SAKUGAN is a story of a daughter and father and their exploration of their world where humanity has moved underground into a colony-like society called the “Labyrinth.” Memenpuu, a precocious nine-year-old girl with the intellect of a college student, dreams of becoming a Marker but works every day as a Worker with her father, Gaganbaa. However, things take an abrupt turn, and Memenpuu begs her father once more for the chance to become a Marker and chart the unknown outside of the Labyrinth.
While I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction or any story that involves heavy machinations, SAKUGAN’s synopsis intrigued me enough to take a dive. In regards to a premiere episode, I think SAKUGAN accomplishes exactly what it seeks to do: introduce the world, establish the characters and their relations, and invite you with well-led questions to continue the story.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t expecting this level of prestige from the first episode. The opening sequence grasped my attention with a well-executed chase sequence that became the perfect introduction to Memenpuu and Gaganbaa. I instantly understood the relationship between them, and their charm kept me engaged and invested throughout the first episode. What I appreciated most was its portrayal of the child genius, Memenpuu. She actually acts her age by picking fights with her dad and wanting to explore beyond her father and the Labyrinth’s safety net. Despite having genius intellect at such a young age, she still has moments of silliness and stupidity. The fact that she could invent gadgets at only nine years old does not change the fact that she is, at heart, a child bursting with energy and wanting to explore.
While the wide panning shots of the Labyrinth are gorgeous, the scenery does slightly remind me of the world of DECA-DENCE, an original anime that aired in 2020. Because of the similar environment (humanity confined to a particular space that does not have a lot of open freedom of the sky), the world’s construction in the art is also similar. The homes that the people live in are stacked and metallic, and there’s a blend of Wild West restaurants and living style with futuristic accessories. In fact, both series feature soundtracks that seem to purposefully reflect that blend with Wild West-sounding violins and rock-style guitar riffs.
The world’s similarity to another anime, however, doesn’t bother me. What did interrupt my enjoyment of the characters, writing, art, and animation, was the ending. Dangerous creatures were introduced in the last few minutes of the episode, and it happened so abruptly that I ended up feeling some emotional whiplash. The scene prior to the dangerous creature’s entrance had been filled with wonder and enthusiasm with no real set-up to discuss the possibility of creatures invading the colonies. In retrospect, the interruption of this family and friends bonding does not fuel a plot twist moment but instead paints a more confusing moment.
However, despite my critique of how the episode ended, I am already far too invested in the two protagonists to have that upset me. I want to explore the Labyrinth just as much as Memenpuu, and I often don’t see fantasy stories of a father and daughter exploring the unknown. I think it has the setup for some amazing world building and emotional pulls, and I am totally on board for it.