SAS@GA FESTIVAL BONANZA; Episodes 10-12

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You gave this feature up for dead, didn’t you? From another timeline where Wendeego the blogger defeated Natasha in one-on-one combat, here’s a post covering the last three episodes of everyone’s favorite/despised piece of Shinto abstract pop art, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai.

I’d read from some that the last arc of Sas@ga didn’t quite measure up to the previous, and having finished the last episode today (after weeks of putting it off for various reasons) I have to say that is pretty much on-point. That’s not to say that it was a disappointment, or thematically incomprehensible, or contrary to the spirit of the show. In fact, it was none of these things! My main problem, though, was that after the brilliance of the time jump arc and the climax of episode 9, Sas@ga didn’t really show us anything new in these last three episodes that it didn’t already set down in the previous. After Sasami’s brilliant summing-up of the show’s themes and Tsurugi’s descent from the heavens, there wasn’t much more that the show could really pull off in the time remaining, and while they made a valiant attempt with perhaps the most dangerous foe facing Sasami and friends to date, the result was rushed and not as interesting as a lot of the earlier material. That said, there is still quite a bit to parse here, so while this section of the show is hardly as dense as some earlier sequences, I think it’s worth taking a look at some of the interesting games Shinbou and co. were playing with this arc.

1. In a sense, this arc served as a distorted reflection of the show’s first few episodes. The show’s plot description (scribbled down on anime season charts before people knew it was a series about Shinto gods and goddesses) hinted that it would be about Sasami monitoring her brother and the Yagami sisters through the use of technology, and hilariously that is exactly what happened this episode. The difference, though, lies in how Sasami takes agency as a character rather than succumb to passivity as she might have done in an earlier arc. Sasami operates from her house not because she’s socially incapable of going outside, but because she’s briefly sick and can only operate via proxy. At every possible moment, when faced with an important situation, she takes control from behind her computer screen and plays her role perfectly. Scrubbing Jou’s back, straightening things out with Kagami–these are instances that would have flummoxed Sasami earlier in the series, but that she has no difficulty handling here. It’s clear in these moments just how far she has come since the story’s beginning.

This arc also hearkens back to the episode of Sas@ga where Sasami befriended Kagami, making her very first friend. What’s significant here is that this friend comes from outside the Yagami sisters, who have served as Sasami’s protectors from the beginning. Rather, the candidate is Jou Edogawa, who is not only outside of Sasami’s close-knit family unit but also happens to be a servant of the gods herself. If Sasami is a servant of heaven, then Jou is a servant of hell; but more on this later.

2. One of the aspects of these three episodes I liked quite a bit was how little Jou’s machinations had to do with what was playing out onscreen. It was obvious from episode 10 onwards that Jou was up to no good, scurrying around and fulfilling a ritual to take on the power of the eight-headed dragon (also known as Yamato no Orochi) and rule the world. But the show detoured from her efforts at every opportunity, the characters frequently flat-out ignoring the consequences of the game playing out before them in order to indulge in fan-service, play around at festivals or have important character moments. Despite taking center stage at series end, most of the final arc was given over to Sasami and her friends wrapping up loose ends, and I thought it was fairly daring (and very typical of Sas@ga) for Shinbou and co. to consistently sidestep the consequences of imminent doomsday. Maybe the finale was rushed as a result, but Sas@ga has always been more about the cast and the experience than the rules behind magical explosions, so thank god that the staff stuck to their satirical guns.

3. At the same time, I feel like the sudden yuri overtones in these three episodes were a little out of place. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with themes of same-sex attraction, to be clear; plenty of anime have done a really fascinating job of exploring sexual dynamics, from Utena to Rose of Versailles on down. That said, the sudden transition in this arc into subtext between Sasami, Jou and Kagami felt abrupt, and came off more as pandering to the otaku subculture than anything else. Of course, Sas@ga is a show that’s positively thrived on pandering throughout, but this arc’s yuri subtext felt extraneous, more a play for viewer attention than an integrated part of the story in my mind. Feel free to disagree in the comments, though!

4. If you’re not familiar with Japanese mythology, what exactly Jou was attempting to do via her ritual might have seemed totally incomprehensible. That said, it wasn’t really that complicated: one of the most famous myths of Japan is the story of the Yamato no Orochi, or the eight-headed dragon. After wrecking havoc across Japan and demanding the sacrifice of a daughter for every year, he is slain by the god Susanoo in a battle of trickery. What Sas@ga did in this instance (which is really quite fascinating) is that it recast the story of the Orochi as a battle between the old god (Orochi) and the new god (Susanoo and the so-called divine Shinto court.) Much of Sas@ga has been about the battle between old and new traditions and gods, Sasami’s family vs. Tama the new god, so it makes sense that the Final Boss of the show would be the Orochi: the oldest of the old gods himself. In sacrificing Tama in order to fulfill an ancient ritual, Jou symbolically attempts to change the outcome of history so that the ancients triumphed against the current guard, leading to a bleak future where every living thing on earth, divine or mundane, is in danger. For additional mythological resonance, it’s also worth pointing out that just as Susanoo defeated the Orochi all those years ago, he (who happens to be Tsurugi’s brother, and ruler of hell) is the one who strikes the final blow, ridding Jou of her newly-acquired power.

But it’s revealed in the last episode that Jou lost not because she lacked power, but because at the last moment she wasn’t able to gather up the conviction to see it through. Just like Sasami once was, Jou is the daughter of an ancient tradition that has likely controlled her every action from the moment she was born. She has no friends, only subordinates. It isn’t until Sasami enters her life that she realizes that there might be more to life than the domination of everything, and in the end it’s really that more than Susanoo’s sword that leads to her defeat and eventual redemption.

Overall, I’d say that while these last three episodes weren’t a brilliant way to resolve Sas@ga–and left many of the story’s threads undone, including the true significance of Sasami’s brother–they were certainly a fun way to send the show off, ending in the largest convergence of powers that the series has seen to date. Considering the reception Sas@ga recieved, I really doubt that we’re receiving any more of this, and it’s a shame that people on this side of the Pacific might never know the answers to the show’s handful of unanswered questions. That said, I think it’s important that the series ended in a place that Sasami might never have expected: on an island, friends on the way, lying next to a girl you can say without a doubt understands where you have been and where you might be going. As much as I would have liked to see the face of Sasami’s brother behind the mask, it remains significant that after twelve episodes of practice, Sasami can finally sing the lyrics of the ED without giving up. She’s come a long way, and following her divine misadventures has been a trip and a half.

Thanks for reading.

Notes:

  • Anyone think that Sasami and Jou lying on a beach together, side by side, after the near end of the world, was an homage to End of Evangelion? Probably unlikely, but I wouldn’t put anything past the writers at this point.
  • The fact that Tama (a new god who specializes in eating old gods) was “eaten” by the oldest god of all was a seriously creepy detail.
  • Theories about why Tsurugi refers to Sasami’s brother as her “onii-san”: could he be the original Tsukiyomi, Amaterasu’s brother? We may never know for sure.
  • Sorry for taking so long to finish this series up! I know Sas@ga wasn’t particularly well-received in the blogosphere, but I had plenty of fun writing about it every week and never once came up short for material. Feel free to leave your last thoughts and impressions in the comments if you’d be so kind.
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