3 Episode Rule is a series in which I watch the first three episodes of a new anime and decide whether to stick with it or drop it based on those three episodes alone.
Sometimes, you see a show or movie and know you just have to check it out. That was the exact case with me and Sakugan, something about the look, the tone and the style of this show just drew me in. Based on a novel called Sakugan Labyrinth Marker, at a glance this series feels like it’s paying tribute to shows like Gurren Lagann and also has the feel of Deca-Dence from last year.
Honestly, the whole thing has something of a Trigger feel to it. Not sure if saying that is disrespectful to Satelight who made this or not in anime circles…
Like I said, this comes from Satelight; a storied studio who have a pretty deep library of work over the past 20 years. And I’ll just be super honsest, I can’t say I recognise any of them. Which I guess is my failing more than anything and shows how much is still out there that I don’t know. Not that the studio should weigh very heavily on whether or not a rate a series or not.
The world Sakugan takes place in is both a familiar and a foreign one; humanity lives their lives almost entirely underground. But unlike many other anime I’ve seen in which humanity seem restricted in how they’re living, everyone in this world seems pretty at ease with it all. As if they’ve never known anything different.
Humanity seems to thrive in bustling underground colonies, covered by massive domed ceilings that simulate a natural day and night cycles. It’s in this colony we meet our main two characters, by showing off their main dynamic right off the bat in hilariously misleading style:
We meet Memenpu: a genius beyond her years; smart, ambitious and admired by everyone she meets. She’s also nine years old and a right little gremlin of a character. Her advanced smarts and desire for more often puts her at odds with Gagumber; her deadbeat but caring and doting father. The pair work together in the mines in the outskirts of town, combining their efforts as pilot and navigator of a not too large mining mech, collecting the flammable ore that presumably powers the colonies. Bickering and arguing with one another all the time.
The crux of their clashing personalities comes from Memenpu’s desire to leave and become a Marker: a type of Ranger of the underground so to speak. These Mech pilots go out into the vast, unexplored underworld, reporting on new deposits of minerals, forging new safe routes between colonies and presumably fighting off the large Kaiju that roam the unmapped caverns.
As much as Memenpu wants to leave, adventure and discover things, Gagumber stubbornly refuses to let her. In the show, this is mostly explained through him not wanting her to grow up so fast and the risk of him losing her in the unknown dangers outside of the colonies. But let’s be real; the kid’s NINE, this shouldn’t be a discussion. Doesn’t matter how many college degrees she has.
It’s funny, watching this show now I feel like I’m bringing a lot of my own age and experience into the dynamic between these two character. As a younger kid, I have no doubt I would have been on Memenpu’s side. I would get her desperate despite for adventure, despite not really knowing why she’s actually doing it. Now, I feel much more for the Gagumber, having to put up with his rebellious daughter who simply can’t be controlled. The older me feels bad for him in a way because he never really gets a break.
That’s being a parent though I suppose.
In the first episode, we also meet Walker and Lynda, friends of Gagumber and Memenpu respectively, they’re the hotshot Father/Daughter Markers team in the colony and the duo that Memenpu aspires to in her future. They’re also the pair that Gagumber resents for that very same reason. The duos invests their dreams and concerns with one another after a hard day’s work one day, broken up by the sudden appearance of two Kaiju that breach the dome; an unprecedented event.
Walker and Lynda are quick to react and rescue our main character using their mech, before they can start running though, they witnessWalker and Lynda killed in front of their eyes by the sudden appearance of the second Kaiju.. It leaves Memenpu shook, and unable to react as her dad drags her to safety. It’s during an emotional outburst from her that Gagumber makes the sudden decision to turn away from the emergency shelter and take her to a garage where he’s been keeping an old customised Marker Mech, and together the pair work together using Gagumber’s experience and Memenpu’s intelligence to lead the Kaiju out of the colony and blow them up using the flammable ore in the mines.
It’s following these event’s Gagumber realises he can’t keep his daughter contained anymore, and the pair become Markers, using the custom Mech (which Memenpu hilariously calls Big Tony) to follow a map left behind by a legendary Marker of the past. From here, we get to see them forging through these beautifully vast caverns that seem full of plants, animals and water as if they were out in the wide open world.
The ongoing dynamic continuing: Gagumber is the more experienced and cautious, always airing on the side of safety and established paths. And then Memenpu is just determined to be trailblazer, forging forward recklessly and often getting the duo into danger. Something her long suffering Dad just has to put up with, because again, she’s a super genius gremlin and there’s not a fat lot he can do except rescue her when she gets herself into trouble. And then get told “took you long enough” for his trouble. Ah, the joys of parenthood.
This show is great. I love the setting, it makes underground seem like this wild new, beautiful frontier to be explored and not just a cramped, damp and dark place. I also really like the dynamic between the main two characters, it’s not often you see father/daughter teams in anime in my experience and their interactions are almost always goofy/comedic. Despite what my description of the show might lead you to believe, this is a very light-hearted feeling show.
While the stakes and the state of the world may not seem it, the show doesn’t feel oppressive or desperate in any way. The whole show it scored by composer Tatsuya Kato; who gives the whole show this fun, almost jazzy feel to it. It reminds me if watching Lupin the Third almost, with the duo clumsily racing around in Big Tony with a general sense of fun overriding any of the real peril you’d think they’d be feeling with these huge Red-Eyes Black Dragon looking Kaiju that seem to be stalking them everywhere they go.
Verdict: Definitely keeping this one up!
I like this show a lot, there seems to be one of these kinds of show coming out at least once a year in my experience and I always get a kick out of them even if I don’t tend to see many other people talking about them. Gagumber is a big, bumbling dope who kind of reminds me of myself (which is probably not super complimentary) and Memenpu is a little gremlin of a girl who is continuously justified in her wildly reckless behaviour, and I can’t get enough of it. Because in their end, their relationship is still really sweet.
When I heard this was a mech anime, I thought I might be getting myself into a genre that I’ve mostly had pass me by up until now. But when it ended up being much more Gurren Lagaan meets Medabots than the Gundam than I may have expected, I ended up being almost kind of relieved because while I know the later of those examples usual has something to say, Sakugan is about as heavy as a kitten.
This one is a ton of fun right off the bat, and while the first two episodes act as a fantastic first act to the story and establish the world, I am really excited to see where it goes from here, what new worlds the underground will present us and what other weird and over the top characters we’re bound to encounter going forward.