The religious and spiritual aspects of Japanese society in anime are mostly used by writers who borrowed them indiscriminately to give some of sort of meaning and deepness to their stories. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it does not take advantage of the richness and vast history behind it. But not all shows are guilty, and today we will be talking about one that tried and let’s see if it succeeded. I am talking about Sasami-san@Ganbaranai.
About the show
Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (ささみさん@がんばらない) is an adaptation of a light novel of the same name (still ongoing). The anime was announced on June 2012 and aired during the 2013 Winter season. The show consists of twelve episodes and was produced by Studio Shaft.
Sasami Tsukuyomi does not like to leave her house- in fact, she can’t. Her only connection to the outside world is her brother who is head-over-heels for her, and does everything for her, including cooking, cleaning, changing, and feeding. However, when the gods Sasami is so familiar with begin causing dangerous situations outside of her comfortable home, she has to get up and get out to stop them.
When this show aired originally I only enjoyed its wacky premise and gratuitously fanservice, which it has a ton. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai was not my favorite anime when the season ended but nonetheless the story captivated me, leaving the desire to know more. Unfortunately the light novels were not picked up until much later but it was too late, as seasons passed by and more shows aired the show began vanishing from my memory. When the anime was brought up on a conversation I could not even remember what the plot was about. Now after a second watching I have encountered a newfound love for it. Some shows are better enjoyed when you are not tied to focus your attention on all the things that are airing on a season. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is one of those and really requires you to pay attention to all the details because as I discovered, there’s more to it than gorgeous animation sequences, bizarre characters and tons of lewd.
The central plot of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai revolves around the conflict between the old and new religious movements in Japan. The show heavily relies on Shinto mythology to illustrate this point. Sasami-san is the next generation in a long tradition to inherit the power of the goddess Amaterasu, who tired of of her job, gave her power to humanity, one of Sasami ancestors. The female who received the power became Tsukoyomi and it was in charge of this tremendous power. To be able to control and use this power, an ideology was formed where the ultimate goal will be the abandonment of worldly desires, the suppression of the ego, complete isolation and maintaining the purity of their faith. Anything besides it is mundane, impure and dangerous given that even the most ridiculous desire could transform the world and destroy reality as we know it. Sasami-san was meant to be the next vessel of this power but after she escaped from the shrine and discover the pleasures of the modern world (in this case otaku entertainment) she decides that life prepared for her is not worthy of her efforts and decides to escape with her brother and try to live a “normal” existence. Amaterasu is aware of this development and will help Sasami to accomplish her decision, but the problems will arise between all the factions who want to use that power to control or destroy the world. Without giving more spoilers than it is, the show does a wonderful job of creating this story.
Animation and music is another point where the show succeeds. And it’s no wonder why, Studio Shaft used to be known for the quality of their works and a visual style that marked a decade. The fight scenes are well executed and it does not let you take a break. Within the show we got see the creation of new realities, worlds that go from cities covered with chocolate to the destruction of an entire island. Music sets the tone of all the scenes, the range of the soundtrack fits well with the theme of the show. It clicked with me when I heard the first chords of the ending all the memories I had about Sasami-san@Ganbaranai.
While I enjoyed it, there are problems. I think it really gets better after a second watching, even if you pay attention the first time there are a lot of small details that might get ignored because there’s too much happening in a single scene. There are a couple of setups during the first episodes that don’t get a payoff at the end, apparently they were not as important to the story or maybe they get a payoff on the novels, but feels like it was a waste time. The third and final arc of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is weak, compared to the previous stories. Rushed, the quality of the animation appears to be hit with a downgrade and Sasami-san does not play a main role during the final episodes. The conclusion of the show was a bit unsatisfactory ending on a smaller scale that was out of place. It was not an ending to the story proposed by the show.
Sasami-san@Ganbaranai gets its place as one of the shows that proposed giving more thinking to the religious side of Japanese society and its approach is welcomed. If you like shows that deviate from the norm, or if you watched it during the first airing, I recommend watching it. Sadly the translation of the novels stopped a couple of years ago and there has not been announce of a license. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is available where anime is.