Dialogue; Sas@ga Episode 9

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Sorry for the wait! With spring break over, let us return to our weekly dose of time travel, impassioned speeches and what “Sasami doesn’t try” really means.

There’s been surprisingly little talk about Sas@ga in the blogosphere. Plenty of people have labelled the show as being “crazy” or “random,” like FLCL re-imagined as late-night fringe anime through the lenses of Japanese myth. But thus far, aside from omo’s sporadic but pretty great efforts over at Omonomono, I’ve seen very few people roll up their sleeves and attempt to dig down to the roots of what the show is actually about. Granted, Sas@ga can be artificial, almost self-consciously post-modern and alienating. Plenty have already dismissed the series of yet another example of Shinbo’s excess. That said, considering how slippery Sas@ga has been at times, I think that when all is said and done this episode might have been one of the best and most important of the entire series. Both because it worked brilliantly in terms of providing much-needed catharsis, and because it finally made clear themes and ideas the show has been toying with since its inception. What I find especially important is that none of this is new–just about everything revealed here has been strongly hinted at in earlier episodes. Sas@ga might be a difficult watch at times, but I think this episode proved once and for all that the series has both a heart and a strong sense of purpose.

1. This is a little tangential to the main bulk of this post, but I still thought that Sasami’s response to the golem assassin’s proclamations of world domination was hilariously typical of this show’s outlook. The assassin proclaims that she will use her engineered connections to Sasami in order to rule the world. In response, Sasami points out that even with godlike power, her mother could only ever control the country of Japan, and that any expectations of anything more is foolish in the extreme. It’s a scene that reminds me a bit of an early scene in the late 90s anime comedy Excel Saga, where the main character’s boss–who is set on world domination–exclaims that as taking over the world or even Japan would be too complicated, they would instead focus on a specific subsection of a specific district in Japan. Taking over the world is a wonderful ambition, but as Sasami points out here it’s also one that’s wildly impractical, even with godlike power on your side. This is also the first hint that the big villain of this episode might not be entirely in control of the situation, as is swiftly proved later in the episode.

Never say that Sasami doesn’t try.

2. The crux of this episode consisted of Sasami, her mother and Tsurugi traveling backwards and forwards in time in order to resolve Sasami’s buried regret and break the assassin’s spell in the bargain. What’s great about this set-up is that it provides a great excuse for warmth and character development in a show that occasionally suffers for either of these things. It also brings to light several details that the anime might never have been able to touch on otherwise. This might appear forced and even artificial at first glance–the episode doesn’t even try to pretend that the assassin’s threat is anything more than a McGuffin–if not for the fact that Sas@ga has been explicit from the beginning that its world revolves around Sasami and her friends and family. It’s only natural for her relationship with her mother to take center stage over something as trivial as world domination.

As much as she’d hate to admit it, Sasami was almost destroyed by guilt after running from the Tsukiyomi household. This might be the first time we’ve seen her own up to this!

Meanwhile, Sasami’s mother has past embarrassments of her own. It’s always shocking to realize that your parents were human beings all along (Sasami’s mother’s the one to the right and in the upper-left corner).

What’s notable here is that in this sequence of moments, Sasami and her mother are both made to give each other a little leeway. Sasami reveals that having to leave her family was incredibly painful for her, no matter how much she feared the lifestyle and responsibilities of the Tsukiyomi household. On the other hand, Sasami’s mother is forced to admit that no matter how outwardly stoic she might seem, there’s more that’s human in her than she cares to say. After the blood and suffering of Sas@ga‘s previous arc, it’s a revelation to see Sasami’s relationship with her mother fleshed out in this way, rather than transforming her mother into a two-dimensional villain. It’s also remarkable how much these little moments manage to humanize these characters. For example, the viewer has a much better sense now of how Sasami really is her mother’s child, and how Sasami’s mother’s devotion to the Tsukiyomi cause can be seen as admirable rather than as inherently limited and even disturbing.

3. This leads us to Sasami’s monologue, which I think is the heart of the episode and probably the closest we’ve had to a thematic statement of intent in the entire series so far. The full title of Sas@ga is Sasami@Ganbaranai, which fansubbers have translated as “Sasami@Unmotivated,” “Sasami Doesn’t Try,” etc. For much of the show, “ganbaranai” has been used as a pejorative, meant to illustrate Sasami’s laziness as well as her adherence to her hikkomori ways. But the past few episodes have been laying seeds that “ganbaranai” in the context of the show might mean something more, and what was expressed in previous episodes (where “ganbaranai” became a battle cry) reaches full flowering here. There’s a huge amount of information here to unpack, and while I’m not sure if I can do all of it justice I think it’s worth taking a look.

