[Did you find Sasami-san@ganbaranai as confusing as I did? Well, don't drop or bash it just yet, because Jeff's got an expert breakdown of the first episode's deep-rooted symbolism. It's an enlightening read straight from his personal blog, and for your elucidation, we've published it here. If you've got your own deep thoughts and insights about Sasami-san, or anything else, for that matter, post in your C-blog! The very best can get promoted to the front page for great justice and internet fame! -Josh]
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 country-life anime 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 everything that exist has a spirit or essence (often 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. (By the way, do watch Kamichu, it makes understanding all this a lot easier. Plus it's great.)
The three sisters, 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; and Tsurugi is valor. Of course, it would be best to know both the lore and the significance, 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 the 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 before gods. This is important but I’ll get back to it later. Their family name indicate they are probably divine in some way–it is the name of the moon god, Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto. You might want to know this because Tsukuyomi married his sister, Amaterasu.
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. (Although she probably does celebrate it.) And she is probably 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 can even explain 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 it's where the anime got SHAFT'd. It is now visually interpretive; a visual figure of speech. One interpretation is that this is when gods get hosed by human intervention. Remember the first river god in Spirited Away (you really should watch Spirited Away if you don't know what I'm talking about), 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 (as interesting as that may be). They could be spirits themselves for what it is worth.
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. The other mechanic left is that the faces of gods (the deity kind, not the earth spirit kind) are not to be seen by man. 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).
One can play around with the ideas here and come up with some other options; the above are just two examples.
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 life.
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.
[Sasami-san@ganbaranai airs on The Anime Network]
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