It’s the end of the world as we know it/and I feel fine~
I had some pretty complicated emotions about this episode when I saw it last Thursday. Roughly seven days and a rewatch later, I think my feelings have finally stabilized enough to write something coherent about it. As we did last time, let’s address salient points in roughly chronological order, alright?
1. Let’s start with the folk tale of the rabbit at the beginning of the episode. As I’ve previously demonstrated in the earlier posts I’ve done on this series, my knowledge of Japanese myth and folklore is pretty lacking. This means that in this case, I’m fairly incapable of diagnosing exactly how the rabbit story presented here fits into the larger plot of Sasami-san in terms of historical significance and symbolism. That said, there were some things that stood out to me in terms of parallels between the rabbit’s bargain with the shark, and Sasami’s relationship with her brother.
Sasami is a rabbit as well as a goddess, while her brother is nothing more than a common shark. As a rabbit, Sasami uses the shark as a stepping-stone, escaping across the water without injury. In the original story the shark shaves off the rabbit’s fur in revenge, but while Sasami’s brother-shark here attempts to unclothe her as recompense, Sasami shouts at him, bashes him over the head and runs away. Shortly afterwards, the Yagami sisters appear, dressed in the clothes of goddesses, and attack the shark, climaxing in Tama dropping a rock on his head. Worth noting in this circumstance: the Yagami sisters, who we find out in this episode consist of the original Amaterasu, her “child” Tama and her cursed half Kagami are brought into existence by Sasami in order to protect her in times of need. Therefore, since the Yagami sisters are controlled by Sasami’s own insecurities, by attacking Sasami’s brother they are in fact following Sasami’s own will. In this way Sasami takes, takes, takes from her brother and actually leaves him worse off in return, without thought of his own needs or desires.
But Sasami also plays the goddess. The Yagami sisters show no mercy to Sasami’s brother, but at his greatest moment of need Sasami herself comes to heal his wounds. This might be the paradox of their relationship: Sasami hates and fears her brother, the last embarrassing remnant of the household she escaped years ago, but she also loves and trusts him. Just like Sasami is willing to give anything for her brother, her brother is willing to give anything for her. As we will see.
2. Once again, Sasami-san demonstrates itself to be a smart, occasionally even devilishly clever skewering of anime cliches. The custom of Sasami’s former household are horrifying:–incest! drugs!–but at the same time they’re just reworkings of conventions that by this point have become common-place. More and more anime these days are pandering to the little sister infatuation cliche, from blogosphere in-joke WHO IS IMOUTO to popular tear-drinking phenomenon Sword Art Online. Usually they end up diluting the inherent shock-value of the trope by making sure to point out that the character who appears to be a little sister is actually unrelated to the main character, giving them the go-ahead to engage in romantic hijinks. To its credit, Sasami-san uses the incest cliche as part of its setting in a way that is legitimately horrifying as well as making the fundamental unhealthiness of the Tsukiyomi household very clear. It might have been preferable if Shinbou had spent more time showing, rather than telling, Sasami’s situation when she was at home, but it’s hard to say that he didn’t do a good job with what he had.
What might be even more interesting is that Sasami-san actually inverts the gender binary typically associated with the incest fetish. Usually it’s the big brother who has the power while the little sister quails in eroticized longing, but in this case Sasami herself is the one with all the power while her brother is her willing slave. In fact, even though she was convinced throughout these three episodes that the divine powers she once held lay in her brother, the end of the third episode reveals that she herself held these powers all along. While another person in this situation (perhaps a boy) might relish this power, Sasami fears it. Granted, she uses her brother for all he is worth, making him cook for her, wash her and buy her things from the store. But when her brother offers to go all the way and let her take him, she recoils every time. Whether she does so because she genuinely loves him–but only wishes to go through with it if she could receive proper, rather than enforced, consent–or whether she simply loves him as a brother than as a mate, is up in the air, although considering that Amaterasu’s husband in Japanese myth was actually her brother implies that the situation could go either way.
3. Additionally, this episode proved that Sasami-san is in fact a deliberate attempt to engage with Japan’s past mythology through the lenses of the modern day. Not only are the traditions of Sasami’s family unsettling, but they’re old-fashioned as well–after all, Japan has a long history of incestuous court marriages. I don’t think it’s an accident that Sasami’s first exposure to the wonders of the outside isn’t a library or a movie, but the internet. The old story of Amaterasu tells how the goddess was chased out of her cave by the Imperial Regalia, but I think this might be the first story yet told where the avatar of Amaterasu embraced freedom by running away from her former household and becoming a hikkomori.
That said, rather than prioritize the ancient or the modern, the ideal of Sasami-san appears to be balance. The internet might represent a gate to the wonders of the outside world for Sasami, but the hikkomori lifestyle also risks locking herself into yet another cage from which she cannot escape. According to myth, it’s up to the Imperial Regalia (or in this case, the Yagami sisters) to break Sasami from her prison and allow her to embrace freedom on the outside. Which brings us to our next point.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this episode of Sasami-san was abrupt. So far, we’ve had only three episodes: confusion in the first, gradual understanding in the second and an apparent total unveiling of mysteries in the third. Those three episodes threw open and then closed a major story arc that any other anime might have as easily spent eleven or twelve episodes developing. Again, I would be lying if I didn’t say I thought Sasami-san suffered from this. As I said last time, it makes it significantly harder to care for the characters when the show persists in narrating its emotional beats rather than demonstrating them over time, or even communicating them visually. Were we given more time with Sasami, her brother and the Yagami sisters, their climactic assault on Sasami’s former household could have been incredibly cathartic, instead of a cool visual set-piece that played more of an expository role than anything else.
That said, the more I’ve thought about the episode, the more I’ve begun to come to the realization that perhaps this whole set-up was an elaborate con. What we know: the Yagami sisters are given their individuality by Sasami’s need for protection, that Sasami has spent years trying to escape the responsibilities of her household, and that Sasami’s split personality from her childhood (given flesh in an arm projecting from her chest) deliberately showed the truth of her situation to her brother in order to send him off to the Tsukiyomi household and force Sasami’s hand. It’s possible that this was merely a miscommunication on the part of the hand, and that it never intended to put Sasami into a position where she would have to risk her life. On the other hand, I’ve began to wonder if the hand didn’t actually intend to put this plan in motion in order to kick its host out of the house. Just as Sasami unknowingly gave her power to her brother for a time, not knowing that she held the key to it all along, maybe a hidden part of herself realized that something–it didn’t matter what–had to be done in order to make herself go outside.
Seen in this light, rather than the end of the show this is only the beginning of Sasami’s character arc. She may have tricked herself into leaving “the cave,” as it were, but she still needs to admit this to herself. Whether it was truly an “evil god” or something else that kept her trapped inside, chances are that Sasami still has a while to go before she truly lives up to her own powers. I’m not sure whether Sasami-san has yet lived up to the promise of the first episode, but it’s certainly made me think harder than pretty much any other anime released this season. That is praise in itself.