We have a trio of mecha anime that I watched this past year – the first of which to finish was Sakugan, something of an underdark exploration anime, combined with some Gurren Lagann-esque hot-bloodedness, and a well-done father-daughter dynamic with the leads.
The setting of Sakugan is kept somewhat deliberately mysterious. The show is set in an unnamed world that is exclusively underground, with various human settlements, all with various themes, linked through a network of semi-natural tunnels. Those tunnels are explored by markers, who travel through this hostile terrain in their mechs. Among the retired markers is Gagumber, who has retired after a mysterious incident in the past, to raise his daughter, Memempu.
Memempu is an actual genius, having already obtained several degrees before her 10th birthday. She also gets mysterious dreams about the surface, with a tower surrounded by stars, and keeps trying to sneak out to try to find her way there. After she is given a map that could potentially guide her to that route, Gagumber begrudgingly takes his mech out of mothballs, for the two of them to traverse the labyrinth to find their way there – picking up several travelling companions along the way.
So, comparisons do get made to this show and Made in Abyss. On the one hand, this fits somewhat due to a lot of mysteries being related to the fundamental nature of the labyrinth. However, on the other hand, there is nowhere near the level of body horror and grim tone that Maid in Abyss had. To be clear, Sakugan does have its dark elements, but it’s also a series where if a problem could be solved by punching, it gets solved by punching.
The character dynamics of the cast are incredibly solid, especially the father-daughter relationship between Gagumber and Memempu. The two are characters who clearly do care for each other, but also firmly clash due to their different approaches to things – Gagumber’s life experience combined with Memempu’s tremendous book smarts and ingenuity. The additional characters who are brought in later on (who I don’t want to spoil), also play into that core dynamic tremendously well.
The complaint I have with the show is that it feels plotted like a series that was originally planned to be a two-cour show, only for the network to come back with them only having one cour. Consequently, the stories feel like the writers going “Okay – let’s get some of the big stories we want to do out of the way, but leave enough under our hat so if we can get a second season, the story isn’t resolved and we can come back to it.” Possibly with a side of “And if we don’t get the second season, maybe we can finish the story in manga form.”
This isn’t quite the anime series from this year I most want to see in an upcoming Super Robot Wars game (I’ll get to that later – but it’s not even Back Arrow), but it was a tremendous blast, and I deeply hope we get a second season – because there are some mysteries in this world that I’d love to see answers for, and I’d love to see them unfold in an upcoming season.
Sakugan is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
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