Watched via DVD



PLOT: Saikano is a single season series that focuses on the love between two young adults as they struggle to live through turbulent times of warfare. Shuji is the main protagonist and his life changes forever when a clumsy and cute classmate confesses her feelings for him. Being the skeptic that he is, he decides to go out with Chise, not really believing that she’ll put up with him and soon move on. The two awkwardly begin to date, creating a lot of pressure on the two of them as they try to maintain a “perfectly normal” relationship. Shuji, not really having feelings yet for Chise, ends up giving up on the whole thing, as he doesn’t want to disappoint her.

Soon thereafter Shuji does begin to develop some feelings for his classmate and they give their relationship another shot, this time trying to be more open and honest about who they are. Everything goes smoothly until he finds out she is “the ultimate weapon”, a special weapon of mass destruction developed by Japan in order to protect the country against international warfare.

The majority of the series focuses on how these two’s lives have been disrupted by a world war. Chise goes off into battle and begins to lose a bit of herself and her human identity with every battle that is won. Shuji on the other hand has to stay home and protect his family and friends as he watches the world he knows fall apart.

Saikano is one of my favorite manga series, and it makes an excellent anime as well. Despite all obstacles, Shuji fights to protect Chise and return her back to the young girl she once was. Even when she loses all control he still accepts her and tries to treat her like her old self. On the other hand Shuji is all that Chise has left to fight for as the rest of the world slowly gets wiped out. Without Shuji as her rock, she would have no humanity left to fight for. The pair of them work beautifully as a metaphor for human endurance and love in the face of total destruction.

PLOT: At an unknown point in time—either the present day or in the near future—a war is going on in Japan. The particulars of this war are never disclosed, but the enemies speak both English and French, leading the viewer to suspect some version of the WWII Allies are now attacking Japan. The war is a brutal one, and it’s steadily getting worse, with attacks happening within Japan and lots of civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Shuji, a high school boy, has just been confessed to by Chise, his classmate. Though Shuji doesn’t care much for Chise and is emotionally closed off, he decides to go ahead and start dating her. Chise’s extremely gratified by this, but she’s also shy and nervous about her relationship with Shuji. As the series goes on, the two start to feel more for each other, but they struggle to express those feelings and with their feelings for others around them.

On top of this, Chise’s the secret weapon for the military. After a battle, Shuji finds her halfway between her human and weapon forms, with wings and weapons. Shuji agrees to keep her secret, and he tries to help her remember who she really is as she slowly becomes more weapon than human. By the end of the series, Chise’s heart has stopped beating and her body is cold, but Shuji stays with her despite the emotional turmoil of knowing that she’s unwillingly becoming something other than human. Chise’s transformation is the most affecting part of this show, and it plays out slowly and deliberately, where every time she goes into battle she changes a little more. With all of the romantic fluctuations in this show, Chise’s emotional battle gives the show a focus and makes it stronger. The show does feel somewhat melodramatic, but it also packs a solid emotional punch, if you can accept the general plot device of a girl-turned-weapon wanting to be in love.

SETTING: One of the many wonderful aspects of Saikano is how timeless it feels. Throughout the series we are given several clues to help us fill in information about the setting. Though the story is set in present day Japan, it is strongly reminiscent of WWII movies. When we see scenes of the enemy, they are usually English or French, and we are told that there are some sort of alliances that are formed between various countries, but we don’t know the full scope of it.

In the beginning Shuji’s town seems very far removed from the battles that go on. It makes it all the more shocking when Shuji finds out that Chise is a member of the military and a secret weapon. As Chise gets sucked into the military more and more, we begin to see Japan fall apart. The action slowly closes in on their hometown, and Shuji is caught trying to pick up the pieces.

I felt that the setting was wonderfully developed side-by-side with the characters and plot. As the world succumbs to endless battles, we begin to see Shuji lose his childhood naivety and grow into a man. In turn this strengthens his bond and resolve to be with and protect Chise and the dying humanity that she represents.

