Sarazanmai – 01 (First Impressions) – Secrets, Lies, and Butt Stuff

“The world is full of connections,” muses Yakaza Kazuki at the start of things. Yeah, no duh, Kierkegaard. That’s especially true in Tokyo (Asakasa specifically), where many people are connected both by technology and the relatively small amount of space they share. There’s one connection in particular Kazuki never wants to lose.

Turns out that connection is a ritual exchange of selfies with the local idol, Sarakappa, who is constantly keeping the folk appraised of the latest Asakusa news via the public video screens. While Sara herself is taking a selfie, she happens to catch someone breaking into a car. That someone is Kuji Toi, who chases after her.

Instead, Toi encounters Kazuki, notices he has the same phone strap as the girl, and lunges at him with his ruler-cum-slimjim. Kazuki happens to be grabbing at statue of the Prince of the Kappa Kingdom, and in the ensuing violence, the statue is destroyed, releasing a great gust of wind.

The next day at school the two lads hear a clear ringing bell no one else can, and start compulsively acting like kappas, dousing themselves with water, doing a sumo dance, or eating cucumbers. Neither knows what the heck is going on.

The ringing leads them back to the destroyed statue (now a crime scene), where they are introduced to the actual Prince of the Kappas, Keppi, whom they awoke with their roughhousing. Keppi seems level-headed enough…until Toi dares to call him a “frog.”

Keppi reaches into their anuses (yep) and extracts their shirikodama, an organ containing desire, then gobbles them up and transforms them into kappas themselves. When Kazuki’s best mate Enta arrives to see what’s up, he ends up calling Keppi a frog, so he’s transformed as well. It’s a very gross process!

The gross weirdness continues when Keppi assigns them their mission: extract the shirikodama from a “zombie kappa” in the “Field of Desires,” a realm between life and death where no humans can see them, but where the kappa and zombie kappa dwell.

This particular zombie is hoarding stolen “Kappamazon” packages, and his deep dark secret is his compulsion to empty the boxes and place them on his head while naked. The three kappa-lads work together to sing a musical number, blast through the zombie’s defenses, reach and enter his anus, and successfully extract his shirikodama. Again, quite gross!

After the extraction, before they pass the shirikodama to Keppi, the three undergo the titular “Sarazanmai”—a connection of mind and soul between the three. Within that state, Toi learns that Kazuki and the girl he saw were one and the same, and Enta learns his best friend cross-dresses as an idol, all to send selfies of himself as Sara religiously.

The other two learn Toi is a car thief, but Toi isn’t outwardly ashamed by that, but after the initial embarrassment has passed, neither is Kazuki. Even when Enta tells him he’s cool with his “quirk”, Kazuki insists he isn’t asking for understanding, only for his secret to remain his and his alone…which is fair.

Post-ED (a lush merging of live-action footage, augmented reality lightwork and animation with a very catchy peggies song) there’s another strange incident involving two very pale, stylish cops extracting something from their prisoner, but that will have to wait until next week.

Sarazanmai is nothing if not visually bold and doggedly inventive with its madcap brew of mythology, symbology, philosophy, and sociology you tend to get from the work of Ikuhara Kunihiko. Its narrative isn’t always the easiest to follow but you can be assured it’s going to look and sound cool and explore ideas few anime do (especially when it comes to contemporary social issues), which definitely helps.

Non-fans of kappas (or, incidently, Ikuhara) probably need not apply, nor should anyone who is uncomfortable with the occasional…stylized anal extraction. But there’s a lot to like here so far.

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Psycho-Pass – 17

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The Cybil System: “It’s not something worth putting your life on the line to protect,” Makishima warns Kogami by phone. As a member of society not under such an invasive system, I knew this intrinsically, and that was before I knew what Sybil actually was. Now that I know the horrifying truth, my revulsion has been galvanized. Now it’s just a question of whether the “good guys” (Tsunemori, Akane & Co.) will catch on.

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Wait…there’s a Division TWO?

After killing Guseong and Kagari, a repaired Chief Kasei propagates the fiction that the latter ran away, and pins the blame on Ginoza. But even if Ginoza himself followed Kagari down to the Sybil Core and saw what he saw, he’d have been eliminated too, and the circumstances covered up as neatly as Kagari’s. For their part, the rest of Division One doesn’t think Kagari ran, but that something happened to him. They just have nothing to go on.

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Kasei tells Ginoza that Makishima is now out of the MWPSB’s authority, and tells him he will be disposed of as a “research specimen”, if he hasn’t already. This is some truly devious shit, because even at the time, when I had no clue Kasei was part of Sybil, this just felt like the higher-ups doing the dirty work that needed to be done to deal with those who fell through the system’s cracks: the criminally asymptomatic. You know, just good old-fashioned corruption at the top.

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I had no frelling idea what was really going on…not until Kasei shows up in Makishima’s hospital berth and talks to him like an old friend, because he’s actually Touma Kouzaburou, that teacher who made body part sculpture and disappeared. This is when shit starts being revealed even Makishima couldn’t have fathomed, for all his literary efficacy. Touma is one of 247 disembodied human brains working as one that form the network that is the Sybil System. Shudder.

