Series Recap: Sakura Trick

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So, I totally had this expected order of what came first when it came to the Winter ’14 Recaps.  Yeah. About that. My brain just latched onto this review in particular and would not let go, even when I physically forced myself to work on others, all my critical thinking kept wandering back here.  So here it is, shmucks! The much anticipated Sakura Trick review.

As is typical, I adopt one series a season that is outside my comfort zone. For Winter 2014, that series was Sakura Trick, and to me it proved that this policy is a good one, as it exposed me to a show that was surprisingly sophisticated for the genre tags it hosts.

Now I think it’s important to note that over the past few months we have been cutting Sakura Trick a lot of slack, of a sort, because it was not as bad as we feared.  Indeed, some have scored it 10/10 or 5/5, perfect scores for just not falling into the tired stereotypes of Yuri and Slice of Life.

While true, Sakura Trick IS to be commended for basically being the best a series of its subject matter can be, we also have to remember that it is STILL recognizable as being a part of the box.  If you’re outside the box too much, you cease being part of that box and have found yourself in another.  It’d be like advertising a science fiction series.  Science fiction? Sure, but it only uses science we know. Okay. And it’s about criminals. And instead of being in space it’s set in New Mexico and about drugs.   Eventually it is not recognizable as science fiction and you’re suddenly another crime drama, you understand?

But let us not lose sight of the fact that Sakura Trick IS definitively inside its boxes.  The praise to be delivered is in its execution of its elements in a way that does not offend our senses.  And as someone who does not watch Slice of Life or Yuri with any serious frequency (certainly not as you’d expect for all my girl-love comments), I am of the opinion that Sakura Trick is probably as good as those genres will ever hope to become.  Any further from the stereotypes, and you might have to label it full-fledged drama, or romance.

And for those of us who are okay with Sakura Trick but don’t particularly care for the slice of life genre….12 episodes was about as much as we could take.  And indeed, the conclusion of the season’s plot in Episode 12 did sour me a bit towards the series.  Don’t misunderstand, one misstep does not completely undo all the good the show did, it wasn’t quite ME3.  But one season was a good fit, for me. If it had dragged any longer it would truly grate on me, I feel.  I had a similar attitude about Baka to Test, and lo and behold when series 2 of THAT show appeared, I did get fed up quite quickly.  The first season remains one of my favorite comedies, hands down. But I don’t need, or even want, more of it.

Though things did draw me into Sakura Trick like few comedies could do.  First, it presented a relatively realistic world.  Take, say, InuHasa, that show is still my top anime comedy because it is the absurdity of that world that endears itself to me.  Sakura Trick doesn’t have mail order bazookas and high schoolers crashing through windows (save one Matrix-esque feat of gymnastics on the veranda) like a James Bond movie.

No, what drew me in here was the cast and their dynamics.  Along with the aforementioned not-falling-into-tropes.  Most surprisingly was the introduction of story-arc elements.  I’m going to examine the main cast members piece by piece.  Because they were so inconsequential, I am lumping Yuzu and Kaede under the supporting roles.  Sorry, but they just did not net the screentime, earning only two half-episodes of their own (I’m counting episode 4 here), and getting some focus in the cultural festival.  So there isn’t much to really discuss about them from the analytics that doesn’t ALSO apply to other B-cast members.  It’s a hard call, but I made it. It’s hard enough to justify examining Kotone and Shizuku independently.

I also feel that, while this disclaimer always applies to the blog, here it applies more than ever.  I will be examining things in detail that, intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce themes and the subject matter, as I experienced it, in this show.  That is just me, and your viewing experience may be different, but I think of any show I have delved into this is what you might call “the least deserving”.  I can say with 100% certainty that not everything I see was intended, and yet the fact it reinforces the same points over and over again speaks to the good grasp on the story presented during its inception. Continue reading

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Sakura Trick: Episode 12

The captain always goes down with the ship!

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The end of an era.  It’s been a great ride, but all good things…

The girls are finishing the party preparations.  Mitsuki is leading Rina to it, of course we know she overheard them planning it, but she plays along anyway, because Mitsuki is a sweetheart that way.