SETTING: Though Saikano never goes into great details about the war being fought, I didn’t think this had a negative impact on the story. In fact, I think this vagueness bolsters the show by letting the viewer think more about the central romance and less about the ongoing politics and whether or not they’re realistic with modern-day happenings. The war is central to Saikano, but the series is mostly concerned with the war’s emotional fallout instead of what battles happen where. The viewer learns that Chise eventually vaporizes whole cities, but what cities doesn’t matter because the plot is mainly concerned with Chise’s reaction to that and the viewer’s reaction to Chise’s acts of mass destruction. So long as the viewer gains a general picture of the escalating destruction and Chise’s role in it, the war has played its purpose.

I also like Saikano’s setting because the main characters live near Sapporo, up on Hokkaido, and this results in a laid-back, rural feel. At the start of the series, they feel very withdrawn from the ongoing war, which I assume is mainly occurring on Honshu, so it’s a shock when they’re bombed. Later, when Chise’s going on missions and destroying cities, I got the feeling that she had to travel long distances, which also fits well with her living on Hokkaido. This area of Japan doesn’t get much play in anime, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it featured in Saikano.

I’m not a huge geography buff, but I totally agree with your points on the story happening in Sapporo. I think the setting adds to the timeless quality and the feeling that this story could happen anywhere at any time. It ends up feeling much more bittersweet and touching than if the story had happened, oh let’s say in Tokyo.

CHARACTERS: I have to totally disagree with Crystal on Chise and Shuji’s characters. Not to say that she’s in the wrong in who they are, but I suppose I connected with them differently. While Chise is cute and adorable, and I’m moe for her, I never really connected with her that strongly as a person. I actually connected with her more through Shuji’s eyes and through what she represents to him.

While Crystal may find Shuji to be too “boyish” and immature, I think that’s what is great about his character and his development. In the beginning he dates Chise just because she confesses to him. Once he develops feelings for her, he quite selfishly tries to run away with her to save themselves (and I would argue his childhood innocence). Over and over she leaves him to protect Japan, and in turn keep him alive. Throughout the series he has to come to terms with her involvement in the war, and how she is slowly losing her humanity. Sure he stumbles a bit along the way and gets distracted by other women, but that’s all physical. In the end he sacrifices everything to protect the last bit of her humanity that she has. While Chise’s love seems pure and romantic, I feel that Shuji’s love for Chise represents mankind’s perseverance to maintain free will.

I agree with Crystal that the other characters are painful to watch. No one feels “decent”, and it increases the sense of hopelessness. However, I think they were all an essential element to the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but we do see how the war brings out certain “faults” in people through their need to feel a connection with another living human being. It’s hard to watch as couples cheat on one another, but it’s all done in desperation, as they seek salvation from a world that is dying around them. Ultimately we see character after character die “alone”, and it really drives home the point that we can never be truly connected to one another.

I suppose I can see your point that Shuji’s redeeming quality is his love for Chise, despite the crazy turmoil of war, but I still don’t really like it. I guess I’m resistant to the ugliness that war brings out in people, when they’re driven to their limits and need to connect with anyone in some manner. Reason why I’m a pacifist?

CHARACTERS: Chise’s the emotional heart of Saikano, and it rests on her to draw in viewers by making them feel for her emotional journey. For me, Chise succeeds in that role, as she’s cute, uncertain, and going through a lot of pain, all of which make me moe for her. I could see plenty of viewers balking at the show because it relies so heavily on your emotional connection to Chise, but I really felt for her. She’s very good at being an Everygirl, with her cute-and-clumsy personality, and she so earnestly wants to be in love. I just want to hug her and have her be happy.

Shuji, on the other hand, is a lot harder for me to like because he’s such a boy. He starts out dating Chise on a whim, and he’s pretty callous towards her, not taking her attempts at keeping an exchange diary seriously. He’s also not as committed to Chise as she is to him, and he spends some time being drawn to other women in a way that really pisses me off. Yes, he eventually goes back to Chise and tries to keep her human through their emotional bond, but it takes him so long to get there! He drives me up a wall most of the time, but I guess he is just a teenage boy in a crazy circumstance.

The show’s other characters are also rather hard to like, because they’re all hurting from the war and therefore emotionally manipulate each other. For example, Chise’s best friend is in love with Shuji and makes a move on him later, while his best friend joins the JSDF to protect Chise’s best friend, who he’s in love with, but ends up connecting with Chise. There’s also some messiness with Shuji’s old love, whose husband is fighting in the war and who gets close to Chise. In the end, I still feel for everyone because they’re in such difficult times, but they’re all hard to take in such close proximity. I also wish people would be more faithful to the ones they love, even in such hard times, but I guess that’s the point of Saikano. Everyone may have people they love, but war makes you struggle for and accept whatever human contact you can get.

