“The Last Love Song on this Little Planet” is the tagline for the series, and it’s quite a lovely phrase. How does the actual anime stack up? Well, Saikano was one of the first anime that I ever saw, back when I was in my early teens and first becoming interested in the medium. The content, tone, and emotional impact that an animated series could have was very new to me at that time. However, as with many of my early anime, a revisit with the series allowed me to notice flaws that weren’t so obvious back then. To be honest, my thoughts towards this series represent one of the more conflicting opinions I have about an anime. Parts of the story are very moving, yet they are mixed together with heavily flawed and manipulative storytelling at other parts. Perhaps it would be best to start with this anecdote as a comparison:
Musicians often begin composing music with small ideas they have – such as a single, memorable melody. These small ideas may be compelling, but creating a larger piece of music which incorporates this small idea while remaining interesting for the entire duration is a more difficult job. What does this have to do with Saikano? I think that one of flaws people may find with the series (and I think it is definitely a subjective flaw) is that the author clearly had some very great ideas in his mind, but was not entirely successful at taking these ideas and building a full – length story from them.
The main idea revolves around the idea of a boy whose girlfriend becomes some sort of military weapon. This introduces several dramatic possibilities. The girl finds herself losing her humanity with only her bond to the male character holding her back. The boy finds himself having to decide between his love for the girl, by keeping her alive, or his responsibility to the world, by destroying her himself before she can do too much damage. There are plenty of gripping situations in the anime which result from the premise, and the anime takes a decidedly serious approach to dealing with them. But after coming up with that initial spark of an idea, the writer has to create a connected and coherent plotline for them to be carried out. In Saikano, it’s almost as if the writer skimped on this necessity when transitioning from one of his scene ideas to another. The result is that heavy, emotional scenes often feel more like pieces strung together rather than natural events flowing out of the plot, and there is a feeling of audience manipulation throughout.
The girl in question is Chise, who is clumsy and childlike (both in appearance and behavior). You will recognize this as an archetype common to many other anime – and it is not one that I particularly like. It’s hard to not to groan a little at these stereotypical portrayals of submissive and childish female characters. However, I can see how her personality was relevant to the series in terms of character interaction, particularly when compared to Shuuji, the main lead, and in the end, it didn’t ruin the show for me. I can’t promise the same for other viewers however, and I’m sure a lot of people will be put off by the nature of their relationship as well (Shuuji often switches between treating Chise like a pet, a younger sister, and a girlfriend).
Plot synopsis’ can be misleading sometimes, so don’t be fooled- Saikano is about Shuuji and Chise, and apart from a few war sequences interspersed throughout, their relationship is the focus of the anime. The first episode introduces us to their awkward but growing bond, and the rest deal with the effects of Chise’s new role as a weapon on their relationship. The two main characters also face their own individual “distractions” in the forms of brief liaisons with side characters. In the case of Chise, it is a very moving story involving a fellow soldier who is the only one who recognizes Chise as the helpless young girl she is rather than a destructive weapon. In the case of Shuuji, it alternates between a rather weak, soap-opera story involving a past teacher, to a more effective, convincing one involving a friend of Chise.
Saikano occasionally feels melodramatic, and there are many scenes which feel forced. Take the beginning of the series – just when we are getting used to the very sudden injection of the “weapon” plotline, we are almost immediately thrown into scenes of a very depressing nature, and it ends up feeling a tad artificial. Saikano draws emotions from the audience by showing a lot of grief on-screen – with lots of tears and wavering voices. It isn’t quite as subtle as something like Grave of the Fireflies, and the tolerance level of the viewer will probably be tested at various points.
On the technical side, the art and animation yield few complaints from me. I suppose the only issue is that Shuuji is drawn a bit awkwardly at times throughout the series. His design also looks a bit old for a teenager, particularly when placed right beside the very childish-looking Chise. The music is of varying quality. The main themes, when presented in instrumental or piano variations, are quite effective and memorable. Actually, the instrumental version of Sayonaro, the closing theme, I find more powerful than the vocal track it’s based on. But there is a lot of underscore, much of it involving electric guitar, that didn’t interest me at all. The series also had a habit of injecting very loud and overly dramatic music during emotional moments, which lacked a bit of subtlety. While I don’t have an urge to pick up the soundtrack, Saikano did succeed in having a fairly distinct musical voice.
When it comes down to it, the anime that I hold in high regard are those which present ideas which stick in my head and influence me in some way, and Saikano is chock full of those kind of ideas – not to mention an ending that I found myself to be thinking about quite a bit after seeing it for the first time. So, overall, despite my complaints, Saikano is an anime that I recommend. Yet I can’t ignore the fact that it occasionally feels forced – my guess is that the writer rushed to pen the manga a little too quickly after forming the initial concepts of what his story would be – without enough time to really flesh them out and construct a natural story progression. Could Saikano have been executed a bit better? Yes. Will it appeal to everyone? Definitely not. But in the end, there is something unique in this series that I think is worth a look.
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