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IN BRIEF: How to summarize "Sarazanmai"? Three teen boys - none of whom are morally upstanding - cross paths repeatedly, and in doing so attract the attention of a prince of kappas, who needs human agents to take down the spiritual-zombies currently infesting the city, who have manifested when human desires and advances in technology have limited people's ability to truly connect with one another. The kappa prince turns the boys into kappa themselves, and promises to grant them wishes if they defeat enough zombies. Meanwhile, two sinister policemen may be working to create those zombies on behalf of their employer, the Otter Empire...
MY THOUGHTS: I had never watched an Ikuhara anime before, and I'm glad that I started with "Sarazanmai". As bleak as the plot can get, in the end, the main characters (and those we have come to care about) are going to be all right, and a possible future threesome for the boys is definitely suggested - for those who want more than future/implied BL, the two policemen are in a committed relationship, and after they reform it's no longer a case of Villainous Gays.
Definitely Ikuhara is known for a few standard themes in his anime: symbolism that may never be explained, repeated use of stock transformation footage, teens being emotionally messy but striving for their better selves. This show hits all his usual story beats, so if you like Ikuhara or want to try him out, give this anime a chance. I watched it in short binges, and thought that worked well, but someone who watched it as it came out or with gaps between episodes may have been able to be more emotionally invested in the plot twists.
My reviewing system for films and shows that are NOT anime: 1-5: I hated it. I also don't think it has redeeming qualities, so you shouldn't watch it either. 6: I didn't like it. It's not my thing, I didn't like the execution, I don't want to see it again. However, I don't think it is a BAD film or show - it has qualities that will recommend it to those who like that kind of thing. 7: It was fine. I didn't love it, and I don't need to see it again. I won't be sad if I never see it again. 8: I liked it. I didn't love it, and while I'd like to see it again, I wouldn't want to see it often. 9: I loved it. I would be sad if I never saw it again. I might want to see it every few years. 10: I loved it beyond description. I wouldn't mind re-watching it every year.
Clarifying my Anime rating system: My number key below is an attempt to parse the small differences between 5 and 6, 7 and 8, & 9 and 10. When I rate, I consider my own enjoyment, the characterization and the plot, the appearance of the animation, and occasionally the soundtrack - in roughly that order. An anime will lose at least 1 point for presence of deal-breaker tropes (for example, comedic pedophilia), and more if the trope(s) ruined my enjoyment. On the other hand, it will gain at least 1 point for artistry in animation or sound.
Never Recommend: 1-4, inclusive. Further clarification: I don't expect to rate anything 1-4, as I would probably never finish watching something in this range of rating. It's likely to have bad plotting, subpar animation, bland characterizations, silly and/or irritating tropes, etc.; I would consider it to be pure excrement, and I would rather be getting unanesthetized surgery for the entire running time.
Cautious Recommending: 5: I watched at least part of it, and may have stopped due to not liking the plot twists, character derailment, specific tropes, etc. In this case, it started out with a higher score and slipped over time... because I normally don't watch anything that I would score below 6, except for movies (small time commitment). 6: I may or may not have watched the whole show, but I recognize deal-breaker issues in it, and I'm unlikely to rewatch (I would rewatch only if a friend begged me to). It just wasn't enjoyable enough for me to forgive its flaws. There would be huge caveats to any recommendation.
Likely to Recommend: 7: Not my thing, but usually I at least respect it. Generally, I didn't like it enough to think I would rewatch it, but also didn't see huge problems in the plot, characterizations, etc. and thought it was worth finishing. I might suggest it to someone if I know they like the specific sub-genre or other work by the studio. 8: I had a good time watching it, but it didn't move me the way a 9 or a 10 does; it's possible that over time I would upgrade it to a 9 if I liked it more on reflection. I would be willing to rewatch it. I'd consider it mostly harmless to view, and would recommend it with the occasional caveat.
Highly Recommend: 9: I enjoyed very much. It may have had one or two issues, but not enough to diminish enjoyment. It's possible that over time I would downgrade it to an 8 (changing tastes) or upgrade to a 10 (realize it's never left my mind). I'm likely to rewatch, and likely to buy the DVDs. I'd recommend it to most audiences. 10: Virtually flawless. I'd definitely rewatch, and definitely want to buy DVDs. I would shill this to anyone.
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