“Humour is the weapon of unarmed people: it helps people who are oppressed to smile at the situation that pains them.” —Simon Wiesenthal
This season’s most unusual and amusing comedy comes to a close. Sabagebu! is an anime that I had entered with no expectations: beyond the basic understanding that Sabagebu! was about survival games, I was not sure which direction the anime would take. Previously, I had been anticipating something not dissimilar to that of Stella Women’s Academy: High School Division Class C³, where a new student joins the school’s survival game club and subsequently learns the value of friendship and teamwork over victory. However, even after just one epiosde, Sabagebu! makes it clear that things are not so cut-and-dried. The anime is simply not meant to be taken seriously, and Sabagebu! goes to great lengths to remind audiences that it is not intending to take itself seriously. The end result is an anime that goes against convention; anime veterans will be surprised to be continuously told that the combat sequences are elaborate figments of the girls’ imagination, and the narrator will often mention that any incredulous moments in the anime can exist because this is fiction. In other anime, such moments lead to ceaseless discussions about whether or not certain things made logical sense, but Sabagebu! immediately encourages viewers to simply enjoy the scenes as they happen, rather than attempt to analyse or interpret it.
- Momoka reacts to her decision after conceding a game to Lemon, an obese otaku she challenges at a local arcade. The terms of the challenge were simple: if she had lost, she would agree to have her photo taken with Lemon, although in a rare instance of good sportsmanship, Momoka decides to have her photo taken anyways. Though not shown here, Lemon makes several appearances in later episodes and acts as a source of comic relief, knocking the humour factor in Sabagebu! up to twelfth gear.
- Voiced by Kikou Inoue (best known for her roles as Ah! MY Goddess!‘s Belldandy and Chobits Chitose Hibiya), Kazue Sonokawa is Momoka’s mother and an even more skilled marksman than Momoka, defeating the latter after she tries to weasel out of eating her broccoli.
- Momoka is entranced by the sight of a rare airsoft gun, and after finding it, her conscious engages in a gunfight of their own to determine whether Momoka should sell it and keep the profits for herself, or else return it to Miou. Despite her good side winning out, Momoka overrides her conscious but succumbs to forces beyond comprehension.
- One of the running jokes in Sabagebu! is Maya’s propensity to be taken out first out of anyone, regardless of which team the Survival Game Club is facing, sometimes, without getting any kills. I am reminded of my tendencies in Battlefield 3: because I prefer the run-and-gun style gameplay, I do not maintain long killstreaks and as such, do not have any combat efficiency ribbons.
- Jealous of Miou’s constantly one-upping her at Student Council meetings, Yayoi Isurug tries to take down the Survival Game Club but is ultimately unsuccessful in all of her attempts, ending up hospitalised in several of her attempts. Such events would be unthinkable in other name, but by nature, Sabagebu! can pull this sort of thing off without troubling the viewers.
- After seeing a village’s plight, Miou decides that the Survival Game Club will obtain hunting licenses and aid in wiping out the vermin consuming the aforementioned village’s crops. However, after weeks of study and familiarisation with hunting rifles and shotguns, it turns out that everyone is too young (the minimum age is twenty, and firearms are strictly regulated under Japanese law).
- Miou unleashes her mini-gun’s fury against a purported stalker on campus grounds after learning that Maya and Urara were taken out. The comedy builds up once it is realised that the intruder was Kazue, who had shown up to give Momoka her lunch.
- In what was probably the most fanservice-heavy episode, the Survival Game Club goes up against “The Immaculate and Pure Ladies Academy”; while they wear Santa outfits, the rival school is decked out in full combat gear and quickly eliminate the others with the intent of getting their mittens on Maya and proceed to do questionable things to her.
- While Maya is quickly taken out in most fights, this is the only time that Maya is not the first to be eliminated. After being pushed into a tight spot, she manages to escape her pursuers and winds up in a heated barrel bath. Subsequent dialogue and execution was almost certainly taken straight from Yuru Yuri, including Urara commenting it would be better if the barrels were smaller, and Maya subsequently rolling over and landing in a distant body of water in the same manner as Akari Akaza had.
- The things that happen to Maya this episode are downright cruel, but Sabagebu manages to pass these moments off as comedy. Perhaps in part out of sympathy for Maya’s predicament and near-certain probability of being eliminated first, as well as being the most kind-hearted and hottest member of the Survival Game Club, Maya is one of my favourite characters. The other is Kayo, who strongly resembles The Melancholy of Suzumiya-chan‘s Yuki Nagato in terms of mannerisms and interests.
