I don’t want to live a double life. That’s part of why I write here about a lot of my weird personal stuff here in addition to all the…whatever it is I do on this blog. Anyway, it turns out that Utena auteur Kunihiko Ikuhara has a new anime called Sarazanmai, which is all about secrets and double-lives. I’ve been trying to write about it for some time, and I think I’m just going to have to settle for just a bunch of scattershot, semi-complete thoughts if I don’t want to be too late to the party.
(Spoilers I guess?)
The premise is that three teenage boys – Kazuki, Toi and Enta – inadvertently run afoul of a kappa prince. The prince transforms them into kappas and tasks them with defeating various “kappa-zombies” which are being created by a shadowy, Sailor Moon-esque evil empire. Defeating them takes the form of, uh, climbing into their anus in order to extract their shirikodama (the seat of their desires – all this apparently has its analogue in Japanese folklore regarding the kappa), and making the “Sarazanmai” sound. The latter thing the necessitates the exposure of one of the boy’s secrets.
So we learn in short order that Kazuki cross-dresses as pop idol Sara as part of a convoluted plot to make his little brother happy by tricking him into thinking he has a friendship with said pop idol, Enta has a crush on Kazuki and Toi actually killed a guy (albeit in very extenuating circumstances). Among other things.
It’s all…rather straightforward. Every episode title begins with the phrase “I want to connect, but…” and the series explores how genuine connection with others requires vulnerability, which we are afraid of. So if Revolutionary Girl Utena is Ikuhara’s Mulholland Drive (a deconstructive hall of mirrors that seems to actively resist any attempt to impose a complete interpretation), Sarazanmai is perhaps more like his Blue Velvet – formally bizarre, but with an easily parsable thesis.
One area which the area seems a little vague on is the relationship between guilt and shame. It’s a complicated thing. Shame is often associated with a guilty conscience, but the two are separate things, and sometimes they need to be separated. There are things which we may feel ashamed of which aren’t morally bad or even noteworthy. And, I may feel shame for my sins, but as a Catholic I need to in some measure conquer that shame if I am to seek reconciliation via sacramental confession – I can’t allow these things to become so scary that I cannot talk about them with another even under the strictest confidentiality.
Enta’s revelation about his crush intitially seems to be leaning into the idea of overcoming the shame of feeling gay desire, and of coming out (and this is one area where the show’s conceit is really apropos – one of the reasons why coming out is such an important thing for a lot of queer people is that carrying around an aspect of yourself that you feel the need to treat like a deep dark secret is can be ultimately alienating and oppressive – you wind up holding others at arms length, of learning to put on a false face, for fear of what may happen if they get close enough to you to find out. It prevents you from connecting, in brief). But it doesn’t quite play out that way: his friends don’t understand, and he just seems caught in some liminal space. Which is honestly…kinda true to life at times.
Toi is the most heartbreaking character for me, though – the kid’s been pulled down into a life of crime by the influence of his brother. As a teenager some of the friends I knew growing up got pulled into some pretty dark stuff, often involving drugs, with some ugly consequences. I can’t help but think about them when I see Toi.
Now, what about the crossdressing stuff? Hell, what about my own crossdressing stuff? Isn’t that a kind of double-life? In Kazuki’s case it is – he’s literally impersonating another real person, and part of his growth comes in learning to let it go, that he doesn’t need to be someone else in order to be loved and appreciated.
As for myself, as I’ve mentioned before I was trying to think of it in terms of drag, camp, cosplay, etc. Where I’m dressed in a way that’s still a little bit tongue-in-cheek, a bit of a costume. An alter-ego or otakusona or whathaveyou. And, I mean, it’s still fun to wear a goofy anime wig, to embrace the carnivalesque aspects of life, but it’s also kinda limiting, because I don’t really view this aspect of my life as a costume I escape into. There’s just a side of me which has a rather feminine sense of gender expression (and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the significance of this for me; stay tuned, I guess). So it’s increasingly the case that, if I’m wearing feminine attire and a face full of makeup, I do it in a non-costumey way where it’s obvious that it’s just me, Josh. It’s quite the opposite of hiding behind a false face, I find, because, well, people are seeing a weird side of me that often has been tucked away. And that’s sometimes horrifying.
But it’s not like we always face this binary between wearing a mask and letting it all hang out. We’re always playing with some sort of persona in different situations whether we’re aware of it or not, and that’s an important social lubricant. Like, there are reasons why it’s not always a good idea to let it all hang out when we’re at work. And this era of social media has conditioned us to brand ourselves such that even [McLuhan derived argument here].
I’m getting sidetracked from talking about the anime, but I’ve also run out of things to say about it, too. The art is often very pretty.