Sakura Quest – 04

This week everyone helps Sanae move out of her old, bug-filled house. While helping out, Yoshino can’t help but notice the exquisite wood-carvings or ranma built into the house. Turns out Manoyama’s wood carving is one of Japan’s government-protected traditional art forms. How ’bout that!

Yoshino thinks they might be able to use that to boost tourism…er, somehow. In the meantime, after Shiori’s truck breaks down, they get it serviced by Doku, the local tinkerer and inventor, who also happens to have a frikkin’ perfectly functioning biomechanical exoskeleton in the bed of his, get this: Ford pickup truck. There’s all kinda wrong going on that preceding sentence.

In a show that’s going for simple slice-of-life realism, I failed to see the need for a Kuromukuro crossover. Yeah, this tech is out there, but some old guy in a shed in the sticks banging it out? It’s a bit far-fetched. But that’s not even the worst of it.

They get some poor young wood-carver to make decorative accessories to tack onto the exoskeleton to make it more appealing to the olds. Because if its one thing the elderly love, it’s really heavy impractical stuff that can fly out of control at a moment’s notice due to dubious R&D!

I realize the Board of Merchants’ chairwoman is supposed to be the curmudgeonly counterpart to Ushimatsu’s more openness to innovation, and the ideal philosophy, if there is one, is somewhere in between. But when Ririko’s grandmother asked them where their sense of pride is, I was kinda hoping she’d asked where their sense was, period.

Look, I understand the episode was trying to give each party in the woodcarving debate their fair shake, and Yoshino and her ministers aren’t the “good guys” by default, but they really didn’t help their case with such awful, cockamamie ideas.

The result of their failure is that Sanae tells Yoshino she’s out as minister, saying her heart isn’t in it. That’s ironic, because I don’t think my heart is in Sakura Quest anymore, either. Somehow the prospect of watching twenty more episodes of Yoshino and her cohorts fumbling around doesn’t seem all that appealing.

At this point, I think I’d rather do some woodcarving…the kind that doesn’t trample on centuries of tradition.

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Sakura Quest – 03

When a television interview exposes Queen Yoshino I’s dearth of knowledge about the very town she rules (mentioning only its natural scenery and manju), Ushimatsu insists she go out into the town and “feel the wind”…which she does, literally, no no effect.

Shiori then accompanies her on a series of increasingly demoralizing interviews with Manoyama’s salt-of-the-earth residents, who either can’t hear what she’s saying, don’t trust her, or say there’s nothing she can do.

However, the bus driver (who was the prince when she was first crowned as a little girl) is one somewhat-heartening voice: if someone’s going to revamp the town, it will either be someone young, someone foolish, or an outsider. Yoshino’s all three, so she should be fine!

She also actually learns a few things about the town. One, it used to be just plain ol’ Kabura Kingdom, without the chupa- , and that Ushimatsu and his tourism board and the board of merchants (led by Ririko’s grandma) have always been at odds with the switch to UMA.

At the apparently super-important mascot contest, Ushimatsu finds his chupakabura mask has gone missing. Little do they know Yoshino’s new friends Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko are ON IT. They put a ridiculous amount of time into tracking down the town’s previous mascot, Kabura Kid, then mending it in time.

It’s a real group effort, though the particulars of their motivation, beyond helping Yoshino out, escaped me a bit. I guess they really did all have a bunch of time on their hands!

They arrive at the contest with the Kabura mask the same time Ushimatsu’s underlings arrive with the chupa mask, soiled by spending time at the garbage dump.

(I’ll mention that I love that Mrs. Oribe takes such pleasure in taking Ushimatsu down a peg whenever possible, talking about how he’ll be saved by the very kingdom he once destroyed. It’s such gloriously big language for such a petty subject!)

But hey, maybe it’s not so petty. As Ushimatsu and the others bicker over which mask he’ll wear, the Queen finally puts her royal foot down, and says it doesn’t matter. (But she choses the kabura mask, since it’s not covered in shit).

In a stilted, serious speech probably not quite appropriate for the audience of mostly kids, she says she doesn’t yet know what Manoyama has that no other town in the world has, but she’ll spend the next year hoping to find out (assuming the entire town doesn’t die of old age by then).