There’s a bucket of green tea pudding.  This excites Mitsuki, but Rina has eaten so much studying for finals she’s rather sick of it.

We get to the presents, and Sumisumi has provided them with mustaches! …Do you girls need a ride? Yeah, you know where this is headed.

Kotone gives Mitsuki a chandelier.  Hey. HEEEYYYYY! What the hell, Kotone? We agreed on a thousand yen limit!

Yuzu and Kaede do an impersonation skit of the two, with Kaede as Mitsuki and Yuzu as Rina.  Ever the greek chorus, the impersonation just kind of has Rina in the back smiling the whole time.  While the joke’s a little flat for me, they hit you in the feels when Kaede hides behind Yuzu, not wanting anyone to know she’s letting slip a tear.

Rina asks Haruka if there’s anything to eat with garlic, and Haruka obliges to whip something up.  Mitsuki instantly is jealous someone else will get to eat Haruka’s home cooking, and it rather makes her short with the rest.  Also, seems they’ve run out of utensils (not sure how, you knew exactly how many people would be here…) and Yuu just hands the job off, but Mitsuki won’t have guests in their home fetching silverware, so she sends Yuu to the kitchen.

And almost instantly regrets sending Yuu to the same room alone with Haruka, chasing after them, completely expecting them to be kissing.  But, as we’ve established, Sakura Trick isn’t ALL about stealing kisses, and they’re honestly going about their business.

Yuu finally hits Mitsuki where it hurts, “What business is it of yours?”  Well…Mitsuki can’t even get her head around admitting she likes Haruka.  It quickly devolves into a sibling fight, as is prone to happen.  Haruka suddenly finds herself in a lesbian tug of war.  Good. Good.

Yuu asserts her property rights over Haruka by kissing her woman right in front of Mitsuki.

Look…my casual adoption of the Haruka/Mitsuki ship is well documented. But this episode is doing Yuu no favors. “Haruka is mine. Mine mine mine. See?” is so…it’s so frat boy it makes me want to punch her in her smug face.  A reflex that Yuu had trouble enough suppressing in me earlier in the season.  I would have less of a problem with it if Haruka wasn’t objecting THE ENTIRE TIME, while last episode when Haruka tried to do something similar Yuu fended Haruka off with a breast grab instantly, knowing it made Haruka uncomfortable. Oh, because it’s Haruka, obviously she wants it? Yuu…you’re just a bitch. Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 11

I can keep going, coach!

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Your finger-sliced mistress can keep pressing on, so let’s get them typin’ fingers workin’ on the good stuff.

New character! I will be referring to her as “Sumisumi”, as everyone has taken to referring to her as Sumisumi-kaichou.

…I am now forced to let out a sigh. Ready? Siiiiiigh.

We couldn’t go forever. Yuu was a bit abrasive with her childish stubborness, but now we outright have us a lolita expy.  Sure she’s about to become a senior in high school, but she has the height, the body type, the voice. She’s our lolita.

It’s part of why she speaks so formally. Because that’s just humorous to the Japanese, children acting like adults and vice-versa.  The technicality does not save you from my scorn, Sakura Trick.  We can see it for what it is.  You are like an alchoholic who has picked up their first drink in twelve years. For shame.

Anyway, Sumisumi is lamenting that there is no budget to send off the graduating class.  Kaede offers to introduce her to Haruka, who is still planning her party for Mitsuki.

We get a little introduction to Sumisumi here, her hatred of Kaede’s nickname and how she uses her grandfather’s speech pattern to mask her youthful image.  It’s cute enough, but those lingering thoughts persist…

Don’t get me wrong. I am cool with loli characters. I AM that creepy lesbian. But I also felt, until now, Sakura Trick was above needing to pander like that.

At the same time if you are adding new characters, picking out unused features from the character bin instead of making them carbon copies of existing characters with a new hair color is preferable.  And at the very least we cannot accuse Sumisumi of having an underdeveloped personality despite her only appearing in two episodes. Rather stellar in that regard.

She requests collaborating on the party, and adding the outgoing vice-president, Rina to the festivities.  Sumisumi is motivated to do so due to her gratitude towards the pair for helping her out. It’s a plan!

