Whenever you transfer into a new school, it’s a tough experience. Especially when you’ve done it practically a thousand times in your short life. You find it hard to make friends and keep them as you’re travelling around; it’s an emotional and mental challenge in which to survive. You either just ignore the situation and become a social recluse or you choose to buck the system and act like a total jerk because it won’t matter as you’ll probably be transferring again soon; just like the protagonist of Sabagebu. She and the show throw shoujo convention out of the window in a storm of bullets and shrapnel!
On the surface, Momoka is a sweet and kindly girl who is timid, wishes to make friends and in general wants to be a nice girl; on the surface. Deep inside her psyche though, she is a vengeful and manipulative psycho who only pretends to be nice to make things easier for herself in life. In her mind she is longing to let out her real persona and terrorise the student body; not before she kicks a guy’s ass for trying to grope her on a train. She is assisted by a mysterious gun-wielding girl named Miou, who turns out to be the president of their school’s Survival Game Club. Miou immediately takes an interest in Momoka and manages to persuade her [through some rather underhanded means such as drugging and ironic manipulation] to join the club and let out her inner demons. The rest of the story is quite simple really. Momoka learns how to use guns and discover that she’s really good at shooting people; with BB pellets mind you, although the imagination of the club members fills in the blood for you to add to their mental fantasises. All this is chronicled in three minisodes per episode, about seven minutes each. It’s a short, sharp hit to your gut and leaves you reeling with a fit of the giggles…most of the time.
From the getgo, Sabagebu wishes to tear the rule book of both shoujo manga and anime. Gone is the sweet transfer student and in its stead is a twisted, evil bully coated with a sweet exterior. You could immediately think that there’s no hope for Momoka based on that initial premise and that you should hate her; but she’s actually a good person once you get to know her circumstances. She’s actually quite smart and knows the stereotypes rife in schools [especially shoujo schools] and chooses to stand up loud and proud and shout “NOPE” to convention. Miou and the Survival Game Club admire this and quickly persuade her to join them in their comedic fascination with armaments peppered with a vivid imagination. Mental blood flows all over the place when the girls choose to practice and the one who is usually dishing it out is the new recruit. The outlet is potentially the best thing for Momoka as it allows her to freely express herself and by the end of the first episode, her true nature is free to torment the girls who had previously bullied her using traditional female drama techniques of psychological warfare. Seeing these bully tactics backfire in the extreme was so satisfying with the added benefit of seeing Momoka and Miou as strong and confident women which was so pleasing to see. They know what’s going on and revel in it. When you meet the other club members Maya, Urura, Kayo and their mascot platypus Platy [who could give Perry the Platypus a run for his money!] it’s clear that these girls are true blue friends whom enjoy sharing their insanely obsessive hobby to the point where they caress their BB guns as if they were lovers.
What makes me love this show so much is that it is totally self-aware. A narrator [who is also the shopkeep of the local gun shop where the club buys their gear and practices] orates numerous breakings of the fourth wall, fills in any gaps in the plot in a comedically cynical and apathetic manner [By the fourth episode, you can hear the exasperation in his voice when he has to repeat that the blood is in the girls’ minds] and generally comments on the show at large. His presence is yet another gem in the overall package of Sabagebu. Not to say the characters are oblivious to their quirky personalities. They make references about each other all the time as well making the show more of a commentary about the state of shoujo slice of life shows and chooses to blow them out of the sky with a totally unusual premise. Another thing which is so entertaining is that there are tons of nods to Western action and war films and actors such as Chuck Norris, The Matrix and even The Terminator himself. It also answers the question that has plagued anime fans since Girls und Panzer hit the airwaves [and other shows featuring cute girls packing heat]- Can girls with guns be cute AND psychologically stable? REALLY? Sabagebu’s answer is a resounding NO…followed by a bullet to the head. It kind of makes the latter show feel more genuine than the former in that it’s more realistic. These girls are gun nuts; simple as. That’s not me making a sweeping generalisation or anything, they are shameless with how much they love their weapons. All this tied up in short, rapid-fire mini stories which mostly hit their target; of course there will be duds every now and again [there’s a minisode concerning weight gain on Momoka’s part which seems poorly handled, speaking as a guy who dealt with similar weight problems a while back]. Apart from that, this show is a riot.
Sabagebu is one of those shows that you simply have to see. I was sold after only a minute when I witnessed in admiration Momoka effectively giving the bird to tradition and carving her own path in the narrative. Not only that but it’s more accessible than most anime as most of its tropes and quirks are framed around Hollywood action movies and as such feels familiar to American audiences. I simply adore how the group get to know each other through their mutual desire for cordite [I especially found how Urara warms to Momoka hilarious – spoilers]. All these characters may seem like established models from past shows, but each has a sudden twist which makes all of them feel fresh or at the very least charming. I don’t know whether it’s because I watched the horrible Glasslip yesterday and find anything that isn’t that to be gold, but I genuinely feel good about Sabagebu and will definitely follow this through to the end!
Sabagebu is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
RATING: CONTINUE [A sure-fire success in deconstructing shoujo stereotypes with some kooky action thrown in.]
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