Review for The Pet Girl of Sakurasou Complete Collection
With so much anime streaming online each season, it’s hard to make an informed choice as to what to watch, or even what to keep an eye on as potentially interesting. It becomes a case of word of mouth, combined with the evergreen franchises, and given how much original stuff comes out each season, you bet that’s just a small fraction of the whole. It’s very easy then to judge any new anime on the strength of key visuals or even just the title, without even looking at the series synopsis. That’s what happened to me the first time I heard of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. I mean, Pet Girl? That’s bound to be one of those salacious, exploitative, fan service shows with no redeeming qualities, but which comprise a significant proportion of Crunchyroll streams. But when the complete series is put on sale for under ten dollars, I can handle a little salaciousness, a bit of clichéd, disposable anime nonsense to serve as background noise while I unwind of an evening. It turns out I was wrong, quite wrong.
All that Sorata Kanda wanted was a quiet, non-descript high school life at Suimei High School. That hope ended the day that he took pity on a homeless cat and took it back to his dorm; the regular dorm where pets aren’t allowed. Soon he was the subject of classroom gossip when he was relocated to the infamous Sakura Hall, the dorm where all the school ‘weirdoes’ reside. The teacher in charge of the dorm is the unconventional Chihiro Sengoku, easy going, self-centred and just the slightest bit sadistic. As for the students, art student Misaki Kamiigusa is a veritable anime genius who is on the verge of going professional, but has the extrovert personality of an alien. Jin Mitaka takes general studies, writes anime scripts for Misaki, his childhood friend, but has a thing for older women, a veritable ladies’ man. And then there’s Ryunosuke Akasaka, programming genius and total recluse who tends to communicate with everyone through the AI mailbot that he has created. Sorata’s goal is to get out of Sakura Hall, and back to a normal life. That won’t be easy as his one rescued cat is rapidly growing into a menagerie of rescued cats.
His life is about to get a whole lot more complicated. Chihiro’s cousin Mashiro Shiina is coming to Japan from England, transferring to Suimei High, and she tells Sorata to collect Mashiro from the station, make sure she gets to school, and take care of her. Sorata is unprepared for exactly what that means. Mashiro may be a genius artist, but she has no common sense whatsoever, and is totally dysfunctional. When Sorata has to get her bathed and dressed for school, and stop her from eating without paying in shops, he learns that taking care of Mashiro is a full-time job. He wasn’t expecting another pet to look after...
24 episodes of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou are presented across 6 DVDs from Sentai Filmworks. The show is also available on region A locked Blu-ray.
1. Cat. White. Mashiro.
2. I Drew a Picture
3. So Close and Yet So Far
4. A World of Changing Colors
5. The Serious Girl of Sakura Hall
6. The Blue After the Rain
7. Her Homesickness
8. Set Off a Huge Firework
9. The Fall Storm is Here
10. Hate, Hate, Love
11. Milky Way Cat, Nyapollon
12. The Power of Love in the Culture Festival
13. One Step Before Winter
14. The Windows and Lights of Christmas Eve
15. Where is My Usual Self?
16. I’ve Always Loved You...
17. Valentine’s Day is Chocolate Day
18. First Love With an Alien
19. There’s No Place Like Sakura Hall
20. So We Can Keep Saying We’re Here
21. It’s Not Anyone’s Fault That it Rains
22. Run Through Those Sparkling Days
23. Graduation Ceremony
24. Welcome to Sakura Hall
You get a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer, progressively encoded on these discs. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with strong, vibrant colours, and smooth, detailed animation. There are no problems with aliasing or visible compression, and even digital banding is minimal. The Pet Girl gets pretty good animation too, with some pleasant and likeable, if somewhat generic character designs, and a rich and vivid world design. There is a lot of production value on screen, and this isn’t a show to cut corners with its animation.
This is a subtitle only release from Sentai Filmworks, a DD 2.0 Japanese track with optional English subtitles. It’s a nice, agreeable stereo experience, doing well with the show’s occasional action filled moments, the ambience, and the appropriate music. The actors are suited well to their roles, even if the characters do conform a little closely to the current tropes and fashions. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typographical error.
You get 6 discs in an Amaray case, one on each inner face, and two discs either side of two hinged panels. The discs present their content with static menus, jacket pictures, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for The Anime Network.
Here you’ll find extended previews for six episodes.
