Yuri Anime: Sakura Trick (English) Guest review by Jocilyn W.

January 12th, 2014

sakura trickAsk and you shall receive. Yesterday I admitted that I would not be reviewing the Sakura Trick anime, as I declined the role of excessively creepy thigh-starer the audience was cast in.  Luckily for all of us, there are many people who watched Sakura Trick who are not me! Today we welcome back Jocilyn W., to Okazu. I cannot thank you enough Jocilyn – take it away!

Following in the proud Yuricon tradition of “Story A, bordering on PWP,” the Sakura Trick anime delights in being cute, colorful and… feisty?

Originally published in the MangaTime Kirara Miracle! (Houbunsha) as 4-koma, Tachi’s Sakura Trick manga, having already achieved decent marks on Okazu a month or so ago, has been faithfully reproduced in a vibrant pastel 1080p animation by S.tudio DEEN for the Winter 2014 anime season. Thanks to a last minute addition by Crunchyroll, the anime has already legitimately been shown in the West, though it’s so far met with a mediocre regard on various anime blogs.

Our protagonist, Takayama Haruka is a lively and fun soda bottle of raging teenage hormones. Opening as it does on a tumultuous first day of high school, the oft-pined for object of Haruka’s craving (desire may not be strong enough of a word) is revealed to be none other than her bestfriend Sonoda Yu’s affections.  Yu, though seemingly somewhat more level-headed than Haruka (note the froggy shaped iPhone case and pantaloons), is presented to the audience as being either reticent and/or thickheaded in her affections toward her bestfriend, as well as possibly a little embarrassed at the prospect.  Eponymously, the would-be couple discovers a forgotten classroom strewn with cherry-blossom petals: perfectly setting the stage to allow Haruka’s affections to give flight and Yu’s akogare to tumble into a basket of giggles.

Given that “pairing off” seems to be one of the anime’s chief themes, and that the first episode lands squarely on the first day of high school, two other pairs of female friends are introduced.  Chief among them are Ikeno Kaede (of the “Shall we link arms?”) and Iizuka Yuzu (of the denyingly gay), as well as their classmate from middle school Noda Kotone (of the “Yoroshiku Harorin~”, no doubt her future pet name for Haruka) and a new girl bearing a name that conjures in everyone’s mind the image of a green young woman from a well-to-do family, Minami Shizuku (of the “I can’t live up to that image…”).

Ratings:

Art – 3 (*puts on sunglasses*)
Character – 7 (Definitely stronger than archetypes but they’ve really yet to emerge)
Story – 4 (Never before seen: a 4-koma based on the interpersonal lives of cute schoolgirls?!)
Yuri – 9 (Apart from Strawberry Panic!, I feel like this is a hard one to top in anime)
Service – 9 (Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to unclench my jaw)

Overall – 7 (Giving it the benefit of the doubt and rounding up)

Erica here again: Thank you Jocilyn. So much.

12 Responses

  1. Cryssoberyl says:

    Sorry you couldn’t like it, Erica, although I understand. The fanservice was indeed excessive, and the constant “chest cam” shots especially annoyed me. At least show their faces, for heaven’s sake.

    However, even with all that, to me Sakura Trick was still like a life-giving draft to the parched. It’s been so long, too long, since we had a truly yuri-focused show on the air. It is wonderful that yuri manga is flourishing as it is, but we can’t be content with that, or at least I can’t. I view anime as a crucial tool in increasing yuri’s visibility and popularity – and for all SK’s faults, it may prove to be a worthy tool in that regard. I’ve seen many comments on the episode to the effect of “this is my first yuri anime series, it’s pretty silly so far but I’m interested to see more”.

    I’m certainly hoping they’ll be toning down the service after the first episode, which as I’ve said here before, is often the actual lowest point of many series. I also, of course, found myself wishing that the romance aspect was presented in a less flippant, carefree manner. I wish there had been an actual conversation between the girls after their first kiss, discussing their feelings and what it might mean to both of them.

    For desiring this, I was laughed at by my best friend and fellow watcher Zefiris – though despite her cynicism, I believe she actually may have enjoyed the episode more than I did. I still hope for something like that nearer to the end of the series, a moment where the girls will really think and talk about what they mean to each other, and where their relationship is heading. Sakura Trick really is something that I want very much to end up liking.

    However, regardless of its merits, SK is still another step on the path. For all people’s criticisms about the lack of actual yuri in Yuru Yuri, I personally believe that us even getting an SK anime is a direct result of YY’s success.

    Hopefully, if SK is similarly successful, it will continue to increase the forward momentum of getting yuri of substance back into anime on a regular basis – though I may say that in order to do so, I think SK will need to step up the quality of its humor. YY was a genuinely funny show, and SK so far is relying too much on its service and not enough on comedy that is actually amusing.

