Sarazanmai Vol. 1 LN Review

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Been on a bit of a queerish roll here what with all the yuri over the past few days, so it seems a good time to give some queer boys and men some attention for a variation on the theme. This is the first of two novels spun off from last year’s Sarazanmai, the latest anime from Kunihiko Ikuhara, he primarily of Revolutionary Girl Utena. It came as a surprise to see it get picked up for license; having loved the anime, I was quite thrilled at the prospect of getting a chance to read the novels. And while I did love the anime, well, there really wasn’t quite enough runtime to flesh out one particular aspect of the story, so I was hoping that with this we’d get a little more of that.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it centers around Kazuki, Enta, and Toi, three adolescent boys whose paths become tangled after Kazuki and Toi manage to anger Keppi, prince of the Kappa Kingdom. Keppi vents his frustration by turning them into kappa before setting a quest for them which involves… fighting zombie kappa and stealing their shirikodama, a mythical orb which resides in one’s butt. This is all well and good, but it also turns out that when they do successfully defeat one of these monsters, their hideously embarassing secrets and memories are leaked to each other. Kazuki’s up first with the revelation that he’s been sneaking around dressing up as Sara Azuma, a local idol whom his younger brother adores. He has also been taking selfies of himself and sending them to said younger brother under the pretense that the one sending them is Sara herself. And, unbeknownst to our boys, all the kappa zombies are hapless weirdoes murdered by the neighborhood cops so they can turn them into monsters. Also, the cops are gay but seem to be having serious relationship problems… in fact, everyone in this is having relationship problems, mostly with their brothers. (Could it ever be Ikuhara if there weren’t familial issues at hand? Although I suppose Yurikuma Arashi is fairly free of that object of fascination.)

If you’re familiar with Ikuhara’s work, then all this won’t be totally bizarre, although even by his standards it is a bit much. (Ikuhara has himself admitted that things ended up this way partly as he wanted to know how far he could push the envelope – and discovered that, apparently, as far as he wanted, as his proposals were all approved.)

So, looping back to the start of my review… I was really, really all set to love this. But I really, really did not. The book reads like such a abbreviated version of the story as depicted in the anime as to lead me to suspect it might not even work at all to anyone not already familiar with the anime. It also really drove home to me just how utterly beholden the anime was to the visuals, as the fight sequences quickly break down into borderline gibberish without any visuals to lend assistance. By the third battle, one gets a sense that even the authors themselves had wearied of trying to translate the action into words, as they dispense with most of what is going on in favor of leaping to the point at which everyone’s mortifying memories get broadcasted.

What remained, then, for me as someone who’d already seen the anime was to find it interest in the ways in which things differed from that telling of the story. Mostly, it’s a beat-for-beat adaptation, albeit with things truncated dramatically, but there are some subtle differences in how the characters come across. Enta’s sister Otone gets a little more attention, as there’s greater detail given about her personality and her relationship with her younger brother, which was a nice change. Kazuki definitely seems meaner than his anime counterpart – if in the anime he’s got a fairly typical teenage tendency toward focusing on himself and his own problems, here we are directly told that he simply doesn’t care how his actions are hurting longtime friend Enta.

My disappointment in the work itself should not be taken as indicating any lack on the part of the English-language release. I can only assume the fights were challenging to translate, given the vagueness and clunkiness of their details. The bit wherein our intrepid would-be heroes must leap into the kappa zombie’s butt the first time in particular is a moment where I really must salute translator Alyssa Orton and adaptor Nino Cipri for their efforts.

Despite my enjoyment of the anime, this is a pretty skippable bit of spin-off material. Diehard fans will probably be able to glean something of worth from it – I managed to, although it was pretty darn slight – but I genuinely don’t think there’s anything here for others, especially for someone who didn’t watch the show. Instead of reading this, fans will probably be better-pleased with the spin-off manga featuring the aforementioned gay cops, Reo and Mabu: Together They’re Sarazanmai, also released by Seven Seas. (It feels a little weird to recommend a manga about cops, all things considered, so, just, trust me, them being cops absolutely is about critiquing power structures and the ways in which they exploit and destroy people.)

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1 Response to Sarazanmai Vol. 1 LN Review

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