Posted on 22 September 2017 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario, Sakura Quest

Conceived as a third installment in a loose P.A Works trilogy about young adult girls in working environment, Sakura Quest both knows its target audience well, and has some big shoes to fill. After all, many have considered Shirobako an install classic for good reasons. As it turns out, Sakura Quest is more on the level of Iroha than Shirobako, and it still has some of the same issues from its predecessors, namely it’s still too optimistic, hence comes off as sometimes unrealistic outlook to its subject matters; and it tends to rely on sitcom slice of life format (mainly in the first half) that feels unfocused and inconsistent at times. Despite these issues, the truth remains that Sakura Quest had never been bad. The show has some snappy, realistic dialogues, easy humors and it never treats their characters lightly. The show is at its best when it creates problems that force the main cast to reflect on their own issues, then learn and grow from their own issues.

Sakura Quest’s structure is split into two distinct halves. The first half focuses on several mini-arcs, where the Tourism Boards undergo many events that attract more tourists visiting Manoyama, at the same time give each of the main girl a character arc to flesh out who they are. Many events, from assisting filming production, matchmaking tours, to the TV programs about our girls and hosting a popular rock band to town, are exciting and at first glance, it gives an illusion that the Tourist Board has achieved its success. In part, yes, as the number of visitors consistently goes up, but when all is said and done, the town remains a ghost town with no lasting impact whatsoever (I love this image: the next morning, all the tourists are gone, only trash and coupons flying around). The decision to concentrate on main leads’ own problems and their dynamic together in the first cour, now in retrospect, actually serves its purpose since we come to care and root for them well before the second cour pushes forward its main storyline.

If you consider the first cour as “inward approach” (forgive me for the lack of more academic term), which is attracting tourists to visit Manoyama town, the latter half can be seen as “outward approach”, as the Tourism Board reaches to the local needs, goes to rural mountain where a small elderly community lives, reviving an abandoned school for public use, and strengthen Shopping District’s business. For me, it’s a much more realistic approach and the journeys along the way are all worth spending time for. You can compare two festivals – the Manoyama Founding festival and the revival Mizuchi festival for their differences in approach. The Mizuchi festival is made for the locals, by the local and achieving that level of enthusiasm from the villagers is something worth rewarding. While there are still some unnecessary plot points (here looking at you the merger of Manoyama town), Sakura Quest did indeed end on a satisfying note. This might be the end of the Queen’s run and all other girls, but it’s clear that it’s just a beginning for the Manoyama’s local to grow stronger.

Our five girls: Yoshino, Sanae, Maki, Ririko and Shiori play a big part of adding Sakura Quest’s identity. All these girls have their own charms, play off well with each other, and most of own develop greatly at the end of the show. Sakura Quest’s biggest strength lies in its ability to address the insecurity of young adults regarding their jobs, their place to belong, and their choices of life. Many issues it touches (most notably Maki’s unsuccessful acting job) feel achingly true and honest. The supporting cast, from Kadota, Chitose, to that kid Erika, add their own marks to the show’s big picture and it’s a joy to watch such a huge cast coming together for a big project. I bet Sandal-san will enjoy a great fan following as he steals the scene every time he appears onscreen. Thanks Alexandre Cena Davis Celibidache for compiling such a fantastic artbook about Sakura Quest.

P.A Works does a pretty decent job production-wise for Sakura Quest, although in some episodes (especially the final episode) the character models are a bit off. The soundtrack and the voice acting are all pretty spot on. Only a year has passed in this Manoyama town but it has been quite a journey. Every girl has their own dream to follow now, and life continues to go on and I know there will be a time that the five of them will meet again under that sakura tree they planted together. As a conclusion, allow me to quote the final preview speech from Sandal-san because it sums what I feel so well: “It was a long, long trip, and we’re coming finally to the end of the journey. Thank you, Manoyama and Chupacabra. And thank you, 5 EURO”

Posted on 30 June 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

Up until the last few minutes before the ending, I almost written this arc off as the one with no real drama, since the events play out too easy for our characters. But as Yoshino’s concern arises, I realize that it was all intentional and with that, this episode closes up nicely the first half of Sakura Quest. On the surface, the Founding Festival is nothing but a huge success: the number of attendance reach their whole year’s target, Manoyama town got promoted by the popular programs and the girls are given spotlights that they deserved; even the town locals have a chance to sell their foods and products. But those successes are not sustainable – the plans rely too much on the band Plotemaios (pronounce as Plus Minus!!) and their appearance indeed overwhelmed all the efforts of the girls. The quiz program shows little interest to the travelers, though they still manage to carry on till the end. Their coupons are greatly ignored and the girls are framed as the ones who invited the band over and their quiz panel is completely ignored in the broadcast. Look at the aftermath of the quiet town where the only trace left from the big events was trash and lost coupon flying around, Yoshino wonders if all her efforts are truly worth it.

