Sarazanmai – Surrealism Japanese Style

sarazanmai poster-780


  • Genre : Supernatural, surreal, drama, comedy, bl, wow, that’s a lot of but jokes
  • Episodes: 11
  • Studio: MAPPALapin Track


Other people are hard to deal with. They just are. Relationships are difficult and don’t get any easier. You just have to remind yourself it’s worth it. We live in a time where it’s getting easier and easier to disconnect. To step out of that but circle that unites us all and just cut ties. But you don’t really want that. It’s so lonely. Kazuki doesn’t really want to forget the past no matter how much guilt it holds, Enta doesn’t really want to lose his best friend no matter how confusing and painful their relationship can get, Toi doesn’t want to give up the only family he has left even if it could kill him. And the Kappa prince needs to get back to himself with all the darkness that holds. Sarazanmai is a story about the hurdles of love in all forms, modern estrangement and growing up and how three boys navigate them with the help of an ancient Yokai. There are a lot of butt jokes in it.

For the record, just sitting here quietly writing this review makes my heart ache softly. It’s going to be one of those posts. I may have fallen in love with this show. Look at me trying to be all mysterious and stuff. That’s not my speed. I did fall in love with this show, let me tell you why.

Sarazanmai ep1 (11)

oh good, I have your attention

Let’s not beat around the bush. Sarazanmai is beautiful. At least I found it beautiful. There was something luxurious about the colours and animation. You may not know this but I’m very partial to art that radiates light. Like Yuumei’s, her drawings always have this great light in them. It was the same with Sarazanmai, the images seem to shine. The light in this show is omnipresent. Everything is bathed in it and it changes to suit every mood. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the larger narrative themes which only makes it better. But even if it was random, it’s a beautiful effect.

I should say that when I say the colours and animation are luxurious, I also quite literally mean they look expensive? The colour palette is soft and Huge! Why use one colour when you can use 15 slightly different shades of it. Everything is in gradient or even soft contrast. It’s a feast for the eyes! As for animation, some moments were just breathtaking. Fast-paced action with several characters on screen and proportions all remain perfect. Details do go down of course but I only noticed going through the screen caps. Of which there are many! I haven’t been this taken with the looks of an anime in a very long time.

Sarazanmai ep3 (1)

the heart wants what it wants

I was also really taken with the voice acting. The cast seems so well…connected. I honestly believed the friendships and bonds between all of them right from the very start which is pretty impressive

The only low I could think of is that even though character design is nice, it’s fairly traditional. The *creative* subject matter allowed for a lot of imaginative conceptual representations. Unfortunately, those scenes were blocked and framed in a way that often made it difficult to get a clear view of the big picture. Moreover, there was something slightly repetitive in the extraction scenes (back to this later). It’s a very minor gripe. Basically, I was more impressed by these scenes in the first episodes than the last and I feel the animators could have exploited those scenes better.

Sarazanmai ep6 (10)

Tuesday! am I right?


I should say that the more unreal scene reminded me in design and mostly in colour of Persona 5. In fact a lot of the overarching themes and metaphors used in Sarazanmai were reminiscent of the game with concepts of stealing one’s heart and personifying desires. Except that Sarazanmai explores them much more directly and profoundly.

I took a lot of notes while watching this show. In fact, the 11 episodes yielded roughly 3 times the amount of notes I usually take for a full series. Granted a lot of them are expletive strewn expressions of admiration. This said the show made an impression on me.

Let me give you an actual word for word excerpt of said notes:

This is like when you run so far and so fast to try to reach someone that your lungs start to get filled with burning needles and your eyes water. You feel like throwing up. But then when you finally get there you realize they’re already gone and you start to wonder if they were ever even there in the first place.

Yup, this is the type of very useful and practical notes that Sarazanmai inspired me to take. And for the record, I’m a dull utilitarian note taker.

Sarazanmai ep1 (11)

see? light, colours!!!

There are two stories in Sarazanmai. A surface story about 3 boys going through some very difficult times and getting turned into kappas. It’s often silly and often harsh. And I mean really harsh. Srazanmai doesn’t pull much punches when it comes to painful moments and bitter realizations. It even refuses to give us a happily ever after, acknowledging that holding onto each other often means hurting one another and sometimes isn’t worth it. Not all viewers will enjoy the bittersweet mix I think.

And it should be said, the yokai element could be particularly odd to some people as it deals with extracting people’s desires from their anuses. What was really odd to me was looking up the Kappa myth (or reality) and finding out that all the really crazy seeming elements of Sarazanmai were completely true to legend:

According to lore, Kappa are obsessed with an object called shirikodama – a mysterious jewel thought to contain a person’s lifeforce that is located in the shiri (anus).”

