This article is a part of AniTAY’s Fall 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
Do you wish the sun wasn’t shining in your face every day?
Do you believe a sane solution to climate change is to go live underground?
Are you excited about piloting mechs and punching some ugly ground monsters?
Are you into strained father-daughter relationships?
Well, have I the anime for you.
Welcome to SAKUGAN, a future where humans inhabit cramped underground cities protected from local monstrosities, a future where daughter Memempu and father Gagumber begin the adventure of their lives to discover the secret of their subterranean world.
“If there’s no path, dig one!” says the promotion. And dig in, we sure did.
Before burrowing into the review, let’s properly introduce the lingo of the show: The action takes place in this underground system of caves called the “Labyrinth”, less Minotaur-guarded and more full of monstrous “kaijus”, which range from huge armored biped dragon things to smaller (but no less deadly) insectoid herds. Humans live in colonies within the Labyrinth, within artificial bubbles of sprawling cityscape and mine grounds. The Labyrinth is still not entirely explored, a risky job that is handed to “Markers”, misfits that travel the underground area between colonies in mech armor. You bet our protagonists are going to end up in one of these.
And that’s the simple and biggest point of the series for me: the draw of adventure within these seemingly humongous caverns, which are full of cliffs, flowing rivers, rough edges, exposed ore veins and deep chasms. The first episodes reminded me of playing within procedurally generated games like Minecraft: the expansiveness, the potential for surprise and discovery. The worldbuilding doesn’t have the same consistency as Made in Abyss(despite the easy comparison between the two shows), for the typography of the Labyrinth is less fathomable than the more straightforward hole of MiA. The different areas also suffer from less characterisation (deadly cliffs, frozen underground) than the layers of MiA, despite at least an effort to breathe life into the Labyrinth: advanced camps, energy pipelines, and guard posts make it feel like a sort of subterranean far West.
The action mirrors the good and bad of the worldbuilding, with kaiju encounters working well when they engage with the terrain, but feeling more flat when they become a more generic game of cat and mouse between monsters and robots. If the tension is disserved by the monster and background designs (more on that later), the boombastic jazz inspired music that covers it makes up for the difference. Composed by Tatsuya Kato (Dr Stone), the soundtrack gives the world and stage more warmth and personality. It also confirms once again that saxophones can go with everything, including kaiju fights.
Speaking of personality, let’s briefly talk about our protagonists. SAKUGAN is led by the father-daughter couple of Gagumber and Memempu. Unfortunately, they are one of the aspects of the show I am least enthused about. The pair are introduced from the get-go in a childish dispute, where neither the daughter nor the father come off as especially likeable. Their exchanges in the early scenes of the show are mostly them yelling at each other, and this hurts the characterisation we are supposed to accept: Memempu as a genius wonderkind, Gagumber as a confident, retired Marker. Basically, they both come off as childish, and the scenario only decides for them to act realistically when needed, which undercuts the characters’ intended development. However, there have been a few moments of genuine bonding, which gives me hope that we will see progress on both Memempu’s and Gagumber’s side as the series progresses.
One thing that is unlikely to change a lot is the ineffective design of the mechs and kaijus. Posed as the main threats of the series, the kaijus, displayed in lackluster 3D, have not made a good impression so far; nor do they mesh well with the tone and visuals of the world. As I mentioned before, the Labyrinth does look fairly realistic, but the mechs and kaijus definitely do not, and clash overall with the scenes. Some depictions of the stage are also a bit boring, especially with buildings. The first episode in particular does the setting a disservice by sticking to a sluggish fight on top of an colony urban setting. The action flows much better in later episodes once Memempu and Gagumber finally set off in the underground.
SAKUGAN has several interesting concepts. I’d like to see more from the world, the various human factions, how Memempu and Gagumber’s relationship will evolve and adapt to their journey, and if the series can build to a satisfying revelation about the world and how humans ended up there. The emotional moments of episode 1 still work despite all of the caveats mentioned earlier, and the show did prove its potential for an investing and refreshing father-daughter quest, but I’m not yet confident if it will ultimately overcome its early limitations.
Based on: the light novel Sakugan Labyrinth Marker
Directed by: Junichi Wada
Written by: Nekotari Inui (light novel), Junichi Wada (anime)
Produced by: Satelight
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
Episodes watched: 3
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