The Disastrous Life of Saiki K

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

The problem with comedies, especially gag anime, is that they tend to focus on a specific pun or joke based on their concept. And the longer that concept goes, the fewer ways you have to continue exploring the concept without it feeling old. 

But the best gag anime get around this issue by centering the concepts themselves around repetition, and therefore longevity. Kaguya-Sama still feels fresh after 24 episodes because its entire premise revolves around the stubbornness of its main characters and how little they are willing to change. This is also why The Disastrous Life of Saiki K manages to stay hilarious and sharp episode after episode, even if you’ve already seen some variant of the story before. 

Saiki may seem like an average teenager to the unsuspecting, except for the fact that he has pink hair and a pair of antennas sticking out of his head. But if you really, really pay attention, you may also realize Saiki has psychic abilities that make him more powerful than Jean Grey. Despite his incredibly powerful plethora of psychic abilities that would make him exceptionally popular in any other anime, Saiki desires nothing more than to be left alone — so of course he can’t help but become the center of attention via a variety of quirky characters. 

From there, Saiki K constantly subverts anime tropes and expectations, playing with the bizarre logic of the show’s world that seems perfectly normal (in spite of Saiki’s many powers) in order to present many, many hilarious antics and misadventures — all while perfectly capturing the desire to be left the hell alone. 

What Makes It Great

The thing you need to understand about Saiki is that he’s basically a god. The show gets a surprising amount of mileage out of introducing new powers for Saiki and showing just how big of an influence he is on the show’s universe. And this is connected to the way the show includes and makes fun of common anime tropes. You see, Saiki has an ability he calls “mass mind control,” which he’s used in the past to make himself become normal relative to the rest of the world. 

Because of his very noticeable pink hair in an otherwise predominantly black-haired country, Saiki basically brainwashes the entire planet to think it’s perfectly normal to have all sorts of hair color. The only downside is that his powers are so powerful Saiki altered people’s DNA and now blue and pink hair colors appear naturally. Likewise, something like anime characters’ incredibly strong resistance to pain is explained by Saiki accidentally healing a classmate’s injuries, and then having to explain this by convincing the entire world that most injuries heal instantly. Through this use of Saiki’s power, Saiki K literally makes the world revolve around its protagonist, and explore common anime tropes like extravagant and seemingly immortal characters and have it all make sense. 

This extends to the show’s supporting cast, who all are naturally drawn to Saiki without realizing why, and all seem to be parodies of protagonists in different kind of anime shows.There’s Kaidou, a teenage kid who is convinced he’s a shonen anime protagonist, complete with secret superpowers and a secret organization of villains he swears is real (they’re not), or Hairo, the over-enthusiastic class representative who is your typical sports anime protagonist, always sweating, always hot-blooded, and into every sport on Earth.

Another way Saiki K avoids making Saiki’s powers get old or boring is by adding meticulous rules and downsides to all of the powers and abilities. Sure, Saiki may be able to change the very fabric of existence, but there is always a catch or limitations to his abilities — or a dumb schoolmate who interferes. For instance, Saiki can turn invisible, but only for 10 minutes or until he is touched by other people. Likewise, he can teleport any object at will, but only if he exchanges it for something of equal monetary cost.

Though the “dub versus sub” debate is one of the biggest and most polarizing debates in the anime community, it should be noted that Saiki K does feature a fantastic English dubbing. The cast perfectly captures the comedy of the original language, and the localization even adds jokes that are missing from the subtitles. 

What It Brings to the Conversation

Despite being basically a god, Saiki’s biggest pleasure in life is to simply be left alone to enjoy his favorite dessert (coffee jelly) without people asking him for favors or inviting him to do things he doesn’t like (which is basically everything). Sure, he cares about his friends — that is why he is constantly saying yes to helping them out when he’d rather be anywhere else — but he actively tries to avoid his friends and gets visibly annoyed when he gets interrupted. But it’s not just that Saiki wants to be left alone, it’s just that because of his powers, he knows everyone’s innermost thoughts, he knows how phony everyone really is, and how little of themselves they let out. 

As Charles Pulliam-Moore wrote for Io9 “It’s not that he’s not interested in the outside world or can’t appreciate it for the wonderful things that exist. He’d just much rather experience it all on his own terms which, ironically, is what makes him so similar to everyone else.” And really, who can’t sympathize with that?

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

If you’re completely new to anime, some of the more specific and obscure references may elude you. After all, the show even has a crossover segment with the popular anime Gintama. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good way to familiarize yourself with common anime tropes you meet in nearly every other show out there. Likewise, the focus on a super-powered individual that constantly breaks the fourth wall is an easy gateway for fans of similarly meta comedies like Deadpool

And if this isn’t enough to convince you to give The Disastrous Life of Saiki K a try, the episodes are comprised of four or more 5-minute shorts, so it’s easy to just see a couple of these and call it a day, or get completely sucked in and binge-watch the whole thing. 

Watch This If You Like: One Punch Man, Deadpool, Community

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The Disastrous Life of Saiki K is now streaming on Netflix.

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