SAKUGAN is set to premiere as part of the Virtual Crunchyroll Expo this Thursday. However, as ANN was able to get a hold of the first episode in advance, let me be the first to tell you, the series is certainly off to an ambitious start.
*Note: This review contains major spoilers for the first episode of SAKUGAN.
SAKUGAN is one of those anime that throws you into the deep end with only the smallest bit of exposition to help you keep your head above water. Basically, everyone is living in a massive, largely unexplored cave system filled with monsters. But honestly, as far as this first episode is concerned, the setting is all but irrelevant. The monsters, the giant robots, the gritty sci-fi aesthetic—all of that are extraneous to the story that is being told here.
Thematically, this first episode of SAKUGAN is centered around a universal part of the human experience: a parent struggling to raise a growing child. Gaganba is a father who doesn’t really know how to be a father—especially not a single father. He works hard at a blue collar job and makes sure his daughter has food and a roof over her head, but he has no idea what it means to be a father beyond that. All he knows is that it’s his job to protect her.
Of course, this is made even more challenging as Memenpu, his daughter, is a literal genius. Each night, he spends valuable time and energy chasing her down as she tries to escape their mundane life. But it’s clear to all those even tangentially involved that there would soon come a time when, if she wants to go out and do something, he won’t be able to stop her.
But that’s only a part of the real problem. While intelligent beyond her years, Memenpu is still as naive and innocent as any other nine-year-old girl. Her head is filled with dreams of adventure: to go where no one else has gone to see what no one else has seen. In the eyes of youth, danger equals fun and death is something that happens to other people.
Her character arc in this episode is learning that life-threatening danger is all too real and those closest to her can be here one second, gone the next—even if they’re experienced pilots inside a giant mecha suit. But even more important is the revelation that, even in the direct aftermath of her best friend’s brutal death—and the resulting emotional trauma—adventure still calls to her. Surrounded by pain and sadness, she still wants to look for the place she has seen in her dreams.
And it’s here that Gaganba faces his most important choice as a father. If the events of the day are not enough to dissuade Memenpu from wanting to venture forth into the unknown, then nothing could. The only question is: will she go alone or will he—with his knowledge and experience—be there with her? And to his credit, he makes that choice in an instant. If there is no way to avoid mortal danger then better to be in a mecha suit facing it head on with her than cowering in a shelter, trying to cling to the safety they once had.
- The deaths of Lynda and Walsh are genuinely shocking—especially because this is still just the first episode—but thematically, it is the correct choice (for all the reasons I stated in the review above).
- Devastatingly, the last words Lynda ever said to Memenpu were “You’re just a child! Do as you’re told!”—words that betrayed the nature of their relationship up until that point
- The dreams, the treasure map, the sudden monster invasion, Gaganba’s mysterious past—these are all basically background noise at this point. I’m sure they’ll be important later but the human drama is the highlight of this episode. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in how this underground society came to be.
- The mecha design looks pretty good so far—the perfect melding of practical and imposing.
- You may have noticed that, in this review, I said nothing at all about the animation. This is because the screener copy I was provided had massive watermarks across both the top and dead center of the picture. With the subtitles added in, my experience with this episode was like trying to watch it through dirty glass. It’s hard to comment on the quality of the animation—be it positively or negatively—when you can’t see it clearly.
The first episode of SAKUGAN will stream as part of Virtual Crunchyroll Expo on Thursday, August 5 at 12:45 PM (PDT). The series proper will air on Crunchyroll this October.