It also seems Rina may harbor some feelings for Mitsuki, and Head Haruka is out in force.   Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 10

Do you want to build a snowman?

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The Grown-Up in me is saying “Gee, Anna, cutting it close? Nobunagun and Noragami are two days away.”  But the kid in me is saying “SQUEE SQUEE BACK TO BACK SAKURA TRICK TIME NAO!”

If there had been any doubt that Sakura Trick is throwing slice-of-life static universes to the wind, this episode, shored up by last week’s, has really been…depressing, in a way.  I used the word “finality” last time, and this week brought it up like the looming mountain ahead.  But there’s still plenty of open road between here and there. Though considering the implications socially about our lead characters’ lives, perhaps “oncoming storm” is more appropriate, and these are starting to feel like the last bit of sunshine.

Fitting then, that this episode is about having no sunshine.  In more ways than one.

Mind, I don’t think we’re headed for a sad ending.  Only that this week’s tone was very…looming.

It is snowing! Something that doesn’t happen often, and the girls are split right down the middle.  Haruka and Shizuku love the snow and want to eat outside.  Kotone, Yuu, and Yuzu are against.  With Kaede abstaining a vote (due to the final student council meeting of the academic year), inside lunch wins! Unfortunately for Archbishop Kotone and her forces, Pope Haruka has chosen to secede, taking Shizuku outside where they will eat lunch!

Shizuku suggests, however, they return inside, it is rather cold for them.  But Haruka insists. It may not snow the next two years.  She will not miss her only high school snow (oh come on Haruka, it will snow next season, it has to).

Shizuku observes that Haruka is like Kotone in this regard.  And that is why they both lead the Church of Yuri.

The show will elaborate on this, but by flashing back to Episode 3 where Kotone got serious-face, it puts the idea in your head without anyone saying it that this snow, which will probably be gone by tomorrow or the day after, is a metaphor.  Or am I confusing my metaphors and analogies again? DAMN MOON SPEAK!

Haruka (arguably influenced by Head Haruka), also notes this.  We are reminded quite quickly, and bitterly, that for Shizuku and Kotone, the party doesn’t last forever. Their relationship has a defined end, and that end is graduation, which is now just over two years away. Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 9

All of my warm fuzzies.

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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. Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 8

Alright, back off, it’s official we have adults.

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Yes, real live breathing parents! They exist!

Of all the things I expected this episode, that was not one of them.

The first episode is quite simple.  And, I am forced to admit, I didn’t particularly enjoy it, not really.

Except for the live-action Head Haruka where her father gets super protective of the prospect of Haruka wedding some punk, which she totally interprets as him being okay with her marrying a girl.  Keep on trekking, mein Pope.

Why the talk about weddings? Well Haruka’s…I think it’s her cousin but it remains a little undefined, is getting married. And since Haruka’s father can’t make it, her mother lets her bring a friend.  Naturally, she picks Yuu.

Cue lingual misunderstanding of the week.  Yuu seems to interpret it as Haruka wanting to get married, and cue the shenanigans.

I have a confession, I am not a big fan of “misunderstanding humor”.  Which is a problem because it is even more prevalent in Japanese comedy than Western.  There is just NOTHING funny to me about a Three’s-Company moment, and I avoid all such humor because I find it absolutely unbearable, if not downright uncomfortable.  An oddity in my personality I guess, considering the jackassery that passes for humor on this blog. Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 7

I know last time I made a joke about how Kotone was a sadistic dominatrix…but…even I am shocked I’m this good.

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Kotone wins. She just wins. Sorry, Haruka, you had a good run and all, but Kotone has such a lead in favorites points, that there is no way for the Pope to catch her now. There is no denying this fact.

We opened with the girls being “late” to something.   But the important part here is that Haruka and Yuu steal a kiss…all while Shizuku and Kotone are in full view.  They’re getting casual about this, and it’s starting to get them almost caught.  This isn’t exactly important this episode, and it’s never referenced again, but there is a recurring theme a bit of the girls getting a little comfortable with their relationships.

But as to where they will be late to, turns out it is Kotone’s pool. Yes, Kotone has a pool.

