Review/discussion about: Sakura Quest
I no longer live with my parents; it’s been that way for quite a while now.
Having grown up in their home for so long, though, I can still picture it clearly to this day. The layout of the kitchen. Which floorboards creek. That cool sensation of the basement on a hot summer day. While nothing too extraordinary ever happened in or around the area, its own charm bursts forth all the same.
This sentiment could very well be nostalgia talking. But I’m pretty sure that Sakura Quest would agree with me to some extent: that such a beloved home will be there waiting for my return with open arms.
Sakura Quest stands as another entry in P.A Works’ (the studio behind this project) pseudo-series of shows that combine both work life and normal life into one neat package. While a female protagonist and job-related struggles remain the norm, the narrative ditches hotels and animation studios in favor of an entire village and its pursuit to stay relevant within an ever-changing society.
However, “relevant” isn’t exactly the right phrasing. “Rural rejuvenation” (as the anime would put it) highlights the main throughput a lot better. Indeed, over the course of its entire twenty-five episode run, the women in charge of the revitalization of Manoyama – namely the “Queen” Yoshino and her “champions” Shiori, Maki, Sanae, and Riri – make it their so-called quest to keep the culture, the people, and ultimately the village afloat despite its withering prospects.
These passionate ladies do so in a rather structured manner. While a few of the given episodes act as transitional or singular asides, the anime mostly splits itself up into two-episode mini-arcs. These arcs often focus on one of the women and a personal dilemma of hers which then induces semi-slice-of-life and semi-dramatic moments at a continual pace.
In turn, these issues weave back into hoisting Manoyama onto its countryside feet. For example, they put together a singles-matchmaking day for women from outside of the town to possibly hook up with men from within it. Or they bring the townsfolk together with a new-food-idea competition that celebrates their homegrown foodstuffs. While the back half of the series maintains even further structure with the subplot of finding the three golden treasures of yore, the women never falter in their main quest: reinvigorate this lovely place which they call home.
No matter the happenings and no matter how much the Board of Merchants and the Tourism Board butt heads, Sakura Quest feels right at home when it talks about home. In other words, its thematic exploration of what home is, does, and means provides the narrative with many a soulful moment. After all, “home is where the heart is,” and this anime has a ton of heart at that. It runs the gamut: pitting city life versus country life, having pride in one’s birthplace, finding a sense of direction in the midst of new surroundings.
As Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz would put it, “There’s no place like home,” and these ladies learn this fact firsthand. Not just in their interactions with the people throughout the village but also in their different activities as they learn about the history of this quaint yet storied location. They come to sincerely appreciate its offerings if they have not already, and they realize once again what has made it so swell if they already have.
In the end, Yoshino and her dear friends come to a rather simple conclusion: “home” is the place where he or she can always return to. Not too shabby of a message at all.
Unfortunately, a tornado of sorts hampers Sakura Quest and its content when it seems to toss aside satisfying recompense. Truth be told, revitalizing is not so much the important part of the show as it is the catalyst that creates the groundwork for the characters and the themes to do their thing. Still, their efforts never seem fully qualified or justified. The ideas and the all-over-the-map approach to saving the town rarely results in actual results that contribute to some form of overall improvement.
It’s not about them failing; that’s a somewhat common occurrence. In fact, their very first venture with the overabundance of manju concludes with them being unable to sell the snacks off in full. Yes, these moments at least demonstrate the difficulty in making their dream a reality. Rather it’s the outcomes that do put them on the right track that barely seem to mean much if not anything at all.
The woodworking project, the movie deal, the old school. These arcs no doubt have a presence in how they explore that home-centric premise and do what they can to make Manoyama feel more interconnected. Nevertheless, the patchwork push to get there leads to a troubled meandering feeling. And when it hardly seems as if this rural rejuvenation bears tangible fruit, a subsequent loss in the sense of success, despite the massive efforts expended, pops up time and again throughout the season.
Results notwithstanding (and forgiving Sakura Quest for perhaps relying on the upset-so-better-run-away schtick one too many times), the events and the themes still create for this story a solid narrative worthy of the similar cousins which came before it.
