by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Sakura Quest ?
We're nearly through the first round of establishing arcs for Sakura Quest, which means it's finally Ririko's turn in the spotlight! The youngest and quietest member of the team has been intriguing since the beginning, offering her own distinct moments of assistance and entertainment throughout, but this week we finally get a solid glimpse at what makes her tick, as well as seeing her take steps toward the development that everyone else has gotten. Combined with a wildly entertaining framing story, this makes for one of Sakura Quest's best episodes yet.
The show has done a solid job of running down the checklist of town-revitalization strategies seen in real-life Japan to deal with Manoyama's problem, and this time around the Tourism Board attempts a matchmaking tour. The first hurdle they encounter is one that seems to befall a lot of these projects: a lack of women volunteering for the session. They also have to contend with brainstorming more engaging excursions than the goofy ideas Kadota volunteered, as well as just running everything smoothly in general. It says a lot about how far the team has come at this point that all this rigmarole is now relegated to background noise for the episode. Any one of these issues would have been a crisis on their own in the past, but now that the Queen and their subjects really know what they're doing, it would take an act of God to derail their plans. Of course, that is exactly what happens at this episode's cliffhanger, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Riri's issues are dutifully established in the opening half of the episode. Sakura Quest's expert pacing returns to being deftly on-point here, as everything passes by so briskly before the cut to commercial that you'd be forgiven for being surprised that it's halfway over. A lot of this has to do with how quiet Ririko is. It plays into the series' presentation well, allowing Ririko and her expressions to play off the other characters as they engage her. We learn that she and Shiori are actually childhood friends, and we get the idea that her withdrawn nature led to an overall lack of lifelong social participation, which also drew a wedge between her and her insistent guardian Chitose. The sweets-shop owner may have softened toward the Tourism Board and Ririko's participation in it last episode, but she still thinks she knows what's best for the younger Oribe by pushing her to be more social.
Ririko's struggles will of course be familiar to anyone considered ‘different’ growing up. The yarn spun about her love of the weird setting her apart from her more ‘girly’ peers is hardly an original one, but it's presented in a poignant and effective way, aided by how well we know the characters and setting at this point. These quiet flashbacks to an even quieter young Ririko are some of the more stylistic stuff that the workmanlike Sakura Quest has attempted, and unlike previous artsy interludes, they work well. Ririko's awkward past and simple shots of her laying despondent at her desk resonate, speaking to a bigger element of hometowns that the show hadn't tackled until now: the need to belong.
All that introspection is relieved in the episode's second half, as the walk-through of the singles tour results in some of the strongest and funniest material since Sakura Quest's opening episode. Everything the team guides the three eligible bachelorettes through provides impressively successful comic fodder, be it Sandal's unknowing derail of the matchmaking process or just about every minute they spend at the café. That whole scene had me laughing out loud the most, with its rapid-fire character entries and ungainly situations. I'm always impressed when this show gets the opportunity to flex its surprisingly robust comic muscles.
The cliffhanger for this episode combines a couple of elements, as Ririko's despondence at not doing the town dance with the others pushes her to leave prematurely. It's an interesting and welcome departure from the established characterization setup for these episodes. For all the others, the break between parts in the arc generally came with a direct confrontation and a big speech of some sort by the focus character, clearly laying out the issues their episode had been building up. But of course, this approach wouldn't fit for the less-chatty Ririko, so taking her leave simply and silently both fits her character perfectly and works wonders for the episode's mood. At this point, her awkwardness around the situation speaks for itself.
Aside from establishing her issues, I do hope that the resolution to this problem next episode is as unconventional as its presentation so far. There is some dialogue early on that indicates Ririko's ideas for the tour might be more engaging than the others give them credit for, so I expect those to come into play somehow. But given how much back-and-forth is given to the dance and her choice not to participate in it, I have to wonder if the ending will feature her actually going along with it or preferring to still sit out without feeling excluded from the group in the process. It will be interesting to see which direction the show takes.
The more direct cliffhanger that also wraps up this episode concerns that act of God I mentioned earlier, as the evening barbecue suddenly gets rained out. On its own, this might not be such a big deal, but a number of accompanying omens strike at the same time, casting a specter of unfortunate events over future proceedings (and laying the groundwork for Ririko's occult expertise to contribute in the second half). This also leads to seeing an equally ominous, antagonistic-looking fellow appearing right before the cut to credits. What sort of problems this sudden character will present remain to be seen, but given the pedigree of the show so far, I don't know that it will end up quite so serious as it appears at first.
Between the humor, the character work, and even that last-minute suspense, this is probably one of Sakura Quest's best episodes since its debut. How it chooses to wrap up all these disparate threads next episode will greatly affect the strength of this storyline overall, but it already speaks to their quality that it's not quite as predictable as it was in times before. With all of its characters firmly established and developed, the show should only get stronger from here.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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