A bit more research tells me that this odd little feature is most likely due to the fact that drowning very often leads to distended anuses in the victims and so the myth grew to explain it. In any case, it does not come from Sarazanmai. Oh yeah, I guess if you haven’t seen the show you might be super confused now. There’s really no way to properly explain it without watching the series though. Just be warned there are butt jokes and homosexual elements. And neither really matter.

Sarazanmai ep10 (4)

what? it’s how they say hello.

Because the other story in Sarazanmai is one of modern isolation and the very basic human need to connect to each other. It’s present in every single element of the show. The background characters are essentially stylized stick figures, they have no real connection to the story or main characters, therefore, they don’t really exist. Everything is delivered in boxes as we slowly cut out the need to directly deal with one another. small touches like that are ever-present and build up to a powerful message.

Relationships have consequences. Often unpleasant ones. Caring about something outside of ourselves leads to pain. Somehow, Sarazanmai can make that bleak point over and over again while still remaining hopeful and delicately pretty.

I have to be honest with you guys. I loved this show. I can say that certain elements like the repeated musical numbers and shirikodama extractions got repetitive. Both visually and narratively. I could tell you that the surrealism was layered on so heavily that I needed breaks between the episodes to take it in. I can tell you that this show will not be for everyone and in the very first episodes, I was wondering if it was absolutely brilliant or just plain stupid. I could let you know that the imgur Sarazanmai post I made is one of my most disliked and it got flagged for mature content in seconds (Magical girl spec-ops Asuka never did), I could tell you all of that and I wouldn’t be lying.

Sarazanmai ep5 (8)

it is a sexy show

But this is the bottom line for me. Somehow, I connected with this show. I felt it in my tummy and it rose to my chest and made it to my brain where it’s nesting and probably will be for a long time. It also hurt me a little, my notes are littered with tiny cries of “this is painful” because that’s what connections do. To me, it was more than worth it. Let me leave you with another excerpt from my notes: The thought that I could have missed out on this show makes me sad.

P.S.: I almost titled this post Sarazanmazing! Some part of me still regrets not doing so. It’s a terrible title and I think I deserve some type of trophy and/or cookie for not using it.

Favourite character: Toi Kuji…

Sarazanmai ep4 (28)

this guy!

What this anime taught me: Otters are in fact evil. I looked it up and now I can’t unknow that and it makes my world a little darker…

Drunk in love. Drunk, just drunk.

Suggested drink: Pimm’s Cup

  • Every time you  see this ㋐ – take a breath
  • Every time you hear the word connection or connected – think about your friends
  • Every time we see Sara-chan – take a sip
  • Every time there’s a musical number – dance
  • Every time there’s a cardboard box – get some water
  • Every time we see a heart motif – take a sip
  • Every time anyone blushes – awwwww
  • Every time we see a cellphone – take a sip
  • Every time we see an anklet – wonder if you could pull one off
  • Every time we see cucumber – get a snack
  • Every time there an Otter – worry
  • Every time we see a bridge – stretch

my favourite screencap!

I couldn’t decide which caps to include here so they ae random. The rest can be seen on imgur or Pinterest.




I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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24 Responses

  1. sabakuink says:

    Thanks Irina for the sweet review, which has convinced me it is something I would enjoy. 🙂 In reading other reviews, it felt as though too often the reviewers got hung up on the butts, either apologizing or analyzing.

    I cannot speak for modern, urban-dwelling Japanese teens, but kappa/shirikodama folklore is both widespread and longstanding. I recall hearing the word “shirikodama” spoken in other anime dialogues (sorry, I cannot for the life of me remember which ones). The English subtitles either left the word “shirikodama” untranslated, omitted it completely, or called it something like “soul” without the rectal sphincter association.

    ANN has a pretty good article explaining kappa, shirikodama, and kawausō (otters), as well as providing some background on director Ikuhara Kunihiko. BTW, “kawa usō” can read as a pun that literally means “river liar.” BBTW, the circular Venn diagram from Sarazanmai containing three words translates into three actions (verbs, going clockwise from the top) “Not beginning, not ending, not connecting.” I find this interesting because the very well-known Zen circle (ensō) is said to be “Never starting, never ending, always flowing (which could be read as ‘unbroken.’).”

