All of my warm fuzzies.
I originally hit the “play” button on Sakura Trick this week mostly out of obligation, but leave it to this show to fix my bad mood. Well, lifting my spirits for a time, I can’t say it cures all of my cynicism. But then again no weapon could ever do that.
This show messes with the established format this week, in more ways than one. The first is it is divided into three, rather than two parts. Not exactly groundbreaking but it did catch me off guard.
The second is that none of these little stories is exactly what we’ve come to regard as normal. The first part more so than the rest and it really shows.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Haruka calls Yuu on her cell to chat with her. Just to hear her voice, she says. Though her subversive goal becomes clear that she wants to be the very first person Yuu wishes a “Happy New Year” to. This is one of those Japanese holiday customs that is slightly off-base, but whereas this might normally be a source of confusion, since it is not the focus it isn’t distracting at all and there is plenty to latch onto to understand why this is important to Haruka without needing the exact details of the past 100 years of Japanese cultural identity to get the point.
And the surprise: That’s all this episode is. It is the pair on the phone with each other one night before a big holiday, just a day in the life. While that sounds boring on paper, the camera cutting between the two, and Mitsuki’s interruptions, with POV shifting at just the right times, makes two high school girls on the phone really damn engaging, when usually having to listen to such might make you want to reconsider your opinion on whether or not we should classify murder as a misdemeanor.
I even recommend this if your experience with the series is light because it is a great microcosm of the Yuu-Haruka relationship, which has to be the thing that carries this part of the show, the chemistry between these two (and later, Mitsuki’s dynamic thrown in).
There is a concept in metaphysics about the division of your actions. The two sides (much like Yin and Yang) are the Sei and the Do. Sei is your rational brain. Sei can see the red hot burner on your stove, and knows what that means. It is a trained process you have. Military color guards are exhibiting immense Sei energy, they are calculating exactly their movements and pin-point precision to pull them off because it is the object of their undivided attention. Do, on the other hand, is when your hand brushes over the burner and the sensation of the heat causes you to recoil instinctively. It is reflex, your gut. A person who, despite having no training, can pick up a tennis racket and beat his instructor in his very first practice match is exhibiting Do energy.
And that is very much the relationship our main couple has found themselves in. This has always been apparent, but this week it is almost an exhibition in this dynamic, rather than being an underlying theme. Yuu asks why Haruka called, thinking there is a process. Haruka answers she wanted to hear Yuu’s voice, an impulse.
Now, the whole “conflict” this episode is, Yuu is being summoned by her parents to spend the last half hour of the year (before midnight and Jan 1) with her family and share their traditional yearly meal (Haruka responds her family just finishes the leftovers from Christmas. While a cute line, it says a lot about where Haruka got her “go with the flow” attitude, and also reinforces the point of structure vs. impulse). Haruka wants to be the first person Yuu says “Happy New Year” to and refuses (mostly) to acknowledge that Yuu’s family unit isn’t primarily…well…her.
Which is perfect in casting Haruka as the Do personality. More than just impulse, it demonstrates Haruka’s baser nature. Yuu has, despite her ditzy personality and rather thick skull, been the level headed one here. If Haruka had been the safety manager in this relationship, they’d have been discovered months ago (and judging by the timing here, it has been nine months since they got together.) But even more than that, Haruka is exhibiting a nature as base instinct. She is very much, and I mean no disrespect or insult here, like an animal with her impulses. My needs, my desires, my status. She barely even acknowledges Yuu’s family exists, let alone that they might have some “claim” to her over some girl who, as far Yuu’s family is concerned, is just a kid she goes to school with.
Minor lecher moment: I love Haruka’s sweater, she is so cute.
The best joke is the nickname, but I won’t spoil that.
Mitsuki comes up to see what’s taking Yuu so long, and in a fit of mental gymnastics, outright lies in order to “steal” the conversation from Yuu so she can chat with Haruka.
There is a jump into serious territory (after Mitsuki totally fumbles her charisma roll) as Haruka mentions…well…it’s honestly up to your interpretation, and in fact, it is the point of the next episode that Mitsuki is trying to come up with a meaning. And I guess the way you want this to go depends on who you’re shipping, right?
The most basic is that, Haruka is thinking that she only has school with Mitsuki for three more months before the latter’s graduation, and that she’ll miss her when she’s gone.
