More than ever lately, I find myself gravitating toward anime series and other shows that are low stakes, easy to pick up and put down as I please, on the fluffier side, and just have an extra delightful something-or-other about them. Out of the stories I’ve seen recently, nothing has fit that bill quite so well as The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
This off-the-wall slice-of-life anime follows the daily life of Kusuo Saiki (or Saiki Kusuo in Japanese order), a student at PK Academy. Like many students, Saiki’s goal is to make it through high school by drawing as little attention to himself as possible. But unlike your typical introverted teenager, Saiki has more reasons to keep a low profile than just the desire to survive his education with a minimum of fuss and bother. You see, Saiki is a psychic, with almost more powers than he can keep track of, all of which could destroy the world in a matter of moments if he doesn’t keep them in check. He wears special power-suppressing antennae and glasses, but if either is damaged or taken from him, the consequences could be catastrophic.
Though this may sound dire, and though Saiki is forever describing the terrible things that could happen if things go awry, the side effects of Saiki’s powers unfailingly end up being hilarious instead of heinous. For example, when one of Saiki’s antennae is stolen by a mischievous classmate during a class trip, Saiki accidentally teleports the hotel his fellow students are sleeping in to the middle of the ocean—but he quickly puts it back where it came from, with almost no one the wiser. Or when Saiki’s glasses are broken and he accidentally turns one of his classmates to stone, nothing more troubling happens than said classmate being featured in the school art show during the 24-hour period before he turns back to normal. Even when Saiki damages something or accidentally puts someone in harm’s way, he can just turn back time by one day for the damaged object so it goes right back to the way it was before, or heal someone’s injury instantly . . . and then use mind control on them to make them believe that something like that is totally normal. Much of the fun of the show comes from waiting to see just what trick Saiki will pull this time to set everything right again—or some version of “right,” at least—and keep people from finding out about his many incredible powers and abilities.
The silly, outlandish tone of Saiki K marks it as part of a subcategory known as gag anime—essentially, anime series that are silly for silliness’ sake and that are focused primarily on telling jokes. You won’t find a lot of compelling plots or masterful character development in this corner of the anime realm, but if you’re looking for a laid-back experience and a lot of laughs, these series are perfect. Saiki K is the first gag anime I’ve seen in quite a while, and watching it is making me want to seek out even more like it, because I just have a plain ol’ good time while I’m watching it. I like depth and conflict in my stories as much as the next gal, but there’s a very special place in my heart for stories like this one that simply let me sit back, laugh, and enjoy.
Along with the story style, the format it’s told in is a lot different from most anime. Rather than each episode telling one complete part of a larger story, Saiki’s daily life is depicted by way of several vignettes per episode, each a few minutes apiece. I’m a fan of this format; since things are set up this way, you could really just jump into the series anywhere you like, or just pick an episode at random if you only feel like watching one or two, and the story would still make plenty of sense, since there’s no real overarching plot. And if one of the vignettes in an episode doesn’t stand out as much or isn’t as interesting, it’s soon over, and you can move on to the next one before you even notice you’re bored.
The downside of this setup, of course, is that it’s a little too easy to just let the story snippets wash over you like background noise, and before you know it, you’re at the end of an episode without really having absorbed much from it. On the other hand, when you’re ready to jump back in and pick up the flow again, it’s no struggle to do so. This phenomenon makes watching the show feel more like listening to a good album you’ve heard many, many times: you can sort of let yourself fade in and out of it at will, but you don’t enjoy it any less just because you’re not fully engaged with it at all times. It’s not really a bad or good thing—it just makes for a very different anime-watching experience than I’m used to.
When beginning the series, I wondered how the comedy would hold up as it went on. After all, a show that’s mainly just one joke after another could get really grating after a bit if it isn’t done well. And I won’t say that there aren’t jokes here and there that feel a little belabored or flat, but the overwhelming majority of them are either clever, perfectly timed, or both, and it’s pretty satisfying all around. It’s no small feat to keep the comedic momentum going, but Saiki K manages to do it, keeping the goofiness rolling along at such a speed that I often find myself missing a joke because I’m still laughing at the last one.
Aside from the jokes themselves, though, my favorite part of the show overall is Saiki’s constant commentary about the nonsense and shenanigans happening to and around him at the hands of his family and friends. One of his many abilities is to project his voice into other people’s minds, and because of this, he almost never speaks aloud, further adding to his world-weary, impassive persona. Saiki is constantly exasperated with the foolishness of those around him, and because of his powers, nothing is ever a challenge for him, nor is he ever surprised by anything. As a result, he has something snarky to say about nearly everything that’s happening, and the fact that it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he’s speaking directly to those around him or just making sarcastic asides to himself just adds to the delightful absurdity. It’s kind of like talking to that one friend who’s not afraid to say what everybody else is thinking, and it’s just as gratifying. It’s this aspect of the show more than anything else that keeps things rolling along and keeps the jokes coming with speed and precision, making it easy to watch several episodes in a row almost before you’ve noticed.
I would recommend Saiki K to any anime fan who gets a kick out of a good lampooning of all the anime tropes they know and love so well, or to anybody who just wants to sit back and have a good laugh. With the way the story flows, it’s a great series to pick up whenever you’re in the mood for something goofy, and one you can just as easily put back down again when you’re ready for something with a little more depth to it. Whether you have it on in the background while you’re doing something else or give it your full attention to ride the wave of hilarity, you’re sure find yourself laughing all the way through.