The one condition she gives Ushimatsu is that she be allowed to perform her duties with the assistance of the combined force of Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko, who all agree to be her “council of ministers.”

Again, because I guess they just don’t have a lot going on? It’s not made clear whether they’ll be paid like Yoshino is, but one would hope. What kind of kingdom can’t pay its subjects a fair wage for their services?

Watched with a hearty helping of suspension of disbelief, Sakura Quest is a pleasant enough place to spend time, if pretty much average in looks and sound. So I’ll stick with it for now. Can that sustain me for…25 episodes? That remains to be seen.

Sakura Quest – 02

Yoshino I is still very much The Reluctant Queen, but Ushimatsu doesn’t care, and sets her to work immediately. He’ll let her vacate her one-year contract if she can sell a hundred a thousand boxes of “Chupakabura manju” sweets he ordered to celebrate her coronation. And she only has a week to do it—that’s their “best enjoyed by” date.

It’s clear Shiori doesn’t want her new queen to leave so soon, but she still helps Yoshino out, connecting her first with her timid but tech-savvy childhood friend Ririko, whose mother runs Manoyama’s sweet shop. The encounter helps Yoshino decide on the proper marketing strategy to sell the manju: a website.

For that, Shiori takes Yoshino to the home of another Tokyo ex-pat, Kouzuki Sanae, who seems to be slowly losing it in her dark, litter-filled apartment. When she screams due to a bug, Shiori and Yoshino barge in, and Shiori, like a boss, takes care of the bug while the other two cower. Between Riri and Sanae, I’m loving the detailed, isolated, lived-in little worlds these women inhabit within the town.

Sanae is eager to help her new town out (as well as for human contact) so she works through the night at Yoshino and Maki’s cabin to whip up a “fancyccult” website. Alas, on the first day of sales, Yoshino manages to part with precisely zero of one thousands boxes of manju.

When they try to make the queen seem contrite about ordering too much (after far too many hilarious provisos were attached to her beauty), that results of the sale of three boxes…to Shiori’s family.

Taking things up a notch, they decide to take Maki’s advice and make a video. Maki, AKA “The Oden Detective”, who has experience in acting, superhero shows, and part-time labor, plays the chupakabura, while Riri is the cameraperson.

It’s a modest but cute little production…but it only results in netting one more sale—to the creepy (Westerner?) musician Yoshi first met on the bus. The week comes and goes, and Yoshino is pathetically short of the thousand sales needed to release her from her year-long contract. 996 sales short, to be exact. And yet…she learns that’s not such a big deal.

When she asked Sanae why she left Tokyo, Sanae said she was simply sick of it. Sick of Tokyo, thought Yoshino? The place that has everything and where you can do anything? Where countless opportunities abound? Yoshino has this idea that she can’t make it anywhere if she can’t make it there, but she has it all backwards.

The economy of Tokyo alone may surpass the entire economy of South Korea, but if you apply to thirty-two companies and get thirty-two rejections, then end up with a gig as queen of Manoyama, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something: that, as Sanae says, “you don’t need Tokyo.”

At the end of the week, Yoshino made some great friends and had a lot of fun. So when Shiori tells her the cherry blossoms won’t come for a couple more weeks, she decides, all on her own, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend those couple more weeks in Manoyama. And as much as I too love and admire Tokyo, I don’t blame her. She’s got a good thing going here. And she’s not anywhere near her ‘golden years’!

Sakura Quest – 01 (First Impressions)

Koharu Yoshino has a memory of being crowned Queen when she was very little, and ever since, has felt like she was meant for greater things; that she wasn’t just a normal girl who escaped the sticks to attend college in Tokyo. Now 20, reality seems to mock Yoshino’s pretensions of royalty, and her phone’s inbox amasses “good luck” in the form of polite rejections from job interviews.

The last thing Yoshino wants is to move back in with her folks in her sleepy, aging speck hometown, and as a city boy myself, I can relate to never wanting to stray too far from the gleaming skyscrapers and sheer dense humanity of a big city.

