Review for Sakura Trick Collection
MVM release another anime comedy adapted from a four-panel manga. Earlier this year, they released the anarchic and hilarious Kill Me, Baby. This show could very easily have been called Kiss Me, Baby given its subject matter, but it goes by the more esoteric title of Sakura Trick instead. It also had the unintended effect of getting me questioning my own intolerance and innate bigotry. Just how open-minded am I? Would I watch this exact same show if it was set in a boys’ high school? But let’s face it, that’s far more thought than this show deserves...
Haruka Takayama and Yu Sonoda have been best friends all through middle school, sitting next to each other in class, and are inseparable. That looks to continue in high school, although it turns out that their intake year will be the last for Misato West High School, which in three years will be merged with Misato East, the building closed down. Their names are next to each other in the Japanese alphabet, and when they learn that they are in the same class, they expect to be sitting next to each other again. But they manage to buck the odds, and wind up at opposite sides of the class. Worse, when it looks like Yu is making new friends, Haruka winds up getting jealous.
Best friends need to stay best friends even if they are on opposite sides of the class, and Haruka and Yu decide to do something that they won’t do with anyone else, a secret that the two of them alone will share. They decide to kiss. But it leads to an unexpected development in their friendship. With their new friends, Kaede and Yuzu, Kotone and Shizuku, it’s going to be an interesting first year at Misato West High School.
12 episodes of Sakura Trick are presented across two DVDs from MVM. The show is also released on Blu-ray.
1. At First Blush/Yakisoba, Balconies and Girls
2. The Second Blush/Love With Harry After School
3. Sis is the President/The Typical While Cleaning the Pool
4. Mission: Impossibly Sour/Are You Testing My Courage?!
5. Let’s Have Tea With My Sister/Witches, Apples and My Big Sister
6. It’s the Culture Festival – The Sleepover/It’s the Culture Festival – The Actual Event
7. Swimsuit Fanservice with Bonus Slippage/ Shopping with Yu
8. Blushing Wedding/Blushing Christmas
9. The Year’s End Debut of S.B.J.K/Mission Impossibly Sour II?!
10. Snowy Day, Memories and Shock/The Usual in the Phys Ed Equipment Storage Room
11. Sumisumi for President/Blushing Truth
12. Custard and Mitsuki’s Determination/Sakura Trick
Sakura Trick gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on these discs, in PAL format courtesy of Australia’s Hanabee Entertainment. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with decent levels of detail, and no signs of compression or aliasing. It’s a pleasant, warm, and colourful animation, with nice backgrounds, and character designs that conform to the mainstream anime aesthetic. That said, Sakura Trick takes a page from Hidamari Sketch’s book when it comes to shortcuts to the animation. Yu and her big sister Mitsuki are often represented by the hair clips that they wear, Haruka by her cowlicks, Yuzu by a citrus fruit, and Kaede by a leaf. It feels a bit derivative, and the show’s originality gets a little diluted as a result.
This is another subtitle only release, with DD 2.0 Japanese stereo with optional (white) English subtitles. There’s no problem with the sound, it comes across clearly and without glitches, or even the telltale warble of pitch correction. The actors are well-suited for their roles, and the music drives the pace of the story well. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos, although I did scratch my head at the insistence of translating ‘pudding’ into ‘custard’.
The discs present their content with static menus, and there’s a single translated credit scroll at the end of each disc.
The extras on disc two amount to the textless opening, two textless closings, and trailers for Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, and Photo Kano.
Sakura Trick works on two levels. One is purely fan service, aimed at the majority male otaku audience in Japan, making sure there are plenty of girls kissing, the swimsuit episode is present and correct, camera angles remain provocative if not quite exploitative, and the usual anime creator assumption that female interpersonal relationships involve booby gropes is strongly adhered to. And when its fifteen-year-old protagonists are portrayed as indulging in their make-out sessions as a bit of fun, to deepen their relationship, but not realising the romantic or sexual overtones for a whole year (I say again, they’re fifteen years old), it’s hardly a standard bearer for the LGBT community either. But the other level to Sakura Trick is the examination of young female friendship, and in that respect, this show really does succeed, introducing six interesting main characters and really indulging in the relationships that develop between them. In this one respect, it’s almost on a par with Azumanga Daioh.
Haruka and Yu are the central pairing, and the story revolves around them. Best friends since childhood, they decide that kissing will make their friendship special outside of all the other friends that they’ll make in high school, and it turns out that they enjoy it too, so they’ll look for any opportunity to have some quality time alone. Also in their class are Shizuka and Kotone. Kotone’s an heiress to a wealthy family, but as she’s determined to go to Misato West, she’s moved out of the family home, and is lodging with Shizuka’s family, and her relationship with Shizuka has also progressed to the kissing stage, although we see less of them than Haruka and Yu. The final pair of friends, Kaede and Yuzu have a more traditionally platonic friendship, and they round off the group. Kaede’s the prankster of the group, and is also quick to observe and comment. Yuzu’s the sporty go-getter type, with an outgoing and effusive personality. Kotone’s playful, a little more mature, and she likes teasing Shizuka, which makes their relationship perfect, as Shizuka is the quiet, introverted type who is easy to tease. Haruka and Yu are a perfect fit, with Haruka a warm big sister type, and Yu an energetic little sister type, and both are equally needy and clingy, although they alternate the clingy moments in their relationship.
The show plays out as a slice of life show, with short, half-episode vignettes no doubt a sign of its 4-panel manga origin. All of the usual high school stories, the need for a yakisoba sandwich, cleaning the pool, dealing with the student council, the test of courage, the culture festival, Christmas and so on all have added moments of kissing to them. But it’s actually watching the six friends interact outside their romantic entanglements that make the show interesting and fun to watch. There comes a point late into the series run, that the kissing scenes start feeling obligatory, and you might look at your watch, waiting for the show to get back to the story.
There is an overarching plot element to the show, that of this year being the last intake to a school that’s closing down, and so there’s the sense that this is the forgotten year in some respects. Everything’s getting smaller, the funds aren’t there for a proper sports day, and there’s always the melancholic understanding that they’ll never get to be upperclassmen to a new year of students. The show is pretty non-judgemental about the romantic relationships between the girls, although Shizuka’s relationship with Kotone is shown as a little more fraught, and we later learn that Kotone is actually engaged to be married at some point, and her little sister accuses her of running away from that obligation. Unfortunately this story arc isn’t really focused on, and instead the show sticks more to Haruka and Yu.
While they’re as discreet as they can be, the only element of disapproval is Yu’s big sister, and student council president Mitsuki. She spends most of the year suspicious about how close her sister is to Haruka, and the amount of time they spend together, but again the penny doesn’t drop until the end of the series, when she actually catches them making out. She forbids them to continue, making the usual excuses about how ‘wrong’ it is, and that she’s protecting her little sister, but in keeping with the spirit of the show, she winds up having a personal realisation as to why she is actually offended. Of course the viewers will be way ahead of her by this point.
Sakura Trick works because of its characters, and the portrayal of their friendships. The two romantic pairings are likable enough, but the sense is always there that this is fan service and not narrative. It’s the slice of life aspects to the show which are its strongest point, and they go a long way to making this a worthy and thoroughly entertaining show to have in your collection.