by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Sakura Quest ?
Who would watch a show about a small town tourism office? Those comparisons to The Office or Parks and Recreation become just a bit more prescient in this episode, as a camera crew follows Yoshino's team around to turn their exploits into a TV show. This leads to some interesting framing of the events in this series as we've become used to them, as well as letting the show get more meta than usual.
Sakura Quest is indeed gearing up for a big mid-season climax, as the team prepares a festival for the Chupakabura Kingdom's founding. On the one hand, there's a definite sense of our heroes going through the motions, making preparations for their event and working with each other's strengths to overcome the obstacles we've become accustomed to them meeting. However, being filmed as part of a reality show gives everyone a reason to put an entertaining spin on their established roles, whether it's Shiori doing her best attempt at character work on camera or Ririko full-on retreating into a mask to avoid being filmed. The quirks of the cast are highlighted in these antics, and they work because we've had all this time to get to know them.
The core team are on full display this week, as the episode functions less as a new storyline and more like a glorified recap episode. Each member of the team is interviewed, and we get some reflection on the character development they've undergone so far in the series. It's far from just a retread though, as we do get to see the characters' upgraded strengths in action, whether it's Maki effortlessly directing everyone to act in front of a camera, or Riri being more take-charge in telling her grandmother how she'll be splitting her time. It's here that Sakura Quest's dedication to developing the cast over two-episode arcs pays off. We don't have any problem slipping into a more ensemble-focused format this time around, since we understand these characters so well by now. Ririko saying she likes Yoshino because they understand each other isn't lip-service, because we actually saw them bond. Sanae being visibly more at-ease working in the country feels like an accomplishment after her issues much earlier in the series. Sakura Quest hasn't shied away from ‘victory lap’ stories in the past, but that style feels the most earned this week.
All that recollection leads to the team reconvening at the palace of the Kingdom itself, as the series plays meta by calling attention to Yoshino not getting as much development as everyone else. As with the previous scenes in the series that show their growth, it's nice to see all the girls come to Yoshino's defense and encourage her. I know I've said it multiple times already, but I do really love the way the dynamic of the group has brought them all closer together. These are co-workers anyone would appreciate having. They're so firmly on the same wavelength that after Yoshino's childhood event in Manoyama is revealed (Shiori had apparently already picked up on it), they come together and decide to keep mum about it for now, so no one will make a big deal out of it.
Of course, the story being produced in-universe as a reality show means it can't be kept totally free from drama, as Amamiya, the director for the series being filmed, conspires to try to add his own ‘twists’ to the storyline they're shooting. His contrast with the Tourism Board in their current state highlights how far they've come. Amamiya is a former resident of Manoyama, but having moved on to showbiz, he still sees the town as ‘podunk’, hopeless for a revival on its own terms. The girls all shrug him off, having learned in their own way the appeal of the town by this point, but Amamiya's machinations continue to provide the only driving conflict in the episode. His attempts to dramatize Yoshino's doubts fall flat in the face of the team's bond, but he also makes the choice to book a big-name band to attract many more visitors to their anniversary celebration.
This subplot involving the band is not touched on too seriously at this juncture, but it feels like it will become the central point of conflict next episode. The main characters have spent twelve episodes learning that reviving Manoyama is a project that must be undertaken with the true spirit of the town in mind, and an outside attraction bringing people in on its own publicity falls outside those parameters. The only major issue teased with the concert so far is a potential struggle between it and the trivia contest that Yoshino is managing, but no such problem has materialized just yet.
It's downright pleasant to see Yoshino's seeds of doubt eased and the booking of the band treated as a non-issue for now. As seen in earlier episodes, Sakura Quest doesn't perform well when it forces drama. It's better when it lets the characters, their development, and the situations they work through speak for themselves. This effectiveness they've cultivated comes to a head as the board works through a true problem they're confronted with at the end of the episode, once again needing to appear before the Merchant's Board to ask them to take some of the funding burden.
This portion is the real winning part of the episode, a classic exercise in plot recollection that pays dividends on all the efforts the Tourism Board has put forth up to this point. What initially seems to be a dismissal led by Grandma Oribe and her lackeys turns around into a full-on vow of support, as every major business and character the girls have worked with stands up to pledge their assistance. The second major meta concept comes from this confrontation, as those opposed to helping Yoshino and her crew effectively point out that the world won't revolve around her as the main character in a story to solve all her problems for her. Through this first half of the series, Yoshino and her friends have put forth major work to earn this level of trust from the town, and their reward is a surprising nighttime spectacle of people coming from all over to visit Manoyama for the festival. The possibility that those camping out are really only here for the concert is a thread for next episode to deal with, but for now it was nice to see all the victories they've worked toward up to this point.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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