Sarazanmai made waves across the anime community with its use of buttholes and kappas – NOT frogs, otters, and dancing cops. However, at the heart of all this craziness and hilarity, the story has actually proven to be quite complex and at times very dark. This is my personal analysis of the most important themes and metaphors in Sarazanmai. Please note that this article contains spoilers.
Otters and Lies
“Uso” said the kawa uso. Otters have mythologically been kappas’ biggest enemies, but the use of otters have a deeper meaning than an ancient rivalry. One half of the kawa Uso, the English spelling of otter, shares the exact same sound as the word “lies” in Japanese. Sarazanmai makes use of this pun in a comedic but also symbolic way.
The otters serve as the main antagonists throughout the series. However, they are drawn and portrayed in a more ephemeral way than the kappas are. While the kappas refer to themselves as real beings, the otters actually call themselves abstracts. And as the otters continue to wreak havoc in the characters’ lives, connections are destroyed and tragedy hits.
However, the most dangerous of lies are the lies you tell yourself. This is especially evident in Toi’s case as the otter takes the form of Chikai, his morally questionable older brother. Throughout the series, Toi remains steadfast and loyal to Chikai. While I don’t doubt Chikai loves his younger brother, Chikai is an incredibly toxic relationship for Toi. He is the reason why Toi’s life descended into crime, brings danger and instability into Toi’s life, and when Toi finally finds a group of friends, Chikai comes to take him away.
Toi, deep in his heart, knew about Chikai’s bad influence. His aunt and uncle are good people who try to raise him to be a normal high school boy, but Chikai’s presence prevents any goodwill from ever reaching Toi’s mind. His older brother stagnates his growth and compels him to go backward instead of forward. He misses out on becoming a better person who continuously walks forward as Kazuki and Enta do throughout the series.
But the biggest problem is that Toi remains in denial throughout most of the series on Chikai’s overall negative effect on his life. Like many toxic relationships, the trapped often make excuses and, in that sense, “lies” to rationalize their staying with someone who does more harm than good in their lives. Toi’s uso, in the form of Chikai, almost destroys his entire existence, and he only faces the truth in the final battle, destroying the lies he had been telling himself in staying with the toxic relationship.
The end result is a high school Toi whose time in the juvenile center helps him move past the Chikai’s darkness. He moves forward to where his friends had already walked the path of development but waited for him to catch up.
The Maturity of Haruka
A pretty consistent theme throughout stories no matter the medium has been the observation that children can often at times be more mature and insightful than adults and older kids. Their lack of filter and pure view on the world helps them see the heart of situations faster, and in a sense, deal with problems in a more mature way.
This was reflected in Haruka which actually parallels the story of The Little Prince. On a side note, for anyone who hasn’t seen or read that novel, I highly recommend that masterpiece. Haruka participates in the story, but he is also a spectator to Kazuki, Toi, and Enta’s adventures and growth as kappas. Unlike everyone else, he does not have desires but instead expresses true and pure love. His actions are not pushed by self-interest but by untainted connections to his family, brother, and his brother’s friends. In that sense, he remains the most emotionally mature of all the characters throughout the anime, even past Keppi, the kappa king.
Haruka narrates the series of events in the last episode as if he had known how the whole thing would happen. His ability to analyze and accurately explain the reasons and situations behind each character’s motivation serves as a reminder that our inner child and thus instinct can often be the wisest in a situation.
The Potential Future
Connections, relationships, and time play a huge role in the series. When a kappa zombie, the monsters the kappas must defeat, dies, the original human being is completely erased from people’s minds and memories. With their connections completely severed, the people are literally forgotten and wiped from history as if they had never existed.
This actually reminds me of Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai when Mai’s Puberty Syndrome afflicted her. She wondered whether she would even be a person if everyone forgot about her entire existence. As she continues to live, is she really here and real when not a soul has any memories of her? Sarazanmai asks the same question with a definitive answer of “no” when connections and relationships are destroyed.
Thus, the series tells the audience that all connections are important, including the ones that hurt. In a final sequence that did confuse a number of people, we see the three main protagonists playing soccer together in the future. But while their triumph and teamwork during a game are displayed on the screen, fights and arguments constantly overlap the event. Kazuki hurts his leg permanently and would have to quit soccer. Toi becomes the first to break off with the trio. Enta at one point screams that he hates all of them, and Kazuki ultimately throws a picture of the three of them in the trash.
As Reo and Mabu later say, their ending friendship was a potential of the future but not a guarantee. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that their friendship can ultimately come to a painful end with fights and misunderstandings. I have no doubt that there are many people out there who, if knowing a relationship would not last, wouldn’t even bother getting into a relationship at all. Sarazanmai, however, urges you to still keep these connections and to even treasure the relationships that end badly and painfully. Because without them, you won’t become the person you are. Without them, you won’t even exist.
The Exploding “I Love You”
Coincidentally, Reo and Mabu, the two male cops, and their love story was fully explored in an episode that aired during Pride Month. Throughout the series, we witness the personal struggles between the two characters. Reo often lashes out in anger and hatred towards Mabu with little to no regard to Mabu’s life. He was under the impression that Mabu had died and was artificially brought back to life as a sentient AI-like being thanks to the misdirection of the “otter”. His grief towards his dead lover and partner made him violent and abusive.
Unbeknownst to him and the viewers, the Mabu that worked alongside him throughout the series was actually alive and the original. He was mortally wounded in battle but was ultimately saved when the otter organization created a mechanical heart to replace his stopped one. The catch? Mabu can never show affection nor tell Reo that he loves him lest his mechanical heart explodes. In the end, despite his desire to remain physically close to Reo even while taking verbal abuse, Mabu sacrifices himself by finally telling Reo he was the real one the entire time and loved him the entire way.
Mabu’s life-threatening situation of showing love to Reo reminds me of the violent ways LGBTQ people were treated and still are treated for loving someone of the same gender. In the past, men have been castrated and imprisoned, others beaten to death, and many have been ostracized and rejected by their own families.
To me, the fact that Mabu’s heart would literally explode if he says “I love you” to Reo makes me think of the history of how life-threatening it can be for LGBTQ couples to express their love to each other and for society to know. Admitting one’s romantic relationship with another guy or girl can literally destroy someone’s entire life in the same way that Mabu’s heart explodes. These dangers are the very reason why many LGBTQ people remain in the closet and out of sight.
Although I have no idea if Ikuhara-san was trying to portray that metaphor in the series, I do know that Ikuhara-san never shied away from LGBTQ characters or couples in any of his past works. Without a doubt, I know that Reo and Mabu’s largely tragic love story isn’t just for fanservice or comedic measures. The scene where Mabu’s heart explodes and Reo reduces himself to violence, panic, and tears is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the entire series.
And on a positive note, Reo and Mabu are actually both resurrected in a literal light and rainbow sequence and seen to still be together in the end. Perhaps that was to show that attitudes are now changing towards the LGBTQ community around the whole world, with Taiwan being the first ever Asian country to legalize LGBTQ marriage. A happy ending is possible and closer at hand than people might think.