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ART, ANIME, AND JAPANESE CULTURE
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KARAKURIZOUSHI  AYATSURI   SAKON  (Doll Puppeteer Sakon)
Reviewed in April, 2001 by Mark Vallen, Jeannine Thorpe, and John Lentini . Screen shots generously provided by John Lentini.

(Comments by Jeannine Thorpe) I knew nothing about this series when I first saw it, so I was most pleasantly surprised. I was expecting another Rurouni Kenshin, judging by the costumes and character design. Instead, I was presented with a wonderful mystery series so rich in Japanese cultural traditions, that I was left breathless with almost every frame! The main character, Sakon, is one of a long line of bunraku performers, a kind of traditional Japanese theatre using large, perfectly detailed puppets. But unlike most bunraku puppeteers, Sakon also spends his free time as an amateur sleuth, with his outspoken red-haired puppet, Ukon, always at his side! In the first arc of the series, Sakon is called out to an abandoned schoolhouse after former members of the puppeteering club are all threatened that they must return together to the school, or else!

Although the mysteries that are crucial to the stories are certainly riveting, what truly captures my attention about this show is the concept itself of having a bunraku puppet as a lead character. Ukon is so animated and has so much personality, that it is often nearly impossible to believe that he is not really sentient. While Sakon is always quiet and reserved, Ukon is the exact opposite, filling the room with his presence. To be perfectly honest, I really wasn't 100% sure that Ukon was a puppet until I noticed his jointed fingers! I have been told that their names traditionally refer to right (Ukon) and left (Sakon), such as in political parties or in art (right or left side of a canvas). This further illustrates the point that Sakon and Ukon are two sides of one personality. This is truly an unusual series, one that cannot be seperated from its traditional Japanese roots. The entire series has a dark and meloncholy feel, a combination of the violent mysteries that Sakon has to solve, and the rich Japanese imagery itself. The screenshot above of Ukon at rest while snow melts down the windowpane, is a perfect example of this.

(Comments by Mark Vallen) When I think of Japanese animation what comes to mind first are the attributes that make it different from animation in the United States, and Doll Puppeteer Sakon offers plenty of those differences. As Jeannine noted in her review, Sakon is full of Japanese culture references... but what impressed me the most was the dramatic seriousness of the show. The series almost plays like a live action drama, and the first two episodes were devoid of comic relief or other distractions. Sakon is first and foremost a crime/detective series, and every effort is made to present a storyline engaging enough to interest the most sophisticated of viewers.

A case in point... I have a Japanese friend who happens to be a professor of philosophy. We viewed Sakon together and he was completely enthralled by the mystery presented in the first two episodes. In fact, he was so impressed that he requested to see more of the series! Sakon is a dark and brooding detective series that is at times violent and downright scary, which is to say, it's not for kiddies. However, if you are a fan of the mystery/detective genre then this remarkable series is right up your alley.
Sakon has none of the cuteness of that other crime/detective anime... Detective Conan, but it shouldn't be viewed as the stuffy and overwrought realm of intellectuals either. Sakon is great fun, in the same way that any good crime/detective novel can be fun. The animation is at times breathtaking, particularly the opening and closing sequences... so even if you're not an aficionado of detective stories, you'll appreciate the wonderful animation style and insights into Japanese culture. This anime has not enjoyed a commercial release in the West, in fact, the reviews on this page are based solely on untranslated Japanese video tapes. I would urge... no, beg, fansubbers to pick this series up as a translation project. Doll Puppeteer Sakon deserves to be seen by anime fans outside of Japan.

(Comments by John Lentini) The first 15 minutes of episode one are fantastic for those who want to see Japanese culture at it's best. There is plenty of eye candy to go around while they set up this intriguing detective story. Fans of Detective Conan should take note, because you really get to use your head in this anime series. For those looking for a couple of good seiyuu with your mystery, Ayatsuri Sakon has that as well. Bishounen fans, pay attention to the main character, Tachibana Sakon, voiced by Ogata Megumi, who has had many great roles including Ikari Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Tsukishiro Yukito from Card Captor Sakura. Not to be out done, Kumai Motoko gives a very lively voice to the puppet Ukon. Kumai Motoko was also in Card Captor Sakura as Li Shaoran, but don't worry there's no magical cards in this series... just magical story telling. Karakurizoushi Ayatsuri Sakon may appear slow at first with a ton of dialog, but don't worry. There will be plenty of good plot lines and fantastic Art work to go around, so enjoy this one while you try to figure out the truth to the mystery.

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