Sanctuary Season 1 Review – A mixed-bag series constantly grappling with itself

May 5, 2023 (Last updated: 4 weeks ago)
Jonathon Wilson 2
Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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A sumo wrestling drama always at war with itself, Sanctuary misses most of its opportunities but still has some real upsides.

This review of the 2023 Netflix series Sanctuary Season 1 does not contain spoilers.

Now and again, you come across a show that just can’t decide what it wants to be, and Sanctuary, an eight-episode sumo wrestling drama on Netflix, is definitely one of them.

A character study? Maybe. A coming-of-age drama? In some ways. A dark comedy, a slapstick-y melodrama? Both, and neither. It’s hard to know whether you’re coming or going with this one, and that, more than anything else, is why it never seems to stop grappling with itself.

Sanctuary Season 1 review and plot summary

The protagonist is Kiyoshi Oze (Wataru Ichinose), or Enno, who isn’t very good at sumo wrestling but pursues it anyway, perhaps because there wouldn’t be a series here if he didn’t.

Sumo is a longstanding tradition steeped in culture and history, and when Sanctuary really engages with it, it’s pretty good. The wrestling matches are impressive, feeling halfway between a brutal fight and an artistic spectacle.

It’s everything else that’s the problem. There is, ironically, I suppose, too much of everything except the good bits – too much padding, too many deviations, aimless subplots, wild tonal shifts, and mismatched ideas. It coalesces into something more coherent eventually but feels too little too late and bows out on an unsatisfactory cliffhanger conclusion.

Is Sanctuary good or bad?

The quality of the stunt work shouldn’t be understated, and there are doubtlessly valuable insights into sumo here, though whether there are enough of them to be worth wading through all the excess baggage is another question entirely.

The whole thing would be better, I think, with a more decisive idea of what it ultimately wants to be, and what it wants to focus on. The act of competition and the toll that competition takes on the competitors is where Sanctuary excels, and there’s undeniably a solid story to be told about those things that isn’t saddled with overstretched melodrama or undermined by childish writing.

Is Sanctuary worth watching?

Mileage will, of course, vary, and I can imagine certain viewers getting on Sanctuary’s very specific wavelength. There are upsides for sure, not least the evocative presentation of a brutal and storied sport.

And yet the greatest takeaway is, ultimately, a feeling of anti-climax, of opportunities squandered and promises not being kept. But there’s stuff to like, and potential for the second season that it certainly seems is being angled for, so it’s worth keeping an eye on all the same.

What did you think of Sanctuary Season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series with a subscription to Netflix.

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2 thoughts on “Sanctuary Season 1 Review – A mixed-bag series constantly grappling with itself

  • May 15, 2023 at 8:49 pm

    I watched Series 1 completely today on Netflix. I was taken in by the passions and strength of the Sumo lifestyle and rituals. I want to buy season 1 on dvd right now . Cannot wait for season 2 *****. Five stars wonderful and exciting that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

  • May 28, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    I think you’re a little unfair, but that’s just an opinion. I found it engrossing,. It is a show after all and I think you’re a bit tough.

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