When Yoshino questioned that whether getting people to come to the town is good enough, well, it is important. After all, getting people come to town constantly is the first and foremost goal in the tourism industry. The constant flow of visitor can indeed affect the town, as many local products aim at tourists can blossom, but it has to be “constantly”. Many of those past events from previous arcs (save the woodcarving and the cooking ones), plus this event are one-off events, meaning that most of the time, after such events end, things turn back to normal for the town. Improve some of the town’s traditions and unique features so that it can attract outsiders is one of the option, but Yoshino, bear in mind that maybe most people in the village just want to live quietly this way. She clearly upsets with how things turn out now and finding motivation, plus looking for a better alternative sound like a good direction for me. The event itself, putting all those pretentious thoughts aside, still provides heaps of funs with many little character moments. I enjoyed Ririko’s idea of putting map as a wrapper; or Yoshino sings that cute little anthem song. The scene-stealer of the event, again, is Sandal, as he correctly guesses the answer even without hearing the full question (he OBVIOUSLY knows the answer, rightttt?) and then proceeds to announce Mr. Kindaichi to be his partner for Guam trip (haha, seriously made me laugh).

Half way through, Sakura Quest has its ups and downs. It has never been bad, mind you, as I quite enjoy many elements from the show. After all, I am within this show’s target audience and when the show uses their characters as windows to explore adult’s insecureness and their real struggles with their current lives, it speaks too close to home. On the other hand, Sakura Quest’s sometimes just too light-heart and sitcom-y for its own good, and tries to cook up too many ideas that many of them turn out to be half-baked. The chance of me continuing cover this show the next season will be slim (though not set in stone yet), as for me it just isn’t that exceptional or personally resonate with me to spend another 3 months talking about it. Hope things turn out well for the Queen and her people in the second half.

Posted on 24 June 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

Sakura Quest offers a pretty much Sakura Quest-esque this week, and I come to believe that this is a strong mini-arc to close-up the first half of its run. For the Tourism Board, the Manoyama Founding Festival will become their most ambitious project in term of scope they have encountered so far. Moreover, documenting the girls and their efforts for the festival sound like a pretty good idea too, as it’s more a less a time for our girls to look back and see how they have grown, and do a bit of meta for their own show. After spending the first half completing character arcs for everyone, it’s only natural that the Manoyama town has a central focus in this arc. Then Sakura Quest adds little twist at the end with the inclusion of super popular band Plotemaios (who had a hit song in a soda commercial no less) and a character focus on the Queen Yoshino. My primary complain about Sakura Quest has been lifted as well in this arc, as there’s clearly a continuity to the main story. We see almost all the supporting characters from different arcs (the woodcarvers, the chef, the producer, the Community Club, even Nao appearing in the commercial), we see our girls have passed their own crisis as well. Seriously, the strong continuity like this event, with some winks to previous arcs and side characters, is all I could ask for.

For this arc, Sakura Quest really goes all out for their biggest tourism impact. The Founding Festival is already their biggest event of the year, and then we have a popular Moving Mountains reality show that of course will bring good publicity for the town, and then the Festival itself turns into the music night of sort when that rising unpronounceable band decides to show up. For a brief moment there, I was sure the band would bail out in the end, since this could be a real disaster because the whole plan somehow turns itself to rely heavily on the presence of band. But the preview next week makes it clear that they come, so I guess the main conflict would be the band overwhelming the Tourism’s Board efforts. When you think about it, it kinda sounds like a disaster too. Yoshino and the girls personally go such great length to ask for the town’s support for their trivia questions, to their point of begging for more fund and volunteer (by the way, I really love Chitose’s decision to use a reserve fund to help out. She’s always reasonable). This concert will overwhelm their efforts and all their efforts plus fund will come to naught. The tourists will come and go without much impression to the town, because they come to the town for music. I am intrigued to see how Yoshino address and resolve this issue.

