Sankarea – 03

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I know you’re probably getting as tired of me saying the same thing over and over as I am of writing it, but it’s inescapable – this season (especially Thursday) is incredible so far.

It’s only now, I suppose, that the so-called “real” story in Sankarea begins.  But damn, that was a hell of a prologue – intense, dark, funny and profoundly disturbing.  Whatever he wants to call himself, director Hatakeyama Mamoru (or Omata Shinichi) is a man to watch out for.  He’s taken the SHAFT style and co-opted it, turned it into something subtler and more interesting.  No one else has been able to distill the essence of SHAFT’s appeal and leave behind the annoying parts like he’s doing with Sankarea – Shinbou himself came close a couple of times, but that’s about it.  The fact that he’s doing it with DEEN, a studio not renowned for their production quality, is all the more remarkable.

It would probably be a stretch to say I “enjoyed” this third episode, but I certainly appreciated it.  This is a series that’s shown an innate ability to provoke a gut reaction, and that was never more true than this week.  I almost felt violated watching the episode, like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” – as if I were seeing things no one should have to see.  This story is treading in some extraordinarily dark waters with its study of paternal abuse, suicide and tragedy.  There’s also the question of Chihiro’s zombie obsession, and whether it constitutes a harmless boyish fetish or that ugly and grotesque obsession, necrophilia.  The way it was played in the premiere could lull you into complacency, but this show isn’t letting anyone off the hook that easily – based on the events of this week he (and we) must confront that question head-on.  And it’s not being played up for absurdity’s sake, either – the treatment by the director indicates that this is going to be taken quite seriously.

I presume most of the credit for the spiritual brutality of this story goes to the mangaka, Hattori Mitsuru, but it’s the director’s craft to use it to attack the audience’s sensibilities and leave them (or at least me) profoundly unsettled.  I’m struck by the shocking contrast in tone even within this ep – the scenes involving Chihiro, Wanko, Mero and Babu (Fukuen Misato finally getting to strut her stuff) are played as if they were comedy, right down to the background music.  We have conspicuous panty-shots, Mero verbally mugging for the camera and bantering with zany Grandpa, Wanko getting stuck in a drainpipe (which with a storm coming, had me at least quite worried for her).  All the while we’re watching poor Rea being subjected to horrible existential torment by her father – waking up and lamenting that she’s “not even allowed to die”, just for starters.  This is as weighty as subject matter gets – a teenager so miserable that they wish to take their own life, an alcoholic step-mother so embittered and resentful that she can’t be bothered to do more than sneer, and an abusive father so controlling he threatens to cut off Chihiro’s manhood for daring to see his daughter without permission.

I can’t overstate how uncomfortable the scenes with Rea are to watch, especially this episode.  That’s a good thing critically speaking, but that doesn’t make them any easier to swallow.  Even if she’s given up hope for herself she hasn’t for Chihiro, and risks her father’s wrath even further by sneaking off to his school to warn him.  He’s skived off school to chase after the reanimated Babu, but this leads to another very odd and discordant scene where the distraught Rea meets Yasutaka and Mogi – themselves fresh off a very weird moment where Yasutaka tickles the girlish mogi to slow-mo close-ups of his laughing face, then jokes about his own sexuality – and the two of them behave as if they’re in a screwball romantic comedy as she inquires after Chihiro, and limps away.  This disconnect is quite intentional I’m sure, but it adds to the overall squirrely feeling of the episode and the series as a whole.

I don’t think I need say much about Rea’s death scene, except that if there’s any poetic justice to it I suppose it’s that her father (the brilliant Ishizuka Unshou is once again delivering a great performance here) must now live with the fact that it was he that killed her.  The way he recoiled in horror at the sight – admittedly disturbing – of Babu suggests something deeper to the Sanka family dysfunction.  This was a scene even non-manga readers like me knew must be coming so the surprise factor was minimal, but the staging was elegant: Chihiro walking through a graveyard watching the drama unfold on the path, Babu’s arrival on the scene, the grisly nature of Rea’s death (censored though it was).  I haven’t seen DEEN animation like this since Samurai X, I suspect. 

What happens from here, I suppose, is where the rubber meets the road story-wise.  I’m not sure whether Rea was killed and reanimated already from having drunk the potion the night before, or whether she simply stood with the last of her strength to embrace Chihiro – she certainly reminded him of his promise to resurrect her.  Babu’s behavior indicated that eating the poisonous hydrangea leaves might be a necessity for Zombies, but he also licked Rea’s blood (yet more unsettling vibes there).  More important than the mechanics of zombie-hood, what of her father?  The butler has certainly seen Rea rise and walk, so Dan’ichiro is hardly likely to simply let her be – but would he even want her back, knowing the truth?  What could be “filthier”, in his own twisted words, than being undead?  What a strange and grim set of questions Sankarea forces us to ask ourselves – yet I can hardly wait for next week to start finding out the answers.