I really enjoyed how the show focused on different kinds of love. I don’t think Shuji’s love for the other women damped his love for Chise, rather it showed how much he was willing to sacrifice in order to allow his friends one last peaceful and loving memory. Ironically I see these relationships as weaker given they are just physical, and his connection with Chise stronger because it focuses more on a mental/emotional connection.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I had a hard time adapting to the animation of Saikano. While I loved the art style and character designs of the manga, it felt all to weird to see the sketchy style played out in full animation. That said, I think the studio did do a good job, or at least the best they could do while maintaining the integrity of the original manga. Ultimately it’s neither a pro or con, it was just awkward to adjust to. It also didn’t help very much that the budget seemed a little weak, and the characters kinda moved awkwardly from time to time. I’m guessing a good part of that comes from the original designs as well. The characters are all a bit sketchy and pudgy, and don’t necessarily reflect proper anatomy, making them move awkwardly when animated. Again it was a bit hard to get used to, but the story and characters are so compelling, that it was fairly easy to overlook in the long run.

As I said before, I really liked the original character designs and they are quite faithfully brought over to this rendition. While the cast does look pudgy and moe, they are fairly basic and easy to relate to. I also really liked Chise’s military costumes and armaments. Actually the world building in general was well designed and the art style worked harmoniously with the setting and plot to make the world believable.

I could see the combination of pudgy character designs and detailed settings working together to again create McCloud’s clear line effect, drawing viewers in to more fully experience the show’s sorrow by using such iconic characters that you can relate with. The character designs may actually be a stroke of genius instead of a weird stylistic quirk!

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Saikano doesn’t have animation that stands out on any level. It gets the job done, but because most of the show’s emphasis is on characters, it doesn’t have to work too hard to tell its story. It has its episodes where it looks better and worse, but basically it’s at the level you’d expect from a TV anime in 2002.

The art is where Saikano stands out from the crowd. The character designs stick closely to the manga’s style, giving everyone a sketchy, blobby look that isn’t normally seen in anime. This look helps viewers find Chise to be moe, just like with Madoka Magica’s designs. They might be a little hard to get used to at first, but the peculiar cute-ugly style grew on me, getting me to like the series more for having its own look. Chise’s weapons also have a style all their own, not looking too similar to all of the weapons you’ve previously seen in anime. Most importantly, Chise’s weapon form allows her to still look human, which makes her emotional transformation more heartbreaking. Though Saikano’s style may be somewhat off-putting, it’s actually well thought-out for its desired effect on viewers.

OVERALL: Saikano is an exploration of lost identity in the face of hardship. Shuji and Chise attempt to maintain their last sense of self, while everything around them disappears and is destroyed. I’m not sure I’d call this series a romance, as I felt their relationship(s) were more of a metaphor for the human condition. Either way you want to look at it, this was a very touching story about two young adults stuck in a time of war, and how they strove to survive against all odds.

Even if this series doesn’t seem up your alley, I think it’s worth giving a shot. Well, I suppose that is if you’re the sort of person to be interested in existentialism, dystopias, or drama. I can see why someone might not be that interested in this series, but I think it has a lot of powerful messages that moe has never dared to take on before that make it worth watching anyways.

OVERALL: Saikano is not at all a conventional romance or war story. It’s a story of a sad, final love on a planet being torn apart by a senseless war. If you want a standard war show, or even a standard happy romance, stay away; however, if you’re up for a sad, sad story that will make you cry, Saikano may be right for you. Looking back on it, Saikano’s very much in the vein of Key game-based anime, where the point is to focus on broken girls and think about how sad and moe you are for them as a result. Cynical viewers may have a hard time with the narrative, since it’s completely emotionally driven. The characters do some crazy and hurtful actions, but it’s all a result of their emotional angst because of the war. Ultimately, I found this show to be worth watching for Chise and her slow, heartbreaking descent into being a weapon with little humanity, but your mileage will definitely vary. Stay away if you’re not into anything moe, but otherwise this is a solid look into the vast toll war takes on humanity.


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