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Review: Sabagebu: Survival Game Club

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes with Guns

Welcome to Anime Secret Santa, a gift exchange, run by our friends at Reverse Thieves, where the gifts are anime review recommendations. We’ll be publishing our reviews throughout the day on Christmas Eve.

My options for this year’s Anime Secret Santa included Death Parade, Humanity has Declined, and Survival Game Club. Either the person that made these recommendations really gets me after reading my MAL, or this is a test to see how far off the path of orthodox good-taste-having I’ve gone. Here are two obviously good shows and one wildcard that might seem like a bad gamble to anyone else here at Ani-Gamers. I’ll tell you now, my Anime Santa, my convictions are strong and I trust in my luck. Of course, I chose to watch Survival Game Club.

Survival Game Club, or Sabagebu! for short, is a comedy centering around five girls that get into all kinds of crazy antics in the titular Survival Game Club. Survival games, for those unfamiliar with the idea, are a kind of mock military game played with airsoft guns, often replicas of the real deal. “High School Girls with Guns” isn’t entirely a new concept for anime, and leave it to me to remember both Upotte! and Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3, neither of which were particularly great but they had their moments.

What makes Sabagebu unique in an unusually crowded niche is that it is incredibly funny. Where 90% of all anime settles for played-out scenarios that barely elicit a snort, Sabagebu provokes some serious gut laughs. The anime’s protagonist, Momoka, may in fact be the pettiest character I’ve seen in a long time, and somehow she’s the voice of reason that holds it all together, even as she’s gunning down civilians, elementary school kids, and the manifestation of her own conscience. She’s the viewers grip on reality, somehow. Her fellow club members are all archetypes of common characters that can be found in any middling anime high school comedy. They’re all parodically over-the-top but just having this one unabashedly terrible subhuman of a main character gives the show a lot of steam as they feed off each others energy.

Sabagebu may have been adapted from manga by several members of the YuruYuri creative staff, but the style of humor here rings a lot truer to something like Milky Holmes, something patently absurd and possessing a cruel streak on the inside that keeps things interesting. While Milky Holmes developed something resembling a plot during its first two excellent seasons, Sabagebu is a collection of chapters that rarely flow in sequence, and sometimes even contradict the resolution of the previous chapter. Where other anime in the High School Survival Game Club genre flopped because they tried to build a real story around its absurd concept, Sabagebu succeeds by constraining its ideas into a series of skits and letting it bounce around with its established rules and players. All I need to say is that the only instance of honest character growth in the entire show is when one of the characters discovers that she’s a hardcore masochist.

There are gunfights in every episode, something the show continuously points out as a running gag in the beginning, and they’re not exactly professional, bloodless affairs. Through Momoka’s eyes, the survival games are warped by her delusions and the guns become real (but of course, they’re not, the narrator reminds us). The girls of the Survival Game Club might possess some excellent trigger discipline, but they’re merciless killers that aren’t above eliminating their own teammates to fulfill the objective. Depending on your feelings about gun control and the socio-political climate of your country of residence, some of these scenes might actually be kind of shocking. The violence is all a delusion, but what’s real is that most of these girls do not possess the sobriety of judgment to wield an actual gun. If I can be allowed to read deeper into a show that isn’t going for anything profound, Sabagebu is almost political commentary, like, “what if we give a bunch of reckless assholes guns and see what happens?” and then you turn on the news and you realize, “Oh.”

Not all of the skits in Sabagebu are great; some of the running jokes run a bit long and you start to see them coming a mile away, though it’s fine for a show that finishes at just the right length of twelve episodes. A lot of credit is due to the original manga artist, Matsumoto Hidekichi, for her understanding of the potential awfulness of high school teenagers, and gun-lusting crazies in general. Things like purge dieting and classism come up and it feels strangely real since the characters are allowed to be as awful and stupid as they are. Sometimes it falls on the wrong side of the line bordering good taste, but I really couldn’t prefer it any other way.

Characters cry, bleed, and defecate, they shoot defenseless people without a hint of remorse and somehow Sabagebu is as much a comedy as it is a display of the worst qualities in people when you hand them a gun. It’s hard to believe that the people behind this went on to make something like Himouto! Umaru-chan, but I suppose it’s the nature of the industry to allow most creators one punk-rock title for their CV before going back to the assembly line of seasonal hit anime. Sabagebu didn’t have to be this funny or work this well as a show considering how low the bar is for comedy in anime, however at least now I have a definite opinion about which is the best anime about high school girls shooting fake guns at each other; that anime is Sabagebu.

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