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Even more incredible, those brains were all selected for those with “irregular personalities” that don’t fit mankind’s “conventional standards” for emotion. In other words, Japan is being ruled by 247 psychopaths. As Makishima says, that is one hell of a joke, and he breaks out a nifty Swift reference about the brains of those who disagreed being halfed to alleviate conflict. But the more Touma talks about it, the more he sounds like he’s just doing it to Play God.

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Cruelty, megalomania, lack of remorse: they’re thinks Makishima has in spades, and he’s immune to cymatic scans too, which is why Touma uses this opportunity to welcome him into the fold. But while both Touma and Makishima are criminally insane, their goals are completely different. In short: Makishima isn’t interested in becoming Umpire Number 248. He doesn’t want to officiate the game; he wants to keep playing it.

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That’s when he enters Awesome Makishima Mode. Taking advantage of the fact that is Touma is alone and vulnerable, ambushes the cyborg, breaking its limbs one at a time, and making sure Touma knows why Makishima’s not joining their little zombie buffet. When last we see Makishima, he’s looking out on the city from a crippled aircraft, but I’m going to wager he somehow survives the crash.

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Just in case, Makishima contacts Kogami, right after Kogami espies a vision of Makishima in his office. As Kogami says to Tsunemori, every battle a detective faces has been lost, in that victims have already been created by a crime. That’s true in that the entire country is presently being victimized by Sybil, but it’s false in that they don’t come upon all crimes after the fact. The crime is still in progress. They can stop it, prevent more victims from suffering, and save themselves while they’re at it.

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Psycho-Pass – 16

Those don't work, remember?
Those don’t work, remember?

As they approach the Nona Tower and a gauntlet of untold helmeted baddies, Kogami asks Kagari if he’s scared. This question interrupts Kagari’s monologue about becoming an enforcer not to protect the people who took everything away from him when he was five, but simply because being a hunting dog out in the world is preferable to hell as a lab rat in a facility. That is all. Well, that, and he has friends in the CID who he’s loyal to.

Very Akira-esque machinery
Very Akira-esque machinery

That loyalty is tested when he descends alone below Nona’s four official basements and into a cathedral-like anechoic chamber where Choe Guseong is attempting to break into Sybil’s core. Makishima ascends to the tower’s top floor as a decoy for Kogami and Tsunemori. They go after Makishima despite knowing he’s a decoy, because their primary directive is to capture him alive. Well, that, and they both have a score to settle with the bastard.

The cityscapes on this show are so sweet
The city vistas on this show are so sweet

All three detectives are slowed down by helmet guys armed with dangerous tools, but Kagari and Kogami show they’re not afraid of a little hand-to-hand combat and manage to charge through; Akane gets hit in the leg by a nailgun and has to hang back, and we finally come to the scene that starts the very first episode, when I had no idea what was going on. Well, now I know: we were getting a tantalizing glimpse of Makishima’s cornering and ultimate capture.

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We had no idea what had led up to that showdown high atop the Nona Tower, or the costs exacted to allow it to happen. Nor did we know how things would go down after literary pleasantries were exchanged (apparently one parries (Blaise) Pascal with (Jose) Ortega (y Gasset). I tellya, sometimes Psycho-Pass is like a Holiday Inn: just staying there makes you feel smarter, or that you should have paid more attention in that Civilization and Its Discontents elective.

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Putting aside academic discussion on the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual, Kogami and Makishima have one heck of a physical fight, and as the helmet-men had softened him up—maybe even if they hadn’t—Makishima seems to have the slight upper hand, but in his desire to punish Kogami for forcing him to end things less entertainingly than he hoped, he neglects the possibility Kogami isn’t alone, and gets stoved in the head, ironically, by one of those damnable helmets.

POW!
POW!

Kogami tells Akane to kill him. Personal vendettas aside, Akane probably should kill him. But she lowers the helmet and pulls out the cuffs; returns to being an inspector of the MWPSB, and arrests Makishima in the name of the law. It’s another great victory marred by great emotional and practical cost. Meanwhile, far below them, Kagari finally finds Choe, who is finally in. Both of them look at something bright we don’t get to see, like the contents of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.

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Then both Choe and Kagari are swiftly eliminated by Chief Kasei, who AAAAUGH SHE’S A CYBORG! Honestly that’s not that surprising, as there was a noticable coldness to all previous scenes with her. And if he wasn’t already, let there be no doubt any longer that Makishima is hardly the greatest adversary in the show. Hell, he isn’t even the greatest adversary in the building! Kogami was ready and willing to kill him; he just wasn’t able.

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That Akane was able to hold back murderous rage at her friend’s murderer just may have given both her and Kogami a fighting chance against the true enemy, if they ever find themselves on its bad side…if they aren’t already. Until then, this episode was a thrilling tour-de-force from start to brilliant finish, one of the best of the show yet. Still kicking myself for not watching this much sooner.

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