Sankarea – 02

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The question must be asked – is Sankarea the finest-looking DEEN series since the Samurai X OVAs, a decade ago?

I never thought anyone from the outside could out-SHAFT Silver Link and Oonuma Shin, but Hatakeyama Mamoru really seems to have done it here.  Given that DEEN shows traditionally (not always) have a generic and uninteresting look to them, that’s not a bad thing – while SHAFT will never be known for smooth animation and Shinbou’s trickery can easily overwhelm a series, there’s no question that they at least have a signature style, unlike DEEN.  And that style is very effective when used in service of the story, as it was with Madoka Magica, Natsu no Arashi and Soredemo – and as SHAFT alumnus Hatakeyama Mamoru is using it here for DEEN.

The thing is, Sankarea is a really good series, and it’s not just the visuals.  One component I didn’t mention last week was music director Hashimoto Yukari, who has a fine résumé but most recently stands out as the composer of the Mawaru Penguin Drum score, one of the finest of 2011.  The music suits the material here beautifully – soaring strings when needed, playful winds and horns, never overwhelming but always enhancing.  The cast, the writing, it’s all here – and it’s a testament to how great Thursdays are this season that Sankarea isn’t the at top of my Thursday list, or even in my top 5 new shows of the season (it’s close on that score).

While the story isn’t reinventing the wheel narratively, Hatakeyama has made very good choices in the first two eps.  Most of the premiere was spent fleshing out Chihiro – showing us his odd family, his personal quirks, and the small tragedy that tore a hole in his heart.  The second shifted seamlessly to Rea – giving us a disturbing look at her family life (worse even than I imagined after the first episode), her hopes, her fears, and her pain – and why she took such an interest in Chihiro’s zombie fetish and his twisted plans for Babu.  By elegantly and simply structuring the story this way he’s made us feel totally connected to both leads and made them both complex, relatable characters – what many shows struggle to do in much longer timeframes.  They provide a rock-solid foundation on which to build the series from here, and the side characters are colorful and memorable enough to be interesting, too.

A couple of moments stand out for me in the episode, starting with the scene where Rea tripped over the bowling ball and tucked her skirt under her as she fell (very SHAFT-y).  I also loved the moment where Rea and Chihiro’s hands touched briefly as she handed poor Babu’s cooler to him, and both children blushed.  Then there was the stage effect using the blinds on the house of Rea’s only friend, Nakadai-san – very clever and surreal.  Then you have the chilling montage of Rea’s birthday photos, the very funny scene with Wanko and her “squeeze toys”, Babu’s escape from the cooler – these all show us a director who’s not merely a copycat, but a talent to be watched, with a great eye and a sensitivity to the material he’s directing.

Of Rea’s past – and present – not much can be said except that it’s truly tragic, the more so in that it feels so real.  This is a scenario that feels as if it could have been written by Ikuhara Kunihiko – and indeed, there is a bit of Mawaru Penguin Drum vibe to this show (no less because of Kimura Ryouhei as the lead and Hashimoto-san’s music).  Possessive love is perhaps the more terrifying form of obsession, and it’s heartbreaking to see Rea have everything she loves taken from her by her twisted Father (the great Ishizuka Unshou) – and to slowly come to learn just how twisted her father’s love is.  The line of the episode was her “If my happiness is bad for others, then unhappiness is probably the best choice.”  No one should have to face that choice, least of all a child or teenager, and it’s no wonder she seeks a way out though the occult when there’s none to be had through normal means.  In the end she decides to take what she sees as the only way out when her last plan – to make resurrection work through the use of hydrangea leaves – has seemingly failed.  What we know of course is that it hasn’t failed at all…

I’m very curious to see what impact this zombie potion has on an already living person (we know it can raise a deceased feline) – I suspect it won’t be as simple as the rebirth Rea had thought.  I knew there was darkness in this story, but I hadn’t realized the depth of that darkness, or the depth and complexity of the series itself.  At the very least Rea has a friend now – though her father has other ideas – and Chihiro may well have the zombie girlfriend he’s dreamed of.  But I suspect this won’t go down the traditional horror suspense route, because it feels more like a tragic melodrama, with the focus on Chihiro and Rea and the support and love they can give each other in the face of great obstacles.  Even in a season as deep in quality as this one, all of that makes Sankarea stand out from the crowd.