Of course, there is an element of shipping here. This is stretching, but depending on how you want to interpret her use of ”寂しいです”, she may actually be lamenting that she feels bad that Mitsuki will be alone. I only bring this up because of Mitsuki’s established character arc thus far. And I think Haruka recognizes that Mitsuki is a lonely person. Again, not because she is a master of reading the human condition, but because she is Do. She feels people out, and I think she senses a truly lonely person in Mitsuki, hence why she is always, even if subconsciously, nudging her into their little clique. And we have seen nothing that suggests Mitsuki had her own social circle prior to being absorbed into Yuu’s, outside of the student council of course. And I reiterate my comments from a few episodes ago, while Haruka may be where her attraction is directed (no matter how against her will), I think Mitsuki is mostly a lonely person who envies that intimacy.
This is also, almost certainly, not the angle the episode is shooting for. But I already named Haruka the Pope so my head canon will not be denied.
Mitsuki tells Haruka in a very domineering voice to keep her chin up, as she’ll be a “senpai” soon. Not that there’s going to BE underclassmen, but it’s the thought that matters. You can practically hear Haruka leap to attention at the other end of the line. It’s part of the beauty of this story’s format. Mitsuki reminds her that even if she graduates, she will see Haruka again, and not to lose face. Haruka accepts this order.
…I was joking about the shipping, mostly, but suddenly I am liking these two as a Domme-sub couple more and more.
Yuu comes back and calls Mitsuki on her lies. Lies and slander! And she accidentally puts Haruka off by saying it’s her fault that Yuu’s family is waiting. And, in one of the more subtle details about this relationship, while Yuu plays the aloof one, her phone contact only says “Haruka”, while Haruka’s phone says “Sonoda Yuu”. It is just one of the many little things that make this format work so well.
But they part on a good note, sharing mimed kisses over the speakers.
Everything worked in this little tale. Angles which demonstrated how alone the girls felt in their rooms, the use of photographs instead of flashbacks to denote the past (a very strong way of getting this sense of “finality” through to us). All in all, while you could hardly carry a show in this way, as a stand alone, this was exceptional, one of the high points of the series.
The second story (which is mostly a follow up to the first one) is mostly Mitsuki coming to terms with her feelings. …All things of course being relative for Mitsuki, a girl who has literally fled from her gay thoughts. She notes jealousy of Yuu’s closeness with Haruka, noting this as “a strange feeling”. And while she won’t admit publicly to it, privately she is starting to accept that her thoughts are not of social graces and making friends, but of being close to -Haruka-, specifically.
The only other thing of note is that Haruka and Yuu sneak off for kissing time and almost get caught. Again, this sense of comfort that they’ve fallen into, or just the fact you can’t keep a secret forever. Speaking of, Kaede’s expressions (and comments from previous episodes) seem to imply she has figured it out. Kaede also seems to have figured out Mitsuki’s unnatural interest in Haruka, but that’s much more subtle.
Alas for all of Mitsuki’s progress this episode, physical contact with Haruka is still too much and she bolts when the latter catches her from falling.
Our last mini-tale is of Yuzu and Kaede, and mostly about Kaede being a terribly sadistic prankster. Kaede’s actually revealing a lot of little personality details, and maybe my mind is playing tricks on me but her cadence seems completely different today. She talks about how she rushed to school because she wanted to place a fake rat in Haruka’s desk, then decided to camp the parking lot until Yuzu arrived. She is clearly a girl either missing some screws, or has such an inhuman sense of priorities us mere mortals could never truly comprehend her. And it’s absolutely charming.
Arguably my favorite line this episode is Yuzu asking if Kaede is a bad influence on her siblings, and Kaede’s deadpan response of “Of course I am.”
This week was exceptionally strong, proving even when it doesn’t play to the Haruka and Yuu relationship “taking steps”, it can still be engaging and funny. The pair are still engaging enough just working off of each other that we don’t need a contrived stepping stone. And like I have been gushing, the direction and format were exquisite here.
And Yuzu and Kaede really strut their stuff and come into their own as characters, while previously they have mostly been the straight (arguably: bland) commentators on the lesbian condition with some little traits to keep them breathing. This week the pair really came to life, and I enjoyed that, even if it is late in the series.
Perhaps most notable (notorious) about this episode is that there was no lovingly rendered make outs. We had the long-distance kisses in part 1, and we heard the whimpering in part 2, but none of it is seen. It just serves to make this episode a unique oddity, but I think it’s a good thing. While I do admit a certain flushing in my body parts with the make outs, I think this week proves that Sakura Trick does not use it a crutch, they use it as a conscious choice. And if anyone complains that this show is too oversexualized, one need only point them here to see that without it, the show’s quality is maintained, arguably even improved because the writers and director are free to craft the story to their whims, rather than setting up for a kissing quota. This will probably always stand out as “that one episode” of this series. But there’s plenty of time left in the season, and if Sakura Trick proved anything this week, it’s that it can still impress us with the heights it aims for.