Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 2: Love & Kisses
A love triangle built on varying degrees of deception is an unstable one, as high school girl Urara, her cram school student cousin (and longtime love interest) Tonma, and his Keio University student love Mieko ultimately find out. Tonma's delicate balancing act between attending cram school, pretending to attend Keio to be with Mieko, and dealing with Urara at home ultimately collapses, leaving him to pick up the pieces and face up to who and what he really is. Urara's deception about the presence of her father (or lack thereof) ultimately can't last forever, either, nor can Mieko long hide her ulterior motives from Tonma. How will both handle their situations when the truth comes out? Matters of the heart prove anything but simple in the titillating conclusion to this 1997 OVA series.
Sakura Diaries is ultimately a light romance about three people in love who are not being honest with each other or (in some cases) themselves. The first reprint volume set up the circumstances of the deceptions, while the second volume, which covers episodes 7-12, shows them falling apart in a melodramatic fashion reminiscent of a soap opera. While it can be interesting to watch characters work their way out of the predicaments into which they've maneuvered themselves, little which takes place in the first five episodes of this volume is going to surprise any veteran anime fan. The storytelling did show signs of developing a backbone in the last two episodes of the previous volume, but one must remember that this is a male-oriented romantic anime, so of course the hero is going to be relatively quickly forgiven for even his major transgression by the girl who's madly in love with him. The series does win points for not including the typical beach/hot springs/bath house episodes (there are swim suits involved, but that's all the farther it goes), but loses them for the typical “I'll wash your back” scene. It also highlights some of the strange ideas Japanese students have about good luck charms. (While bizarre notions about such things are common among students of any nationality, the one featured in episode 11 is downright weird by any standards.)
Sakura Diaries isn't entirely your run-of-the-mill anime romance, though. It doesn't shirk from dealing with the consequences of the deceptions being revealed, and it does allow its characters to grow a bit from their experiences. As a result, the last episode doesn't play out the way many will expect. The fan service, though sparser in this volume than it was in the first, also continues to be more impressive than what is seen in your typical risqué anime romance.
Although Mieko is still an important player, the focus in this volume is more firmly on Urara and Tonma. The former maintains the perky, lame-brained (but not over-the-top), sexy enthusiasm which can make her character appealing, while the latter proves that the lack of intelligence he showed in the first volume wasn't a fluke. I don't doubt that some viewers will want to beat one or both over the head with a blunt object to pound some sense into them at some points, but Tonma at least does partly redeem himself in the end. Ultimately the three key supporting roles are at least as interesting and distinct as the main characters, though. Koumi continues to be appealing as Urara's boy-crazy best friend and sounding board, and Koji and Masu both get enough screen time to leave them as well-established and distinct representations of their respective groups (cram school repeaters and elitist college students).
The cel-based artistry isn't as crisp as titles from the current decade, and indeed looks more like something from the early '90s than the later '90s. It also uses a more muted color scheme than more recent digital efforts. It's still an attractive series, though, with good background detail, appealing character designs, and fan service which lacks nothing in comparison to other titles of its type. The quality of the animation is less impressive; it gets by, but that's about it, and the closer isn't animated at all.
The soundtrack works hard to support both the lighter and more dramatic moments, but in this volume it has a tendency to go overboard with the melodrama. The English voice acting is consistently right on the money, though, as long as you aren't bothered by the lack of precise lip-synching in the English dub. (The lip-synching isn't the best with the Japanese dub either, however.) The first volume prioritized staying as accurate as possible to the original script over making the lip-synching look good, and nothing has changed about that for this one. The merits of this approach are debatable, as American anime audiences have long shown a preference for accurate lip-synching, but it does assure that there are no variations between the English and Japanese scripts and allow for smooth and well-performed dub whose actors hit the right tone for their characters; Mariela Ortiz even sounds more convincingly like a teenager in her performance as Urara than her seiyuu counterpart, who sounds more like an adult woman trying to be cutesy. The one flaw with the English audio track is that the echo effect in a bathroom scene spanning two episodes is too pronounced in its effort to duplicate what the Japanese audio techs did in the same scenes, resulting in a distracting level of resonance.
ADV packed the first volume with six full episodes and a generous allotment of extras, a feat which they have repeated here. In an addition to a clean opener and closer and company previews, another edition of on-disc Liner Notes is included to explain certain cultural references. Another unused closing theme is also included, one whose sound and pacing is reminiscent of Paul McCartney's post-Beatles work. Its quality, tone, and suitability for the series will almost certainly raise questions about why it wasn't picked over the one that actually got used, and it certainly deserves a place on an OST album. An audio commentary track covering the last two episodes is also available, one which involves Monica Rial (Mieko), Mariela Ortiz, Robert Martinez (Tonma), and Chris Ayres (Koji), all in full-on playful mode. It isn't very informative, but it is fun to listen to once you've seen the episodes. The “Next Volume” previews from the original Japanese releases are present and dubbed after episodes 8 and 10, and new cover art is used. In a nice touch the end of the case forms a picture with the end of the first volume's case when the two are sitting side-by-side on a shelf.
Sakura Diaries will never be acclaimed as excitingly original and may have too much of a soap opera flavor for some tastes, but it does deliver a generous serving of cheeky, fan service-spiced entertainment. Its second volume provides a light and economical wrap-up to its story about a love triangle based around deception without straining the brain.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Good fan service, economical value.
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