ART & ANIMATION
To make Manoyama a place worth visiting, Sakura Quest puts a lot of effort into curating its visuals to emphasize the splendor and the sereneness of this home away from home.
Much of this feeling comes from the overabundance of scenic, establishing, and one-off shots. While they may seem unnecessary at times, their ability to highlight the welcoming nature of this place cannot go understated. The fruitful farms. The quiet streets. The sturdy trees. The filled buildings. The local attractions.
While certain spots are visited more than others, such as the ladies’ cottage and the Chupakabura Kingdom, these shots are wonderful to behold. Manoyama isn’t designed to be just some random pinpoint on a map; it’s meant to be a believable place worth visiting. And the visuals certainly entice the audience in this way. If nothing else, they are extremely important, for they orient the audience to Manoyama, and they promise that quaint, homely feel through expressing the beauty, the charm, and the identity therein.
On a similar level, the character designs across the board find strength due to the realistic variety on display. Heights, ages, body types, postures, facial features, hairdos. Rather than just changing up the colors, Sakura Quest goes really out of its way to make each individual citizen have their own individual style. And, in doing so, Manoyama feels that much more inviting with a populace unique to their hometown.
One would be remiss in not singling out Yoshino and the other leading ladies. Not only do they channel that same mantra of realistic variety in their designs but also their attractiveness and personality exude forth without much trouble. Best of all, they seem to carry a portable closet with them wherever they go, for their outfits change constantly, sometimes within the same episode. Such attention to detail puts them one step further in terms of appeal and gives the visuals yet another edge to stand upon.
Unfortunately, Sakura Quest stumbles slightly as it goes along. Certain artistic errors due pop up infrequently, such as shadowing errors and consistency in actions. More generally, the actual animation tends to noticeably worsen as the season progresses. It’s never egregious or unacceptable, maintaining at least a passable state. Still, the overall quality in movement does not stay uniform for its entire run.
With the majesty of Manoyama and the variety of the designs outweighing these smaller missteps, the visual direction for the anime remains in good spirits from start to finish.
While Manoyama houses many people within its rustic abode, Sakura Quest keeps most of its focus on the five women who spearhead this rural-rejuvenation project: Yoshino, Shiori, Maki, Sanae, and Riri. Each lady receives roughly two two-episode outings; one in the first half of the season and one in the second half of the season. Altogether, these developments combine their upbringings and their characteristics into a lively group, and they also give a better indication of their thoughtful ideas and meaningful aspirations.
First up, as the main protagonist, Yoshino initially finds herself down on her luck. A churn of failed job opportunities and a bunch of unfortunate fortunetelling tries leave her lamenting her current situation. When she transfers to the countryside by accident, she believes things could not possibly get any worse.
And she’s right; they don’t. Instead, her time as the “Queen” allows her to expand her horizons, to learn of the value in the places that she would otherwise dreadfully deem as “normal”. She connects with the townspeople, sympathizing with their own perspectives. She invests a ton of effort into making this quest a reality, acquiring a sense of the time such a massive undertaking entails. She reevaluates herself, finally discovering her true calling in life. Yoshino does not necessarily captivate the audience during her tenure at Manoyama, but her involvement no doubt leaves an impression on her new home and her new self forevermore.
Somewhat in contrast, Shiori grew up in Manoyama, calling this special place her own home for here entire life. Cute, innocent, and sincere, she simply wants to see it thrive. Her optimism and her niceness shine through with her signature “No worries!” phrase, ensuring that the group maintains confidence even as problems manifest.
Shiori plays the most interesting role within the group insofar as the story does not impact or influence her as much as the other women. But this direction is by design. Where they change over the course of the season, she remains somewhat static as she distills hope to those around her for the betterment of the cause. The waning village forces her to rethink her own attachments, and Erika’s views test her mindset, yet she ignites her passion for dedication despite what they may encounter. In some sense, she is the heart and soul of Manoyama, the stalwart defender of its heritage and its worth. So, watching her reaffirm her home makes for an intriguing inclusion.
