SAKUGAN's Father-Daughter Anime Adventure Has Charming Potential
Reuben Baron
Sakugan featured
Sakugan featured
SAKUGAN, also known by the title Sacks&Guns!!, is an upcoming anime from studio Satelight based on the novel Sakugan Labyrinth Maker by Nekotarou Inui. Writer and director Jun'ichi Wada's track record might not inspire immediate confidence -- this is his first writing credit, and his directing credits consist of the so-so Haruhi spin-off, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, and the mediocrely received Caligula, and Ragnastrike Angels. However, after screening the series' pilot episode in advance of its premiere at Crunchyroll Expo, SAKUGAN looks like it has the charming potential to be a hit during the fall 2021 anime season.
SAKUGAN's science-fiction story takes place in an underground world known as the Labyrinth. People live and work in different colonies within the Labyrinth, but traveling between colonies is dangerous. Nine-year-old genius Memempu wants to become a Marker and venture forth from her home colony, Pin-in, to find a tower she's seen in her dreams. Her father Gagumber does not approve -- the episode's first scene sees him trying to catch her as she tries to run away, with both father and daughter ultimately tricking each other into mechanical traps. However, when Pin-in's relative safety gets shattered by a mysterious kaiju attack, Memempu and Gagumber are forced to head out on a father-daughter adventure.
SAKUGAN's setting in the first episode will draw some comparisons to the set-up of the GAINAX classic Gurren Lagann, but whereas Gurren Lagann was firmly on the "super robot" side of the mecha anime genre, SAKUGAN seems to be leaning on the "real robot" side of things. The robots Gagumber and the other workers use for construction are designed practically, while the mech Gagumber plans to use for his and Memempu's adventure appears a bit more stylized, but not outrageously so. The father-daughter relationship is somewhat reminiscent of last year's Deca-Dence, though Memempu has a brattier personality than Natsume and Gagumber is (probably) not the human avatar of an adorable cyborg.
Tonally, SAKUGAN keeps things light throughout the premiere episode. However, when the story does get dark, this darkness is taken seriously. If names like "Gagumber" and "Memempu" sound silly, the show demonstrates clear awareness of this silliness with a number of mispronunciation gags. There are a lot of comedic moments, the funniest of which comes from a loudspeaker announcement regarding the kaiju attack. The aftermath of the attack, however, is treated as a serious tragedy, and the balance of tones is handled well throughout its debut episode.
Whether or not it was intentional, the title SAKUGAN sounds a lot like "sakuga," a term used to refer to bursts of top-notch animation. SAKUGAN's first episode has its most notable moments of sakuga in the opening chase scene before it settles into a more standard, less showy animation style. Viewers coming in hoping for a sakuga showcase will be underwhelmed by the first episode's style; but, that is not to say the episode looks bad at all. Much of studio Satellite's work on the anime is very visually appealing, with cute and attractive character designs by Darker Than Black's Yuji Iwahara and particularly impressive background art by NieR Automata's Kazuma Koda.
The one area where the visual quality falters is in the CG animation of the kaiju. The kaiju design, credited in part to the legendary Macross director and artist Shoji Kawamori, would likely look amazing if either hand-drawn or given the level of detail of the CG monsters found in Godzilla: Singular Point. The CG mechs blend in fine with the 2D art, but the CG kaiju sticks out too much. The mechs looking better than the kaiju in CG can be attributed to the general issue that inorganic textures are far easier to animate convincingly in computer animation than organic ones.
One episode in, nothing about SAKUGAN stands out as truly exceptionable, but it offers an enjoyable introduction to its charming characters and intriguing world. Good mecha anime outside of the major franchises are so rare these days that a promising new series like SAKUGAN absolutely deserves a chance for fans of the genre.
The world premiere of SAKUGAN will stream at Virtual Crunchyroll Expo Thursday, Aug. 5 at 12:45 PM PT before the series airs on Crunchyroll this October.