You’ll also find trailers for Humanity Has Declined, Girls und Panzer, Say “I Love You”, So I Can’t Play H, Magical Play, and the Di Gi Charat Specials.
Disc 2 offers three more extended previews.
There are 3 Japanese promos for the show running to 7:14, and 6 TV Spots running to 2:11, all are subtitled. The textless credits are also on this disc, the first opening and ending sequences.
Disc 3 has three more extended previews.
You’ll also find The Pet Girl of Sakurasou Japanese Premiere Event which lasts 44:49. This is one of those stage events that sees the voice cast in front of a live audience, engaging in some meaningless triviality to entertain. Don’t expect any genuine insight into the show.
Disc 4 autoplays with a trailer for the Anime Network.
There are three extended previews, and trailers for Love, Election and Chocolate, Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth, To Love Ru, Upotte!, Girls und Panzer, and Maria Holic Alive.
Disc 5 has three more extended previews, and the second set of textless credits.
Disc 6 finishes thing off with 5 extended previews, and four CD spots for the show’s theme songs, running to a total length of 2:09.
You’ve probably heard me whinge on occasion regarding the current state of mainstream anime, especially with regard to the reliance on established tropes and character archetypes. It often feels like anime committees tick boxes off a checklist to make sure their latest masterpiece will appeal to the mainstream anime fanbase in Japan. That’s most apparent when you take a wander through the average cast of a harem show. There will be the quiet, emotionally dense girl, the hyper perky go-getter, the sisterly type, the motherly type, the tsundere and so on. You’ll also see the same checkpoints on the story route... there will be a bikini episode for sure, a Christmas episode (bonus points if male protagonist works fifteen part time jobs to buy a present for his ideal girl)...
It can get pretty tiresome seeing the same things over again, although it must be said that there are decent shows being made even within the confines of the checklist. But I do look back fondly to the days before the last anime bubble popped, and creators took far more risks, and offered a far greater variety of stories and animation styles. At least that’s the way it feels. But I do on occasion wonder what one of those bubble shows would look like if it were made today...
Wonder no further, as we have such an example here. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is a modern take on Honey & Clover. Things shift back from college to high school, as all self respecting anime romantic comedies need to be set in high school, but once again, it’s about a socially awkward art prodigy that transfers in, and winds up being looked after by the show’s protagonist. It’s set in a dormitory that’s considered the dumping ground of the school’s eccentric students, so we get a cast of very colourful and outrageous characters, and given the male female mix, there’s a whole lot of relationship angst to be had, as we follow them pursuing their ambitions and dreams over the course of the year.
The basic story set-up is a lot like Honey & Clover, but it’s shot through the modern anime lens, it sees its characters as the expected archetypes, and the story hits the usual tropes. This might be where you’d be expecting a ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’ or a ‘second-rate knock off’ but the fact of the matter is that I liked The Pet Girl of Sakurasou a lot. It was entertaining, and best of all it was emotionally engaging. Certainly in some aspects, such as the predictability of the characterisations it fell short, but in some aspects I actually found it better than Honey & Clover, as its character and story arcs were better defined, and the show felt a lot more rewarding, hitting all the right emotional beats.
For a nation that thrives on conformity to the point of uniformity, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou has a very positive and forward-thinking message; that it’s okay to be an oddball and think outside of the box. When the series begins, protagonist Sorata Kanda very much prefers conformity and the anonymity of the group, and it’s only his inability to turn away from abandoned cats that make him stand out. The regular dorm doesn’t allow pets, so he gets moved to Sakura Hall, the aging and slightly run-down building where those students that stand out a little too much are consigned. It’s less a punishment than it is a case of their educators unable to deal with them. Sorata’s goal is to re-home the cats and get back to normality, something in which he is supported by classmate Nanami Aoyama, but he keeps collecting stray cats, and complaining about his dorm-mates.
Misaki Kamiigusa is a regular genius. She’s the overenthusiastic and overly demonstrative girl in the dorm, but as a high school girl, she’s already making anime that’s catching the eye of appreciative fans and those in the industry. Her childhood friend Jin Mitaka helps by writing anime scripts for her, while the hidden member of Sakura Hall is Ryunosuke Akasaka, a programmer extraordinaire who never ventures outside of his room to Sorata’s knowledge, and communicates only by e-mail and text. To lessen human contact even further, he’s created an AI to do his mail and text communicating for him, which makes ‘Maid-chan’ a regular presence on phones and PCs around the dormitory. The teacher in charge of their dorm is another unlikely candidate, Chihiro Sengoku, a woman who’s more intent on finding a husband than enforcing the rules, and has a hands-off approach to authority when it comes to the students.
