I’ve seen a few people hype this manga up pre-season, but I thought they must be reading some different manga to the Sankarea I did. The one I read was laughably horrible. It had the generic male Yuji Everylead. His perverted best friend. A school full of polite well brought up girls. The attractive dainty rich girl with a Troubled Past. The childhood friend (who in this case is a cousin) with the hilariously awful name of Wanko. This was all done in the space of 5 pages. It got worse too. The Troubled Past the dainty rich girl happened to posses was some child abuse, which was promptly followed 2 pages later by her being sexualised, the main character staring down her top. Dialogue stunted, motivations ham-fisted and barely explained beyond “it just is, ok”. This was just from the single chapter I bothered to read, but it stands up there as one of the worst first chapters of a manga I’ve ever read.
So understand what a massive deal it is for me to say this was watchable and fairly enjoyable.
So what the hell happened? It was all in the execution. This blew my mind even further when it was being adapted by Deen, who for years have been the butt of everyone’s jokes. What they did was hire a Shaft staffer (who went under a psuedo name, which is probably why I didn’t catch this information when I checked it originally) along with that guy who did the script and composition for Baccano/Durarara, along with some other seriously talented folks all along the staff list. Seriously, every single one on the list is an up and coming talent. This director may not have directed anything else previously (well, apart from some hentai), but I personally would hold someone who was an episode director for Madoka and Arakawa in pretty high regard.
Anyway, all that previous bellyaching was basically to highlight that there’s a lot of Shaft influence in the directing here. Cuts to shifting eyes, camera moving along with the motions the characters bodies are making, interesting uses of symmetry and space. It’s all from the Shaft school of design (which is originally the Osamu Dezaki school of design, but let’s not get into that). Plus it’s the Good kind of Shaft influence. The one that actually enhances the story it’s trying to tell, rather than just being visual fuckery for the sake of it. It also irons out all the cliches into more manageable chunks, spreading them out over the course of the episode and adding justifications and more poetic ways of phrasing their motivations.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is still the same Sankarea, and the stink from the manga is still there. There’s still that weird transition from child abuse allegations to sexualisation of said character. There’s still a male character with minimal personality, even if the anime did its darn hardest to develop something more human beyond the blank slate. There’s still the whole ‘accidental girlfriend’ shtick going on here. But it’s so darn well produced that I’m willing to give it a chance. I’ve had manga readers say ‘IT GETS BETTER I SWEAR’, but what else is new? The sky is blue, the grass is green, and readers of the original source material claim it gets better. I’m here for the directing anyway, and for someone like myself who loves the post-2010 Shaft directing, this was catnip for me.