SukaSuka: The good Sadness

I’m not a person who enjoys tearjerkers and drama. I like to laugh with my cast and watch them grow, I don’t like watching them wither and suffer, and especially don’t like watching them die. Because of this I’ve developed a very honed instinct on investigating new media for detecting potential sadness bombs.

Yet here I am, still watching a show that set the alarm bells raging. Why?

 

Shūmatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka?, or more conveniently SukaSuka, is an anime based on a fantasy novel series. The setting consists of a world of flying islands populated by non-humans such as beast races, cyclops, goblins, trolls and more. It’s an initially welcoming and disarmingly bright place full of magical golems, fantasy technology like airships, and a wonderful depth of detail in little things like culture and visuals. It’s very reminiscent of the charming DS game Solatorobo I’m a big fan of, so I was pretty easily won over. However all is not well in the sky- monsters from the abandoned surface invade the islands and the only thing standing in their way are a group of human-seeming little girls who are bred to fight them.

Now, unlike other shows with similar setups (people with special powers created to fight a great enemy and juggle their duty with their innate humanity), SukaSuka commits in a very raw and emotion-tugging way. These girls aren’t the heroines of your average anime: They’re inhuman in thought. Pain doesn’t phase them, the concept of death is something they barely recognize, and they have tenuous grasps on their own sense of identity. So far in the series when one of their number succumbed to the strange mental “death” that was afflicting her, the other girls considered her not dead but “broken”. The girls ultimately provoke pity and discomfort when the inhuman aspects of their natures are brought forth, but that’s not to say they’re merely robots. The show also presents them as tragically human in many ways, full of joy, curiosity, love, jealousy, anger and frustration. This is especially true of main female lead Ctholly, whose struggle over the course of the show so far has been a visceral and shocking one.

Naturally this doesn’t sound pleasant, but SukaSuka is pretty great at making you stay. The protagonist, Willem, is a survivor from the lost surface world, but he’s not some righteous type with a saviour complex like other shows would have. Willem is quiet on the subject, he’s aware that interfering with the girls and their deployments would just lead to more bloodshed. A man with prior experience of losing loved ones, his goal in the show feels small: Live with the girls, and be there for them when they get back from their missions. It’s a brutal life of separation, but because it’s not some world-protecting battle you can almost believe Willem will do it. He’s very heavily-affected by the unnatural nature of the girls and you can feel the emotion within his words and actions as he nurses and holds his compassion, applying it where he is able. For a male character to feel so soft and nurturing is a lovely, refreshing thing to see, and SukaSuka’s well-honed script, setting and dialogue sell it really well.

So I find myself still here. Each new episode has been a gentle or fearsome yank at the heartstrings, but by mixing levity and a feeling of fantasy with a powerful sense of drama I’ve been drawn onwards, even as the show repeatedly increases the death flag’s height above the show’s little castle. I want to see more of this world, even if in the end it does punch me in the gut and knock me for six. I trust the writing I’ve seen as I’ve watched with trepidation, I trust that it will lead me in some form to the small happiness Willem wants to protect.

And lastly I’ll say using Scarborough Fair for the first episode’s opening was a stroke of creative genius that set the mood more than any made-for-the-show insert song ever could.

 

So yeah, SukaSuka so far has kept me locked in. I mean, I’ll drop it if it all goes south next week, but I say that every week. Thanks for reading!

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