In modern Japan, Tama eats you! But she’s just an elementary schooler so she probably doesn’t understand that stupid joke.
If last episode of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai was an unexpected kick in the stomach, this one was a plunge into the darkness followed by a satisfying and even cathartic ascent into the dawn. There’s two tracks of thought here that I want to take note of, but don’t worry: part of what makes these tracks so interesting is how well they come together by the end of the episode. With that said, let’s talk specifics.
1. In many ways, this was really Tama’s episode. Tsurugi’s received plenty of attention so far as the head of the Yagami sisters, serving as Sasami’s go-to “homeroom teacher” and role model. Similarly, not only was Kagami given a whole episode of focus but she’s also played crucial roles in pretty much every episode of the show. Tama, though, is a trickier proposition. She’s been there from the very beginning, a young girl in the body of a mature woman gifted with Tsurugi’s former powers. That said, aside from a handful of key moments (such as her pep-talk to Sasami during Kagami’s feature episode) we’ve seen relatively little of her in comparison to her other sisters. Tsurugi is a degenerate goddess, Kagami is a robot in high school, and Tama is…what? She’s always been overshadowed by Kagami’s pyrotechnics or Tsurugi’s easy leadership. In the previous episode, when Tsurugi was cast into the underworld and Kagami was seriously injured, Tama couldn’t do a thing to help Sasami. She stood in the way of Sasami’s mother, and could have easily been blown to pieces, but in the end Sasami gave in to her mother and Tama realized that she was nothing more than a child. A burden. Useless.
This is especially important because as this episode proves, despite being spectacularly dense and naive Tama is also the most malleable of the Yagami sisters. Tsurugi is a grown adult, Kagami is a relatively mature teenager but Tama is still growing into her body and powers. In fact, her opening monologue this episode confirmed that she is aware of more than even the viewer knows: that before Sasami called them out of the aether, the Yagami sisters were lonely. Sasami may rely upon the Yagami sisters for protection, wresting her out of tough spots she can’t handle on her own, but if what Tama says is true then the Yagami sisters are just as reliant on Sasami. Simply by existing, observing them in action, she provides them with a Purpose. Something that the Yagami sisters have apparently been missing for years. Whether projections of Sasami’s fantasies or gods given flesh and blood by a divine observer, the importance of Tama’s quest for Sasami’s happiness couldn’t be more apparent. Were Tama to fail this mission, the lives of herself and her family would be ruined. Thankfully, as it turns out Tama is much, much stronger than she lets on. Tsurugi might be the most competent and Kagami the most versatile of the Yagami sisters, but Tama might just be the most important. We’ll get to why in a moment.
2. This episode was also about Sasami’s mother, and how love, kindness and good intentions have been perverted by curses and obsession into something foul. Drugging her daughter, lying to her, forcing her to sleep with her father and bear a child to be enslaved to the system; these are not things that any loving mother would do to her daughter, and yet Sasami’s mother does all of this without even a hint of remorse. Rather than even attempt subtlety, the direction in each of these scenes only serves to empathize how monstrous she has become. Tsurugi called her unnatural, a pale reflection (and pretty obvious homage) to the Japanese corpse-goddess Izanami, and in the short time we’ve known her she’s certainly living up to that billing.
What’s interesting is that the show implies that the villain in this case isn’t so much Sasami’s mother, as it is the system of Amaterasu succession itself. As seen in the pre-credits sequence, Sasami’s mother really wasn’t a bad person, and far more in keeping with her behavior in the first half of last episode than in the latter half. If anything, her resurrection from death, coupled with her decision to live as a priestess first and a mother second, has transformed her from a human being to a device of a cruel and outdated system that sees no problem in breaking families apart in order to operate according to protocol. As Sasami says at the climax of the episode, half of the reason why she escaped from her responsibilities were that those responsibilities caused the death of her mother. What remains is nothing more than the remains of Sasami’s old household wearing her mother’s skin, and as scary as that is it’s even sadder than it sounds like. Sasami’s mother hasn’t just become a monster, she’s a reminder of something that Sasami will never have: a family where her father isn’t trying to enslave her, her mother isn’t dead and where her brother isn’t constantly trying to get under her nightclothes. If anything, though, this episode proved that if Sasami will never have her “proper” family–if her mother is really and truly dead–at least her brother, and the Yagami sisters, will always be there for her.
3. This leads us to the crux of the episode, which finally brings themes to the surface that up to this point have remained only subtext. A battle between the Moon and the Sun. The old gods and the new. The moment where Tama rises up and, for the first time in the show, actually asserts her divinity.
If Tsurugi is a lazy, washed-up former sun goddess and Kagami her machine-blighted younger self, Tama is a child–a being of pure potential, totally blind to the influences of society and common sense but simultaneously all-powerful. Kagami might be the closest to Sasami in age, but in many ways Tama might actually be a better parallel. She’s young, inexperienced and still grappling with the enormity of her powers. But just like Sasami, Tama is a child of the new generation rather than of the old. If Sasami’s mother is recieving help directly from Susanoo, a direct contemporary of Amaterasu and one of the most experienced of Sas@ga’s political players, Tama is responsible for nobody but herself. She’s a product of a generation far removed from the thoughtless brutality of the Tsukiyomi family, and that’s precisely what makes her so deadly.
If Tsurugi has a magic sword and Kagami an entire arsenal of weaponry, Tama’s special power is eating. She augments her power by carelessly devouring the essence of the previous generation of divinity. This puts her into direct opposition to Sasami’s archenemies, all of whom are men and women of Japan’s old guard. If their game is careful manipulation of events to reach the best fitting eventuality, Tama is easily capable of undoing anything they attempt to assemble through sheer pique. Sasami’s mother and the god Susanoo might have thus far appeared to be all-powerful, but it doesn’t take long for Sasami’s mom to realize that she’s totally outgunned. Japan’s past history might run deep, knotted with blood and ritual, but ironically the greatest danger to her cause is not the most talented or the best equipped, but instead the youngest and most innocent. Of course, it also helps that Sasami, having finally recognized her mother as an abomination, is able to bind her with the Reverse Path spell that she learned from her in the pre-credits sequence. Or that in pursuing the cause of the Tsukiyomi family over the happiness of her daughter, Sasami’s mother has literally become what she most despised: a sentai specialty, the monster of the week.
Now, these themes certainly aren’t new. As people have been pointing out on Twitter, Neil Gaiman explored similar themes in his novel American Gods, pitting the new gods of corporatism and entertainment against the old. But I do find it interesting that rather than attempt to balance both sides, Sas@ga is very much demonizing the old while glorifying the new. It’s the ghosts of the past that threaten to ruin everything, while salvation can be found in old gods re-contextualized in new forms. Now, it’s worth remembering that the very first episode of Sas@ga depicted consumerism run wild, a dragon of chocolate consuming Japan. But while there’s still a couple of episodes left until the end, it’s pretty clear at the moment which way the show is leaning. The outcome, though, remains to be seen.