At the same time, there is a documentation about our girls and their efforts to market the town. All of the girls, save Mari, are too self-conscious on the whole filming and I have a good laugh or two when they act so out of characters: Shiori wearing that fashionable glass, old man Kadota keeps saying “chupa” all the times and uses every opportunity to jump on the screen with exclaim, Sanae using big, technical words and my Ririko wearing mask at the meeting and Sandal-san, well he just being himself- Costner style. When the girls ease up in front of camera though, it’s time for the director Amamiya – himself a Manoyama native – to ask them about their motivations and what they think about the Queen. The answers are too varied that Amamiya has a hard time on how to frame Yoshino and he flat out declares that Yoshino’s bland. Well, she’s anything but bland, I assure you. Her heart is devoted for reviving this small town and if you can’t see it, it’s your loss dear Mister Director. He seems to fire up at the idea of raising more attention to this town as well and so far he’s taking a good lead. I also feel they better don’t use the information bit that Yoshino was a little Princess (the 100,000th visitor no less – exactly how could they count that?) for to impress the Director. It’s like a miracle story, yes, but she still hasn’t earned her Queen title yet, as far as the public’s eyes concern. Here’s hoping Yoshino will wipe out the band and get people acknowledged her efforts for this little town.

Posted on 16 June 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

Well, apart from Ririko suddenly can sing confidently, and sings really well on top of that, this episode ends in high note. In fact, that statement really sum up this week of Sakura Quest as a whole. Messy, a bit all over the place with too many elements, but they have very strong ending that tied up everything together. This matchmaking arc in its entire, is a decent addition to Sakura Quest, with the singing Ririko moment as a highlight. I do appreciate how relevant Rirkio’s own problems with the matchmaking events and the Dragon tale in that extend, for they’re all about the outsiders, but adding other out of place elements like faux, goofy horror; the show’s sudden focus to Sandal and even the bouldering activity make Sakura Quest feels unfocus at times. And the final punch, to give this town a reputation of the eloped town, seriously makes me frown. Rirkio’s issues ain’t that much to begin with but in that regard, I’m perfectly fine with how Sakura Quest handled her situation.

Ririko’s personal issue has always been an outsider of her own village, and she relates very well to the Dragon tales – where the Manoyama dance is supposed to scare the dragon away (that might be the reason why she couldn’t smile when she danced when she was young, and this legend sounds very familiar to the legend in Sora No Oto). The revealing about the absence of her parents further deepens that theme of outsiders: her Mother came from other town, she met her father here in Manoyama and they got marriage, but she couldn’t get used to life here and left. Chitose from then has an uneasy feeling when it comes to tourists and outsiders. Ririko finds out another (true) interpretation of this legendary Manoyama dragon: the villagers want to be friend with the dragon, so they dance to lure her in but scare her away instead, and she ends up die alone in the cave. That dance is still there, but like how the story loses its original meaning as generations go by, the original song has been lost. Magically (because why else Sandal could just appear like ghost and sing that very song the moments the girls mentioned it. Deux Ex Machina!!!), Sandal mentions that this song was passed through generations overseas, and he is one-eighth of Manoyama (appearance can be deceptive huh?). Thus come a beautiful song at the end that tied up her arc, the dragon tale and give the matchmaker girls a moment to remember.

While the main plot is going somewhat satisfying, faux, goofy horror Sakura Quest tries to pull off is just way too silly to be taken seriously. All the visual motifs, the sound effects, all come to nothing because there isn’t any suspense to begin with, nor it need to be. The twist is hilarious but there is a leap of logic everywhere (like, he was all wet, covered in mud that night, but the other day he’s way too clean. Also, how did he get into the restaurant without anyone noticed?). And then that police guy just comes as rude when he flat out prevents poor Ririko a chance to speak (this is HARRASTMENT). Sandal takes most of a spotlight this episode, and although I would say that sudden shift of focus to him is a bit too jarring for me, him as a pure outsider, enjoying the town with all his heart is a nice touch that connected with the theme so well, and I can see him gain a lot more fan after this episode. Well, I’m off to enjoy this magnificent “lullaby” again. Give it up to “Dragon’s Song” by our truly Ririko.