Sorata’s outlook changes when Chihiro’s young cousin transfers into the school, and she gives Sorata the job of looking after Mashiro Shiina. That’s not just helping her move in, and showing her around school, but a full time job of looking after her. The reason why soon becomes clear. Mashiro is a genuine art prodigy, far outstripping her peers in pure talent and ability, but the price she’s paid is a complete lack of social skills, or even the ability to take care of herself. The first time Sorata encounters her is when he’s enchanted by this solemn beauty bathed in cherry blossoms. The second time is after she’s fallen asleep under her desk in a tip of a room (after just one night), having pulled an all-nighter in front of her PC drawing manga. She’s naked, totally lacking self-awareness, and can’t quite comprehend the necessity to wash and dress for school. So Sorata has to do basically everything for her, and hope that she learns how to look after herself soon enough. That doesn’t look likely when she doesn’t even pay for food in shops, just picks it up and eats it.
At the same time, Mashiro also serves to inspire Sorata. She may be a natural fine artist, but she’s packed it all in, moved back to Japan from the UK, all to follow her dream of being a manga artist, and having her stories published. Her art is certainly enough to get the manga publishers interested, but her lack of common sense means that her stories are weak to say the least. So she starts writing what she knows, about living in this dorm with a bunch of oddball characters. Slowly Sorata realises that he doesn’t just have to conform and keep his head down during high school, he can pursue his dreams as well. At the same time, Aoyama has been pursuing her dreams of being a voice actress, attending school, working part time jobs, and attending a voice acting academy as well. Burning the candle at both ends gets her into trouble trying to make rent for the regular dorm, so she winds up moving into Sakura Hall as well, and so the main cast is complete.
The show follows the cast as they pursue their respective dreams, but there’s no little relationship angst as well. Sorata and Aoyama are good friends at the start of the show, and it isn’t much of a secret that Aoyama is sweet on Sorata. But Sorata is immediately entranced by Mashiro’s talent, and as their relationship grows, in often bizarre ways, you can see them becoming closer too. It’s an odd relationship triangle, where Mashiro’s denseness to the outside world results in a lot of mixed messages and crossed wires. Misaki is head-over-heels in love with Jin; she’ll dress up in nothing but a ribbon for his birthday, and isn’t shy about who sees it, but Jin doesn’t see her in that way, and instead spends his evenings playing the field with a host of older women. Part way through the series, Mashiro’s friend Rita visits from England, and by this time Ryunosuke has been coaxed out of his room. Rita falls for Ryunosuke, which isn’t good for a recluse with acute gynophobia.
The thing is that all these relationship issues could be superficial and played just for the comedy, and indeed at the start of the story they are. But as we get to know the characters, and learn of their back-stories, the relationship angst gets more intense and relatable to the point that when the characters hurt each other, the viewer feels it too. There are points in the story where you might find yourself welling up in between the laughter. The show follows the characters over a year of time, watching them grow, and learn, through the good times and the bad, and it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride. Certainly it hits plenty of the clichés that you expect in such anime. Sorata’s kid sister turns up, and is instantly threatened by all the female attention he seems to be getting. There’s an episode where they get into their swimsuits (sneaking into the school pool after hours for a pool party) and breast size becomes an issue. There is a school culture festival storyline, Valentine’s Day chocolate becomes an issue at one point, and there are plenty of scenes set on the school roof.
Despite this, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou really works because it engages the viewers’ feelings and no more so than with its climax. There comes a point where it seems that the residents are pulling in different directions, about to fall apart, and then comes the news that the Hall is to be demolished. Over the year, they’ve come to appreciate the creative freedom they have there, and being faced with losing it makes them all come together to fight for their home, even though two of them are graduating from high school. It becomes all the more poignant and personal when they learn the reason why it’s being demolished. The penultimate episode is another one of those anime moments that stick in the memory, leaving you dealing an annoying something in the eye.
It is possible to use clichéd character archetypes and clichéd story elements and still create a brilliant and entertaining anime show. It’s how you use them that matters the most, and the creators of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou have delivered a delectable masterpiece using the most common of ingredients. It’s very much a show worth importing, but it would be even better if someone in the UK could license it, and we could get a Region B Blu-ray as well.