Monday, March 31, 2014

Anime Review: Sakura Trick

When I wrote my first impressions of the Sakura Trick anime, my verdict was, "Cute story, horrible execution" because of its heavy service. Having finished it, I think this series is even more of a mixed bag, but only because its later episodes were better than I expected.

Sakura Trick is about Haruka (right in the pic above) and Yuu (left). After they start high school, Haruka starts worrying that she and Yuu are drifting apart, so she and Yuu kiss to have something only between them. They really like that kiss, so their relationship is romantic from that point forward. Haruka is a sweetie who is upfront about how she feels, while Yuu doesn't like talking about her feelings. This leads to six or so episodes of them not discussing the changed status of their relationship until episode 8. Episode 8 changes that and it is great, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Sakura Trick's other characters include Haruka and Yuu's friends Shizuku and Kotone, who are basically the beta couple and don't influence the story as much as I expected. Shizuku is quiet and tsundere and Kotone is outgoing, informal, and, surprisingly, the rich one. Yuzu and Kaede are the tsukkomi and boke, respectively, of Haruka and Yuu's friend group, and their relationship is completely platonic. I actually quite liked them.

Surprisingly, the most important person in this series after Haruka and Yuu is Yuu's older sister Mitsuki, who I referred to as "Oneechan" and "Closet Case Oneechan" when I commented on this series while watching it with my girlfriend. ("Is it bad that I like Oneechan more than her sister?") Oneechan falls in love with Haruka, who is of course oblivious, over the course of the series, and the series resolves the Oneechan-Haruka-Yuu love triangle surprisingly directly. I expected it to be an endless gag, kind of like the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle, except with two of the parties involved clearly in love with each other.

Anyway, the first seven episodes are a lot of not much happening, with a lot of creepy service shots. (Granted, I liked the scarf-shopping episode because it was pretty low on service and it reminded me of how much I like clothes-shopping with my sweetie.) When Sakura Trick's anime adaptation was announced, I was glad, but I also thought pointlessly of how nice it would be to see something I love, like Girl Friends, adapted. The Sakura Trick adaptation made me glad that it was ST instead of a yuri manga I love, though, because I would probably cry on the inside if Mari and Akko, or any yuri couple I'm really attached to, got the same treatment as Haruka and Yuu. I still hope that if this series has any impact, it ultimately paves the way for more good than creepy for yuri in anime, though.

As I said before, episode 8 ("A Cherry Blossom-Colored Wedding/A Cherry Blossom-Colored Christmas") is great. It has basically no service and its story is leaps and bounds better than what came before. In it, Haruka receives an invitation to attend her cousin's wedding and decides to bring Yuu. Yuu mishears Haruka when Haruka invites her and thinks Haruka is saying she wants them to get married. They eventually clear up the misunderstanding but confirm that they do want to marry each other someday. This explicit talk of seriously wanting to marry each other was very "WHOAH" for me, as you can imagine. In the episode's second half, Mitsuki notices that Haruka and Yuu are having a fight and helps them make up. The ultimate point of this half episode is that they didn't discuss their relationship prior to episode 8 because Yuu isn't good at discussing her feelings. Lack of service aside, it was also one of the most visually pleasing episodes because it made great use of the light show Haruka and Yuu went to with their friends and Mitsuki.

Episodes 9 and 10 continue to feel like the series is finally dealing with what it's like to be in a relationship. Haruka and Yuu's New Year's Eve phone conversation (which takes up the first half of episode 9) is adorable, they get an inside joke that feels like like an inside joke actual couples would use, and one of their friends flat out says "Haruka and Yuu are going out, right?" to Mitsuki.

Episode 11 introduces Sumi, a character whose only point is to introduce a shitty boob-groping gag. The second half of episode 11 deals with Mitsuki... well, I thought episode 10 made her realize that Haruka and Yuu are together, but I guess it took her seeing them kiss to make it fully sink in. She forbids them from kissing, but it doesn't stop them, and she ultimately realizes she's in love with Haruka.

In episode 12, the seniors graduate and the Mitsuki-Haruka-Yuu love triangle resolves, albeit not as satisfactorily as I would have liked. Mitsuki gets good closure, and is confirmed my favorite character for being the most self-aware. I can understand Haruka and Yuu not being completely sure what their feelings mean for them, especially since they're two years younger than Mitsuki, who is graduating. It would be easier to be like, "Yup, I'm lesbian for you," to the girl you like who attends the same high school shortly before being like, "Peace out, high school." (I honestly wouldn't oppose seeing a spin-off focusing on Mitsuki's college adventures, especially since her friend Rina, who is clearly in love with her, got into the same college.)

Haruka and Yuu's ambivalence in episode 12 about what their feelings and relationship mean for them could be indicative of some denial also, which is understandable. It still feels weird after episodes 8 though 10, though, especially 8. (And even before episode 8, Haruka fantasized about living with Yuu as an adult and raising a child with her.) The series itself seems to think that they are really in love and on the cusp of fully realizing what it means for them and the manga is ongoing, so I expect Haruka and Yuu to the get to the point I would like to see them at ("We are in a relationship and this could lead somewhere long-term") eventually in some format- but that ambiguity in episode 12 still doesn't fully make sense after what came before.

After episode 8, there is still some icky service, but it isn't as bad overall as the first seven episodes. Like I said, this series is very much a mixed bag, but I would at least try episodes 8 through 10- or 8, if you only watch one episode.

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