When stripped down to its broadest description, Sankarea is the tale of a girl trying to escape the yoke of her domineering, obsessive father through leaving the corporeal world and of a peculiar boy’s dream coming true in the most unlikely way possible. But depending on how jaded one is, it could also be seen as what would happen if somebody took their love for a moeblob too far; after all, Chihiro would still be longing for the faintly odorous, clammy embrace of the undead and Rea would have a pulse if her father wasn’t so focused on making her into the vomit-inducing spitting image of his deceased moe personification of a wife. So basically what I’m saying is that fated-to-die anime love interests are the root of all evil, and an indirect “Fuck you” to Key and Jun Maeda. Oh, and this episode deals heavily in the various pathologies of the Sanka family in a manner oddly reminiscent of the flashback episodes of Evangelion, so you know you’re in for a happy ride that’s not at all fuelled by alcoholism and crushed dreams of normalcy.
If the entirety of the prior paragraph and the last ten episodes of the show haven’t clued you in, the Sanka family is pretty fucked up at its core. It’s what Disneyworld would be like if it were represented by a stereotypically aristocratic family: Outwardly functioning as intended, but Mickey is secretly plotting to slit Goofy’s throat for embarrassing him in front of Minnie, and Princess Jasmine is drinking herself into a stupor while throwing overpriced churros at kidlings.
The show manages the rare feat of casting the family in a somewhat sympathetic light, but ultimately failing to make that sympathy stick when taking into account how utterly despicable they are as human beings. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a failing on Sankarea’s part, at least as long as it intended for Rea’s parents to be detestable slime clad in their Sunday best. While the mother is a piece of work by herself, being the alcoholic product of neglect and unfulfilled desires, Rea’s father once again manages to outdo everyone else in the show with his depravity, to the extent that I’d consider him among the echelons of degeneracy inhabited by the likes of Gendo Ikari.
Back to my (at the time) throwaway mention of indirectly giving a “Fuck you” to Key, I see Danichiro as the natural progression of a Key protagonist after the love interest’s inevitable death, the potential extreme of idolization of that particular variation of the moe aesthetic. After Danichiro’s wife, someone who didn’t have much of a personality (just like Key girls) beyond her status as a wheelchair-bound soft-spoken sick girl, rolls off the mortal coil during childbirth, he pulls a Tomoya and lives several days/weeks/months on the brink of death due to excessive grief, neglecting his daughter and his health until brought back to the living world.
Unlike the standard “I just like this girl because she’s defenseless and shit, so shut up and cry you fucking peons” approach that Key protagonists usually take to romance, there’s actually a reasonable Freudian excuse for Danichiro’s otherwise baffling draw to this particular girl. Unlike those around him that wait on him hand and foot, treating him with as little humanity as he eventually ends up treating his daughter, she had the audacity to treat him like she would any other human being by criticizing his crass personality after a fencing tournament. That, and the fact that she wasn’t after his money, spurred him to marry her at the cost of guaranteed financial security. It isn’t the best of reasons, especially with how quickly he decides to propose to her, but it does make an iota of sense. At least that’s all I can think of as far as her attractive qualities go; she wasn’t exactly the most engaging individual from what we’ve seen.
Once he resumes his normal life, he marries to keep up appearances while slowly but surely grooming Rea to have identical qualities to those of his late wife—qualities that define that of the Key-brand of moe. He sought to keep her innocent and pure in his increasingly warped mind, the fact that he takes nude pictures of her each birthday even creepier for it. While it’s unclear if he actually lusts after his daughter because of her resemblances to her mother, the unhealthy degree of his fetishization regardless of its intent is plainly visible, as is his equally disturbing reason for keeping such a close eye on her.
Despite what I’ve said, I doubt that Sankarea is a dramatization of what would happen if an already mentally unsound Key protagonist lost his remaining shred of sanity and furiously defended the remaining bastion of moe in what he perceives to be his otherwise meaningless existence. I also doubt that it’s an indictment of those that feel the need to defend those cute, defenseless girls like Rea and her mother with a crusader-like fervor that’s ultimately more harmful than beneficial to all parties involved. And yes, it’s unlikely to also be a cautionary tale of a man whose obsessions ultimately distance him from reality to an even greater extent than his symbolic gloves ever could. But if it were this hypothetical anime, I’d say that these episodes focusing on the many dysfunctions Sanka family make it one of the best critiques of the culture that I’ve seen.