Essentially, Sasami’s mother argues that the gods are a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings who are too preoccupied with their own foibles to govern Japan. Only the Tsukiyomi family, who have taken the power of the gods on their shoulders, are capable of ruling the country rationally and with respect for humankind. This admittedly fits what we’ve seen so far: of the Yagami sisters, Tsurugi plays dating sims, Kagami sleeps constantly and dotes on her pet rabbit, and Tama is still young and immature despite her humongous power. Sasami, who possesses the most divine power of them all, has whiled away years and years of her youth playing videogames, watching anime and buying expensive figurines. In contrast to the Tsukiyomi family–who have attempted to deny their humanity in order to become better stewards of Japan–the gods are almost frustratingly human. But as it turns out, Sasami has something to say on this matter:

Sasami believes that her mother is wrong, and that the gods can change. She knows this because she has been through it herself. Sasami’s entire arc, beginning with the events of the first episode and leading through her subsequent rehabilitation, has been leading up to this moment. Where she realizes (consciously or subconsciously) that no matter how desperate it might seem, it’s not too late to try to make up for your mistakes and become a better person. Sasami began the series in a dark place–locked within the electronic labyrinth of her house, incapable of going outside, with only her incestuous brother for company. But since meeting the Yagami sisters, she’s slowly but surely been crawling into the light, casting aside easy comforts and solitude for something more lasting and concrete. What confirms her hypothesis is that as Tama has said earlier, the Yagami sisters have changed too: by calling them out of the aether, Sasami has given Tsurugi and her kin a new sense of purpose.

Take it from me that it’s difficult to change your ways once they’ve become entrenched in your psyche. Sasami knows this, but it hasn’t deterred her one bit. In this way, a conflict that earlier was almost impossible to resolve through the use of magic is swiftly and comprehensively solved through proper dialogue and conversation. Sasami’s mother doesn’t even necessarily agree with her by the end of Sasami’s monologue, but she is struck both by Sasami’s unexpected maturity and how it illustrates a responsibility of the Tsukiyomi household that her family hasn’t even considered for years. In the end, “ganbaranai” is more than just a battlecry. It’s more than a statement of intent. “Ganbaranai” is a prayer. It’s leaving the fate of the world in the hands of whimsical gods, because you know that humankind is fundamentally good and the gods themselves are human enough to be much the same. Sasami thinks she’s abandoned religion, but in fact she’s merely reached it from the opposite side. In striving to became a better person, she’s reached enlightenment–a peculiar variant kind of it, but enlightenment all the same.

4. This leads us to Tsurugi’s confession, which marks the counterpoint to Sasami’s monologue. If Sasami makes in her speech a convincing case for the merits of “ganbaranai,” Tsurugi repudiates that claim with her own personal experience. Sasami might know that the gods are capable of change because she herself has changed, but Tsurugi lacks the same self-certainty. In fact, as she reveals her full divinity to Sasami for the first time, she also expresses her own deep-seated fear that her own laziness is responsible for everything: Sasami’s fate at the hands of the Tsukiyomi, her mother’s sickness, the centuries of violence and depravity perpetrated by humankind since she gave up her power so long ago. If Sasami’s own inaction gives her strength, Tsurugi is haunted by the notion that her own laziness has doomed everything she holds dear.

The truth of Sasami’s proclamation is that it’s probably an oversimplification. Granted, the fact that Sasami herself has changed despite all odds means that others, even gods, might be able to change too. All that’s needed is a little faith in the workings of the world. But Tsurugi’s “ganbaranai” was driven by laziness, not wisdom. She gave her power over to the Tsukiyomi family because she was bored of it and wanted to take a vacation. But her decision may have cost millions of human lives, and she’s stayed away from her old power for so long that it’s hard to see whether she’d still even be capable of filling those shoes. I think that what we’re supposed to draw from this is that as easy as “ganbaranai” seems, it’s actually anything but. Committing yourself to believing in something that may or may not reciprocate that belief is easy at first, but over time it can become one of the most difficult things in the world. Seen in that light, I think it’s significant that Sasami’s response is to “try harder.” The show’s ultimate thesis is not that “laziness is good” or that “blind faith is warranted,” but that it’s worth trying as hard as you can so that you can rest easy knowing that others will be trying just as hard as you are. There’s no easy remedy to Tsurugi’s situation, and Sasami doesn’t try to give one. The only solution is obvious but difficult: to work at it a little bit every day, until the situation changes around. By the end of this episode, Sasami appears to have lost her divinity, gifting it to her mother so that she herself may become an ordinary human. But I think that it’s clear that even despite her limitations, she would make a far wiser goddess now than she would have at the beginning of the series. Slowly but surely, these characters are growing up.

Notes:

  • Wow, that took a while didn’t it? Hopefully the next post in this series will come out much quicker. Thank you for your patience!
  • I won’t deny it, I positively freaked when Tsurugi conjured the Imperial Regalia of Japan during her divinity scene. The symbolism is coming full circle! :’D
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One response to “Dialogue; Sas@ga Episode 9

  1. Cool write-up. It was doing something pretty special in episode 9 narratively, so it’s nice to see someone walk it through.

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