Since Yurikuma Arashi is one of my favorite yuri anime and Kunihiko Ikuhara is one of my favorite directors, I had to watch Sarazanmai when I heard about it. Needless to say, I loved all of its surrealism, quirkiness, and… gayness.
Ambiguous and metaphor-laced anime series always inspire me to write, forcing me to stretch the outer edges of my imagination. And while I could talk about all of the show’s imagery and double meanings, I found myself focusing on something else while watching it: one of its main theme.
Throughout its 11 episodes, Sarazanmai’s characters repeatedly ask the question “Desire or love?” At first, this theme had me perplexed. I wasn’t quite sure what it was trying to convey. Then, it hit me… Buddhism! I don’t talk about it much on here, but I am very interesting in different religious theologies, especially Buddhism.
Author’s Note: This piece is not religious in nature. I am just reflecting on a Buddhist concept I’ve studied about. Also, beware of many spoilers!
In my interpretation, the idea of “desire vs. love” relates back to a famous Buddhist philosophy. In Buddhism, there are Four Noble Truths that are meant to help you achieve enlightenment and reach Nirvana. In particular, Sarazanmai’s theme reminded me of the Second Noble Truth. There are different variations, but the version I learned about first is:
“The root of suffering is attachment.”
Before I go any further, I want to explain something. This Noble Truth isn’t saying you can’t have any attachments. Instead, you should be pragmatic about the attachments you hold on to (more about this later).
In some versions of the Second Noble Truth, “attachment” is translated as “ignorance” or “aversion.” But since “attachment” is the one I’m most familiar with and it relates the most to Sarazanmai, I’m going to focus on this term.
I personally likened “attachment” to the series’ constant theme of connecting and love. Basically, attachment = connections = love (whether platonic or romantic). They’re one in the same in my mind. Also, when I think of “enlightenment,” I imagine general happiness, not Buddha-level Nirvana.
How The Two Concepts Relate
All of the show’s main characters, even side characters, have someone they want to connect to. Kazuki wants to connect to his little brother, Haruka, who got in an accident; Enta wants to connect with Kazuki because he has romantic feelings for him; and Toi wants to connect to his older brother, Kuji, because he saved their parents’ restaurant. Then, there’s Reo who wants to connect with Mabu.
However, these connections create problems. Kazuki feels guilty about Haruka’s accident, believing he’s the one who caused it. Enta gets frustrated and jealous because his romantic feelings are unrequited. Toi looks up to his brother, but, in reality, Kuji influences Toi to lead a life of crime. As for Reo, he wants the “real” Mabu back, but his connection to the old Mabu is causing him despair. Therefore, these attachments cause suffering.
This is where the Second Noble Truth comes in. Toi is probably the best example. He needs to choose between his attachment to his brother and his desire to be a normal kid. And it goes the other way around. Toi also needs to choose between his attachment to his friends and his desire to help his brother who he feels indebted to. No matter how you look at it, his attachments are causing him emotional pain.
While they’re not exactly the same, the Second Noble Truth and the theme of “desire vs. love” are related. Should Toi choose between his connections (love) or his desires? Between his attachments or his happiness? Do you see how the two concepts are connected? Pun intended lol 😛
However, this doesn’t affect just Toi or the other characters. It’s a universal struggle that can be applied to almost any situation in and outside of anime. For example, I have a desire to move to Japan, but my love (attachment) for my fiance, family, and friends is preventing me from going. In other words, I’m choosing my connections over my desire because they make me happy. But I’m also sad because I can’t go to Japan. I reallllly wanna go ;-;
Anyway, these two theories don’t just apply to relationships with people. A longing for power, money, better looks, or pretty much anything can cause suffering if it’s not satisfied.
So… Second Noble Truth ≈ Desire Vs. Love.
The Dubious Nature of Desires
Desires are not simple. They don’t always causes problems, and they aren’t always bad. Desire and love go hand in hand. This, in my opinion, is what Sarazanmai is grappling with: how do you choose between the two?
Desire and love feed off of each other. If you have a lover, you might have a desire to hold their hand, kiss them, etc. When this wish is fulfilled, you’ll feel more connected to your lover.
Other times, desires with good intentions (like joining the army or something) can hurt one of your connections. Finally, some desires can be damaging, like wanting to hurt someone who broke your heart.
There are countless possibilities for how love and desires play off of each other, and how connections can create both solutions and issues.
This is where Sarazanmai’s circle metaphor comes in. Desires, love, and attachments are all connected. They say a circle never ends. And in the same way, the cycle of love, desire, and despair is endless.
