Pro tip: do not binge The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. Especially not over a mere five day period. Another pro tip: do not watch it in airing order. Watch the ‘Finale’ special AFTER the first five Reawakening episodes, and then watch the final episode of Reawakening. Final pro tip: the dub is excellent, but AVOID IT!
As for the review, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K is great. Go ahead and watch it.
End of review.
Wait, I’m supposed to write more?? Yare yare. What a pain. Alright then, let’s dive in.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K is essentially the extended monologue of an extremely powerful and perpetually uninterested psychic (the titular Saiki K) as he attempts to live a normal life surrounded by extremely abnormal people (himself included), who all combine to cause him a great deal of stress and hassles. All he wants is to be able to eat his beloved coffee jelly in peace. But no. Disaster is always lurking around the corner, waiting to happen and mess up a perfectly good day.
If this premise sounds very familiar, then you’ve probably watched One Punch Man. It is true that both feature a comically overpowered protagonist with a bored face. But where Saitama lives an ordinary life and wants to become a ‘hero for fun’ to break the monotony, Saiki is the opposite. He lives a chaotic life and could care less about having ‘fun’: peace and quiet is all he needs. Where Saitama’s problem is the mundanity of what is supposed to be exciting in his life (superhero battles), Saiki’s problem is that his ‘ordinary’ life has a little too much excitement and uncertainties thrown in. They’re total opposites.
My first impression of Saiki K was not a great one. I am typically very wary of anime whose characters have overly bright and colourful hair. The cover, with Saiki’s pink hair and lollipop antennae, didn’t strike me as too appealing. But that quickly changed as the comedy began.
Firstly, a word on Saiki’s abilities. You wouldn’t expect such well thought out abilities and ability rules in an ‘overpowered protagonist’ story. Saiki’s powers have believable limits and shortcomings. For instance, the ‘apport’ ability, which allows Saiki to exchange one object with another. Wow, that’s very useful! But wait! This ability is restrictive: you can only exchange items of equal value. Now that’s not so useful anymore, is it? But hold on! It doesn’t have to be exactly equal: up to 10% difference is tolerated. That makes sense; it’s oddly believable, even. More thought went into these than was necessary.
Then we have the characters. The first few episodes are devoted to setting up Saiki’s world and introducing us to its characters. Each character parodies your typical manga stereotypes in some way. You have the idiot (Nendo), the chunibyo (Kaido), the school idol (Teruhashi), the hot-blooded jock (Hairo), the perv (Reita), the delinquent (Kuboyasu), the shojo protagonist (Yumehara), the tsundere (Saiki’s grandpa), and so on.
These characters are done perfectly. They are like extreme versions of these stereotypes, but designed in a way to produce hilarious scenarios. Nendo is SO dumb that he’s the only person whose mind Saiki can’t read. Because there's nothing in his mind. Perfect. Due to this, he shows up at times and in places Saiki least expects him. This running gag killed me each time it happened. Just when you think, “no, no way Nendo is going to show up now”, he does. Teruhashi is so beautiful and perfect that she is always bathed in a golden aura and surrounded by drooling men (saying “offu!”). Her attempts to get Saiki — the one guy who ignores her — to notice her are hilarious. Despite his best attempts, Teruhashi just has godlike luck when it comes to Saiki. He simply can’t get away. I loved all their interactions.
The voice acting is great, especially for Saiki, Nendo, Kaido, Teruhashi, and Saiki’s mom (just love her dreamy falsetto voice). I just love how the voice acting seems to be on 1.5x speed at all times, especially when Teruhashi talks. Makes it extra funny. The pacing of episodes also plays into this: each episode is actually a collection of five minisodes. Keeps things sharp and snappy. The meta humour and fourth wall breaking is never overdone to a self-indulgent point, but shows up at just the right time to make you laugh.
The best comedy stems from Saiki’s deadpan internal monologue. That’s right, internal: he never actually speaks, because why waste energy on that when you can just project your thoughts to other people and make it seem like you’re speaking? He doesn’t exactly say or do anything funny, mind you. It’s the way he reacts to all the dumb stuff happening around him; it’s perfect, just the ideal combination of sarcasm and disinterest. They could’ve easily made him a mean old snarker, but the humour never slips into meanness.
