I relate to stories of being a useless lazy piece of shit (notice how this review for a Winter season anime has been published in June) and I am also a fan of SHAFT's output in general, so boy is Sasami-san@Ganbaranai the series for me! Well, at least in theory, anyway.
Sasami-san@Ganbaranai focuses on the life of the titular Sasami, who starts out as a hikkikimori pampered by her enigmatic, siscon older brother, as she observes and occasionally tries to prevent all the weird shit that goes on with the help of the three Yagami sisters. One of whom is a robot. Another is a God (sort of). And Sasami herself certainly isn't a regular human.
I mean, weirder than usual for SHAFT.
What do you mean all social recluses aren't this pretty?
If I had to choose two words to describe Sasami-san@Ganbaranai they would be "self-indulgent" and "senseless". Everything that SHAFT likes to do - all of Simba's Shinbo's preferred directorial eccentricities and stylistic touches - are here in full force but lack any of the thought behind them that made them so effective and interesting in the first place. There are some nice touches that come about as a result - the colouring style when in Sasami's bedroom is more watercolour-based, reflecting the sense of comfort and detachedness from the rest of the world Sasami feels while in there - but most everything else in that vein just feels superfluous. It's 'stylish' for the sake of it; removing those elements would not negatively impact the series in the least.
The cuts, angles, weird background events and text frames tied in with Bakemonogatari's off-kilter and curious dialogue; the bizarre animation techniques helped power the otherworldliness of the witches dimensions in Puella Magi Madoka Magica; the zaniness in aesthetics and animations in Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei matched that series' own deranged reality. But Sasami-san@Ganbaranai just does not warrant such an approach, and as a result only serve to highlight the shallowness of it.
Pictured: weird shit
Probably one of the larger issues affecting the series is its story. It takes an arc-based structure, with a couple of episodes dedicated to each, and they stand alone narratively but contribute in some ways towards future arcs. And by themselves, they are all relatively enjoyable. Perhaps not perfect, but decent enough. The problem is that while distinct, they do tie in together and they don't do so in a cohesive fashion. The importance and relevance of certain elements of each story are often hazy or hard to decipher, worsened when they need to carry over from one arc to another. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai's story is not necessarily difficult to follow, it just feels rather unfocused. How we got to certain points isn't much of an issue, but why we're there certainly is; it's just not particularly engaging. By far the worst offender is the final arc, which results in a confusing and dissatisfying conclusion brought about by poor communication of the antagonist's motivations and actions, but the arc with Sasami's mother is similarly iffy.
Obligatory SHAFT head tilt
Exacerbating the unfocused feel of the series is the often inconsistent characterization. Sasami herself is introduced as a hikkikimori - a shut in, a social recluse who has mental barriers preventing her from going outside - and as quite the prickly personality. She finds her brother unpleasant but has no qualms about using his doting behaviour as and when she sees fit. She openly shows contempt towards him but still possesses a certain level of affection, as demonstrated when she gives him Valentine's chocolates. A somewhat classic tsundere, then. This is extended towards the Yagami sisters and their disruption of Sasami's isolationist life. Perhaps she's not the most original of characters, but she's interesting and enjoyable enough. Well, while it lasts.
Seemingly overnight, Sasami regains the capability to go outside and go back to school, becomes far more friendly and upbeat - even clingy at times - and seems less competent than she did when stuck in her room. It's a massive change in her personality, and it feels largely unexplained. Worse still, she flits back and forth between these seemingly at random, but never truly returning to her hikkikimori style. By the end, Sasami settles on a somewhat consistent characterization, but the process of getting there left me uncertain as to what, exactly, kind of person she was meant to be. Hard to get invested in a character like that, understandably.
Other characters don't suffer quite so badly, as they aren't the focus, but it's still not great. The only ones that feel consistent and well-defined are the likes of Sasami's brother, Kamiomi, and Tama Yagami, neither of which are particularly deep or complex. It is this that does the most damage to the arc featuring Sasami's mother - without a well-defined and consistent personality, the emotional component of that arc ends up falling flat.
Sasami being open and friendly and forward andnothing like how she was previously depicted
This isn't to say that there is nothing enjoyable about this series - I would certainly not call it unwatchable, at the very least. The burgeoning friendship between Kagami Yagami and Sasami, and the way they both pull the real self out of the other, is genuinely quite well executed and interesting. While the overarching story is a bit of a mess, on an episode-to-episode basis it can be quite fun to watch. If you just switch your brain off and don't question the weirdness, a certain visual appeal can be found. Unfortunately, said weirdness threatens to undermine the positivity all too readily - between the entire world becoming chocolate, boob rockets, UFOs, Tama basically being a frog, the inclusion of a character that can only be described as a futanari (basically a hermaphrodite, but not quite I think?) and a fuckton more, it eventually just feels pointlessly nonsensical.
Me trying to write this review
I think my assessment thus far has been somewhat unfair. I can't say I hated this series - it never really made me angry or all that frustrated - and I definitely enjoyed it at points, but it all felt, well, unfocused, self-indulgent and nonsensical. With some work it could easily have been at least interesting, but as is Sasami-san@Ganbaranai fails to present anything meaningful, making it unengaging and just kind of boring. Which is very unusual for a SHAFT series.