Posted on 9 June 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

New week, new arc. Let’s see all the ingredients we have for this arc: Ririko (finally!), matchmaking tour (really? haha), Manoyama’s dance and the dragon’s furious. Quite a crazy combination if you ask me but I’m totally fine with the food they cooked up from these ingredients. Unlike Shiori, I mean, totally opposite issues from Shiori, Ririko spends most of her childhood thinking she stand out in a bad way. She’s just different, which admittedly excites no one but me. We never actually heard her parents mentioned and judging that she’s living with her grandma now my guess is that they left town when she was young. Now all that doesn’t mean she’s a great character, at least not yet. Her archetype has been done to death before and her detachment voice isn’t what I called the best representation of a quiet, shy girl. In this episode, she has a bit of a crisis when watching the other girls doing the traditional Manoyama dance, something she could’ve involved. It’s perfectly fine that she doesn’t wish to dance, but watching her best friends doing that make her feel even more isolated, like something is wrong with her because she doesn’t enjoy dancing like the rest (it isn’t). As it happens, when the other girls aren’t around, Ririko feels cut off, lurking into background, doesn’t engage in any conversation; might as well questioning her whole involvement with the project.

Now, the crazy project Sakura Quest come up with is a matchmaking tour. Despite there are only 3 girls travelling to Manoyama for in a quest of love (and they’re all close friends to boost), the lonely single guys in the town all getting heat up for this opportunity. Many cheesy lines and flirting are ensured but Sakura Quest gets away with it because they know full well how ridiculously those flirting are. Our girls, in preparation for showing tourist girls the town, come up with far too many over the top plans; but I have to say the initial plan is well thought-out. A sake brewery and fireflies, a night at old-style house and BBQ and watching Manoyama dance – I would totally go with that initiery. New characters, most notably the three matchmaking girls and the policeman are provided just about enough chemistry. Manoyama’s local dance, likewise, adds a lot of charms to the settings and the sequence where the girls dance around is easily the highlight of this episode

But I’m a bit worried for next week’s episode based from the last few minutes of this episode, when the plot suddenly goes for goofy faux-horror about the awaken of DRAGON. Actually it kinds of makes sense when they merging this legendary town story with Ririko’s own fascination for occult, but including this subplot also means that they can overwhelm Ririko’s own development, which I do not recommend.  My experience with Sakura Quest’s mini arcs have always been “1 good episode plus 1 bad episode” package so I really hope the next episode gonna break that pattern.

Posted on 2 June 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

So our cooking mini-arc has concluded and I was pretty much… indifferent to it by the end. It started strong last week but seems to run out of steam quickly this episode. For many developments the show squeezes in this week, only the somen contest festival part works out well. The romance part turns out to be quite…dumb, and Yoshino going overboard feel more awkward than funny. To make it even worse, many Sakura Quest’s stronger elements: the solid chemistry between the core cast and the adult wisdom are all absent this week, making this episode a mere passable one, but nothing special to write home about.

After the event last week, Shiori comes up with a plan to make amend with the Merchant Board: a somen contest to choose the signature somen dish for Manoyama. It’s a pretty neat idea for me, albeit the sequence in the restaurant where every local gone nuts about somen feel oversold and incredibly forced. Obaba has a great characterization this week. Yes, she’s harsh and blunt on what she says, but she’s reasonable. As long as your plan makes sense she will be happy to go along with it. It might be the first time in years that the two Boards work on something together and thankfully the festival receives enough enthusiasm from the town’s supports. Shiori has some solid time this week as she tries to come up with a new dish that featured both somen and kombu, two of the town’s favorite material. In the end, her dish isn’t chosen for the best prize, but the warm reception from the villagers towards her dish “Happy Somen” and the acknowledgement from everyone towards her contribution are good enough. But “Minister of Mediation”? haha, I really have no response for that off the wall title, but seeing how she bring the two Boards, as well as the two unlikely lovebirds together, I believe the title has its merit.

Yoshino, during the preparation of the festival, goes completely other way. She and Kadota meet Doku (the local mechanic), to do something ”bold” for the festival, hence the idea of flowing VR somen (that actually run manually by Deku) coming up. It’s silly, and although I feel it has a bit of its charm, seeing Yoshino trying just too hard without any result doesn’t impact to the whole story much. Actually, here’s my one question: Who’s in the committee that decide which somen food’s a winner? Obviously the girls aren’t in there, nor does the Tourist Board or Merchant Board. Then who? On what criteria they choose the food exactly? This WAS what they need to develop, instead of spending some time for this Yoshino’s silly plot line.

