
1. So as the blogosphere has made very clear this past week, it’s obvious that in my lack of knowledge in Shintoism I missed one of the most important threads in Sasami-san. As it turns out though, the show chose this episode to reveal its hand, so now we know that Sasami’s world is populated by gods, her brother has currently occupied the chief position (known in some circles as the Haruhi position) as Amaterasu, and that three years ago Sasami was Amaterasu herself. That said, not only are there plenty of characters in the OP who haven’t yet played a role (could they be aged-up versions of the cast? their mother and father? Izanagi and Izanami?) but we still don’t know what the deal is with the sisters. Others have drawn links between them and the Three Imperial Regalia of Japan, and while that sounds on point to me Shinbou hasn’t come right out and said it yet. The obvious question here might be whether the protagonist is a delusional hikkomori convinced the world revolves around her, or a hikkomori who used to be a god, but that question hasn’t even begun to be answered yet so let’s leave it for next time!
It’s also worth noting that Shinbou’s attention to framing continues to be as obsessive as ever. Note the shot below: could Sasami’s shelf of action figures meant to represent the myriad gods?
2. Sasami-san continues to be a narrative of artificiality, a universe constructed from anime and light novel tropes and populated by enigmas. We’re given an expansive, detailed city but hardly any citizens. The first two episodes have taken place on Valentine’s Day (a festival of commercialism) and in an online game (a literally constructed, artificial world.) Like in the currently airing Zetsuen no Tempest, it’s hard to care about the fate of the world when we see so little of the populace, but I think there’s a greater chance here that the world of Sasami-san is deliberately empty. The only person that really matters to Sasami outside her anime, computers and online games is her brother, so who really needs anyone else? Sasami’s brother being God, we as viewers have every reason to suspect that the classroom in which he teaches is the center of civilized society (as it is, of course, in every modern anime in a school setting) but him classroom is unsettlingly empty. Sasami, as it turns out, is responsible for much of its depopulation.
The only exceptions are the Yagami sisters, who might be (deliberate?) amalgamations of cliches but are probably the closest this series has to living, breathing people outside of the protagonist. The role they have to play in the series is unknown, but if I was to guess I would say that the role they played in this episode might have brought Sasami one step closer to leaving her house. Whether we’ll ever learn more about the Yagamis than “quirky Imperial Regalia-based psychic girls with a secret!” is up for debate, of course. I hope we do, because as interesting a character as Sasami might be I’m not sure she can carry this series on her own.
3. Shinbou plays fast and loose with art styles in this episode as well! He’s used this trick before–perhaps most memorably in his work on Bakemonogatari–but since Sasami-san appears to be very much about skewering the habits and customs of the viewership I think it’s especially important to note in this case.
There’s some pretty nifty bits of animation seeded throughout as well, where Sasami bulges and squishes like a cartoon character while the rest of the cast remain their serene selves. This of course flies directly in contrast to what people have said about the shocking cheapness of the animation this episode: but coincidentally, that’s exactly what we are going to talk about next!
4. Plenty of people have noted that in comparison to the often stunning animation in the first episode of Sasami-san, this episode was a let-down. Now, I do agree that while this episode provided a lot more context for the characters and the plot, the story itself probably lacked the vibrant energy that made the first episode so memorable. That said, while the frequent use in panorama shots in this episode might imply that SHAFT blew all their money on making a good first impression, I think it’s important to note that when Shinbou creates a panorama he does so very deliberately. Let’s take a look:
If you take a closer look at the scenery, it becomes clear that not only is the scenery heavily reminiscent of a sound stage or a movie set, but that throughout this entire scene Sasami’s stuffed animals are watching. You can see them at the bottom of the screen. It’s yet another reminder that if Sasami is watching her brother and his friends act out relationships worthy of a romantic comedy, than we ourselves are also watching Sasami watch her brother and his friends act out relationships worthy of a romantic comedy. You could also say, of course, that the “myriad gods” in the screencap above–the action figures on Sasami’s shelf–are themselves stand-ins for the audience. I think the fact that Shinbou drenches the series in sickly voyeurism even when trying to cut costs indicates that Sasami-san really does have a close eye for detail, even when it just looks like the animators are being lazy.
That’s not saying that this wholly excuses the production, of course. Somebody less charitable could easily say that by disguising the production as a work with something to say about our relationship with entertainment, Shinbou and co. are attempting to replace actual depth with width. To be fair, on my first watch I thought that Sasami’s exorcism of the Yamata no Orochi was executed pretty poorly. It was played as an emotional moment, with soaring special effects and strings, but we didn’t know enough about any of the characters for it to matter. Sasami-san already flirts with post-modern indulgence, so at this stage it could easily be crippled by the lack of a heart.
5. That said, the second time I watched through the episode, I realized some things. Like the fact that this episode of Sasami-san began and ended in a classroom.
There’s no audience here. It’s a world slowly gobbling up its population in order to maintain an order of things founded on unreality. But what I missed the first time around is that this scene here marks the first time in the series that Sasami has been dragged, kicking and screaming, out into the light. She began the episode meaning to stop the Yagami sisters from shutting down her favorite online game, but at the end she’s ultimately the one who takes on responsibility and erases the Orochi herself. There’s room for growth here, and if the show could reach beyond its own affectations towards something deeper we could be in for something very interesting. Where Sasami-san is going is very much a mystery, but until then we don’t have much of an option but to close our laptops, tuck ourselves into bed and pray to the myriad gods to deliver us.