  2. Cryssoberyl says:

    Bah. ST, not SK. I don’t know why I keep doing that, this isn’t the first time. I’ll blame it on my perpetual case of SKU-on-the-brain.

  3. Zefiris says:

    The review seems accurate, and I completely understand tat you avoided watching it. The service levels were ridiculous nonsense.

    Have you heard of Murcielago, by the way? It’s a manga that seems much more your thing, for various reasons. ^^

  4. Grisznak says:

    Review after one episode? I’d rather call it preview…

    • We often do a “first look” at a series after an episode or two. It’s not unusual.

      • Grisznak says:

        But of course, but still I have problems with using word “review” here. Rather “preview” or “first look”. Review means something more detailed and serious.

        • Perhaps that is true on your blog. Here on Okazu, a “review” is a person’s opinion on a cartoon, or comic. I’ve often written reviews of my early impressions of a series. I do not know why this one has made you so grumpy, but it is neither unusual for Okazu nor for a “review.”

  5. jocilyn says:

    As a fan of Tachi and long time Yuri follower (11 or 12 or so years?) I can respond to Cryssoberyl’s comment.

    While I completely agree with the sentiments you expressed (note the aforementioned teeth-grinding; I’d have much preferred an Ikuhara Kunihiko interpretation), Sakura Trick is a seinen manga, ostensibly (though not exclusively) marketed to adult men. Some series are difficult for us to pin down exactly which genre they more closely resemble, as well as the obvious differences in marketing in Japan vs. Abroad (you may want to skim through these two threads from as far back as 2002 on Azumanga Daioh! which was marketed in Japan to guys, but seemingly to girls in the US (though many of my male friends at the time were in love with it and joined me in singing Raspberry Heaven aloud in the car…): http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/bbs/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=12293
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/bbs/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=13718

    If you read the original Sakura Trick manga you’ll notice virtually zero original dialogue has been created in the anime (we should be celebrating that). In manga we can fill in the gaps between panels with our own interpretation of how romantic or amusing, etc. a scene is supposed to feel. In anime based on manga, a director or team has decided to present to us their interpretation of that manga. Sometimes that interpretation is more enjoyable than the original manga (ie. Naruto imo), oftentimes it is not. I agree that Studio DEEN’s Sakura Trick anime doesn’t resemble what went through my mind when I read it last year, but how could we expect it to? It has to appeal on a broader basis than the niche Yuri market to justify being aired on television. It doesn’t have crazy mecha battle sequences ala Simoun nor slice-of-life bildungsroman elements ala Wandering Son. They might have chosen to fill in those gaps with something other than fanservice, but then, I wouldn’t say the original was actually devoid of bare thigh. ^^;;

    • Cryssoberyl says:

      Yes, they might’ve chosen to fill it with better quality humor, as I said. And being, forgive me, quite as much a “long time yuri follower” as yourself, I’m well familiar with all the intricacies of Japanese marketing, and with the ever-present problem of attempting to make and market anime with yuri elements that don’t rely solely on that one thing to appeal to potential audiences.

      I do think the SHAFT/Hidamari Sketch-esque visual tricks help and stand to benefit the show, but that’s not enough. As has been said, so far the adaptation is fairly slavish to the original, which is laudable in some ways, but turning yonkoma into successful anime series is nothing new, and usually needs to go beyond that somehow. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with…if anything.

  6. Matt Warren says:

    http://t.co/k5ppB2FXVB and http://t.co/16Szx6gqgw: I shall offer these as counterpoint. Also, I talk about this show in Animation Revelation’s Winter 2014 preview to be posted some time this week. Overall, I found the episode to be nice, cute and relatively harmless. Showed it to some of the other AR writers and they didn’t seem to complain much on it, and they are not even yuri fans.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This right here is a cult classic, a hidden pearl buried under false preconceptions and unfounded criticism. Sakura Trick speaks to the darkest corners of our subconscious; the most visceral of our awareness; the most carnal of our urges and the most primal of our instincts. Its ingenuity will ever be debated and yet always remain objectively undeniable. The fundamental insight it provides into human and perhaps animalistic nature may shape the basis of sexual psychoanalysis for centuries to come.

    On a superficial level, Sakura Trick appears to be an anime that caters to the most lowly and deprived among men. Conceited critics dismiss it without a second thought. As self-important as they are, they fail to realize that Sakura Trick is indeed a trick, and they’re the ones being tricked. Sakura trees, or cherry blossoms, are commonly associated with a sense of beauty and femininity in Japanese culture. As discussed by Ango Sakaguchi in his Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita, sakura petals are often a means to enhance the atmosphere of a given scene, be it melancholic, resplendent or sensual. This is used in series such as 5 Centimeters per Second and Kokoro Connect, in which sakura petals were used to create immense yet artificial atmospheres which proved successful in fooling the average viewers incapable of critical analysis. What many critics fail to realize, however, is that Sakura Trick is playing them beyond this level. The entire tangible layer of Sakura Trick is a euphemism for the dark and uncanny subconscious that it explores.