But it’s the romance between Kumano and Shiori’s sister that suffer the hardest. That’s coming from me who actually enjoy the running gags of everyone surprised that Kumano has an interest for Sayuri instead of Shiori, but boy, this whole plotline is just bad. First, Kumano and Sayuri share no chemistry whatsoever. When they meet again and talk to each other, it sounds even less intimate than two normal friends. They all mention that they were too shy to talk to each other back in college, but from their little flashback it wasn’t the case at all: sharing the love for French Toast and waited for each other until night alone in train station? It doesn’t add up at all. And then the reason that they couldn’t meet each other? Because Sayuri took the wrong date from previous year’s calendar? Forgive me if I’m being so blunt, but how is that even possible? They had a firm idea to meet each other on the Sunday after graduation on that station; so after graduation, they just have to show up on THE SUNDAY, the wrong date got nothing to do with it. If it meant to be cute, it doesn’t, it’s just dumb. This arc unfortunately isn’t Sakura Quest’s best hours. Well, at least now this cooking arc is over and I’m looking forward to what the hell they come up with for the Tourism Board next time, and by the pattern it might be the time for my favorite girl Ririko to shine. Bring it on, girls.

Posted on 26 May 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

This was a solid episode from Sakura Quest. This week is the first of the two-parter (probably) about the Queen and her team making a special dish for Manoyama town that could attract tourists. Now I see the formula the show’s currently employing: the first three episodes focus on Yoshino and her coming to term with the rural village, and gathering the main cast. Episode 4 and 5 concentrate on woodcarving industry and fleshing out Sanae, the last two episodes they shift the focus to assisting movie crew and give a necessarily development to Maki. This new episode will be all about cooking, taste testing and developing the core member that I’m most worried about: Shiori. Turn out both the food-making part and the Shiori part were all excellent. At the end of this episode, Sakura Quest merges those two storylines together as Shiori takes charge as the leader of that food project, with some clearly identified obstacles to overcome. So why do I have to namelist all the previous episodes, you ask? Well, knowing its patterns help me to suspense my disbelief so I can enjoy the ride better. As of now, this format doesn’t bother me too much anymore. While it’s sitcom-y, meaning after the arc is done we gonna reset back to status quo for another new story, which kind of defeat the development of previous arc; giving the show different scenarios to work with make that world feels rich, like every corner of the town Manoyama has lives on its own. For example, the lake the girls fishing (by bare hands) or the farm at the beginning of this episode feel entirely vivid and lifelike, which of course add to the charms of this little town.

So the Board of Tourism comes up with new strategy to attract more tourists: making a home-made signature dish. I know this plan hits my own sweet spot more than anything but the idea of making local food is a sound idea for me. One of the issue of this plan though, is that none of the main casts, save Shiori, have any idea about cooking. I love the way they come up with their own “creations”, which reflect so well with their respective personalities: Sanae with her love for fast-food ramen- chicken wings hybrid, Maki’s quantity-over-quality Mega Tempura Sandwich, Yoshino with all mixed ingredients that already sound like a bad idea, and Ririko with her green “witch” soup (the bug she brought earlier squeezed out green cream as well. Could it be…). I also love her grandma super calm reaction after tasting that soup (a big disaster) and her even calmer suggestion to eat takeaway food. It also helps that when the girls being themselves without any development, they still bounce off each other very well. Ririko’s snarky comments hit a lot of target here, so does Maki and Sanae teasing (and then team up) to each other. Their absurd outfits at the beginning is a feat to watch as well, especially Maki and her Bruce Lee’s uniform with David Carradine’s famous hat.

Back to the main plot, only Shiori has any idea of making “eatable” food, but also like her personality, her foods taste great, yet so plain that fail to impress anyone. In addition, only Shiori who came to know and appreciate the local ingredients, which makes sense when you want to promote a local food. The rest of the group want to appoint her as the head of the cooking campaign, but she hesitates with that idea since it comes so much of a burden to her. Sakura Quest pretty much answers my concerns regarding developing Shiori character, as this episode challenges her supporting, never-want-to-be-in-spotlight personality and makes it her ultimate catalyst to overcome. Then Sakura Quest raises the stake even further by providing the conflict between the Tourism Board and the Merchant Board. Yoshino forgets to inform the Merchant Board about their food day, which happens to overlap with the Merchant’s Summer Festival. Later, when all members from Tourism Board come over to apologize, Grandma Oribe also points out, quite rightly, that Kadota has been selling out. While she hated his Chupakabura manju, she can deal with it because he still used the local products, but the “deluxe version” is created from some other company, thus defeat its very purpose of promoting local foods. Kadota clearly cares about gaining more tourists for the town, but he ultimately uses more aggressive methods, which caused a stir with the local people. This conflict is well thought-out so I’m interested to see what Shiori will come up with next week.

