Do Androids Dream of Hikkomori Gods; Sasami-san@Ganbaranai, Episode 5

ep5-2

Welcome to last week’s episode of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai. Now with 100% more sleepy robots and high school blues!

I’m not going to be using a numbered list this time, because for the first time in a while after watching an episode of Sasami-san I’ve felt like I have a handle on what the show is trying to say. So let’s take a look at what might be the first episode of the show to really work for me on an emotional level.

Anime episodes about friendship are a dime  a dozen. Anime episodes about friendship between a normal person and an emotionless robot are also a dime a dozen, ranging from Evangelion’s Rei episodes to the central relationship in Chobits. What’s notable in both those cases, though, is that they paired a relatively normal (or at least empathetic) person together with their spotlight character of choice. Of course Shinji isn’t as healthy or as happy a person as the protagonist of Chobits, but he still holds his own as a character that the viewer (who I bet Anno knew had more in common with Shinji than they might think) is expected to empathize with.

Where Sasami-san differs remarkably from this template is that both characters featured in this episode, rather than just one, are grappling with what it means to be human. Sasami might be flesh and blood, but having lived as a hikkomori for years she has no idea how to properly interact with other people her age, or even society in general. Even more dangerously, Sasami is a god, and has to live with the consequences that her divine presence exert on the world around her. No matter how hard she tries, chances are that she will never be normal–or at least as normal as she would like. Kagami, on the other hand, is a robot. Cold on the outside, who knows what temperature on the inside, with none of the capabilities (or weaknesses, depending on your definition) of human beings. Of course, this makes it even more difficult for Sasami, who has likely never made a friend for herself in her life, to make friends with her. Sasami’s handling of the matter is typically abysmal, first designating Kagami a sort of “practice friend” and then failing to engage with her on any level other than the cliche. But when every attempt she makes only serves to highlight Kagami’s inhumanity, can you blame her?

On first watch, about halfway through the episode I was tempted to see it as a pretty frank attempt at addressing the difficulties of making friends with a literal robot–a robot who does not eat, does not go to the bathroom, and probably doesn’t share the same values that you do at all. But it wasn’t long before I realized the frankly astonishing amount of self-sacrifice demonstrated by Kagami this episode. Look:

Kagami is a robot. She does not have to eat or sleep. She realizes, in fact, that if she becomes friends with Sasami, than the gods of Japan will continue to bully her out of desperation and jealousy until they achieve what they desire. For an entire week she is beaten and crushed and hurt by every kind of physical object imaginable, even hit by a truck on the way home in a blink or miss it shot. But she keeps going, because she is a robot and can take it. Or rather, she keeps going because when it comes down to it Kagami does care, very much, about Sasami. She might not have to eat or go to the bathroom, but every time that Sasami pulls on her sleeve or pleads she sighs, stands up and goes with her anyway. Screw practice friend, Kagami is the best friend Sasami could possibly have: a girl who can not only take the hard knocks that come with Sasami’s way of life, but is fully capable of returning fire as well. Sasami and Kagami can definitely learn from each other as well: Kagami from Sasami’s inner humanity, Sasami from Kagami’s seemingly limitless resources of selflessness.

They’re such a good match for each other that it’s almost a little too good to be true. Besides representing the Imperial Regalia, the Yagami sisters consist of a homeroom teacher, a high school girl and a young child respectively. This episode certainly made clear Kagami’s utility in providing an almost inhumanly understanding friend for Sasami. It also made clear that Tama, the youngest of the Yagami sisters, is also useful in illuminating the truth of the matter when complicated social restrictions block the way. We didn’t see much of Tsurugi in this episode, but I think it’s already pretty clear that her existence as Sasami’s “homeroom teacher” provides Sasami with someone (in particular, a woman) to look up to. Tsurugi’s already made clear in episode three that she and her sisters, normally integrated with nature, were called back into action by Sasami’s wish. Could it be that it is Sasami’s will alone that keeps them sentinent? Kagami might not just be a practice friend, but a friend literally created out of the aether for Sasami, who has none but needs one desperately. It’s a suggestion that deepens the tone of Sasami-san to something considerably more frightening and even melancholy. As much fun as Sasami is having now, for her to move on from her past experiences she might have to let the Yagami sisters go. Whether or not this theory pans out, it’s certainly worth thinking about.

ADDENDUM:

I thought this scene was pretty well done: Sasami has spent much of the series being annoyed at her brother, but precisely when she needs him, he’s off doing something else. I’ve been in this situation enough myself to know exactly how much it hurts when someone you really need to see at that moment has gone off somewhere, leaving you stuck in your own head. For a show that’s almost self-consciously cold and postmodern, the relationship between Sasami and her brother is a really interesting one that I hope is explored in more depth later.

This is the first time that Tama’s really distinguished herself as a character in her own right for me! Before this point, I found her a lot less interesting than Tsurugi or Kagami, but her appearance in this episode was perfectly timed and helped really illustrate why she exists in the show in the first place. It helped that her goofing around with the kids in this episode rang pretty true with my own experiences playing with young cousins.

And on a side note, the ED variation this episode was hilarious. The one part of the show that SHAFT consistently knocks out of the ballpark!

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