I hope you liked Handyman Saitou‘s turn towards the more serious last week, since the show doubles down on that for this week’s entry. It’s fair, I suppose, since suddenly shifting back to short-burst comedy while still midstream in this major story climax would probably come off even more dissonant than the initial switch itself. It is representative of the story trying to up its game, as it were, to make us really feel like there are stakes to latch onto as we witness this knock-down drag-out fight against this great, horrible eyeball beast summoned via the sacrifice of a party of demons and devils. That duo of healer and elf fighter who were just a joke about being weird perverts at the beginning? This episode opens with the elf being dramatically wounded, before her healer restores her and they share a moment of touching resolve together. That’s the kind of show Handyman Saitou is now.
If you’re down for that sort of shift, then I can’t accuse Handyman Saitou of half-assing its efforts to make it work. Just on a conceptual level, there’s a satisfying arc to seeing all the little parties who were previously in competition with each other in this labyrinth, now coming together, helping and jumping to one another’s defense, in union against this greater, out-of-control enemy. It’s the expanded version of Saitou’s olive branch extended to the likes of Monpui a couple episodes back. And the show revels in presenting it, whether it’s the clever use of the dramatic red filter over everything to obfuscate much of the CGI used on the monstrosity, or committing to the likes of the ol’ Dragon Ball Z smokescreen fake-out bit when the crew thinks they’ve gotten a hit in on the big bad. It is definitely neat to see that the mind behind this story, and the animation crew adapting it, had more to their presentational repertoire than just making silly jokes.
It’s the show’s efforts to tie all those elements even further back that I have more mixed feelings about. I actually do generally enjoy a good revelation of a bit joke as a truly integral implementation of backstory. So finding out that something as innocuous as the “dick mushroom” gag from several episodes back was not only the gateway to the last-ditch victory option for our heroes here, but also key to the whole idea of how Saitou wound up isekai’d in the first place, that’s a fun springboard to jump off of. Like the tunnel full of displaced isekai items that everyone’s pursuing in this story, it provides a nice corner of curiosity that can be followed up on, while still fitting with the overall offbeat tone of the setting.
However, I’m not sure the same can be said for the more in-depth sequence of revelations in this episode focused on Morlock. Obviously they’d set up for it previously, with the earlier allusion to his previous “Chrome” identity, and the need to dig into his past to access this episode’s pivotal time-magic spell in the first place. But similarly to the deployed tragic backstory for Kisurugi and friends last week, this one for Morlock is just a little too indulgent in its sadness compared to the show’s previous appeal. Yes, there’s some wry situational humor in finding out that Morlock used to be the fantasy-magic equivalent of one of those 80’s movie workaholic dads who had to eventually learn the true meaning of family. But that’s tempered pretty quickly when the wizard’s revelatory moment comes in the form of his adorable daughter dying of illness, and his family and life falling apart as a result. Again, all this was initiated by Saitou recalling that time Morlock deep-throated a mushroom.
Even on this odd, perhaps too dramatic turn for a series like Handyman Saitou, I’ll still give it credit for being able to make a salient point or two along the way. Morlock’s meeting with some sort of apparent isekai avatar does well illustrating the hard truth: That his quest to turn back time isn’t really about restoring his daughter or fixing his family, he just wants to make himself feel better. The turn to simply forgetting things as a solution instead makes for an effectively dramatic invocation of that understanding. Though again, it undercuts the show’s efforts in ways I’m not really crazy about. Making a running gag out of Morlock’s apparent senility did always ring as a bit insensitive, but to suddenly wheel around to recode it as a symbol of the hubris which cost him his home and happiness just seems even harsher. Can we really go back to gags about him forgetting he’s alive and running with zombies now that we know his affliction is the manifested curse of his guilt over his daughter’s death? I guess we’ll see.
Perhaps fittingly, these last few turns for Handyman Saitou reminds me of when any given long-running, comedic webcomic decides to try to experiment with more involved, serious storytelling. Sometimes it can work if the particular kind of past stories and situations have endeared you enough to the characters or concepts therein. But it’s a difficult needle to thread, and while the writing might really be solid enough to make the storytelling work in the moment, there’s always going to be that sense of the askew – like a newly-amnesiac Morlock realizing something feels ‘off’, but can’t quite recall what basic, yet incredibly important, key element he’s mentally misplaced.
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.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.