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16 comments

  1. M

    Just to clarify, Rea did die and ressurect on the spot.

    Sankarea, like Tasogare, is a blend of genres. The anime goes into more detail than the manga when it comes to Rea's situation, treating the subject with the attention and gravity it deserves but at the same time it may be making the transition to the fanservice/comedy parts of the series more jarring than they were meant to be. Thus the anime seems to have focused more on the tragedy and drama aspects, which certainly explains why you feel these episodes are kind of joyless.

    So, while I am enjoying this slightly more serious take on the story, I can understand how the balance between the different elements is irking some.

  2. I don't know if I'd say "joyless" but it's definitely dark. I'm not complaining about the jarring transitions and the disquiet the series makes me feel – I think it's rather brilliantly executed and quite intentional. It takes talent to make you feel enough to be that unsettled.

  3. b

    Pretty much got sucked in every scene all the way to the death which I cringed badly when she hit the tree. It's one thing to know what's going on, having read the manga, but it's another to watch it and be surprised and hooked to what you're seeing.
    Feels good to be an anime fan right now.

  4. t

    You said back in the spring preview "And while Spring looks great based on the synopses, it doesn’t look as great based on directors. "
    That comment was definatly founded but if I have to take something from the season is that there's been quite a few revelations when it comes to directors. Mamoru/Shinishi is definatly one them,I'll be sure to look forward to whatever he directs next. He's definatly very hands on with this project,he's storyboarded everything so far,all the episodes as well as the OP and ED.
    I really like high and low angle shots as well as the POV shots,there's also the use of wide angles.However the trademark shaft headtilts are absent.
    Speaking of low angles,that 1st panty shot intrigues me,it's completly fanservice but last week the show had one huge occasion to show a Rea panty shot (hell Chihiro saw them) but went out of its way to avoid showing them.
    I guess Ranko with her outgoing personality is an "acceptable target" while the reserved Rea isn't?

    I see some people had issues with the prologue being so long but personaly I liked it,we got to know both our main characters and built up the chemistry between them.
    I do think she's dead,her eye color changed to red at the end of the episode.

  5. It's true – between Hatakeyama and Watanabe #2 we've seen two directors really catch my attention, just for starters.

    I agree about the prologue – there's no way it should have been shortened. It was absolutely necessary for me to have buy in to the characters and the scenario.

  6. g

    hmm, i feel like picking up a few more series this season (lol obviously not enough. there's like no shows to watch between monday-wednesday..) would you recommend this?

  7. I think you can find your answer in my posts on the subject. It's excellent, but very dark and disturbing. I find it a bit reminiscent of Mawaru Penguin Drum sometimes.

  8. K

    "This is a series that’s shown an innate ability to provoke a gut reaction, and that was never more true than this week"

    I see what you did there…

    Personally I feel the anime is doing a better job than the manga did at this point in time (provided you had the sum of both materials to judge from) and that's a rare thing for me to say. Though this is technically the second time running through it and the mangaka is contributing to the story direction as well so it's basically building off of the fundamental basis laid out for it.

  9. A

    well now it finally happen she is now zombie & cat ears hairstyle boy got a zombie girl.

    yet that father really indeed so do NOT like or trust that father not one bit in anyway really yea even goes scared of zombie babu cat yea panic cause i’m algeric.

    cause of that give rea try to defend babu but her father really cause of your doing you killed own daughter!!!

    now rea is zombie girl oh my now how to handle it next?

  10. E

    I really hope I wasn't the only one to think "and feed it to the goats" at the mention of chopping off anyones manhood.

    On to the real point; I started watching this today on a whim and practically fell in love with it. I'm glad I started watching when I did — I wouldn't have wanted to wait for this episode. The atmosphere really got to me.
    I can hardly wait for the next episode.

  11. A

    True, the anime did a better job than the manga counterpart at this particular point of the series. The darker take on Sankarea is much more enjoyable to watch.

    On another note, should it keep faithful to the manga, what chapter would it end?

  12. M

    I think a good place to stop would be around the Chapter 20 of Volume 4, where Rea "snaps back" so to speak (being vague for Enzo here), but the anime is taking its own sweet time with things. Depending on how it goes, we might just end with either an anime-original (likely), unless they take away all the SOL chapters…

  13. A

    What would be a good closure for me is the start of Chapter 17…

  14. Heh, this thread is starting to get a little dangerous…

  15. A

    @Myssa Rei
    Yeah I would be happy if it ends there too.

  16. A

    Mh.. The Zombiecat is eating hydrangea leaves and the Chihiros Grandfather was shown to eating them too last Episode…
    Could that mean that his Grandfather is a Zombie too?

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