by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Sakura Quest ?
The detailed long-form character work Sakura Quest executed in its first half is displayed immediately at the beginning of this episode, as Yoshino steps off the train into Manoyama, smiles, and enthusiastically declares that she's back. The show's execution continues to be commendable in this regard. After last week's more thoughtful downtime, Sakura Quest feels truly ‘back’ in this episode, and I'm all too happy to have it.
We barely get a quick reunion of the returning Yoshino, Maki, and Sanae before they come to aid Shiori and Ririko with the mysterious foreigners they encountered at the end of the last episode. Those people turn out to be a group of international cryptid enthusiasts who heard about the Chupakabura of Manoyama and have come to seek it out. The sudden influx of foreign visitors (most of them do not speak Japanese) provides the backbone for the issues the Tourism Board works through in this episode, but what follows brings their conflict to life much more, with a myriad of subplots and themes crisscrossing for one of the liveliest episodes to date.
It's interesting to see the portrayal of the foreigners and the effects their interactions have on our main characters. They all seem friendly enough (they do come in ‘peach’) but the language barrier provides an interesting opportunity for their influence to be shown rather than told. Yoshino initially draws a connection between these tourists and the ones that arrived for the concert in the previous arc, but the support of her teammates (particularly Shiori) helps reorient her thinking in terms of how to make this instance of misguided visitors beneficial. Using this situation as a test-bed for the B&B concept provides the new quest for this story, and the way they work out the technicalities gives it the usual workmanlike edge we've come to expect from the show. It's also just nice to see the townspeople themselves slowly warm to the foreign tourists, especially with all the entertaining attempts at English being thrown around.
Ririko gets a decent amount of focus in this episode as well, since her unique insider/outsider status in the town is brought up again and challenged. For all the issues she had fitting in, it turns out Ririko had never even considered the possibility of moving away from Manoyama before, but questions from her co-workers and bonding with one of the cryptid hunters over the sights to be seen worldwide start to change her thinking. This leads into her bringing the subject up with her grandmother, who also has more than enough to do this episode. Grandma Oribe seems to have a similar mindset to Ririko in that she never considered moving away, and additional revelations teased this episode indicate that her antagonistic relationship with Kadota and the Tourism Board might be as complicated as her home living situation.
In general, this subplot does a good job highlighting the complex issue that many disaffected people living in towns like this must work through. It's easy for an outsider to tell someone “If you don't like living there, just move away” but there are a litany of factors related to personal feelings and familial obligations that can weigh that possibility down. By contrasting these planted small-town citizens with the globe-trotting free-spirited cryptid hunters, Sakura Quest helps highlight some of the harder themes of its concept in an uplifting way. Unlike the previous attempts at forced antagonism with Oribe or the pointedly lonely flashbacks to Ririko's isolated childhood, this portion of the plot is purely and enjoyably engaging.
Going back to the situation with Oribe, the snippets of new information dangled there also relate to Kadota and the draining of the Sakura Pond. First of all, something with ‘Sakura’ in the name coming up means we're going to take notice anyway. But this plot hook brings in Kadota, long a comic-relief background fixture, and promises some revelations of his own past efforts on the Tourism Board, as well as how they relate to Oribe and the inventor Doku. That Yoshino is the main one pursuing this lead wraps the whole angle up solidly, giving us one more engaging point to hang on in this episode full of attention-getters. Unlike the ‘water dragon’ from the matchmaking tour arc, I can't say for sure if the final revelation of what's in the pond will turn out to be an outrageous comedy play, a true dramatic turn from the past, or some subversive combination of the two, but I'm excited to find out either way. This is thanks to the way the episode juggles lighthearted humor with sincere progression; it really has the feeling of a story finally coming together, setting a strong standard for this second half.
One last note regarding the languages used in this episode: I'm not sure who the voice actress for Ririko's tourist friend Lucia is, but they sound like they could be a native Spanish speaker, in addition to speaking excellent English, and they do a commendable job in the foreign-language portions of the script. The subtitles for this episode don't include all the English (and some Spanish) used, presumably because those watching are not ‘supposed’ to understand it normally, but if you speak English, you will know what is being said, and the script makes sense. It's an unusual sidebar to being an English-speaker watching a simulcasted anime.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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