Despite her living with Shizuku and sharing a bedroom, Kotone is from a fabulously wealthy family. And it doesn’t take long for the titular wardrobe malfunction.  Poor Mitsuki…

Just a nice after-party for the festival.  And it turns out that Haruka, Mitsuki, nor Shizuku can swim. Interesting, as this pool party was Shizuku’s idea, and she is evasive as to why she picked it.

And, as you can see above, Kotone isn’t going to have that.  The look on her face as she drops the inflatable for the whip is priceless, and the music playing along is just the best.  It wins not only best gag award, but my love as well!

We’re pretty deep into the episode, about eight minutes already, and there have been quite a few good gags, and the fanservice, while THERE, isn’t as obnoxious as it could be.  The worst of it comes when Mitsuki arrives, but the fact that it is the living embodiment of a troll-face Kaede that’s attacking her, elevates it -slightly- to the point where I don’t feel the need to facepalm, at least. I think because it’s being honest that she’s doing it to get a rise out of Mitsuki, and the show isn’t insulting our intelligence by making it “innocent” breast grabs. We know why it’s there, they know why it’s there, and even Yuzu knows why it’s there.  No need to stand on ceremony.  So while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoyed the fanservice, I also was much more willing to suspend my disbelief because…that’s just Sakura Trick.

But, in a most surprising twist, Sakura Trick decides that the beach episode is the time to hit us in the feels.

…And fucking how. Damn, guys, you made full body contact on this one. Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 6

My feels!

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What else do you do for a Valentine’s Day episode? Well it wasn’t thematic or anything.  At least not in-universe.  But structurally, Sakura Trick celebrated the day of love by paying attention to all three of the relationships on display. Yep. Three. Even Yuzu and Kaede, as only-friends and straight-men as they are, got some development this week.  It was quite lovely all around, I must say.

The girls are still working on their play, sewing costumes and making a few set pieces for mood.  Kotone and Yuzu scheme to have the party spend the night at the school. Yuzu asks the teacher…who tells them to fill out the forms in a voice that is the essence of not-giving-a-fuck.  Everyone seems on board for the plan, though Yuu and especially Shizuku seem more reluctant.

Some reminiscing about middle school, and the girls realize that Shizuku went to her own middle school by herself (at least among the class).  We get some backstory about how she and Kotone got along growing up, being cousins and all.  Kotone says they were just swell friends, but Shizuku remembers it as Kotone constantly enjoying seeing her cry.

…Mental note, add a check mark under the column of things I share with Kotone.

Kotone, in a fit of flirting, hits Shizuku for embarrassing her.  Oh yes, definitely a dominant sadist.

…What? Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 5

I’ll taste your apple…

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Oh, bit of a reverse structure this week. My brain! It is imploded!

By that I mean our first story this week is a fluffier outing, with the more character-driven stuff coming in part 2.

It’s also…sigh…honestly the part I’ve dreaded most. Cultural festival shenanigans. Every slice of life series needs them.  Unfortunately, having gone to school in the United States, this is never something that it’s easy to glean a frame of reference for. We did it in elementary school, not high school. High school was for “real learning”, not silly little community exercises that teach you how to work in a group like para-professionals.  Group projects are designed to be single-person projects that you shamelessly assign parties to each individual function anyone with a normal functioning brain could do on their own, everybody knows that.

Bashing educational systems aside, we begin with Yuu waking up in school.  Shizuku is watching over her, and tells us Haruka has gone to the cafe.  Yuu seems crushed and begins crying (though more along the lines of her manipulative style crying), when Kotone enters.  She does more drunken monkey gags, teasing Shizuku that she made Yuu cry.  However despite complaining she is exhausted, on seeing Yuu depressed, Kotone suggests they all go meet up with Haruka and the gang at the cafe.

One of my favorite little gags is when they’re walking down the street and Shizuku sharing she feels like a family.  Blink and you’ll miss it, but there’s an important little bit of commentary here.  Kotone and Shizuku both think to themselves “and if we were a family, I’d be the wife!”

Let us offer the gay perspective.

Both in the West and Japan, there has been a habit of translating homosexual relationships as hetero-normative.  It has been quite a few years since this was prevalent in America, I only vaguely recall it from my schooling days, myself.  Over the past ten years it has become bad taste to ask, but this question used to pop up all the time when you were introducing a gay couple.

