Sakura Trick (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 279 minutes approx.
There is a chance for many male otaku, being the shallow pigs that we are, the idea of a yuri – girl-on-girl – anime involving Japanese schoolgirls exploring their sexuality seems like heaven. Yet, Sakura Trick, even with its comedic leanings, somehow manages be as erotic as a lap dance from Ann Widdecombe!
At the heart of this tale are best friends Yu Sonoda and Haruka Takayama, entering high school together and clinging to each other amongst a sea of new faces. Yet they make friends pretty quickly in Yuzu Iizuka, Kaede Ikeno, Shizuka Minami and Kotone Noda. Realising that they are going to be sharing their time with others from now on, Haruka and Yu decide to do something special and private just for them – they share a kiss.
That is pretty much it for the plot. Sakura Trick began life as a four panel manga created by the mononymous Tachi which explains the flimsy premise while the faithful adaptation of the manga by Studio Deen and directed by Ken’ichi Ishikura, who gave us Hidamari Sketch, is beholden to the quick fire gag formula, making for a inconsistent series.
Each episode is split up into two parts, largely dedicated to different scenario. The line-up is more often than not broken down into pairs in accordance to the existing relationships, with the bare minimum of intertwining. The only two who are not strictly a paring are Shizuka and Kotone, both singletons acting as fulcrums for a situation to develop.
As a group, they gel very quickly and make for an occasional amusing team but Haruka and Yu craves some time alone. Like naughty lovers, they sneak off and share a kiss or two in secret, but almost always end up nearly being caught by either their friends or a teacher. From this perspective the script ostensibly writes itself although the scenarios can be a little off centre – the balcony escape scene from episode two springs to mind.
The problem with how this is handled is twofold: one, there is no romantic build or any exploration of why these feeling should manifest themselves as they do, nor is the idea of being gay, bi or just curious even broached. And two, anyone expecting this to be hot girl-on-girl action will not only be disappointed but it is blindly given away in the opening credits, making what should be a forbidden act an inherent throwaway gimmick!
Similarly the characters are moe in design, barely distinguishing themselves from the aforementioned Hidamari Sketch, K-ON!, Lucky Star or other shows cut from the same aesthetic cloth. This may make the girls seem cute even alleviate any tawdry and overt sexualisation when they kiss, but their ditzy personalities, a hidebound trait of the moe female in anime, turns their lip locking trysts into frivolous folly.
The nearest thing to an antagonist to break up this relationship is Yu’s uptight older sister, Mitsuki the school’s student president. She is suspicious of her younger sibling and Haruka and along with the others, tries to expose them, but over time, she develops a crush on Haruka and becomes jealous of her own sister.
If the character designs weren’t familiar enough – save for Haruka and what appears to be a napkin tied to the side of her head – the personalities are also well-worn tropes of the genre. So, expect to meet the studious one, the kooky one, the quiet one, the boob grabber and the rich one.
Yet there is a stealthily running overarching thread involving the burgeoning Sapphic relationship which does reach a conclusion of sorts in the final episode, but certainly one most people won’t be expecting. As a comedy show first and foremost, this denouement doesn’t seem so surprising but if we examine it a little more seriously, one can make the argument that the subject of lesbian love has been trivialised for the sake of a kooky punchline.
Perhaps this is over thinking the intent of the show considering it doesn’t profess to take itself seriously, but this concluding segment delivers a rare moment of heartfelt drama which could have assuaged the fears of any curious schoolgirls watching needing that public affirmation entertainment sometimes gives those of us feeling unsure about ourselves.
Despite this missed opportunity to address a sensitive issue in a palatable and easily accessible manner this show is very self-aware of what it does provide the viewer and makes no apologies about it either. Episode seven, for example, is entitled “Swimsuit Fan Service” as, you guessed it, the girls mess around in a swimming pool.
Remarkably, for all its ribald promises, the actual fan service as we traditionally know it is rather tame – no nudity, gratuitous panty shots, jiggling bosoms or cosplay contrivances here, the only real fix you get is the kissing, which is borderline chaste. It is as if Tachi had little confidence in his sense of humour translating and needed a hook to get an audience so he went for the yuri angle.
The jokes are hit and miss, again due to the four panel origins, while some segments seem to end without a punchline or feel like an incomplete non-sequitur. In an attempt to flesh out the visual side, director Ishikura borrows the Shaft approach he employed on Hidamari Sketch – i.e.: obtuse angles, random letterboxed framing, incongruent cutaways, halftone patterns, etc.
Sakura Trick is a show that could have been so much more had it shown more conviction towards its central themes. Superficially it is a cliché of helium voiced characters indulging in predictable comic hijinks seen in a myriad of similar shows, yet there is something lurking within suggesting it wanted to do more with the yuri aspect, but couldn’t decide if that was to exploit it for cheap thrills or make a serious point.
A briefly diverting show but both the comedy and the sexual drama have been done better elsewhere.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ** ½
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