These ‘overpowered protagonist’ stories typically have a couple of faults though. One is a complete lack of tension. When you know the protagonist is never going to lose, there’s no real tension anywhere. Takes the ‘punch’ (pun intended) out of every scene. The other is a monotonous, one-note protagonist. They have their one shtick, their one joke, and that’s it. One Punch Man suffers from both of these problems, to an extent. Does Saiki K fare better?
Yes and no.
Saiki K nails the latter part. Every now and then, Saiki breaks character. He stops being an invincible sarcastic guy, and does or says something flawed. Something normal. Sometimes it’s because he genuinely feels like being nice to someone, or cares for someone. Other times it’s because of the involvement of his weakness: desserts (especially coffee jelly). Occasionally, it's due to his fear of cockroaches (a trait he shares with both his author Shuichi Aso and myself). He doesn’t do this too often — that would ruin the effect and hamper the comedy elsewhere — but just enough to keep things from going stale.
The tension is more of a mixed bag. Nendo’s literal empty-headedness and Teruhashi’s divine luck are the biggest sources of tension, albeit in a comedic way. When these characters are involved, you get a feeling that things might not go Saiki’s way. The other way the writer tries to introduce tension is through an overarching plot, of sorts, that starts to emerge in season 2. This falls rather flat, especially in the ‘finale’. These episodes truly lack tension; ironic, since they were meant to create tension. Moreover, the comedy takes a bit of a dip in these episodes. Not great.
Being the kind of anime it is, however, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K does not need an overarching plot at all. The episodic mini arcs are just great. Again, seriously, DO NOT BINGE. It is meant to be enjoyed whenever you feel like and in small doses. Like coffee jelly.
Art: B. The character designs are distinctive, and the colours are equally eye-catching, but that’s where the positives end. This is clearly a low-budget anime. Expect to see a low level of detail and plenty of off-model characters. Reawakening, produced on a Netflix budget, has noticeably sharper art.
Animation: C+. Barely any animation to speak of. Again, low budget.
Music: B. A mixed bag. I LOVE the character themes that play whenever they appear; Kaido's 'Judgment Knights of Thunder' and Kuboyasu's nostalgia flashback theme always get a chuckle out of me. On the flip side, several OPs and EDs are out of place, being too generic and pleasant-sounding to belong in a gag anime (I said this in my Hinamatsuri review too). Other OPs and EDs at least try to be fun, but none are memorable.
Voice acting (Japanese): A+. The ever-impressive Hiroshi Kamiya (Araragi from Monogatari, Levi from Attack on Titan) nails Saiki’s deadpan snark. His intonation and delivery are perfect. Impressive voice acting across the board, on a sharp script. The sped up delivery is hilarious. As with Hinamatsuri, characters talk over each other frequently. The acting is easily the strongest point of the series.
Voice acting (English): No rating. This is a truly bizarre situation that needs to be addressed. The dub for season 1 is one of the best I’ve seen. I’ve always been a fan of Jerry Jewell, for how he can inject so much personality into the characters he voices, and it’s no different here. His dry delivery is perfect for Saiki. The translators did an great job of translating all the jokes. You won’t miss out on anything by not watching in Japanese. Such a dub deserves nothing less than an A+. So what goes wrong. Well, season 2 isn’t dubbed. For some reason. Well, they’ll dub it eventually right? But instead the most recent entry, Reawakened, has been dubbed...by a completely different cast. What's with Netflix and redubbing? It's Evangelion all over again. A complete mess. Just stick to the Japanese.
Story: A. The world’s most powerful psychic attempts to live an ordinary life, to disastrous effect. Excellent pacing (after a slightly slow start) and absurd scenarios. However, the attempt at a ‘serious plot’ is feeble, and the series could’ve done without it.
Characters: A+. Each character has their own quirk, exaggerated to infinity for hilarious effect. A great and varied cast. Saiki himself is the perfect example of the ‘overpowered protagonist’ done right.
At no point did I find The Disastrous Life of Saiki K to be a slog to watch. Great fun from start to finish. One of the best gag comedy anime ever.