But she’s down to 980 yen in her bank account, and when she graduates from college, her parents will either welcome her back with open arms, or cut her off. Gal needs cash, fast. So when she gets a phone call from a promotional agency she once modeled for (and by once I mean one time), offering work in the sleepy town of Manoyama, she’s in no position to decline. 980 yen will not get you far in Tokyo, after all.

So when the convertred City Girl takes the train out to Manoyama and catches the picturesque sight of mountains, gently rolling hills, farmland, and sky, she declares “there’s nothing here” and wonders if she got on the wrong train.

She didn’t, but it would seem she is the wrong Koharu. The town board chief Ushimatsu fumes about her not being the beloved (by him) idol Koharu Tsubaki, whom he meant to crown as Queen of the “Kingdom of Chupakabura”, part of a common practice of small towns raising “independent countries” for tourism purposes during the boom years.

Though the boom went bust, Ushimatsu is committed to restoring the “monarchy” and, hopefully, his rapidly aging and emptying town. Since Tsubaki died eight years ago, he settles for Yoshino, and her coronation is witnessed by a modest crowd of 150 (Note the similarity to Yoshino’s hazy memory of being a Queen).

After the coronation, Yoshino is honored with a feast—albeit just another night of eating and beer-drinking with the old town board members. It’s a warm and welcoming sight, but one gets the feeling she’s not planning on staying more than a day, and may even head back to the station and Tokyo before too long.

These are the dreaded sticks, after all. She sees the shuttered shops and wrinkled faces and remembers the hometown she left and to where she vowed never to return.

But when Shiori (who is her age) drops her off at an absolutely awesome log cabin, she meets another beautiful young woman who gives her a rude awakening: the Queen position is for a year, not a day. It was right there, black-and-white, clear as crystal, in her contract, which she clearly just skimmed.

Unable to accept her fate, Yoshino dashes out into the night, but there’s a weird ukulele player on the bus (her announcement she’s getting off and slow backing out of the bus is the best gag of the ep) and even though it’s barely 10pm, the station is closed.

She even encounters the town’s famed “Chupakabura”, the monster of legend ‘her’ kingdom is named after, and “saves” Shiori by smacking it good, revealing it’s Ushimatsu she smacked. On the ride back to the cabin, Shiori offers her heartfelt hope that Yoshino will stay, if for no other reason than so she can have someone her own age around, working together to make the town a livelier place.

Yoshino is grateful for the kind words, and the positive vibes she starts to get from the town only multiply when she returns to her ‘castle’ (the cabin was locked). A display of photos shows that she was here before. Not only that, as a little girl she was the kingdom’s 100,000th visitor, and crowned as Queen back then.

The realization that her memory was indeed real, and imbued in her a sense of privilege, was a really nice moment, but it doesn’t transform Yoshino; she’s still reluctant to stay and be Queen of Chupakabura, but with her last job prospect back in Tokyo fizzling out, she doesn’t have much choice.

Sakura Quest was a fun ride. Yoshino is an interesting character: she’s not a high schooler for once, but an adult, albeit a young one, and perhaps because of that her jadedness is much more susceptible to neutralization than she thinks. The rest of the cast seems strong too, and the show itself looks great. This has the makings of another P.A. Works winner so far.

Urawa no Usagi-chan – 01 (First Impressions)

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Usagi is a pleasant girl who lives in Urawa City in Saitama, Japan… which funded this anime’s creation as an advertisement for some reason.

As the seasons change, Usagi, a junior in high school wakes up, walks to a shrine, talks to an old woman, and then chats with friends before getting to school. That’s it.

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Ignoring the budget-nature of the show, and the budget nature of micro-format shows in general, UnUc is brutally devoid of purpose. Nothing happens, no character is memorable and the posterized photos of Urawa City that make up the background aren’t pretty at all.

And that lack of pretty is bewildering, since the show exists to advertise a city. Come live here… because it’s kinda run down and drab looking? We have narrow streets and old people? What??

Lip-sync is off, animation is jerky, it’s technically animation and inoffensive but completely without merit. I normally say there’s nothing to lose in watching a 3:00 show but UnUc proves me wrong. I WANT THOSE 3 MINUTES BACK!

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