The episode also spends a huge amount of its time for Shiori’s own family and introduces two new characters, Shiori’s older sister Sayuri and the bear chef Kumano and the two have some romantic tension with each other. The parents and grandparents of her are all adorable people and have a very warm chemistry together. The way the grandparents introduces non-subtlety their single granddaughters to any young man they like as “We have two here. You can pick one” is sooo my grandparent way of obvious hook-up lines that it’s endearing and scary at the same time. Later on, when Shiori’s dad take her for a little walk, his wisdom “Everyone’s life changes eventually” again hit hard here. Shiori is the type of person who doesn’t want anything to change, because she’s happy with everything right now. But things won’t stay the same as time progresses, so the lesson here she needs to learn is that changes aren’t that scary and they eventually come as she moves on to the next stage of her life. Even without the progress of the tourism plan and the core cast’s developments (in which this episode happens to excel in both departments), random wisdom like this, heart-warming and meaningful that cut right through my heart, is a healthy dose of insight that I clearly need right now.

Posted on 19 May 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

This week in Sakura Quest, we have core members lashing out at each other, and some more nice interactions between other members – which in fairness is all I could hope for. You know a cast is well developed when you can pick any two main characters and they still have their unique chemistry together. This week is a second half of a double episode about filming production and as far as “second half of double episode” entails, it does its job magnificently. Not only Sakura Quest manages to detail the activities of assisting the shootings from the girls and make it fun, they also flesh out the core casts. Maki’s material in particular is one of the strongest development they’ve succeed so far. What I’m not confident about is the larger narrative, which I guess we have to see how it will turn out next week.

Turn out the main reason for Shiori’s hesitation at the idea of burning that old house is because she spent her childhood memories in that house. She’s used to play around a lot as a kid with the owner of the house, now seeing that place is about to burnt down make her feel nostalgic. That flashback swells me up with emotions with the remains of forgotten memories: several marks of her height charts as a kid, the once-cozy house now empty and worn out. I always have a soft spot for ruins and empty houses (you can feel those places are immune from the passage of time) so I’m totally on Shiori side in this matter. That argument between Yoshino and Shiori is great, and I would love it if the show can continue pushing characters arguing with each other. No fight no glory as they say. Yoshino makes a jerky move by pointing out that Shiori was selfish- reluctant to burn this house but “don’t say a thing” when the crew mentioning other houses. Well, let see how Yoshino REACTS if this was the house she grew up with for Peter sake. I feel that sacrificing your own feeling in service of the shooting is way too easy for the filming crew. First, they don’t aware how difficult it is for the locals to follow their demands (even emotionally) and second, that house wasn’t originally planned to burn down to begin with. Maybe no one like to ask for more trouble, given that the relatives already give it a go but if I were Shiori then they can burn that house down over my dead body.

Maki is given a motivation push over what she wants with her acting job. While last week was all about her self-doubts towards her career, this week is Maki’s journey to find the love for acting all over again; all through tutoring a complete amateur about acting, find the passionate young versions in every corner of the town, and realize that she has the supports from others over pursuing what she loved, even if the supports are often subtle and low-key. I particularly love the sequences of her remembering her childhood, with lovely insert music and very great visual that highlighting the sad truth between her now and her passionate young self before. Again, her whisper ”It’s got to be something you like, or you won’t get far, kid” hits a bit too close to home. I appreciate the mature theme of Sakura Quest here, about the very real struggles that now, as someone who also in his 20s, have to deal with. Maki soon picks up her spirit, playing double for Moe in an overdramatic burning house scene (which was a crap decision by the movie crew for me, burning the house for just one take in such dangerous scene? There’s a high chance that she fails and what’s ever going to happen if that is the case? Burn another house down?), but she succeeds beautiful and moreover she enjoys herself to act again.