While Sabagebu! might defy all convention and is purely driven by black comedy, after twelve episodes, it becomes clear that even in such an outlandish anime, participation in high school clubs (in Japan) is meant to be a beneficial activity for students, enabling personal growth. Momoka’s experiences with Miou, Maya, Kayo and Urara leave her with a stronger impression of what friendship is. Assuming the narration holds truth, Momoka was not particularly sociable previously, but by the finale, in a firefight against the National Survival Games organisation, the others reveal that her presence in the club adds a unique spice to things and the club wouldn’t be as lively in her absence, even for all her faults. Thus, the typically self-centred, vindictive Momoka is presented as being capable of sincere emotion as well, in contrast to her usual personality. This depiction probably stems from the motivation behind most clubs in Japanese high schools, which are to foster mutual cooperation and trust by means of sharing a common activity. Numerous anime depict after-school clubs (including K-On!, Haruhi, Girls und Panzer, Tari Tari, Tamayura, OreGairu and Haganai) as activities that bring club members closer together and/or aid them in rediscovering themselves. The fact that even something like Sabagebu! ultimately is able to do the same, is a reminder of how clubs are viewed as a positive aspect within the Japanese education system.
- Urara and Yammy (an idol) fight over Momoka after the latter manages to help Yammy view unrequited love in a different light and regain her confidence. Previously, Yammy was jilted and over-ate as a coping mechanism, leading to massive weight gain. However, Momoka’s advice manages to help her recover (she suggests that Yammy focus on herself and disregard her love interest entirely). Despite being excessive and self-centered, Momoka’s suggestions are, in actuality, more extreme variants of advice given in real-world cases.
- For my amusement, I will include an image of Maya stripping down after chancing upon a jungle pool; while this was originally intended to be a training event of sorts, the Survival Game club finds themselves pursued by mysterious beings.
- Momoka’s selfish, vengeful manners makes her remarkably difficult to sympathise with: she sacrifices Kayo and lies through her teeth to Miou, and even after the mysterious beings, cat-like aliens, praise Momoka’s underhanded methods, she merely shoots them. Here, we have a character who is even more of an anti-hero than Bender, and similarly, is equally amusing to watch.
- A communications error leads Momoka to accidentally get Miou’s gun decorated, rather than maintained. Strangely enough, the addition of decorations manages to improve performance, adding weight to reduce recoil and even providing an impromptu set of iron sights.
- So impressed is Miou with the improvements, she takes the entire Survival Game club to get their weapons decked out, much to Momoka and Urara’s embarrassment. Kayo and Maya, on the other hand, seem perfectly fine with the new enhancements. Over the summer, I was experimenting with different weapon customisations in Battlefield 3, and I found that the holo sights, plus a heavy barrel, wasn’t so bad.
- I’ll doubtlessly have mentioned this before, but I am a huge fan of seafood, especially prawns, crab and lobster. I was once asked what my favourite food was, and after returning those items as an answer, was asked what my favourite commoner food was. That would probably be poutine. This segment turned out to be remarkably funny after the centerpiece, a crab, goes AWOL, after the Survival Game club tries to cook it.
- Platy demonstrates a great deal of concern for the crab and engages the Survival Game club in a massive firefight, bringing a bottomless supply of Škorpion vz. 61 submachine guns and even an AT-4 to the fight. While the Survival Game Club ultimately comes out on top, they decide to spare the crab after a game of rock-paper-scissors (by choosing to let the crab win). Moments of kindness, though rare in Sabagebu!, are not unwelcome.
- The Sabagebu! finale strangely brings to mind the current Ebola outbreak, turning an epidemic into a comedic matter. Elsewhere, an action such as this would be considered to have been done with poor taste, but this was probably unintentional. In Sabagebu!, Momoka develops an illness from a mysterious virus and is pursued by government containment forces, which turns out to be the National Survival Game club.
- Despite her tendencies, Miou, Urara, Kayo and Maya decide to stick it out with Momoka; even though Momoka’s personality is vile and she isn’t all that friendly, the Survival Games club views her as a friend for keeping things interesting, and fight to the last individual. As the battle progresses, the Survival Game club and its reinforcements are eventually overpowered, but a ceasefire is declared after the National Survival Games club’s head learns that overnight, a cure was developed, and the virus was not an airborne pathogen, leaving everyone in shock.
- Even though it was late summer when Sabagebu! finished, the anime decides to, for no good reason (as alluded to by the narrator), take things to Christmas. Urara’s birthday happens to fall on the same day and thus, usually remains uncelebrated. After deciding on what to do for her birthday (and experiencing several hilarious screw-ups in the process), the club finally settles on the best gift: Momoka. Her ultimate fate seems befitting as an ending, and what exactly happens to her will remain an exercise for the imagination. Justice is balance; following all of the stuff Momoka subjects everyone to, one may consider them even. Up next is a talk on Glasslip, and Wolfire’s Reciever.
Any talk about Sabagebu! cannot ignore the overwhelming presence of over-the-top, often macabre comedy that is present in the anime. Consisting of a number of shorts, each segment has limited continuity with the others, and although some things do carry over (most memorably, Lemon and Momoka’s weight-gain, for the most part, the things that happen (whether it be alien survival game participants, the downed helicopters from a botched attempt to save Urara from the edge of the school, or the Survival Game Club’s effort to gain hunting licenses to save a village) tend to stay within the episode. Sabagebu! follows Fry’s paradigm about good television: “at the end of the episode, everything is always right back to normal”. In doing so, the sheer ridiculousness of each moment drives home the fact that, yes, Sabagebu! is meant to entertain and that having a logical flow is by no means necessary or sufficient for an anime to bring a smile to the viewers.