    The exterior story of Sakura Trick is straight forward – two girls: Haruka and Yuu, unknowingly in love with each other, start high school together in the same class. In class, they meet two additional couples of girls with romance implied within the pairs. This premise alone poses innumerable questions of pertinence – most of which are problematized further and explored as the series progresses. Why are two girls romantically interested in each other? What is the nature and depth of the affection between them? Why are there four more girls of questionable sexuality in their class? Were they perhaps affected to some degree by Haruka’s and Yuu’s display of intimacy, implying a nurture over nature determination of sexuality? Or are the viewers subconsciously tricked into interpreting non-existent romantic relationships? Perhaps most important and counter-intuitive of all, this series explores male sexuality through the scope of lesbianism. What are the reasons for a male to be aroused by the prospect of a relationship between two people that cannot produce offspring? When exposed to explicit intercourse in the likes of hentai, it is normal that the lust for the opposite gender can override the notion of evolutionary feasibility. Yet in Sakura Trick, a series without any explicit intercourse, the male viewers still experience a craving for the girls’ well-being instead of feeling jealousy and contempt for one of the girls as would be rational. By taking hold of this anomaly in human behaviour and untangling its implications, Sakura Trick explores the darkest depths of our consciousness which borders between flesh and mind.

    The characters in Sakura Trick are fantastic, not only in their characterization and likability but also in how they support the psychological study that the series is. Rather than all being equipped with sexually appealing traits such as voluptuous body shapes and teasing personalities, the girls are simply “cute”, for lack of a less vulgar word. This makes them extremely successful in generating not just physical, but more importantly emotional cravings from the audience. However, each girl has their own distinguishable perk which separates each of them from one another. It is easy to feel the meticulous character studies that the creators of Sakura Trick must have done – each character fit seamlessly and effectively into their own preference group, and together these groups encompass the vast majority of the audience’s preferences while never overwhelming them with an unnecessarily large cast of characters. The voice acting pushes this to even greater effect as the voice actors are chosen so as to further emphasize the fetishistic appeal of each character. Owning to its splendid characterization and acting, the characters of Sakura Trick not only belongs to their individual stereotypes, but perfects them.

    The artistic creativity of this series is unmatched, and this is evident in both art and animation. The visuals are based on a simplistic design, but is augmented by subtly and tactfully changing its backgrounds into abstract art and shapes depending on the situation and atmosphere. In a splendid display of knowledge in anime direction, these artistic shifts are extremely frequent yet never feel forced or interfering with the viewers’ immersion. This hectic and creative style vividly complements the psychological nature of the series. It is an embodiment of the ideals that Shaft had in mind for but failed to accomplish in their shows such as the Monogatari Series and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.

    Music can make or break a show; in the case of Sakura Trick, the former definitely applies. What is most baffling about its music is how little it stands out. It stays true to the norms of high school romantic comedies, and plays exactly what you expect it to play. As music mostly affects people subconsciously, it does a splendid job in tricking the audience into believing the innocent and cheerful façade of the show. The opening song in particular deserves special mention for how it manages to sound so completely and genuinely generic. The fake atmosphere that the music sets up is so indistinguishable from the average rom-coms that even the most painstakingly careful viewers may be fooled into dismissing this show as an ordinary high-school anime.

    Enjoyment may be an important part of anime-viewing for the ordinary viewer. For experienced critics such as I, however, enjoyment cannot be a factor when examining a show of such depth and complexity. Attempts at analyzing Sakura Trick’s implications and unraveling its messages require great concentration and effort, and are further exacerbated by the fact that so much of my blood flows elsewhere than my brain when viewing this show. On the other hand, the pleasant premise and tempting characters would undoubtedly provide great entertainment to the average layman who lacks the skills of critical analysis.

    There have been numerous undisputable masterpieces among anime: Angel Beats, Clannad and Code Geass to name a few. Sakura Trick will not join their ranks; its surface is too generic, its presentation too provocative and its messages too obscure. Instead, it will remain underground – treasured by the most avant-garde among intellectuals for its depth of insight into the fundaments of sexuality. Philistines and self-proclaimed critics alike will shun Sakura Trick, but you can’t fault them for that. It takes wisdom to appreciate its subtleties, and courage to side with the unpopular opinion.

    -Review by superzarop

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