“Odin Detective” Maki undergoes a similar process when compared with Yoshino rather than Shiori. Tomboyish and cool, her straightforward words mean well even if they tend to seem negative from time to time. However, her greatest asset comes in the form of a Swiss Army Knife of talents. When she struggled as an actress, she took on many different part-time jobs, granting her a wide range of skills which she applies to the revitalizing project at hand and filling out the next part when needed.
However, acting remains a part of her in turn, and what she thought she had already buried resurfaces to challenge her mettle once more. Incremental steps bring back some lost courage, but further failure deters her from trying harder. Thankfully, a loving family (and specifically a proud father) allow Maki to realize that it is less about striking it big and more about making sure that having fun comes first and foremost.
Compared to Yoshino, Shiori, and Maki (and later Riri), Sanae is the most mature, acting as a font of wisdom with her smarts and her communication. She works with computers, and so she applies her knowledge of programming and technology where possible.
She begins with a position in Tokyo, but she felt unsatisfied with the slog and the sense that her presence could easily be replaced. Naturally, then, Sanae wanted to find somewhere where she felt useful and wanted. Although she starts off just going along for the ride, she eventually finds purpose in her pursuits and worth in her actions, inspired mostly by the woodworker, by the researching professor, and their unique ideals.
As for Riri, she is quite shy and therefore the quietest of the bunch. She doesn’t have very many friends, and her closest relative is her grandmother Chitose, the head of the Board of Merchants, whom she lives with and hears opposing thoughts from by proxy. She also loves the occult more than anyone: aliens, unidentified creatures, strange beings elsewhere. But the Internet is as far as she has scoured for them. Both sides of her origin combine to give her an isolated, unadventurous lifestyle.
Riri rarely ever says much throughout Sakura Quest, yet it becomes clear that she wishes to break away from the routine and the walls which surround her. The story understands her ideology, too, presenting her with chances to make this breakage a reality. She improves her confidence as the main singer of the special song which encapsulates Manoyama, and she befriends the foreign visitors who likewise follow her interests in the occult, encouraging her to travel to see the world beyond her room.
Yoshino, Shiori, Maki, Sanae, and Riri each undergo many trials (as outlined above), so their reliance on one another and their general closeness leads to a tightknit group of dear friends between them. Their banter and their advice, their sadness and their happiness. The year they share together culminates as a positive experience that turns into humble beginnings which they can look back on with fondness – wherever fate takes them next.
Sakura Quest has many, many other side and semi-main characters. Yoshino and the other four understandably earn the most attention, however, the supplemental material that these extras provide – such as Doku and his machines and Takamizawa and his bus driving – are still an intriguing addition. They either move the plot along, bring in a new viewpoint to consider, or otherwise contribute to the anime while almost never seeming as though they do not belong.
In short, the leading ladies and the other cast members demonstrate that Manoyama is a worthwhile home.
MUSIC & SOUND
Sakura Quest refuses to rest in the music-and-sound department, giving the audience several reasons to praise the choices therein.
Much of this praise goes to the original soundtrack. Jazzy drum fills, piano interludes, lighthearted cultural tunes. The anime can glide effortlessly between a countryside feel and a poignant mood without dropping a beat thanks to the simple yet wide-ranging musical arrangements at its disposal. For everything else in-between, the slice-of-life pieces and the soft, cheerful tracks jump in as needed to keep the flow of the show consistent in its emotions without overtaking the actual developments on screen.
But it’s the opening and ending tracks, which pull the audience in and lead the audience out (respectively), that scratch that audio itch. The first OP, “Morning Glory”, encompasses the can-do vibe of Sakura Quest with its piano keys, guitar strings, and clapping segments. It springs forth a spry and soulful attitude in the dynamism, a sincerity in the various vocals, and a sense of home in the feint strumming of a banjo in the background. All of which come together as one excellent song.