This episode also deepens the chemistry of our cast, especially between Maki and Ririko, my two favorite characters. What Maki says to Ririko ta calm her nervousness is great, but their easy atmosphere when they talk to each other about their old school and The Snow White’s tradition plays are what really sold me on their relationships. Not only give the core cast some internal conflicts to work with like in Yoshino and Shiori’s case, Sakura Quest also give the cast an opportunity to improve each other by using one character’s strength to help out the others. Ririko also has another cute scene when she was slowly moving sideways with her hands covering her butt. You have to see it for yourself but it was a solid joke for me (didn’t I mention I like the humor of this show?).

While last week I was a little frustrated with the direction of this show, Sakura Quest, at its core, still pull many moving and honest treatments to young adult’s insecurities and struggles with their life, something that anime medium don’t tend to do too well. If there is a movie on top of my head that resembles this show in terms of tone and the theme about the insecureness of twenty-something characters, it has to be Garden State. Moreover, while the plot does feel force at times (the crew guy talking to Shiori about Yoshino’s request is incredibly forced for example), it’s those quiet moments that help carry the emotional weight. Scenes like Maki seeing her childhood as I mentioned above, Yoshino glances over Shiori during the burning house shooting, or Shiori quietly watching the ashes, speaks more volume than any word can convey. Sakura has its charms and I will stick with it for a while longer, at least until the end of this season.

Posted on 11 May 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

This episode of Sakura Quest… Did I just miss an episode or two in between? Remind me again when exactly did all those movie productions come from? The show just drops its woodcarving storyline to this film production storyline and that switch is jarring. Now Sakura Quest heads into one of direction that I’m quite nervous about: a sitcom anime – a type that don’t need much continuity. On top of that I can’t say I’m fond with this film production scenario. I don’t get the idea of the movie they’re making either: A slice of life story set in Manoyama (see self-reference here) that… have a blue-faced zombie outbreak? How’s that supposed to be a slice of life then? Okay, now to what we have this week, we have our girls run along with the film crew, trying to find good locations, calling up extras and finding old houses to blow up. It’s good to see the functions of small film productions in action, and the old man Kadota and oba-san Chitose provide many good laughs on screen (the comedy in this show remains very good). I love Kadota’s commitment to the role he played, and just by few scenes both Chitose and the tsun café girl Erika’s unpredictable reactions really tell us the person they are (oh, and Ririko’s cute little victory). Lovely character works all around. The director is a bit of a douchebag though, I can see him piss a lot of local people off by the next episode.

Out of all the main girls, it’s Shiori that I’m initially worried the most. For other girls, I can see how they develop their potential conflicts. Yoshino with her adaptation to the rural village, and her quest to gain more tourists for the town will serve as the main driving force for the story. For Sanae, we already had her being insecure about running away, and the potential love-triangle with the wood-carvers. For Maki, it’s her job insecurity and her conflict with papa. Ririko will have to deal with the difficult oba-chan and maybe her love for video-recording. But as for Shiori, there’s not much to develop. She’s a stable character with a stable job and a stable family, and so far, she serves mainly as the supporting voice for Yoshino and the girls. Prior to this episode, the only development angle I could imagine for Shiori is her closeness to Ririko, which whenever Ririko has an issue, she’d be the closest to help out her friend – But that, as well, is a supporting role. Thanks Sakura Quest for given her something to work with this episode without distracting the main storyline. It’s obvious that she feels connected to the abandoned, worn-out house and for now, my guess is that she was close with the person who used to live in that house. Her close friend maybe. Whatever the case, it’s good to see that she takes a main stage once in a while, and I really hope that Sakura Quest gives her something of an arc to develop her further in later events.

But the main beef in this episode is all about developing Maki. Aside from Ririko, Maki is my favorite girl and this episode both flesh out her current situation with her family, as well with her acting career. When she remarks that “Loving (the job) is also exactly what makes it so hard” and “Your twenties are a special time, and I wasted them”; I feel the sensations. Her underclasswomen appeared as a main female lead just puts the salt in that open wound, made she feel frustrated. But Maki, remember that Moe’s getting more acting roles ain’t because of eating cicadas, and besides, cicada isn’t that bad (take my word for it). Sanae seems to knock some sense out of Maki and all eyes now are looking for her to take the acting part. I know she’d be exceptional there. These concerns about adult-insecurities are really relatable and grounded and those character’s moments are what raise this show above the bar of your average anime.

