Sasami-san@ganbaranai Episode 1 Conjectures

Haruhi Suzumiya

Did you just watch Sasami-san@ganbaranai episode 1? Did that make sense? No? I don’t know, but there’s plenty to go on from here, even for someone unfamiliar with the source material like me. But it requires some decompression for someone who isn’t neck-deep in Japanese culture and subcultures.

Let’s start with the basics. The key is to know what the names of the characters and what they mean. While I generally ignore anime names on the get-go and come back to them as auxiliary supporting evidence, knowing what the names mean in this show helps a ton. That might be hard if you don’t read a lick of Japanese, but you can get that info via the web search gods. I’ll explain how it comes together below.

Shintoism. Even if you’re not a huge fan of Kamichu, you probably might still know that Japan’s cultural baseline for spirituality is Shinto. Rather trying to explain what that is, the main thing to understand that one of its core beliefs is animism, where every freaking thing that exist has a spirit or essence (often also colloquially called god). That’s partly why there’s all this anime and manga with little ghosts walking around as if they’re your pals. [BTW watch Kamichu, it makes understanding all this a lot easier. Plus it’s great.]

The three sisters (they are sisters! OMG), from largest to smallest, are Tama (jewel), Kagami (mirror), and Tsurugi (sword). They are named after the “Imperial Regalia of Japan” and it’s probably better to note that the virtues represented by their respective namesakes reflect their characteristics, than what it really means via the Shinto myths. Tama is benevolence  Kagami is wisdom; Tsurugi is valor. Of course, it would be best to know both, but it’s not necessary to know who gets slain by blah blah-no-Tsurugi blah how blah given to blah blah hung up what blah blah blah. Not yet at least. The eldest sister Tsurugi also used a sword when she went into battle with chocolate, but you already know this? Maybe the one thing to know is that the bearers of the sacred regalia are Amaterasu’s descendants -Amaterasu is the sun goddess in Japanese culture, so she’s super-important.

Sasami Tsukuyomi and Kamiomi Tsukuyomi (the lead pair) are obviously also divine-referenced in some way. The OP includes a bit where Sasami and her brother are in traditional priest-y garbs (also there was another awkward looking couple), and that’s a huge clue. The kanji for Kamiomi (Onii-chan henceforth) indicates that he, in some way, is some kind of priest, a minister actually, an intermediary of sorts. This is important but I’ll get back to it later. Their family name indicate they are probably divine in some way–well, it is the name of the moon god, Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto. You might want to know this because Tsukuyomi married his sister, Amaterasu.

Haruuuuhiiii

Chocolate. There was a lot of chocolate, wasn’t there? I think that’s kind of the point. If we allow ourselves to ignore episodes 2+ and the source material for just a minute, it is fair to say that Sasami-san episode 1 turns Japan’s obsession with the rituals of its modern Valentine’s Day into a thing that it fights via its imperial regalia. What? How? Let’s do this baby step by step.

First, I trust you know what St. Valentine’s Day is. We are westerners right? But what you may or may not know (if you do skip to the next paragraph) is White Day, and how that turned a catholic tradition into a commercial holiday in Japan. White Day is a tradition started by savvy businesspeople to encourage people to buy and gift chocolate. In some ways that has also transformed Valentine’s Day into mostly just a commercial venture in spirit.

If you understand all this, you might assume Sasami-san doesn’t celebrate White Day. That’s because, welp, Sasami-san is a god of sorts in this show. (Tho she probably does…) And not just some minor god (not all gods are created equal). Onii-chan’s friends at school are harder to figure out, but they are in a way her agents, her gift to mankind. Her deity even explains her Onii-chan Survellience Tool. What I don’t know is which god she really is. Not that it matters. Gods survey the world, naturally. Unfortunately it’s not quite clear if she has god powers at this point.