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  1. s

    Interested to see how Chihiro reacts when (if) he finds out how messed up Rea's situation is. I believe he still has only the vaguest idea of how possessive her father is.

  2. I

    Hatakeyama seems to be using the Shaft style in a easier on the eye and simple, yet effective way.

    If this is being animated panel to panel then I have to give credit to the source for doing the most important thing in a romance anime first – making us like and relate to the characters.

    Sankarea does seem quite tragic and dark, not unlike the Ef series by Ounuma. That the series has been funny, cute, sad and dramatic without any awkward moments within 2 episodes is a feat to be remebered. What a season.

  3. A

    Having checked out the manga after watching this, it's definitely not being adapted panel for panel. A lot of the credit should be going to the director and the script-writer.

  4. M

    Hm? This is an extremely faithful adaptation and most scenes from the manga are being adapted panel for panel. They did elaborate on many things that are only mentioned in the manga though, such as the scenes about Rea's past and her friend in this episode, and the scenes about Baabu in the first episode, which are all anime original as far as I can tell.

    I'm not saying the staff doesn't deserver credit though, because they do. They made some wise decisions like devoting the first episode to Chihiro and the second one to Rea, they managed to improve every aspect of the manga, the visuals and the music are top notch and fit perfectly, the voice actors do an excellent job… This is one of those cases where I'd say the adaptation surpasses the original.

    The only thing that has me worried is where exactly they plan on ending this adaptation. At the current pace this show is going to need a second season very badly.

  5. A

    When more than half the episode is anime original, that's what I call not panel-for-panel. Given that the aspects of the series that being praised, the efficient character development, are exactly the aspects that are being added by the anime director, I'm confident in saying that they're turning a decent source material into a great anime.

  6. That's impressive. Another call-out to keep an eye on this director, big-time. He's taking the best ingredients of SHAFT and Sankarea, leaving out the stuff that doesn't work, and cooking up a terrific final dish.

  7. l

    I said on an thread on AS' forum that this season would be tough on bloggers, guess I was right…well, half right. It's tough for some viewers too, so much good stuff and no time to watch them T.T

    Two animes I had no expectations to be good, Tsuritama and Sankarea(I read the manga but didn't expect DEEN to do a good job) turned out excellent, adding two more to my watch list.

  8. What a season indeed.

  9. b

    I knew I should have picked this for my Fantasy Anime League in MAL. Oh well.

    Again, very SHAFT-y for a DEEN show which is a good thing. Loli Rea and sexy Wanko. Yum.
    And the father is sick as hell. Kill it with fire!
    Next episode should be the big deal according to preview. Prepare yourselves.

    What an amazing season. More respect to bloggers for their coverages.

  10. L

    I'm not trying to support DEEN or anything, but let me remind you that DEEN animated the Korezon series and part of Rurouni Kenshin.

    And I don't remember this cat thing. Could it be…!! She made the contract?!? D:

  11. T

    I was expecting this show to be a guilty pleasure, quite frankly. Last season, this show would have been a personal highlight for me. This season, I've got Fate/Zero, Apollon, Space Bros, Tsuritama, and Lupin in the way.

    It's a good season to be an anime fan.

  12. S

    I wonder if there's an argument for the "right amount of SHAFT" in an anime. Shinbou can kind of try to 1 up himself a tad too much. I'm really liking the feel of this one.

    As for the story, this episode felt a bit more of a slog than the first one, but this is also our "tragic world building" episode. It technically ended on a suicide (that only wasn't because we knew Baabu had suddenly reanimated).

    I do have to give the author & the creators here credit. Rea's father is a possessive creep, but they didn't descend into an exploitation-style story telling. I.e. it didn't become Fractale suddenly. That's really appreciated. Rea can have a tragic, tortured and creepy back story without making it sickening. Again, it didn't become Fractale. (I think that series hurt a bit too much)

  13. a

    I love how deep the story is turning out to be and how it looks to be a true romance; visuals etc are great as well of course.

  14. c

    Awesome episode, I totally agree with the Mawaru Penguindrum vibe that the show has, especially that we cannot really pin down what the series is, if it is a romantic, fantastic or a tragic story, it moves through the genres with great ease and confidence. A very great show from a superb season.

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