The sketch-based presentation of Handyman Saitō in Another World has been distinguishing enough as a funny feature, but in this week’s episode, another aspect of its deployment becomes apparent. Flipping between all these characters before bringing them together into this current united labyrinth plot has culminated in a crystalized idea: Everyone here has their own story. And now, with the revelation that Morlock’s spotty memory was in fact dramatically plot-relevant and an explanation of what antagonistic ninja Kisurugi has really been after, we come away understanding that those cutaway sketches can’t always be funny little skits, and that Handyman Saitō isn’t always going to be a comedy.
It’s a bold move for a series five episodes in, one whose appeal was previously predicated on the sheer density of comic material afforded by its format. In contrast, this episode is pretty well devoid of jokes, which doesn’t even become clear until we’re partway through the first flashback. Handyman Saitō‘s dry delivery thus far had primed me to assume that the long leadup to Kisurugi seeking out his witchy paramour in her basement bed area was going to culminate in some sort of anticlimactic punchline. So the revelation of a sob story involving anti-aging curses and ironic true-love age inductions turned out to be even more of a subversive swerve than any cheap capstone gag could have been.
It’s an important turn, anyway, when you remember that this group of characters—Kisurugi, his demon pals, the witch, and her fairy friend—were all previously set up through a single skit about shadow-magic smooch-stealing. And those few minutes of irreverent establishing character content feeds into the more serious serialized motivations we follow for the party as they act as the ‘bad guys’ to the assembled efforts of Saitō and everyone else. Kisurugi and the demons’ loyalty to each other is genuine, as is the fairy Primasse’s devotion to the witch. They, like everyone else who’s come down into this labyrinth, have their own stories that led them here, and getting to see that, initially in goofy skit form and now here in more conventionally dramatic flashback, sell these comic characters as more three-dimensional beings filling out this story.
Kisurugi and crew getting the majority of that kind of focus for this episode is indicative of how well the show thinks this approach might work, as well as the potential audience response to it. Yes, the possibility of such elements for the ‘main’ characters is teased in things like that earlier invocation of Morlock’s secret backstory (to be followed up on later, no doubt). Yet, suddenly trying to impart more concrete character context for the lovestruck shadow assassin can come off like Handyman Saitō testing the waters more than anything else. It’s a fair thing to try, and goes along with those ambitions I noted the show had previously. And it does give this episode a more distinct flavor that helps it feel like it’s not in danger of undercutting the ultimate climax of this big battle with some sort of cheap gag, which I might have expected from it a couple weeks earlier.
But then the question has to be: Does this drama, in this instance specifically, work? To me, the answer is: kinda. I like the genuine sentiment of the connections between all these people and creatures. There’s a knowing novelty to the way Kisurugi’s summoned Greater Demon assistants prove to be proper pals that he’d gladly take bullets for. But when the show is piling on details, seemingly just to fill out the runtime of the episode, things can trip a little too far into potential tragedy porn. Primasse indulging in weight gain to try to make herself less desirable to fairy captors? That’s an amusing backstory detail. Primasse begging Kisurugi to forcefully rip her wings off so she can unleash a spell to save her dying friend while she also remembers the time she was nearly subjected to traumatic inter-species rape? Maybe a bit much coming from the funny handyman isekai show.
I can appreciate Handyman Saitō‘s interest in always trying things. For earnest ambition, this episode gets an A for effort. And it even looks pretty good for this series, particularly in the bit where Morlock’s massive, colorful magic effects contrast nicely with the show’s usual more drab palette. But as interesting an experiment as it is, I don’t know that I’d want the show to fully tilt into this type of storytelling for the rest of its run. You can sell that “Everyone has a story” idea off the back of the interconnected sketches without trying too hard to get us to take it seriously. With this arc and that handling of it looking to continue directly into next week’s episode, I hope the series takes that search for a middle ground to heart.
Handyman Saitō in Another World is currently streaming on
Chris is a freewheeling Fresno-based freelancer with a love for anime and a shelf full of too many Transformers. He can be found spending way too much time on his Twitter, and irregularly updating his blog.
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