by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Sakura Quest ?
“Let's try again!” intones Sakura Quest's new intro song, and it's a strong opening statement after the pointed downer ending of the previous storyline. Indeed, just starting out this episode seems to walk back the dour proceedings its preceding part left hanging. Whereas Yoshino's departure was played for possibly-permanent drama initially, here it's immediately revealed that she just left for a one-week summer vacation. The tidy wrapping up of those concerns does lend some credence to the criticism that the last episode was mostly about manipulating the audience's emotions, but that was there, and this is here. And this week, Sakura Quest is taking a breather.
Maki and Sanae have also taken the opportunity to go on vacation, leaving Ririko and Shiori back in their hometown to continue the Tourism Board work and lay the seeds for their next plot. That's definitely mostly setup, as this episode is primarily about all the characters taking stock of what went wrong in the first half of the year, how it affects them, and how they're going to keep moving forward. For this, we get to see them interacting with people they know in their previous hometowns. This is notably the first time we've actually seen Yoshino's rural home, and the similarities to Manoyama are pointed. As she traverses the mostly-empty streets, they mirror the similar shots we've seen in Manoyama through the series so far, but what sets them apart is the people she deals with.
Sakura Quest has always delighted in using interactions with townspeople to advance its concepts, and seeing it employ that technique outside of Manoyama for the first time does a service both the show's ideas. The people in town that Yoshino talks with, mostly friends her own age, are all perfectly happy to stay there, settle down, and continue keeping their home alive. They cite simple appeals such as decent available jobs and entertaining festival options, with Yoshino seemingly inspired that things are working out so effectively. It's a marked difference from the young people seen in Manoyama so far, who cannot wait to grow up and move away from the town. It hasn't been spelled out exactly how this contrast has inspired Yoshino in her work yet, but the seeds are planted. It's complemented by her welfare office friend describing the key difference between attracting temporary tourists and new permanent residents. Previously, the team had been solely pursuing the former, but now Yoshino may be realizing that making Manoyama an attractive place to live will be a major focal point. This is reinforced by Ririko and Shiori's subplot about checking out abandoned houses, though that will clearly be more developed in the next episode.
The other vacationing characters similarly have their eyes opened by their contact with the outside world. Sanae's growth is evident in her renewed defense of the rural living she was previously faking for marketing, while Maki is encouraged in her acting by her more famous friend, but she's clearly more committed to the tourism work in Manoyama. The growth of both characters is commented on by their engaging guest-stars, and it speaks to this episode's point of stopping in the middle to take stock of the situation. Our characters are down but not out, and there are big events they can barely see beyond the horizon. For now, however, this is an episode mostly composed of separate moments.
Skipping around between these moments forms the most distinct part of this episode's presentation. It creates a sense of narrative speed and progressive pacing in spite of not all that much happening. It's interesting that during the episode, I realized I hadn't really considered whether what I was watching was ‘good’ or not, I was simply engaged by the characterization and storytelling. The realization that this episode does feel decompressed in terms of stretching out its character interactions and laying the groundwork for its future concepts. It's interesting that leaving the sleepy rural town setting actually makes Sakura Quest feel more leisurely-paced, but at least the baseline quality of the show is enough that this dip is unnoticeable unless you're actively looking for it.
In spite of the dire way the series portrayed the fallout of the previous arc, Yoshino's doubts are resolved rather plainly by the end of this episode. It is nice that, after spending half the series insisting that she had no desire to go back to her hometown, she ends up being glad she did, thanks to the renewed inspiration it provides her. It's a fine handling of the subject matter, but it lacks the narrative punch of the dramatic events that set it up. In retrospect, it makes the situation feel like it was never as bad as it seemed to be. Maybe that was the intent, of course, but I have to wonder if it would leave the audience feeling less strongly about the previous episode on a repeated viewing.
That mild dip aside, the episode does manage to end on a surprisingly robust cliffhanger again. Shiori and Ririko's random encounter with a gaggle of Spanish-speaking tourists is just barely set up enough not to feel arbitrary, but at the same time still comes out of nowhere enough to engage the audience at the last minute and make them wonder what's coming in the next episode. This bit also forms the only other major moment of comedy for this episode, after Yoshino's silly episode-opening dream about enduring manjuu-based punishment, so the surprising bookends help keep us alert. With Sakura Quest running on a more smooth, interconnected story arc for the last few episodes, it's nice to see it keeping us interested in what happens next.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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