Your desires are what motivate you to perform certain actions, whether good or bad. If you’re hungry, you go to the store for a snack. If you’re mad, you might want to punch someone. Toi wanted to be with his brother, so he threw away his micanga. But this action is also what connected him to Kazuki and Enta.
Having no desires means having no connections and vice versa… In the end, nothing would be accomplished. Which is why people disappeared once their shirikodama was destroyed and their desire/connections were lost.
Should You Give Up Every Desire and Attachment?
No. Having desires and creating attachments is inevitable. It’s human nature. As I said earlier, the Second Noble Truth isn’t saying you need to give up all attachments. Giving up your connections for the sake of giving them up doesn’t make sense, especially when certain ones give you joy. What it’s implying is that you need to dispose of the problematic ones, or ones that can become obsessive or harmful.
Once again, Toi shall be our example. His connection/love for his brother was poisonous. Kuji was a criminal, a murderer, and a negative influence on Toi. If he had stayed with his brother, Toi may have been stuck running from the law the rest of his life.
When their connection was severed, Toi was able to move toward a happier, healthier life. AND he was able to create positive connections with Kazuki and Enta that made him smile. At the same time, his desire to belong was satisfied. I don’t think Buddha would look down on their friendship ;D
The Final Message of Sarazanmai
Although it’s good guidance, the Second Noble Truth is a little vague. What attachments or connections should you keep? Are all desires or attachments bad? What desires will help you obtain happiness? While still slightly cryptic, Sarazanmai’s final message is a bit more straight forward.
“Hope and despair are both one with life. Never forget that only those who connect their desires through the pain of loss can take the future in their hands.”
To me, this means you don’t need to strictly separate all of your opposing desires and connections. Instead, you need to make compromises. Even if your positive attachments occasionally cause pain (like having a fight with a friend), you’ll have a stronger connection and a better future once you work through it.
For example, maybe one day we’ll make a compromise where both me and my fiance both go to Japan – in that case, I would be fulfilling both my desire and keeping my attachment, or”connecting my desires.” That’d be a dream come true.
This is why Mabu says to never give up your (good) desires. They make you who you are and help you obtain happiness. While I’m not sure if Ikuhara was specifically referring to Buddhism or the Second Noble Truth, Sarazanmai’s underlying message seems to agree, critique, and build on this concept all at the same time.
Desires can be both a good and bad thing; it’s your choice to pick the best ones. In doing so, you may make connections or attachments that make you truly happy, even if there are some hurdles along the way. Just make sure those desires don’t get out of control and cause you – or others – pain. Watch out for those Otters!
The positive connections that the characters make in Sarazanmai keep them satisfied, give them a place to belong, and a reason to be. It’s a concept that, I believe, many people can relate to. Have you ever had to choose between desire and love? Or, have you ever needed to give up an attachment to become happier?
This theme is one of the – many – reasons Sarazanmai is such a great anime.
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8 thoughts on “Sarazanmai: Desire, Love, Circles, and Buddhism. My Analysis and Personal Interpretation”
As a practising Buddhist, I’m very much intrigued by the themes you’ve pointed out. In India, in its purest form, the Second Noble Truth is pretty much about wanting or having attachments (as you’ve mentioned) that causes pain and suffering, and that does extend to relationships and things that intangible like that. Having complete detachment from wants of all kinds is what can lead to an utterly painless existence. The teachings have evolved quite a bit since it’s creation, but it’s always neat to see the various interpretations across different mediums and time periods.
Sorry for the late reply! I was somehow not aware you were a practicing Buddhist, so it makes me extra happy that you enjoyed the post ^_^ And yes, I really liked this interpretation of the Second Noble Truth.
Wow, just wow. I’ve been heavily researching Japanese culture for the last few months, specifically Buddhism vs Shinto influence on modern Japanese culture, so the timing of this blog post couldn’t be better. I plan to comment more thoroughly soon…I’m bogged down with some other projects at the moment, but definitely enjoyed reading this and am looking forward possibly to discussing this topic with you!
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I am sorry for the late reply. I was bogged down with a lot of stuff myself.
Thank you very much for the compliments :3 And yes, that would be something fun to discuss!
It’s very deeply anime review article, maybe i should to watch this sarazanmai.
Sarazanma is undeniably one of the most unique and dramatic anime of 2019 touching so many intense issues. It may look bizarre at some points but it was definitely able to deliver the drama with great storytelling.