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The Summer 2024 Anime Preview Guide
Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin

How would you rate episode 1 of
Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin ?
Community score: 3.8



What is this?

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In the far eastern corner of the country of Yanato, it has been believed since ancient times that there are two worlds in this land: the world at the top where the gods live and the world at the foot of the mountain where humans live. Princess Sakuna, a high-ranking deity who lives in the world of the summit, was born to a war god and a fertility god but led a lazy life, wasting the grains her parents had stored. One day, due to some strange circumstances, she is banished from the city of the gods and sent to Hinoe Island, an isolated island inhabited by demons. In a barren land where there is barely enough food for the next day, she cultivates the soil, grows rice, and sets out to defeat the demons. The humans who have stumbled into the world of the gods and the novice fertility god begin their rice-husk-filled communal life together.

Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin is based on the action role-playing video game by Edelweiss. The anime series is streaming on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.


How was the first episode?

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Caitlin Moore
Rating:

Unlike the other reviewers, I've played the game version of Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin exhaustively…

…is what I would say, if I weren't absolute garbage at video games that involve more button-pushing than reading. Alas, if you're looking for a fan's perspective, I am just as unable to offer one as my associates. All I know about Sakuna is that it's a beat-em-up sidescroller that has players researching rice cultivation techniques. Well, who doesn't love a video game adaptation?

…Wait, I'm getting a notification that a lot of people don't like video game adaptations! Something about interactive narratives not translating well to linear storytelling? Well, fancy that! Who would have thought?

It remains to be seen if Sakuna manages to make that leap successfully, because the first episode is pretty much entirely setup. Even though she's a harvest god, Sakuna is the divine equivalent of a trust fund kid, living off the rice raised by her parents who disappeared when she was a baby. Like many real-life trust fund kids, she coasts along using her parents' savings to essentially buy herself high status without ever doing any work herself. Unlike most trust fund kids, however, she actually has a comeuppance coming when her half-assed attempt at telling humans to go home leads to the rice storehouse burning down. While I don't hate Sakuna, as much as she would drive me crazy if she were a real person, seeing someone in her position face consequences for her actions is delicious.

Making three series in one season doesn't seem to be dragging down P.A. Works' ability to put together a well-produced series. The storytelling is snappy and moves quickly, and what's more, it looks fantastic. I've always loved Shinto settings; the kimono are gorgeous, vermilion is prominent and striking, and most of their eight million kami are weird little guys who I love looking at. The game's distinctive character designs translate beautifully into hand-drawn animation with a touch of CG here and there.

What truly remains to be seen is whether or not the story will continue to translate well once we transition into the gameplay parts of the story. Not that I'll know the difference but I'm sure fans of the game will make their opinions known.


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Nicholas Dupree
Rating:

Well, wasn't that just lovely? I'm not familiar with the game this series is adapting, but I was immediately impressed by the look of it all, which I gather is pretty faithful to the source. There's a refreshing cartooniness to the character designs, melding blobby and exaggerated elements with the grandeur of the typical “godly” look in anime to make something really appealing. I loved environments and how they accentuated the atmosphere of the Lofty Realm, at once imposing, regal, and playful. The animation works well despite the rather busy designs of these pint-sized deities, and the whole episode carries such an infectiously fun energy.

The story is a bit more typical – an immature Goddess is sent on a journey to learn the importance of her godly responsibilities, and will presumably bond with her new human companions – but works just fine with the overall tone the show is going for. Sakuna herself may prove divisive, depending on how long it takes for her to grow out of being a selfish kid, but I like that she's shown to have a clever and mischievous side. Plus, she's animated with so much pep that it's hard not to find her at least a little likable. Having her be the daughter of both the War and Harvest deities has potential, and I'm interested to see if the show has anything to say about that particular combo, or the greater relationship between the Lofty and Lowly realms.

That said, this premiere does lose some steam in its second half, presumably because they wanted to end with Sakuna heading off to Demon Island. The human cast will likely get fleshed out in coming episodes, but as a group they're more memorable for their designs than their personalities. About the most interesting thing any of them did was start chowing down on what must have been uncooked rice, which is either a great way to show how desperate things are in the Lowly realm, or the most casually crazy thing I've seen from an anime in a while. There's some rather stiff world building and exposition in the dialogue that kind of took me out of it too, and in general some of that verve from the first half was missing.

