by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Sakura Quest ?
The themes of failure and second chances reverberate through Sakura Quest, as the central thread of reviving Manoyama has woven in and out of different characters and concepts throughout the series. Indeed, so many of the first half's character-development arcs saw our main heroes getting new leases on life after their past failures came back to haunt them. So it seems appropriate that this larger story that's been building for the second half comes to a head by exploring one of the first falls the town ever had, and how the failings of characters in the past figured into it.
After one more misguided misadventure from Kadota clues the Tourism Board team into something lurking beneath the surface of Sakura Pond, they set out in search of answers. True to form, the series presents those answers relatively quickly and matter-of-factly, with Doku telling everyone the tale of the band that he was in with Kadota and Chitose fifty years ago. They yearned to break free of Manoyama's stagnant small-town atmosphere, leave for Tokyo, and hit it big. Kadota failed to leave with his friends at the last minute, and in an impulsive act of defiance, caused the shutdown of Manoyama's festival, the one meager tourism draw they had. The manifold issues brought on by his actions explain the rift between him and Chitose effectively. In her eyes, Kadota betrayed her dreams and also caused the downfall of the town she was now stuck in.
The way the main characters hear this story forms the bulk of the episode, but it's not all flashback. Their reactions to the situation and subsequent reflection fill out the episode in layers of interactions, changing how we see the town and its history. Of course, the flashbacks themselves are the meatiest component of this. Oftentimes, journeys to the past like this are pointedly nostalgic, showing better times that characters yearn for. In a series like this one, where the whole point is ostensibly restoring the town to its old self, it's a tack the presentation certainly could have taken.
However, Sakura Quest aims for more complexity than that. The Manoyama of fifty years ago seems a little more active in terms of farming and its successful festival, but they make a point of mentioning that they still lack visitors, and the disaffected youthfulness of Kadota's band reflects the attitudes of the kids we've seen in the modern-day portion of the show. The samples of their rock music that Doku plays sound incredibly raw, fresh by the standards of the 60's, and he even notes how unique it was at the time to have a boy and girl singing in the same rock band. This trio were ahead of their time in ways that mirror their modern-day personalities and strengths.
This episode's keen point of bridging the generational gap is exemplified well as Ririko sits down for a follow-up conversation with Chitose on whether they'd ever consider leaving the town. Of course, with the events of fifty years ago now out in the open, we know that Chitose did consider the possibility, only to have her hopes dashed by the actions of her friend and eventually time itself. It does an effective job of underscoring Chitose's issue with letting Ririko participate in the activities of the Tourism Board; she doesn't want her hopes to be let down by her supposed allies again. Her resigned advice to Ririko that she take the chance to leave on her own while she still can is pointed; even though she's chosen to stay all this time, Chitose's never believed in Manoyama, at least not the way Kadota does.
Though all these revelations of failure and resignations over the past make this sound like a dour episode, it surprisingly isn't. Doku's recollection of the past is made as fondly as possible, and despite her negative tone, there's a good sense of understanding between Ririko and Chitose that wasn't there before. In the end, the rudimentary celebration that springs up in the dried pond inspires Yoshino to bring back Manoyama's festival for an attempt at success similar to what she saw work out in her own hometown. On top of that, the evidence of Kadota's embarrassing outburst so long ago has been left unrecognizable by time. The problem pretty much solved itself, and it was never as bad as it seemed.
The unified tone across all the scenes, time periods, and players in this episode is impressive; Sakura Quest really knows what it's trying to get across. On top of that, the animation looks a bit sharper than usual too, especially in the atmospheric flashback portions. It's another one of those episodes that sucks you in and prevents you from worrying about any issues with the presentation or story flow. If anything, it spends just a bit too much time on menial tasks in the present-day that could have been better spent shedding more light on Kadota's mindset that led to his actions in the past, but what we get does work. The surprise revelation that ends the episode, that our heroes will need to gather some apparent quest items, makes for an abrupt finish, but at least it continues the show's commitment in this second cour to more smooth story arcs. Sakura Quest has become a reliably entertaining ride at this point.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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