Wordplay in Sarazanmai

Wordplay in Sarazanmai

by @frozenpandaman

(Heavy spoilers below!)

First, the title of the show: さらざんまい Sarazanmai. 皿 sara means plate or dish, which is the name of the indentation kappa (the folkloric, green, turtle-human-like Japanese yōkai which the three main characters transform into) have on top of their heads. The main characters also aim to obtain actual (magical) plates in the series. The second half of the title can be read as 三枚 sanmai, meaning "three flat objects"; 枚 mai is the Japanese counter used for plates. So, 皿三枚 sara sanmai means "three plates," referring to our main characters in kappa form and the three plates on top of their heads.

These same characters can also refer to a three-piece fish fillet (more on this in episode three). Another reading of sanmai is 三昧, a Buddhist term meaning samādhi, or a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. When used as a suffix, the word becomes voiced and is pronounced zanmai, meaning "to be immersed/absorbed in," or to indulge in something. In the opening scene of the show, Kazuki becomes "immersed" in ア ('A') plates.

The idol Azuma Sara a.k.a. Sara-chan (who, fittingly, wears a sara on top of her head, and whose name starts with the ubiquitous letter/kana 'A') ends her sentences with でぃっしゅ disshu, a Japanese pronunciation of the English word "dish," which also mirrors the Japanese copula です desu.

A few more things with "sara":

  • Sara-chan inserts "sa" into the phrase グッドラック guddo rakku ("good luck") turning it into グッドサラック guddo sarakku.
  • The show's opening theme is titled まっさら massara which means "brand new" or "fresh."
  • Whenever the main characters do this pose they say「さらっと」"saratto," a mimetic word meaning "smoothly."
  • 晒す sarasu means "to expose" or "to make public," which is what happens to the kappa zombies' – and our main characters' – secrets.

Azuma Sara's given name relates to the Azuma Bridge – a key location in early episodes of the show, and a real life location in Tokyo near the Buddhist temple Sensōji, another key location in the show. These locations are all in Asakusa (also starting with 'A') which is well-known for Kappabashi, a street with many shops selling kitchenware. The first part of the street's name comes from 合羽 kappa (originally from Portugese capa, cf. English "cape"), a type of raincoat, which were historically sold in this area. This is a homophone with 河童 kappa, the yōkai, and so they came to be associated with this area, which features many kappa statues.

More kappa wordplay: when the main characters successfully "kappture" (as the fansub group Asenshi cleverly spells it) a kappa zombie's shirikodama per Keppi's directions, they exclaim「かっぱらった!」"kapparatta!" meaning "We swiped/snatched it!"

One more point before moving onto episode-specific jokes:

Otter imagery is seen throughout the show. In Japanese folklore, otters (川獺 kawauso) are considered yōkai who can shapeshift into young women or children, either to play tricks on (or to kill and eat) humans. In some regions, they are said to be a type of kappa. The homophone 嘘 uso also means "lie." Reo and Mabu's "desire extraction" song is called Kawausoiya, which is a portmanteau between "kawauso" (otter) and "soiya." "Soiya" is a chant at certain Japanese festivals, most notably Asakusa's Sanja Matsuri which honors the founders of Sensōji and takes place at Asakusa Shrine. Finally, "desire extraction" in Japanese is 欲望搾取 yokubō sakushu, and the line in their song,「欲望を搾り取れ」"yokubō o shiboritore" ("squeeze out every drop of your desire"), uses these same characters but with a different context/pronunciation.

Episode-specific puns

Episode 1

The criminal's name is 箱田収丸 Hakoda Osamaru. His family name can also be read as 箱だ or "It's a box." 収まる osamaru means "to fit into something," e.g. a box, which is what he's doing by putting them on his head.

The "kappazon" boxes are also reminiscent in name to the "kappa zombies" (カパゾンビ kapazonbi).

Episode 2

Toi is putting marijuana in empty bags of silver vine-laced cat food with the brand name 魚ざんまい Sakana-zanmai ("luxury fish"), another reference to the show's title.

河童巻 kappamaki is a seaweed-wrapped cucumber sushi roll (kappa are said to be fond of cucumbers). There's some more obvious kappa wordplay, too (which I won't be pointing out going forward), e.g. "Harukappa" is a portmanteau between "Haruka" and "kappa."

The criminal in this episode (who has the character 猫 neko for "cat" in his name) says「猫ジェラシー」"neko jerashī" – "cat jealousy." This is a play on 猫じらし neko jirashi, to play with/tease a pet cat.

Episode 3

This episode's main wordplay is around キス kisu (meaning "kiss"), the homophone 鱚 kisu (meaning Japanese whiting or any fish in the genus Sillago), and "Keith," the man who Enta's sister is dating (and this episode's villain), written in Japanese as キース kīsu with a lengthened "i" vowel. His full name is Keith Mottoclay, written in Japanese as キース・モットクレー Kīsu Mottokurē, which means "give (me) more kisses." He also runs a fish market selling sillago.

When Reo and Mabu say they've caught him, they use the word 釣る tsuru, "to catch (a fish)" or "to lure." And when Keith lured in women, he liked to 三枚 sanmai them, i.e. to metaphorically fillet them into three slices, which requires removing bones. 骨抜き honenuki, "to debone," is used in the phrase 骨抜きにする honenuki ni suru, "to take the backbone out (of someone)" or "to seduce." (source)

Finally, in the flashback/reflection sequences, the two words 回想 kaisou ("recollection") and 海藻 kaisou ("seaweed") are homophones – so, in theory, either kanji/meaning could apply to the main phonetic transcription at the top of the screen. The ○ indicates that "recollection-kaisou" is (obviously) the correct reading, and that "seaweed-kaisou" (marked by an ×) is not.

