Won me over, with cautious optimism.
If you missed it last season, or are a newcomer, every season, as a personal challenge, I try to watch something outside my comfort zone. That is, outside the usual action romp, space opera, philosophical bent stuff that I normally take part in. Last season, if you’ll recall, Outbreak Company filled that role (with Fantasista Doll filling that role previous). That had mixed results, but overall? I felt enriched by the experience at least a little bit, so this is a tradition that I have no intention of stopping.
This season we feature Sakura Trick. Straight up, no holds barred yuri series. A rather…slice of life romance. None of these are really inherently positive words to me. They speak of status quo (that most dreaded of crutches), static characters, and lots of…referential humor, “look at this and laugh, peon!”, and female sexuality played for laughs.
Luckily it’s not the case here. or not entirely. I laughed a LOT at this show. Not at everything (Haruka’s over-the-top panic attacks were mostly frustrating, and the “you’re a pervert!” gag is SO DEAD PLEASE STOP), but a lot of jokes worked.
So Sakura Trick appears to be adopting the 11min-mini-episode format. Stories which are self-referential, but independent. For practicality reasons, I’m basically going to refer to this divide only as a plot summary buoy.
So we start off with our viewpoint character, Haruka, the night before her first day of High School. She is interrupted from her sleep my her best friend, Yuu. She rings up her cell, reminds her of one specific thing to remember, then hangs up. This repeats. I liked the gag. I admit it. It actually did a very good job of establishing this friendship and the dynamic involved without a lot of needless self-narration as is typical in poorly-made slice of life shows.
And cue credits! And this opening….I actually liked it. Not the best this season, not by a long shot. But the song is good, and the animation sequence is…eh, in places. Cute in others.
The girls meet up at school, finding they are in the same class, but to Haruka’s dismay, unlike middle school where they sat one in front of the other, they are on opposite ends of different rows. Haruka reminisces on how things were in middle school, and how she’d love to help Yuu on her homework…and arguably the best gag in the episode when in the course of her memories, memory-Haruka is confused and they have to ask the smart girl in the next row, butting in on her nostalgia. I laughed a lot. Way more than I should have, really.
We’re definitely getting the strong sense from Haruka that she is…I don’t want to say manipulative, exactly…that’s a harsh word for it. But she does bend a lot of information in the most sympathetic way she can. The reason the head gag works so well is because it is real-life intruding on her romantic memory (romantic in the sense of dramatized). So this feature of the way the world works for her makes it that much funnier.
Something else we get is how Haruka’s feelings for Yuu, which start out as typical, really, a girl entering a new world and leaning on the familiar, extend way beyond that. And there is definitely a weight of romantic interest in it. The opening theme rings in my ears as this is revealed to us, “I want you to accept everything I am”.
So it’s really no surprise that Haruka calls linking arms with Yuu her “coveted spot” and sees it as a bit of a rejection.
I am probably going to make this sound way stronger than it is, but allow me a moment: It did add some dramatic tension to the following scene. After all, “Yuu-chan is my best friend” and “we are special besties”, this has all been stuff told from Haruka’s perspective. And she IS the more…emotionally aggressive, clingy one. Yuu introduces herself as Haruka’s best friend from middle school, but this is all we get from HER perspective. But it is quite likely, at this point, that Yuu sees their friendship as society does, which was actually referenced. Schoolgirl romances are so last year, we’re adults now.
Not helping is that Yuu tends to assign blame to others, and uses this to mask her own intentions about things. Even the way she called Haruka in the beginning can be seen as a way she redirects her nervousness at others.
Running off to an abandoned classroom (as the school is to be shut down in three years), Yuu comes to comfort Haruka. She deflects it by saying she should have realized seeing her so close to new people so soon would make Haruka jealous, because she’s clingy and insecure. Haruka’s selective memory comes into play as she tries to rationalize her own expectations that she isn’t SUPER special to Yuu. Just the oldest of her friends.
Jesus they sound like horrible people.
But I’m not willing to write them both off yet. After all this is Japanese society, they refuse to be blunt, so misunderstandings occur (Actually a good example is part 2 where Yuu guesses at Haruka’s bra size and Haruka refuses to correct her). Besides this is mostly for the comedy. I’m sure in time they’ll be more…um…compassionate. Or tolerable.
Anyway, part 1 concludes in Yuu trying to convince Haruka that she is special to her. Haruka dares her to kiss, and after some back and forth manipulation, Yuu agrees.
Only neither of them is brave enough to outright do it. This was an incredibly cute, and, strangely? Authentic scene.
Part 2 was far less interesting. And also? Rather authentic. Yuu wants to act like there was nothing special in her little kiss with Haruka, even though they were on the verge of just making out then and there.
Naturally Haruka’s memory starts to rewrite things as Yuu having forgotten. So she decides she needs to remind her by trying to sneak another kiss.
This all, by the way, revolves around them being out for lunch to buy things from the store. But that is a far less interesting sideplot, probably because in ‘Murica, you have 20mins for lunch so leaving campus for anything is out of the question. So I lack a frame of reference, honestly. Also, as a picky eater, I don’t trust anyone to do my shopping for me.
Haruka tries to sneak another kiss while trying to hide from the staff (they are in the closed-off room again), Yuu tries to ward her off at such a critical time, but Haruka sees this as a rejection and apologizes for making Yuu do something she internally hated. So she is all apologies and begging Yuu not to hate her. See? I told you she’d be a little less horrible.
Of course the WAY Haruka chooses to express this is so over the top it detracts from any meaning behind her words.
To shut her up, Yuu kisses her. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
We see into Yuu’s mindset though after the girls leap the veranda (in the most Matrix-y action sequence this episode) and their classmates ask what happened. She is petrified of anyone finding out she kissed a girl. Arguably more petrified she liked it.
So…call me crazy, but I did like this show. I know I harp on the girls for being manipulative pricks, but it’s comedy, it’s amplified for the comedic effect. No one honestly felt that Elmer Fudd represented a real hunter, right?
And yet…it will be interesting to see where they go with the more dramatic elements. If they want us to take the romance thing more seriously, they do need to reel these people in a bit.
Either way it goes, this will tie into a little special essay I’ve been writing. Nobunagun and KILL la KILL will help, too. You’ll see.
So, for an “outlier” in my line up…this turned out really well, I think. I will say this: I am inclined to give this show time. I am very rarely the one to call something shit on the first date. But I do think this needs to give us some movement or by episode 6 I am going to be back to my hate filled self.