Welcome, all, again. Today I will offer some initial thoughts about the new series Sakura Quest, which just recently aired its second episode. This is good, solid slice-of-life territory, with a female protagonist arriving from Tokyo into the much slower rhythms of a rural community. We get to watch her as she struggles to adapt and make friends–sounds a lot like Non Non Biyori or Flying Witch so far, right? If only the introduction could have gone so smoothly!
So let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room: Sakura Quest had what I consider to be one of the most anemic, most convoluted, and most poorly put-together introductory episodes that I’ve seen in a long, long time. The premise itself is rather straightforward and completely workable: an unemployed recent graduate jumps at the chance to portray a small town’s “Queen” as a gimmick to drive the region’s tourism, not realizing that her contract stipulates a one-year reign (think Locodol with one girl and a bad attitude). It’s unlikely but not implausible, real life being full of Dear gods, what did I just get myself into?! moments. So the writers had something to work with–they just didn’t feel like bothering. Instead, we were force-fed worn cliche after worn cliche, with last-minute phone calls, mysterious (and even deceased) characters, and a backstory involving a paranormal creature not even native to Japan. I actually reached a point where I wanted to stop watching. Just one tenuous link kept me in Manoyama: Yoshino Koharu.
Yoshi, our jobless grad, is a character so realistic that you expect her to tumble out of your screen demanding a train ticket and lunch money! She has that same inherent brash overconfidence as does Chitose in Girlish Number, just tempered a bit by both the rigors of her recent schooling and soul-crushing rejections from the job market. She knows her own (self-established) worth, but starts the series painfully aware that others do not. And yet to a certain degree, she’s also quite grounded; realizing suddenly that she’s visited Manoyama before as a child, she laughs it off as simple coincidence. Truth be told, I could have completely skipped the background noise of the first episode we were given in favor of Yoshi on the phone describing different interviews to a friend or family member. Her observations tend towards witty and concise; ironically, I bet she’d make an astute interviewer for some company’s HR department.
But Yoshi is instead Manoyama’s queen-for-a-day, only to panic after being told about her yearlong commitment. It seems that she’s ready to head back to Tokyo–I suppose there’s some unspecified allure to impending hunger and homelessness. And so we struggle through episode 1. But episode 2 has a much stronger storyline as Yoshi gathers together a ragtag bunch of Manoyama’s (best-looking) misfits, all ready to save their town from economic ruin. Mind you, Yoshi still plans to somehow beat her contract and leave. . .what, the best-looking comment? Well, just because the writers were initially slacking off does not mean that the artists were! Manoyama offers plenty of beautiful scenery, including a taste of resident eye-candy. [Hey, at least it’s not another show about incestuous tendencies towards underage sisters! Oh, you thought that embarrassing trope had already run its course? Bad news, then. . .] Anyway, Yoshi’s crew is motley indeed, offering a tourism board employee, a former actress, a web designer, and Spooky Girl. (Yeah, we’ll probably find out more about that later. Besides, I like an intimation of exposition that doesn’t require a cliffhanger.) Just about anything could–and should–happen with these gals run amuck!
We’re at two episodes in already, and I’m thrilled that I stuck it out through episode 1 to find myself rewarded with episode 2. Suddenly, Sakura Quest is fun and likable! And I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect that trend to continue. This could become my favorite show of the season, chupakabura and all. . .