Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
The suburb of Sakurashin is unique in the entire world, for not only is it a transit point between our world and the demon world but it is also the one place where demons (in this case referring to pretty much any supernaturally-powered individual who isn't a god) and humans peacefully coexist. The peace of the city is enforced by its young mayor Hime, a perpetually scarf-wearing young powerhouse of a woman who is the incarnation of the dragon, with the regular assistance of her Town Hall aide Kyousuke (an ogre in human form) and Hime's human childhood friend Akina, who carries on his family's tradition of “tuning” (essentially exorcising) demons. Also regularly called in for more troublesome cases is the staff of Akina's Life Counseling Center (an establishment which helps demons get settled in), which includes the satori (a cat-eared mind-reader) Ao and Kotoha, a half-demon known as a kotodama, who can summon objects with a word or description. Though they have other occasional trouble spots, the biggest threat comes in the form of an unfortunately familiar face: the demon Enjin, who has possessed the body of someone close to most of the group. The status of Sakurashin as a bastion of tolerance for demons and humans alike hangs in the balance when the quartet of demons and their human compatriot must thwart Enjin's plans to wreck the good deal demons have in Sakurashin because he doesn't see it as good enough.
The problem with this 12-episode adaptation of Suzuhito Yasuza's original manga is not that it's bad; it isn't. It is, instead, just a little too bland and underdeveloped for its own good.
Accusing the series of lacking ambition may not be fair, as it does have a semi-apocalyptic plot going on here, but that is, essentially, the root of the problem. It simply does not strive to be anything more than an ordinary super-powered tale, and while it does reasonably well at that, nothing it does will cause it to stand out in a crowded genre. Sure, it has action scenes with some flash, but nothing extraordinarily so. Sure, it tries to lighten up its story with some humor, but it is far from the better series at both the timing and execution of its levity. Its set-up is nothing more than a very slight variation on the standard gimmick of giving teens/young adults super-powers and limiting the scope to Sakurashin alone constrains the weight the story can carry; granted, other series have pulled this off on many other occasions, but typically a lot more flash and/or a more involved story is required. While the series can be commended for brevity in some of its background-establishing flashback scenes, in other places it shows far too little, including failing to adequately explain exactly how Gin ended up possessed by Enjin (a key plot point), why Enjin is so dissatisfied by humans, why his henchman unwaveringly supports his cause, or how Hime ended up with the nasty scar on her neck which she normally covers up with her scarf. Some repetitiveness in the action scenes, especially in the fights between Kotoha and the henchman, does not help, either, and while the series seems to be setting up a couple of potential romantic pairings, it never goes anywhere with them.
The series does just fine in some other aspects, though. Hime convincingly comes across as a girl who is burdened with a heavy weight of responsibility for someone her age but has yet to entirely bury her youthful frivolity underneath that load. The series' best running joke, about Hime being labeled a “tsundere” and then using the word as the chorus for her peppy theme song about Sakurashin, should be consistently amusing to veteran anime fans, as should the more subtle jokes about the randy “Ward Chief” (aka. land god) and his penchant for having his female assistant don a constantly-changing array of cosplay-like outfits. Akina questioning the nature and purpose of his own power gives him some added depth and the series does offer a balanced mix of powers for its core team: a telepath, a super-strong character, an all-around melee powerhouse, a summoner, and an exorcist. The team lacks a true energy blaster and a defensive specialist but still works satisfyingly well when they coordinate their efforts.
The artistic effort comes courtesy of Nomad, a studio which often assists but rarely does lead work on anime projects; they are probably most familiar to American anime fans for their primary production work on Rozen Maiden and sola. Nomad's artistry can be sharp, with some very nice individual pieces of background art and vibrant coloring and rendering of its characters. The problem, though, is that animated features are sometimes a little too vibrant compared to its background pieces, creating some regular minor flaws with the integration of background/foreground textures – a common problem in the earlier days of digital coloring but one not seen as much lately. Character designs are ordinary except for the land goddess who dresses like a sword-packing Christian nun and Hime, who is not overwhelmingly pretty but cuts a stylish look with that long, flowing scarf. The practicality of her get-up is another story, as the long scarf does get in the way of her fighting on at least one occasion and one would think that wearing a short skirt would not be very practical for someone who goes around hopping from rooftop to rooftop. Despite that, though, there is barely a whiff of prurient fan service here; the series gets a TV-14 rating for violence, but this may be one case where the rating is a little too conservative. The animation is good at times, including some nice perspective-shifting scenes and one scene where flower petals fall in both the foreground and background of a character, with CG effects mostly limited to the growth of tree limbs in the series' later stages.
The musical score mixes in some slow jazz and twangy rock numbers with several recurring lyrical pieces for an overall sound that tries to be hip but is not a consistently strong performer. The opener and closer, both of which are used throughout, are solid but unremarkable numbers.
Sentai Filmworks' release is dub-free and includes only clean opener and closer as regular extras. It does include occasional brief comedy bits that cap some episodes, however. Sentai's subtitling effort is one of its best to date, as it is not only free of errors but also includes numerous side notes explaining certain arcane terminology and food references. Hopefully this will become their subtitling standard.
Despite criticisms against it, most viewers should find the inauspiciously-named Yozakura Quartet to be at least mildly entertaining, as it does have its moments and you can certainly do worse for killing time on a slow weekend. It is not a series likely to leave much of an impression, however.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Good character development involving Hime, one of Sentai's best subtitle jobs.
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