Diving into an introvert's Saiki
The intricacies of popularity really do mystify me.
Sometimes, I have even been irked by how nature operates: so many quality pieces of content have all flown under the radar, failing to garner the praise and fame that I felt they absolutely deserved. Be it an underrated TV show or a fantastic underground artist, I’m at a loss to understand how the truly good things in life get shunned to the extent they are.
If The Disastrous Life of Saiki K (SK from here on out) isn’t the prime instance of this shunning, then I don’t know what is.
Apparently, most of this lack of popularity is wholly the show’s doing: despite being a shounen manga, SK was never given the push it deserved as an anime.
During its initial two season run in Japan, it did not get a full show of its own, instead being presented in four minute slots in between other ‘more worthy’ shows. Another blow to its propagation in the West was the fact that it was a Funimation website exclusive for a long, long time.
All of this culminated in SK being completely underground within and outside Japan, getting by largely on word of mouth before being added to Netflix.
Which is a damn shame.
I have never seen such a niche anime having such a dedicated, supportive fan base, and definitely not one that has completely deserved said fanbase.
To me, SK is the epitome of sheer irreverence in anime: it is nothing if not a tour de force of comedic genius and subtle, done-just-right fourth-wall breaks.
The central role of this show is entrusted to one Kusuo Saiki, a psychic who simply wants to live his best life privately (reminds me of Yoshikage Kira from JoJo, but that man was just a psycho.)
However, he isn't like protagonists from other shows, who want to keep their identities secret, but are then forced to heroically reveal them as they save the world. No, this lad is hell-bent on wanting to be left alone, almost to the point where he is quite ready to go back in time multiple times to make sure he changes history and avoid an exposé from a classmate.
Yes, this actually happens in one episode.
The show explores Saiki's dynamic in an interesting way. It's almost like he is One Punch Man, but more...snarky. For one, we are slowly introduced to the full extent of his powers and come to realise that he is his world's power ceiling, the be all and end all, the strongest there ever could be. Yet, the difficult spots that he finds himself, followed by creative utilization of these abilities to escape them ensures that SK almost never feels like a drag.
Then we get to the supporting cast. This is the best supporting cast I've seen in an anime that is so developed over such a relatively short runtime. Not one of the best, the best. I'm in awe of Shuichi Aso's skills as a world builder. For heaven's sake, this is a gag manga, and yet has a better plot than most shounen publications that I've seen.
All of the characters, from perfect girl Kokomi Teruhasi (an idol in the most literal sense) to school clowns Riki Nendo, Shun Kaido and reformed thug Kubayasu Aren, they all have this unique identity that is explored in such a way that you are left with an indelible bond with most of them by the conclusion. Yes, even despicable snob Saiko Metori grows on you just a little.
What I liked most about this show, however, was its vehemence in ensuring no anime trope escaped its parody. From the cliched love triangle (Saiki - Teruhashi - Fellow Psychic Aiura Mikoto) to the even more cliched pervert seance Reita Toritsuka, SK does not fail to poke fun at everything, even itself.
After all, it is a shounen anime at the end of the day and is thus prone to some banality too. However, the ungodly amount of self-awareness shows while navigating these platitudes more than negates them.
We all knew was going to happen in the end - Saiki finally awakens to his emotional aspects, truly realizing the value of friends and family, yet his journey to reach that conclusion had some highly non-linear, thoroughly enjoyable elements.
Yes, Saiki K isn't perfect by any means. There are instances where I'm not exactly sure where the character dynamics are heading. One such relationship is shared with his parents. Kuniharu Saiki's diffidence and bootlicking (in every sense) personality was actually a big draw for me early on as it was the perfect foil to his neurotic wife Kurumi and indifferent sons Kusuke and Kusuo.
However, his later stories felt a teensy dragged out as they did little more than emphasise this very facet of overt dependence over and over again. His dynamic with prodigious son Kusuke, however, was neatly developed in contrast.
Another gripe that I have is specifically with Netflix's third season adaptation. The first five episodes were all over the place with regards to the story arcs shown previously. While they do manage to remedy this somewhat with the finale, Netflix managed to mess up the chronology more than Saiki did with his time-hopping shenanigans. And that's saying a lot.
All in all, I have made the cardinal sin of watching these three seasons at once.
Why? Because now I'm filled with enormous sadness as the show might be done for good, having completely adapted the manga.
What a pity. I was looking forward to rekindling once more that innate feeling of nostalgic goodness that only a fantastically made slice-of-life anime can.
Treasure what you have people. Treasure what you have.
Decent Nine. Excellent plot points are constantly introduced into the show, they make for a convincing means to move the story forward. The overall narrative isn't stand out but is quite alright for a gag anime.
(Japanese) Decent Nine. Excellent performances from all of the cast, not just the lead roles. Saiki (Hiroshi Kamiya) and Shun Kaido (Nobunaga Shimazaki) were freaking fantastic.
(English Dub) Eight. The first season's dub was very, very competently done, the Netflix one not quite. Would have loved to see season two dubbed as well, but I suppose that is no longer within the realm of possibility.
Ten. They were the life and soul of this show. The sharp humour that is ever present in the stories never felt out of place simply because these fellers and gals were perfectly suited for it. Absolutely brilliant.
Light Eight. There weren't any particularly good motifs in the production, quite generic. That is not including the character designs, of course, which were fantastically unique for the males. Female characters were looking tried and tested but then entered Aiura Mikoto with her beautiful, highly underrepresented Gyaru aesthetic.
Light Seven. It isn't like there was no effort put into the production; quite the contrary. However, I just feel like technical aspects were like key frames weren't given as much of a priority as they should have, leaving the animation coming off as ramshackle on more than a few occasions.
Nine. Yes, the OPs are good, but the theme suites for almost all characters hold their own as well. Especially Shun Kaido's fantastic theme - Judgement Knights of Thundeeeer. Psychic Lover knock it out of the park with the production.
Overall Weighted Score: 9.06
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K is a fantastic representation of a parody show that is subtle yet confrontational about the tropes that it derides. While being let down by a lack of budget and some corporate mess ups, it isn't hard at all to see why the show is so loved by its fans. That includes me, by the way.
Binge-worthy? Well no, but only because there simply aren't enough episodes of this wonderful show to satiate your appetite. So... yes?