What happened when Sasami’s computer got overloaded by chocolate? This is up to interpretation, because, welp, it’s interpretative visual language. Simply put, it’s when gods get hosed by human intervention. Remember the first river god in Spirited Away, that took a nasty bath? I think it’s suppose to be the thematic point of the episode–Sasami got confused because of earthly customs–customs Onii-chan isn’t aware of. When he is, he is all up in chocolate, and I guess that is when the entertainment begins in episode 1. It says something about Onii-chan that I’m sure some of you might have already figured it out–think about the dance he was doing.

Why did the chocolate turn into a dragon? The answer can be gleamed from watching Spirited Away, again. I’m not sure why it’s a dragon–it could be something else, but I guess they were going with the river motif with liquid cocoa, and rivers traditionally are represented by dragon gods. So that’s why there’s a dragon. Or maybe it has to do with Sasami’s godhood?

Why was there a chocolate coated statue of naked Sasami? Shinbo. But it’s also clever symbolism.

Why did guns and missile launchers come out of Kagami? Beats me. Why don’t you ask about why Tsurug’s got a sword? We know that one. That whole action set piece, I’m just going to chalk it up to a visual interpretation of how Japan’s traditional deities fight against invasion of some new crap. New being consumerism? I don’t know. The three sisters are embodiment of the regalia, not actually a piece of rock, a mirror or a rusted piece of metal (tho that would be interesting). They could be spirits themselves FWIW.

Why does Onii-chan cover his face this whole time? I’m guessing it’s because he is not suppose to show his face. Actually this is a huge guess, but if we stick to Shinto, there aren’t too many occasions why people wear veils, and I’m guessing Onii-chan is no bride-to-be. Remember about the point I want to get back to earlier? It explains why Onii-chan is covering his face the entire time, if he is the priest unto Sasami-san’s existence. It definitely partly explain why he dotes on her and serves her in a way a priest-servant does.

Alternatively, Onii-chan could be Tsukuyomi (and that means Sasami is Amaterasu). Well, that would make a lot of sense–in that case Onii-chan having problems with chocolate might lead to also the chocolate madness, since he would have god-powers. In that case Onii-chan covers his face to indicate Amaterasu banishing Tsukuyomi (thus creating day and night in the Shinto creation myth).

But that’s really just the building blocks under the paved road of incest, romance, comedy, anime/game references, otaku entertainment, postmodernism and “what is this I don’t even.” I just hope people realize there’s something under all of that and it does hold up. Yea, we are engaged with Sasami’s feelings, both as a hikkikomori and as a girl giving chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Well, personally I engaged with her Amazon.co.jp shopping jokes the most, but that’s just me. Enjoy this show how you like. Hate it how you like. But engage it for what it is–a Shintoist reboot of the 21st century.

Yeah, it’s nigh impossible to learn Japanese via anime. But it’s probably easy to learn a lot about Shintoism via anime. Someone on the internet wrote that if Sasami-san@ganbaranai were to continue with the religious knocks like it did in episode one, it would rival Evangelion in terms of religious symbolism. I dared not to doubt that claim.

TL;DR: Sasami is god, Onii-chan is her servant-subject and/or god, the three sisters represent traditional virtues, and Valentine Day is a commercial corruption of Japan’s culture.

All of the above are just my notes to try to make sense of it. It’s most likely not correct/inaccurate, but hopefully it is close enough to help you do your own sleuthing.

PS. This show is so Shinbo. Like all the bath/dressing/undressing scenes? Classic Shinbo right there–all stuff he’s been doing since Yamamoto Yohko or earlier. Or the still frame with a body part reaching into it? Man where’s Wah when we need him?

PPS. Every time Onii-chan opens his mouth, I think of iM@S Shachou.


30 Responses to “Sasami-san@ganbaranai Episode 1 Conjectures”

  • Digibro

    Thanks for the post, I wouldn’t have recognized any of the religious stuff on my own. I even had read some of this post before watching the episode, and then I watched it and still didn’t catch anything, and read the post again to understand it. I enjoyed the episode anyways though because high-flying chocolate action and neato SHAFT visuals. I hope they didn’t blow their whole load on ep 1 again.

