Review: Sasami-san@Ganbaranai vol1

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (Sasami-san Doesn’t Try, ささみさん@がんばらない)
Author: Akira
Illustrator: Hidari
Publisher: Gagaga Bunko

A hikikomori, her doting siscon of a brother, and three very strange sisters. A Valentine’s Day incident, an all-nude festival, and a risqué event in the school infirmary…?!

At least that’s what the cover of Sasami-san claims the book is about. But sometimes you can’t trust what you see on the outside, especially with those damn Japanese marketers. It’s hard to talk about Sasami-san without ruining the fun of most of the book, but I’ll ganbarimasu do my best.

Imagine the plot of Haruhi Suzumiya, except with characters whose weirdness index might approach those of the characters of Arakawa Under the Bridge. The “God”, or rather “gods” in this case are deeply rooted in Japanese mythology and the concept of yaoyorozu no kami. It would help to read up on the legends of Amaterasu and other major deities before tackling this novel (something that I figured out a bit too late). I mentioned false advertising before, but it’s not entirely a lie – there are indeed Valentine’s mishaps and missing clothing and raunchy “healing”, perhaps not quite in the context you would expect but still plenty silly and fun. All the meanwhile there’s a bit of a serious undertone that’s hinted at through each short story and addressed more directly in the final few chapters. It’s a seriousness that you wouldn’t expect even after reading the first several chapters, although it easily switches to seriously dark comedy(?) with cat girls getting torn in half and a girl shooting a machine gun at people.

Akira does a commendable job with world building. I’m far from an expert on Shintoism and how their deities operate, but the system that’s set up in Sasami-san is explained with great care. There are instances when you think you’ve detected a plot hole, but they usually get cleared up within a few chapters. In fact I was quite surprised how much the plot developed in the first volume alone. There’s a reason why Sasami is a hikikomori, why her brother has such a warped personality, why Tama looks 25 despite being 9, why Tsurugi looks 14 despite being 31, why Kagami seems kind of lifeless – and it’s all explained rather quickly. I wouldn’t have minded stretching out the reveals to another volume, but it worked out fine enough. Makes me look forward to what the next volume could possibly have in store all the more.

Pretty sure I’ve spoiled more than enough now. In short, don’t judge Sasami-san by its cover. Judge it by the fact that Shaft is animating this and it couldn’t be more of a perfect work for them to adapt.

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