Episode 4

This episode's central theme is そば/蕎麦 soba, or buckwheat noodles. This is a homonym with そば soba which means "beside" or "next to." The TV report notes that Azuma Sara prefers udon noodles instead because there is a dish called "sara udon" but not "sara soba" (only zarusoba, which is not similar enough for her). Asenshi did a good job with trying to convey the joke here with the line "I want to be by her side so badly!"

The name of the criminal this episode is 蕎麦谷ゆで男 Sobatani Yudeo. The kanji for "soba" are the same as that for soba noodles, and "yude" as a prefix means "boiled," also referenced in the kappa zombie's ghostly-death phrase and Sara-chan talking about boiled eggs earlier in the episode.

In the credits' cast listing, it's revealed that the yakuza member whom Toi killed as a child is named 由利鴎 Yuri Kamome. 百合鴎 yurikamome is the Japanese word for the black-headed gull, the image of which can be seen on his gang's jackets. During his introduction and on close-up shots of his face, gull cries can be heard. He also has a distinctive laugh which the show focuses on – the specific epithet of the Latin binomial name for the black-headed gull is ridibundus, Latin for "laughing."

The date on the note that Toi finds in the leak/reveal is 5/20/2007 – the third and final day of that year's Sanja Matsuri festival, which has historically seen (officially unwelcome) yakuza involvement. Due to significant yakuza disturbance on this date, it was announced that the miyadashi (mikoshi procession, taking place on the third day of the festival) would be cancelled (Japanese source) the following year. (source)

We also learn in this episode that Toi's older brother is named Chikai; these names are homophones for the words 遠い and 近い, meaning "far" and "near," respectively.

Episode 5

The criminal's name is 匂野福郎 Nioino Fukurō, a homophone for 匂いの袋 nioi no fukuro ("bag of scents") – which is what a sachet (the episode's lucky selfie item) is.

The writing on the shutters during the rickshaw/Kaminarimon scene first reads サシェとは匂い袋 sashe to wa nioibukuro ("a sachet is a scent bag"). This is followed by alterations to the first word: サシとはタイマン sashi to wa taiman ("being face-to-face is a direct confrontation"), and then サジとはスプーン saji to wa supūn ("a saji is a spoon"). The two that follow that are just non sequiturs, without related pronunciations ("a parfait is a dessert" and "a Porsche is a car").

The (real-life, in Asakusa) building the Sara meet-and-greet takes place in is called 雷5656会館 Kaminari 5656 Kaikan ("Thunder 5656 Meeting Hall"). The furigana on top of the numbers states that it should be read ゴロゴロ gorogoro (because 5 in Japanese is go and 6 is roku), which is the onomatopoeia for rumbling thunder.

Episode 6

While talking to Haruka, Mabu eats a 人形焼き ningyō-yaki (which are also featured on TV), a taiyaki-like fried cake that's shaped like a doll (ningyō) – a term he also uses to describe Mabu. They are most often filled with red bean paste (あんこ anko), a term also used as yakuza slang for the partner who takes a passive role in a homosexual relationship.

Episode 7

The lucky selfie item-of-the-day is 玉 tama "ball" (in reference to soccer balls). During the breaking news segment of Asakusa Sara TV, the broadcast uses the word たまげる tamageru "to be amazed." (Crunchyroll actually did a surprisingly decent job conveying the pun by translating it as "Unballevable!") The ticker on the bottom of the broadcast also uses the word たまらない tamaranai "irresistible/unbearable."

The brands of soda cans the trio pick up are all changed to be "kappa" jokes: Dr. Kapper (instead of Dr. Pepper), Kapparin (instead of Kirin), Kapaley's (instead of Bireley's). Also アUP (instead of 7UP) due to the visual resemblance of the two characters.

After the trio discovers the Dishes of Hope missing, Enta uses the word 考える kangaeru "to think about" which Keppi dislikes as it "contains" the word カエル/蛙 kaeru "frog" (as if it were a suffix which were then voiced). The writing on the shutters explains: "が・え・る ga-e-ru = カエル kaeru," and then that "frog" is the "highest-order insult."

At the very beginning and end, there are (naturally) lots of vocal tics of 嘘 uso "lie" / 獺 uso "otter" – explained in more detail previously.

Episode 8

A form of the word たまげる tamageru appears again in the Asakusa Sara TV broadcast. Along with "ball," tama can also also mean "bullet" – especially relevant given the context of this episode. The name of Chikai's crime ring, SHIKOTAMA, is also pretty close to "shirikodama."

Episodes 9–10

Nothing substantial.

Episode 11

This also crops up in other episodes, but is most noticeable here: as the trio's memories are being erased – as they are getting closer to moving "outside the circle" (i.e. ceasing to exist) – the text in the rings reads 尻 shiri meaning "butt," alluding to the shirikodama. This is a homophone with 知り shiri, a form of the verb 知る shiru "to know," alluding to memories (and, thusly, existence as a whole), as these are what is being erased/forgotten.


This post is a compilation of things I've discovered from a variety of sources, as I personally didn't catch or notice every single thing listed above. Along with browsing the #さらざんまい and #sarazanmai hashtags on Twitter for observations by Japanese viewers (credits in-line), Team Kaidoku, Asenshi's early release blogposts, and these two pages have all been helpful in providing certain information and/or nuance.

Have feedback or something I missed? Let me know on Twitter.

㋐  See also: "SMS leak" translations  ㋐