    I also am fascinated with yōkai and found an interesting read, “The Metamorphosis of the Kappa: Transformation of Folklore to Folklorism in Japan” by Michael Dylan Foster (a professor at University of California, Davis). It looks at the history of kappa folklore and how the kappa was transformed from a nasty demon — that drowned people and livestock, murdered people in a most gruesome fashion and ate their livers, and raped women — into a kawaii pop culture character (aka, folklorism, like tourism).

    The “Hokusai Manga” includes a print of a kappa stalking an unsuspecting victim at a riverside toilet. I also found a couple of Edo Period picture books showing kappa, including one by the famous author Ippensha Ikku. His book appears to be a satirical social commentary that reveals nobles and samurai to be gaseous, wart-covered kappa in disguise.

    P.S.–I tried posting this comment earlier but with links to the various mentions. Since it hasn’t appeared, I think I got spam filtered. Haha!

    • sabakuink says:

      This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about kappa and butt jewels (which is “shirikodama” literally means)!

      • Irina says:

        No ways – I loves Yokai and actually mythology in general. Never too much info – I appreciate it a lot

        • sabakuink says:

          Haha, well then here’s a teaser that I’m writing up a comment for your Shinsengumi post. The Meiji Restoration/Boshin War is one of my favorite periods in Japanese history. I’ve done a bit of research on it. Stay tuned… 😉

    • Irina says:

      Oh no – it must have been heartbreaking to get such an awesome comment spam filtered. I really Really appreciate the effort into writing it again

      • sabakuink says:

        For long comments, I usually write out my thoughts in Notepad before I post. So this time, all I had to do was strip out the URLs. 🙂 Glad you enjoy the extra background info.

        • Irina says:

          whoa I’m a little intimidated and a lot impressed

          • sabakuink says:

            Oh heavens, please don’t be! It’s more like I’m so dumb I had to learn the hard way, multiple times. Geez, how many aggravating hours have I wasted recreating a long piece of writing from memory because the computer locked up/froze before I hit “Save?” Or spent hours crafting a detailed article for another website, only to discover the owner revamped/changed their site and deleted all the old material? Heehee!

            • Irina says:

              I know the pain of the unsaved post – if anyting wil ever make me quit my blog, it’s that

  2. This series had so much going for it, and I totally believe it lived up to it. So glad you enjoyed this series! Also YES, so many great screenshots to be made!

  3. This was my first finished Ikuhara series (my first overall was Utena, both that and this were thanks to the anime club media manager, who has a soft spot for Ikuhara) and…well, I liked the start better than the end, because I feel like having everything up to Haruka’s capture episode was enough for an entire season, but the stuff that came after that point needed maybe an episode or two more to breathe (but it was still entertaining enough on the whole).

  4. Fred says:

    But… But…but I guess you’ve sold me on the show. Nonformulaic bl is very difficult to come by.

    And screw Imgur for how they treated you.
    I can’t imagine how they’d treat me

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    Ooh, I really liked that show, though maybe not quite as much as you. Still, it was among my favourites of its season, and it seems I minded the repetitive scenes less. It’s something I’ve come to expect from Ikuhara. There’s always one recurring ritualistic element in his shows (and you don’t vary rituals). It really grated on me in Penguindrum, but no here. I found that the kappa-side resolution felt a little abrupt; not that it mattered much, since the boys were always the focus, and the two stories were always two sides of the same coin.

    Also, I learned about the shirikodama not that much earlier from Gegege no Kitaro (there was a kappa episode), so when Sarazanmai came on I already knew about it. Anime prepares you for anime.

    And finally, I’m still a little miffed that I didn’t guess the Sarazanmai opening in your recent op/ed quiz. ’twas a pretty good opening.

    • Irina says:

      It really was. I fell n love with the ED and listened to it on loop for days so it overshadowed the OP at firs but then at ep 10 I finally noticed t and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.

  6. Wooderon says:

    I adored this show, but you were able to articulate what I loved about it far better than I could have. It was so uniquely weird while being so full of heart at the same time. There isn’t much else out there like it, and it’s one that’s going to stick with me for a while.

  7. Inskidee says:

    As someone who considers art a big factor for an anime, I never knew that Sarazanmai was actually a really good looking show! (After reading this I decided to finally watch a trailer after like, months. Good ol time management, judgmental me.) I’ve been looking for a good anime to please my eyes and I’m very interested in what Sarazanmai has to offer both art, story and character wise. Added to the PTW list!

  8. Scott says:

    That’s a lot of butt jokes is my favorite genre.

    And I agree with you a lot. The repetitiveness of the series got annoying sometimes, but the messages were powerful and the characters were relatable, so it got a lot of pluses because of that. Ikuhara does it again!

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