    Nice Haruhis, btw. There was a Lucky Star reference in the new gdgd Fairies, too. I started wondering is this stuff now “in” again? Is it like, retro funny now?

    • omo

      I don’t know, really. I do have a random guess–things like Haruhi and Lucky Star are sufficiently well-spread and popular enough that it becomes fair game to allude to them as a matter of expression to beyond just the otaku.

      Of course gdgd and this is…strictly otaku fare, so I dunno.

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  • Reply

    >Why does Onii-chan cover his face this whole time?
    Same reason Wilson did in Home Improvement.

    Also, the common people isn’t supposed to see the face of their gods.

    The common people wasn’t even allowed to see the face of the emperor until last generation IIRC…

  • schneider

    Every time Onii-chan opens his mouth, I think of Yazan from Zeta Gundam.

  • Nag

    Pretty close for not having read the source material, but obscured-face-nii-chan is the God – he wanted to give his sister all the chocolate in the world, the world complied.

  • MagicPower

    I thought this anime made no sense totally.
    Now I think it makes a “little” sense.

  • Rin

    Considering that Amaterasu’s legend involves her being a bit of a shut-in for quite a while, that was my first guess as well after I recovered from the “what is this I don’t even” phase.

  • leo

    really good post, i find it really awesome that are people able to actually look into the hidden gem inside sasami-san instead of just saying the line “wut da fuck did i just watch” i look foward to your next sasami-san posts!!

    • omo

      It’s possobile that I will have a series of these, but don’t count on it. I wrote this mostly as a reaction to the large number of people who watch this show and don’t understand a thing. It’s surprisingly impenetrable.

  • Chipp12

    Any guesses about why Sasami-san can’t leave her home? I thought that it’s quite important moment.
    Also don’t understand why did they make her onii-chan sound like this – he had quite normal voice in the light novel preview video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-elFBzj64ng
    http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/1308104844

    • omo

      The light novel preview had different voice actors all together. That’s why it sounded different.

      I don’t have a guess as to why Sasami-san is a hikki or why she can’t leave the house. I’m sure it’s important but I don’t think they’ve given us enough to make a confident guess. I don’t really want to guess either, at this point.

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  • Ainee

    >Why was there a chocolate coated statue of naked Sasami? Shinbo. But it’s also clever symbolism.

    What symbolism?

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  • Chipp12

    I meant that in the light novel preview her brother didn’t like some erojiji ^^;
    Also I wasn’t asking about why Sasami-san is hikki – I’m only interested in the fact that she can’t leave her house. The way it was shown reminded me episode 15 of Star Driver where one of heroines tried to leave the island but couldn’t because the time was always reset (or something like this) and she was waking in her bedroom again.

    “Mizuno and Marino’s estranged mother returns and a desperate Mizuno tries to leave the island to avoid her, but her maiden powers prevents her to do so. Wako confronts her and finds that she is the West maiden, a fact that already known by Glittering Star.”

    • omo

      Well, the reason why she can’t leave, from what is shown, is that she gets dizzy and nauseous and pukes when she tries. No funny time loops here (spoiler for uh Star Driver).

      And I’m saying her brother sounded different in the light novel preview is because of the two different voice actors sound different.

    • Chipp12

      So it’s just Shaft being lazy, I guess.

      >The light novel preview had different voice actors all together. That’s why it sounded different.
      >And I’m saying her brother sounded different in the light novel preview is because of the two different voice actors sound different.
      YES, I was talking about WHY did her brother sounded normal in that promo and sound like this in anime. I KNOW that the their seiyu are different. I was just talking about the strange choice that SHAFT have made when they’ve decided to use that voice instead of somewhat normal and more suitable one.

    • omo

      I don’t know, that is just you. I didn’t think the two voices were different enough to insinuate so.

      I don’t know about them being lazy, but it is one of their typical animation shortcuts. And honestly, I’m not sure if people want to see her puke.

  • Yukarin_YY

    omg this post was wonderful~ You have a new fan °v° I shall be visiting frequently from now on if you dont mind. Came here from Metanorn

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