The first ED, “Freesia”, holds just as much strength as its OP counterpart. The gentle acoustic guitar and the pronounced, jangled snapping lay a foundation of calm and of yearning, and the eventual vocals, hip-hop beat, and rousing instruments form a catchy, fulfilling sound. Altogether, these elements lead to another excellent song that emboldens the listener with the notion that a steady pace and a head held high can overcome the obstacles life sometimes throws in the way.
The second OP, “Lupinus”, is a bit more structured and not as interesting as its predecessor, but its goal of producing a small jam occurs anyway. The slower groove of the electric guitar and the drums working in tandem in the first half create an introspective sound as the vocalist strolls along. The second half, however, goes for a floatier atmosphere, leading to an optimistic approach that matches the tone of the first OP.
The second ED, “Baby’s Breath”, follows suit in that its replacement of its predecessor incurs some slight disappointment, but such thoughts quickly leave as this new track grows on the listener. The set of notes from the acoustic guitar are so much fun to whistle along to, and the cheerful mixing of the piano, the shakers, and the female vocals make it hard not to have a smile on the face once the song ends.
And, of course, the anime would not be complete without some very solid voice-acting performances out of its important cast members. In particular, Reina Ueda as Shiori channels her inner cuteness and niceness once again, solidifying her household-favorite status; Ayaka Nanase as Yoshino delivers a young, gung-ho manner of speaking in one of her first and major roles within her field and the medium at large; and Atsushi Ono as Ushimatsu brings the older, determined edge for the gentleman most invested in seeing Manoyama flourish.
With nary a complaint to be found, the audio design may just be the best feature of Sakura Quest.
I had a lot of fun with this show, and I attribute that feeling to a few different key factors.
One, I really liked the setup for this tale. Adult characters. An enticing setting. A set of intriguing themes to explore. This anime appealed to me on a fundamental level, so I rarely (if ever) found myself disliking its direction.
Two, I was fond of both Shiori and Sandal (especially Shiori). Shiori was awesome with her positivity and silliness, and I could relate to her staunch pride when it came to the love she has for her home. On the other foot (per se), Sandal was eccentric and honest, and his out-of-nowhere sayings, his crazy timings, and his English usage got me laughing right away.
Three, I thought certain scenes stood out. The play in episode twenty, the flashback moments across the various episodes, and the majority of episode fourteen made for a divergence (however slight) from the usual path the anime took. I gave these scenes and others a big thumbs-up.
And four, the ending managed to get me a tad emotional. Its sweet wholesomeness and its decided completeness had me nodding my head in approval.
Otherwise, I was more or less entertained by this anime. While I do wish that romance was more prominent, and I would have liked to have seen better callbacks to previous episodes, I enjoyed the comedy, the interactions, the style, the nostalgia, and the maturity presented. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an incredible anime, but it certainly left an impression on me regardless.
Sakura Quest blossoms into its own wonderful project. The caring ideas, the lovely visuals, the meaningful characters, the fantastic musical offerings, and the high amount of fun turn this anime into a place that many people out there would likely consider just as beloved as any other.
Story: Fine, rural rejuvenation and a purposeful message about home keep Manoyama afloat, but the narrative suffers from a lack of results in the efforts expended
Art & Animation: Good, numerous establishing shots give Manoyama its beauty, and the impressive number of designs and outfits prove the attention to detail, even if the infrequent lapse in artistic direction crops up
Characters: Great, Yoshino, Shiori, Maki, Sanae, and Riri are each influenced in some way by this quest, their group rapport brings further strength between them, and the extra cast members contribute to the writing backing both the plot and the ladies as well
Music & Sound: Great, the OST fits very well within the confines of the setting and the feeling of the moods, the first OP and the first ED are excellent, the second OP and the second ED are nice follow-ups, and the VA performances are quite solid
Enjoyment: Good, the setup, Shiori and Sandal, certain scenes, and the ending are key factors in the entertaining time crafted here
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want take part in the discussion below! I dedicate this review to my amazing Grandpa Ron who passed away last week. Whether at the Cracker Barrel, up at the family cottage, or at his own living room, his jolly laugh and his kindhearted soul made any place feel like home. Wherever you are, Grandpa, I love you dearly, and I hope to carry on your wisdom as best as I can.