by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
I wanted to love “The Promised Flower”, since it's the first episode to properly focus on Sally Amaki's character, Sakura, and the hint of some kind of burgeoning attraction between her and Miu throughout the last few episodes is one of the story threads I'm the most interested in, especially now that Miu's more introspective character arc seems to be all but resolved (at least for now). Alas, our first glimpse into the life and history of Sakura Fujima fell a bit flat for me, mostly because it indulged so heavily in the familiar, treacly clichés that would feel undercooked in any idol anime, much less one that is trying to stand out from the competition. It's a story that is mostly devoid of meaningful conflict until its final moments, and without conflict, you don't have much of a story.
The structure of the episode is a big factor in how lopsided the episode feels, diving the story into flashbacks and scenes set In the present day. In the present, we follow all the girls in 22/7 as they prep for The Wall's edict of the week: A photo-shoot at the Hitome Senbonzakura cherry blossoms. This story is about as straightforward and low-stakes as it gets, and even the obstacles the girls face don't feel particularly important in the moment: It's another last-minute arrangement, and the train to the park is inexplicably delayed, so the girls have to hike up the mountain on foot. It's an arduous trip, the girls are late, and Sakura seems distracted the entire time, but that's about it, and it isn't enough to make for riveting entertainment.
This leaves all of the heavy-lifting to Sakura's flashbacks, with are scattered throughout the episode, and they don't work because you can see where the story is going literally from the first minute little Sakura, gets together with her wheelchair bound grandmother to go visit the local cherry blossom trees. Sakura's family is living in America, but her grandmother still feels an indelible connection to Japan, which inspires Sakura as well. Her parents might be too busy to pay much attention to her, but Sakura knows her grandma will always be by her side. The payoff for this setup would be obvious from a mile away, yet 22/7 plays it completely straight: Grandma gets sick, promises to see the cherry blossom tree with Sakura again when she's well, but she ends up passing away. Sakura is heartbroken, but the invitation to join 22/7 gives her a new way to connect with her grandmother, and the country that meant so much to her.
The problem here is that we haven't gotten any indication of Sakura's internal pain up until this episode, and the flashback delays the very obvious fate of Sakura's grandmother for so long, so you spend this whole episode waiting for the big moment where Sakura sees the cherry blossoms and feels more at peace with her Grandmother's death. This is absolutely what happens, and its fine, but it isn't a story worth spending a whole episode on. The present-day stuff with Miu and the other girls is basically background fluff, so there isn't much development to be had there, either. I'm not going to say it wasn't nice to see them all cut loose and have their impromptu photo-shoot in the rain when the original plans fell through, but that's a cute scene for a throwaway B-plot, not the climax of an entire episode.
If anything, it's the stuff the episode didn't focus on that holds the most promise for the future. There's maybe one or two lines of Sakura's that hint at her complicated relationship with her parents, and she gets an ultimatum at the end of the episode that adds a further wrinkle in her new life in the group: She has to return to America in one year. When you combine that with the many flirtatious beats that I read between her and Miu (not to mention a few between Miu and Nicole), you have a recipe for interesting character dynamics that is only barely hinted at so far. I don't know if we're going to get a mini-arc for Sakura like we did for Miu, or if we're just going to have individual episodes for the rest of the girls from here on out, but either way, I hope 22/7 can capitalize on all of this unrealized potential sooner or later.
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: • The only new song we get this week is Sakura's character song. It sounded nice, but I don't have a title or any lyrics for it, so that's about all I can say.
• Being for The Benefit of Mr. Wall: Another benevolent act of emotional healing from the Big W this week, and the stuffed cat the girls got last week seems to be a permanent avatar for him. They're all at least a little more questioning of just what in the hell they're doing listening to a wall, but I honestly don't know if the show is ever going to move beyond it being a joke/plot machine, which is disappointing.
• We also get a brief scene where Miu and her mom open up to each other about her new job, and it's quite heartwarming (though I really hope this isn't where Miu's story ends).
• We got less of Sally Amaki showing off Sakura's English skills (only a few seconds and some background chatter), but I'm sure we'll see more, since her role as the group's de facto English ambassador is one of 22/7's most charming features. If you haven't read Kim Morrisey's excellent writeup on this very phenomenon, I suggest you check it out.
22/7 is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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