But I finished this episode feeling unsatisfied. While, like I said, the characters’ works and the comedy are the show’s greatest strengths; the main storyline feel abrupted, unbalanced that feel more like a wasted opportunity. This episode, judging as a whole, is a solid episode, but that is precisely why I have a feeling that the series will be just sitcom-y like this from now on. At this moment, my interest in continuing cover this show has dropped dramatically; I will give this show another episode to see if it can redeem itself. Sakura Quest is not bad per se. I just feel underwhelmed by the potential it could’ve had and the actual presentation right now. Otherwise, with 2 other shows that I find myself more invested in, I would just pick one and cover instead.

Posted on 5 May 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Sakura Quest

And with this episode the main overarching plot starts to form, or so it seems (there’s still a big possibility that the town dismisses the whole idea but by the end it seems less and less likely). The main project these girls come up with this time is about making a palace full of sculptures that inspired by Sagrada Família, itself famously known for its still-under construction for over hundred years. Now, I had actually lived in Barcelona for almost 2 years; so I know one or two things about Sagrada Família. Many people, like the cast of Sakura Quest, admire it as the representation of multi-generation body of works, as a symbol of passing the torch and live on the spirits for generations. The thing is, the cathedral was never meant to be that way. They were simply out of fund. Yes, the death of Gaudi hurt the project too but it hadn’t finished for over hundred years because it couldn’t. We’re talking about the cathedral here which have both the approvals from the religious crowd as well as the artistic crowd, yet somehow the constructions have always been delayed and funded by private funds. Now flip back to Sakura Quest, do I think that ambitious project will see the light of day? Nope. The Sagrada Família is made out of the desire to make it the ultimate cathedral, the Sakura Pond Familia is made to attract people to the small town. Already a wrong approach, and that doesn’t take funding (how someone wants to put heaps of money for this) or the sheer implementation into consideration.

But that, I guess, is exciting in its own way just to see how the cast manages to deal with those issues. For this episode we see them making their own efforts to actually go out there and study about the woodcarving art: Yoshino goes to various houses to have a look at the mantra, Shiori and Ririko study about the history of the art in their hometown, Maki gets her hand on making one, and Sanea… well, she just wanders off alone but those are positive signs for fleshing out our characters; which is a clear step up from last week’s episode. I like the way there was no tension from the group when Sanae bailed out, because come on, we all know she will be back sooner or later. So the show frames her action as a necessary step back to know what she really wants. The decision to build a palace from Yoshino comes rather out of the blue but well, she’s a fool so it should be expected, and I mean it in a positive light. I’m not so sure how to feel about Sandal-chan character, he’s given a more active role in this episode and the sequence where he gets busted by the police was hitchhiking a police car certainly among my favorite moments this week. However, I still feel the guy’s so out of place with this Manoyama town and I have a feeling the show creates him as a vehicle for Vinay Murthy’s first voice acting, he’s himself an American actor (MASQUERADE). Seriously, I love the humors in Sakura Quest, they have a keen sense of comedic timing, witty dialogues and slapstick situations that bring joy and heart to the story.

At the same time, the other half of the episode focuses on Sanae and her little crisis, as she realized she has been half-hearted about the project. She has a brief talk with the woodcarver Tatsuo while staying alone in front of train station that inspired him to create a lovely wooden shoe. As much as my hesitation to the Sakura Pond Familia project, making wood-carved products to promote the industry is actually a very neat idea. It’s true that every industry needs to adapt as time changes, for wood-carving, it’s starting as Buddha statue, to the house’s plate, to the mantra… making wood-carves products and furniture seem like a natural progression for me. Yoshino gives Sanae a great view about Sanea’s issues: although it’s true that everyone, everything can be replaced, it’s each individual’s personal touch that distinct one person to another, and therefore everyone will always have different results. I also find Sanae’s idea of building the palace next to train station a solid idea, as from my own experience (especially towards Japan), the train station is where it gets the most crowded, insanely crowded. Hmm, I hope there won’t be a love triangle between Tatsuo and Kazuki and that IT girl because it’d be a one-way fight anyways since Kazuki cares for nothing but carving little piece of wood and Sanae is clearly drawn to that tsundere guy. At long last, the girls end the episode with their first taste of success, even if it’s only a modest one. But things look brightly ahead, now that the girls and the villagers are looking at the same direction for the big project (I guess exoskeletion suit will come very handy), and THAT is what really matters.

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