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By Charles On 1 Mar, 2013 At 09:15 PM | Categorized As Animation, Editorials, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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and’s she’s quite the looker too…

In Japan, there is a certain goddess. A pillar of righteousness, she sits high in the heavens, casting her light down upon everything beneath her. Countless other gods, enraptured by her splendor and majesty, hurry about trying to cull favor from this radiant maiden of unearthly beauty. Her name is Amaterasu, the embodiment of the sun itself, ancestor of the imperial family, and possessor of the supreme power of all kami: ready to defend her people at a moment’s notice against evil and ever vigilant in her watch over all those beneath her.

At least until her favorite anime comes on. Then, you’re s-o-l.

A playful entry into the winter 2013 anime season, SHAFT’s Sasami-san@ganbaranai (Ms Sasami @ Unmotivated) is an alternate take on the legend of the sun goddess, told from the point of a cute, hikikomori schoolgirl and her faceless brother. But while the legend of Amaterasu is a tale of bullying, retreat and the eventual emergence of the brilliance of the sun, Sasami’s story is a little more…relatable? Typical? Expected? Actually, it’s hard to put into words.

sasamiBy day, the spunky Sasami Tsukuyomi is content to lounge around, taking time out of her busy schedule of gaming and sleeping to spy on her elder brother while he works his job at the local high school she should be attending. By night, she demands that he profess his love to her, feed her, wash her and put her to bed, so the following day she can repeat the process. Punish his supposed ecchi moments, act aloof until he’s swooning, and deflect his advances continuously.  Not too different from any pampered princess living out her daily dreams of not doing anything.

But Sasami is different. Unlike a mere mortal royal, she is the heir to the power of the sun itself, and with it has the ability to force anyone – god or human alike – to do her “bidding,” those wishes she has in her heart that she rarely vocalizes. These “transformations” come back to haunt her time and again, but still she resists, preferring the life of a shut in to that of a responsible person. For shame, denying the obligations of the mighty sun goddess- she would never do such a…oh…OH!, I get it now. Clever girl…

From the outset, Sasami-san@ganbaranai borrows liberally from the legend of the “original hikikomori,” Amaterasu. In the legends, the maiden of the sun is driven underground by her brother, the “vile” Susano-o. Taking refuge in a cave, she refuses to come back out, depriving the world of her radiance and allowing for monsters to run rampant. Some clever and enterprising folks manage to use her own envy against her, convincing her (through the use of several well-placed mirrors) that they have chosen a new sun goddess, and luring her back out. From then on her, place remains in the sky, driving off ghostly spirits and giving light to the people. All that’s missing here is the computers.


kawaii…and not a little reminiscent of Chobits…

Sasami, the heir of this cosmic power, lives her life indoors. Every time she attempts to leave the house, a powerful wave of nausea and disorientations overtakes her. She retreats back inside. She finds amusement in petty things. She can’t take care of herself. And her brother, kami bless, him, dotes on her unceasingly. Continue along this path until forced to leave, in order to protect the brother she realizes she loves, from sacrificing himself for her. Not a word-for-word updating of the original tale, but close enough to provide a cute, modern insight into the source material. (Even cuter when you realize her faceless bother Kamiomi is Tsuki-yomi, the “faceless” god of the moon- ever present, ever mysterious, ever-doting…well, maybe that last part is a stretch.)

Of course, her brother is “assisted” in his duties by three “sisters,” the Yagamis, who are themselves human incarnations of the three regalia of Japan – the mirror, the sword and the “jewel” – tasked with assisting in Sasami’s “upkeep” and making sure the transformations she seems to throw around like proverbial candy don’t come back to take a bite out of HER. Each sister, from the innocent, yet still oddly busty, Tama, to the almost mecha-musume Kagami, to the slightly skewed Tsurugi (also a teacher at Sasami’s high school), play important roles in maintaining a balance between the real world and Sasami’s whims. Each one also plays a deeper role than even Sasami realizes, though saying anything else would be spoilers.

On the surface, Sasami-san@ganbaranai feels a lot like a certain other moe-style show from a few years ago: a light novel series about girl seeking something more from life, subconsciously gains the power to influence reality to meet her desires, then needs to be “saved” by a cadre of fellow students brought together because of her existence and affect on cosmic balance…we’ve heard all this before…


The difference between Sasami and Haruhi, however, lies in the fact that unlike the latter, she isn’t an arrogant (at least not too much), relatively unlikable tsundere forcing her interests on others. In fact, Sasami is more innocent, perhaps even sweeter, than Haruhi Suzumiya ever could be. And that innocence makes her character far more interesting and relatable. When she makes a mistake, she tries to fix it. When she realizes how her actions impact those she loves, she attempts to make amends. And unlike Haruhi, she eventually gains a full understanding of what she is, and grows from it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Sasami-san@ganbaranai is the moe show I’ve been looking for. More fun than Jintai, a better use of folklore than Inu X Boku and at times sillier than Haiyore!, this is the kind of show I’d expect from SHAFT: nothing groundbreaking, but a better use of tropes and narrative than simply cute girls doing cute things. A solid entry for winter season, and enough to tide one over until the spring.

