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Anime Expo Lite 2021 & Aniplex Online Fest 2021
Anime Expo Lite 2021: Shikizakura TV Anime World Premiere

by Kalai Chik,

Over the weekend, Anime Expo Lite 2021 premiered the first episode of Shikizakura along with a Q&A with the series' director Gō Kurosaki and lead voice actors Miho Mashiro and Yūdai Noda. Opening the panel was a quick roundtable welcome from all the guests, including a surprise message from J-pop singer May'n. All four guests excitedly greeted the virtual audience and were happy to share the anime they've been working on in the past couple of years.

The 12 episode series boasts as the Tokai region's first original anime, and draws many influences from the region's biggest city, Nagoya. From the premiere, many of Nagoya's landmarks can be seen in the background, such as Sakae and the Nagoya TV Tower. Both lead voice actors, Noda and Mashiro, are based in Nagoya and May'n is also from Nagoya.

Director Kurosaki explained Shikizakura refers to the cherry blossom trees that bloom alongside autumn leaves and are predominantly featured throughout the show. In addition, Shikizakura is the fictional city the anime takes place in. The anime is a blend of both 2D and 3D CG animation, with a focus mainly on CG animation. At a glance, the fight scenes between the different robots, or “Powered Suits,” are enticing as they engage in sword battles.

Protagonist Kakeru is shaken by dreams of a battle between two Powered Suits, but finds solace after arriving at a scene of a shrine maiden performing a ritual. As the two reach towards each other, Kakeru wakes up with a grim reminder that he and his friend have a school field trip that same day. Through a series of standard character introductions and events, Kakeru runs into Ouka, the maiden from his dream. They part ways after he helps her with her destination, only to find himself in the midst of an attack by Oni.

Within their world, the human world overlaps with a demon world, allowing for these Oni to run rampant in the city. Turns out Kakeru is the sole survivor from the Obara incident, a deadly attack that left part of the city in ruin. As he fights back survivor's guilt, Kakeru makes a pact with the Powered Suit that tried to take advantage of him. He doesn't quite have full control of the robot compared to Ouka's three other protectors. It's also unclear if Kakeru's suit is the only sentient one without him physically within the robot. After a quick battle between him and the Oni, the episode ends with Ouka's three protectors dragging Kakeru to a secret location.

As an introductory episode, the story is very typical for an action-adventure sci-fi anime, but the CG animation and visuals are truly a standout among the other features of the series. Director Kurosaki was very inspired by the special effects in Tiger & Bunny, and that influence can be seen through the sleek designs and fluid movement of the robots. Sublimation itself is known for its CG animation work on the Love Live! series and Dragon's Dogma, which is the strongest detail within Shikizakura.

As a tokusatsu-like series, the heroic motivations of the main character, Kakeru, are fairly predictable. Ouka, the shrine maiden, didn't have a lot of time to shine outside of her confusion with technology and standing her ground against the rogue black robot. There's more room for growth, but the plot is fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, the most interesting detail of the anime is the production—which involves new local and international talent—rather than the product itself.

Back at Anime Expo 2019, Chukyo TV hosted voice auditions for an English-speaking role within the series. The winner of the audition, Caitlin Macatee, makes an appearance as a character visiting the same museum as the main characters. MIYA KIMINO, a virtual YouTuber, also plays a small part as an AI within the museum. Coincidentally, MIYA announced on her channel that she will be retiring in September 2021; it's unclear how large of a role she'll continue to play in the series.

The Q&A session remains available on VOD through Anime Expo Lite until July 16, but the premiere episode will not be available until October on HIDIVE.

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