I do like the somewhat lopsided friendship between Sakuna and Korokawa, and how the latter eventually encourages Sakuna to take on this “punishment” for her own sake. If the show can develop these personalities into a proper ensemble, then it should have everything it needs to be a zippy, charming adventure.


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Rebecca Silverman
Rating:

This is one video game adaptation where it doesn't feel like playing the game is a prerequisite for viewing. I have no doubt that there are winks and nudges for those who have, but on the whole, this is a remarkably self-contained story, one where we have all of the information necessary to follow the plot and characters. Set in a world called “Yanato” (a clear riff on “Yamato”), the tale takes place in the Lofty Realm, where the gods live. This, too, is taken from real-life terminology, as the gods (and nobles) were said to live “above the clouds,” which certainly implies a loftiness not present in humans' daily lives. (Kokorowa's comment about there being clouds in the depths of the sea works nicely with this as well.) Sakuna is a harvest goddess living in the Lofty Realm when she receives word that humans are crossing the bridge between Lofty and Lowly worlds, and her first mistake is trusting that they'll listen when she tells them to turn around.

Sakuna herself is the most difficult element of the episode for me. I am sound-sensitive, and something about the register of her voice was just nails-on-a-chalkboard for me, although I couldn't put my finger on the exact reason why. We're clearly meant to understand that she's a bit of a brat; she pitches fits and throws temper tantrums that belie her assertion that she's a full-grown adult, something she seems to think her sake consumption helps to prove. (It does not.) She's also very full of herself, which her lion dog companion Tama seems to try to curb, to no avail. Basically, she comes across as too loud, too entitled, and desperately in need of the character development this journey is presumably intended to give her. That almost certainly means that she's going to get better, but I'm not sure I could give her to that point.

On the plus side, I love the way the game art has translated into anime, and the details of the world and clothing are a delight. From the gods' feathered robes and the steampunk elements of the Lofty Realm to the patterns on foreign nun Myrthe's clothing, everything has clearly been thought out to the point where it's easy to ignore the weird bronze rice husks. I would hang art from this show on my walls, and it taps into a fantasy sensibility that's really striking. And yes, I love that Tama's tongue is always hanging out of his mouth, and not just because that's how my dog does things. If you can get past Sakuna herself, I think this has a lot to recommend it, and maybe that's where the game fans come in: if you already know she gets better as a character, it may be easier to get through the episode(s) before she does.


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James Beckett
Rating:

I have yet to play the video game that Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin is adapting, but you can bet that I immediately hopped onto PlayStation Plus and downloaded it immediately after finishing this show's premiere. All I needed was a few minutes of time with Sakuna's charming characters and engrossing story to realize that I was in for a good time, no matter what medium we're dealing with. That said, so far as this particular medium of animation is concerned, I think Sakuna is doing a darned good job so far.

I will admit, I can be an easy mark in a lot of ways. Give me some nicely stylized character designs, a good soundtrack, and a funny little gremlin of a protagonist, and I'm pretty much sold. Sakuna has all of those elements, and it flaunts them proudly. I obviously cannot speak to how well the show is translating the whole experience of playing the game, but the fact that it is working so well as it's own standalone product tells me it's probably on the right track. Sakuna is an engaging heroine, and the whole conflict of the goddess Sakuna having to figure out her new role as the protector of this wandering family of humans is a great way to get her evolving into the capable deity she could probably be if she just dialed up her effort and dialed down her sake consumption. Also, I don't know where else to put this in the preview, but I freaking love Tama, the floating dog-spirit-sword-thing. He's cute as heck. I want one.

I honestly have no reservations about Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin. It's simply an excellent premiere, all around. My only real questions would be concerned with how well Sakuna will manage to translate the parts of the story that were originally gameplay, since that's where game adaptations tend to struggle the most. Still, nothing about this premiere gives me reason to doubt that Sakuna will find a creative way forward. Now, if you excuse me, I might just have to go and spoil myself silly on everything that's going to happen next by hopping onto my PlayStation and binging the game for the next few hours.


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