By Charles On 26 Jul, 2011 At 07:46 PM | Categorized As Animation, Reviews | With 1 Comment

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Hypothetical situation for you: say you woke up one day, naked, in the middle of Washington DC…in front of the White House of all places. All you have on you is a gun and a weird mobile phone. You also have no idea who you are. How would you react? Would you run and hide? Would you check the phone for information? Would you use the gun?

These questions are all part of the setup behind “Eden of the East,” one of 2009’s smash titles that takes the above scenario and throws the viewer into a story of intrigue, suspense, political action, morality and the desire to “save the world.” It also asks a lot more questions than “what would you do?” and ends with a literal bang.

Dear diary, I had the weirdest day ever…

I came late to this particular party, as most of my friends had already seen the series and had been hyping it up to me for quite some time. And since I was staring down the barrel of a 9 hour train ride last month, I figured it would be a good time to try to get through as much of the series as possible. This was both a good, and horrid, idea in the end. Good in that I finally had a chance to experience this well-paced, well drawn series. Horrid in that I had so much philosophy poured into my head at once, it took me a week to recover.

“Eden” is told through the eyes of two characters: Akira Takaizawa, the aforementioned boy who wakes up naked with a gun and phone, and no memories to boot, and has to figure out how he came to Washington, why he was there in the first place, and what’s the deal with this phone he suddenly has with 10 billion yen on it, and the instructions to “Save Japan.” On the other side of the story, a young girl, Saki Morimi, recent college graduate on a trip to the United States to celebrate her adulthood, finds Takizawa and is herself drawn into the intrigue and suspense that surrounds the boy and his involvement with the “Selecao” project. (A clever use of the Portuguese word meaning “Selection.”)

Saki and Akira, in happier days.

This is a VERY bare bones description of the opening episode. The story, which unfolds over 11 episodes and 2 movies, throws the characters into a world far deeper and meaningful than they could ever have known. How did Takizawa lose his memories? Who are the other Selecao? Why was he chosen to undertake this mission? How is he supposed to save Japan? And will Saki ever get a job? are all major plotlines in the series. Saki herself is more of a “silent observer” to the entire thing, as she rarely influences the story outside of causing Takizawa confusion and motivating him in the end. The action centers around Takizawa and his amazing phone, with all the responsibilities ensuing from owning it.

Best. Phone. Ever.

One thing that struck me about the series was the overt imagery and symbolism that runs through the story. While on the surface, “Eden of the East” is a morality play revolving around obligation and duty, underneath lurks questions about the nature of humanity. After all, while Takizawa is told he has to save Japan with the 10 billion yen in his phone, he also can ask “Juiz,” (“Judge,” you clever writer, you) his aural concierge, to use that money for anything, be it buying a shopping mall or asking the Prime Minister to say random things during a press conference. The fact that these “chosen” have such freedom begs the question “How does one save Japan? Is there even a correct answer?” Of course, in the eyes of the entity who set up the project (the aptly named Mr. Outside) there is, and he exudes his will through the Selecao chosen to role of the “Supporter,” whose goal is to remove from play any Selecao who run out of money, or who spend it selfishly. And yet, there exist Selecao who work outside the boundaries of even the “Supporter,” and those who do noble things, and are removed from the game anyway. The idea of right and wrong, duty and personal ambition, are explored wonderfully throughout the story. While not quite a god himself, Mr Outside is often shown to be powerful, possibly omnipotent, and possibly even selfless, if his desire to “save Japan” is actually motivated by the goodhearted need to save the world and not as just another game.

NEET attack!

Also of note, the idea of the NEET, and their role within Japanese society. Unfamiliar to the West at large, this term actually means “Not in Education, Employment or Training,” and refers to those who willfully forego the responsibilities of the modern world in favor of living in their own fantasies and desires. Within the nation of Japan, this is synonymous with the idea of hikikomori, the rejection of the outside world, and is seen as a real threat to national stability and the advancement of Japanese culture. “Eden” explores this phenomenon, showing that the NEETs not only do serve a purpose, but also are capable of great things. However, it also portrays certain NEETs as a bit sub-human, withdrawn into a world dominated by personal desires (at best) to devolution into animalistic behavior (at worst). The connections between Takizawa in relation to the idea of the NEET are both sympathetic and accusatory, and the series makes no effort to hide or gloss them over, rather laying them out in stark contrast. For those unfamiliar, this is a frank look into a prevalent issue within modern Japan, and an illuminating one at that.

Some have said that the series is too short. And it is. Eleven episodes, for a story this deep, is clearly not enough to tell a tale that the creators intended. At the same time, it also never really bogs itself down. Some have also said that the show declines after the “hotel room,” which I suppose it does, but I still loved it anyway. Shortcomings aside, “Eden of the East” is very satisfying. It is beautiful to look at, the charisma possessed by, and between, Takizawa and Saki enriches the interactions and truly feels like a motivation for the story to proceed. At the very least, the metaplots involving intrigue between the Selecao, the self-righteous actions of certain OTHER Selecao and the absolutely amazing ending, all make “Eden of the East” worth watching. After all, its only 11 episodes in the end. The perfect show for a lazy afternoon…or a 9 hour train ride.

Make from this scene what you will. I say nothing.