“Which one of you is the woman?” (The appropriate answer being, “Neither…that’s kind of the point”)

It’s a bit harder to appreciate that in Japan this is only just leaving community consciousness.  They are, in a sense, behind the curve in this regard.  Homosexual relationships, and you can even see this in anime and manga, particularly yaoi stuff, is strictly defined on which one’s the aggressive, dominant partner and which one is the submissive little flower.  Yuri couples are expected to have similar dimensions, and these things are in the process of being phased out, which is good, but it is still what informs many people’s perceptions.

My point being, I really like this line.  Yes, it plays off those stereotypes, that’s what makes the joke.  But more important is what it says about the characters involved: Both Shizuku and Kotone see themselves as “the woman”, and they’re cool with that. That’s how it’s supposed to be. And if I may be so bold, plays into that point I keep bringing up about Sakura Trick. It is comedy, it is played for laughs, but there is an effort to present realistic dynamics between characters.  Even if unintentional, it’s still a good thing that no one said “But which one is…?”

Okay, rant over! Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 4

With this banner lay waste to those het-girls who would pollute our perfect world!

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Pope Haruka began her second crusade this week! And this time it is against Mitsuki, Yuu’s older sister, who is apparently having lots of romantic thoughts about our redheaded protagonist.

See what great continuity we have been creating in my head canon?

This episode just destroyed the fourth wall.  Shattered, is appropriate. Broke it? Tore it open…I’ll stop.

…It’s a hymen joke.

Mitsuki drafts Kaede and Yuzu to be her spies.  Interesting angle. When I said “Mitsuki can play their foil” I didn’t exactly picture it so…blunt.  But whatever, it provides a great backdrop for the banter between Kaede and Yuzu.

And these two are adorable. We haven’t really had much exposure to them yet, and this counts sort of as their introductory episode of sorts.  Unlike Kotone and Shizuku they don’t pair up, but that’s actually part of the fun.

There is a theory, which I am completely willing to endorse, from people much more fluent in the print version of this series that Kaede and Yuzu represent “traditional Yuri girls”.  That is, they are close, and they might be in a show entitled girl-on-girl romance, but they will never kiss.  But I don’t mind it.  It strains credibility anyway if every girl is a lesbian. At least…if they are before Pope Haruka and Archbishop Kotone get to them.

No, this pair is to play our straightmen. …Women…Not so Straight Women…

Let me try that again.

These two are our Statler and Waldorf and I adore them both. Not as cruel, not as cynical, but there is definitely the edge there in both of them, especially Kaede.  Kaede is also much more zen about this crazy universe. She kind of goes with the flow and reaps what enjoyment she can from it.  Yuzu is, through and through, the straight man, deadpan humor and complete lack of understanding about the craziness around her.

And this whole first act is a series of fourth wall gags at the Yuri genre as a whole, poking fun at not only its tropes, but in a genius move of saying it without saying it, pointing out how awful these stereotypes are.  These are not exactly head-Haruka thoughts. There’s a distinct difference between the two, allow me to explain.

Head Haruka is the fantasy of a hormone charged teenager.  She WANTS everything to lead to sex (or, in TV form, kissing, but as established, on TV that’s practically third base).  Her brain consistently loves to see romance, both for herself and others (so long as it’s not with her precious Yuu), and Head Haruka represents how the show might behave as a porno.  But these are legitimate character desires we see.

Kaede and Yuzu’s head canon represents the Yuri genre. Particularly the habit of “you have to look for it”.  Because Yuri is notorious for never SHOWING anything.  My favorite Yuri series? Well, it’s a series with Yuri elements? Ga Rei Zero. There is exactly one kiss but the rest is implied.  As Kaede and Yuzu are forced to do here.  Because Yuu and Haruka aren’t going to just make out on top of the desk between periods. So they have to look for that thing we call “subtext”, which almost every Yuri series has forced its viewers to do for years.

And is quite frankly one of the reasons I hate the genre.

And by doing this, Sakura Trick is making a statement.  “We don’t have to stoop to those levels. We are honest with our characters and our story. We are grounded and that is the farce.”

Continue reading