by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Sakura Quest ?
As steady a ride as Sakura Quest has become week after week, I was worried it was becoming a little predictable in its proceedings. It was amusing how the big worries from the last arc turned out to be nothing after all, but for the sheer quality of the execution on display, things were still feeling on cruise-control. However, we've been here before, and each time Sakura Quest starts feeling a little too cozy, it goes and surprises me with new ideas and energy.
As opposed to simply tracking down the festival-critical treasures brought up last week, this episode uses their existence as a starting point for a whole succession of escalating conflicts, showing the board members in a much more developmental role than their usual tourism trappings. Their efforts center on one Professor Suzuhara, a cultural anthropologist who they suspect has some knowledge of the relics (and as we find out later, he does indeed). Handily serving as the riddle-dispensing Sphinx described in this episode's title, Suzuhara is able to see that the crew's efforts to restore Manoyama's festival are emblematic of their larger effort to revitalize the town, so he proceeds to send them through a succession of tasks in pursuit of practical reform before he can decide if he'll deliver the goods or not.
This episode really keeps the audience engaged with its events leading into one another. First the girls are questioning the seniors who live on the town's outskirts, and as usual Sakura Quest uses this format to introduce a gaggle of eccentric townspeople. They discover that the main concerns of these people are an imminent shutdown of the area bus route, so Suzuhara goads them into using Sanae's tech expertise and some carefully-distributed tablet computers to help the old folks make themselves heard.
Teaching a bunch of old people to use the internet goes about as well as you would expect in a series like this. Most of the comedy and intrigue in the middle of this episode comes from the learning process, a layered sequence that shows off the strengths of Sakura Quest's unique subject matter well. It makes the process of developing activities and infrastructure for a town's otherwise-neglected senior citizens into a segment that's enjoyable to follow. There's something inherently funny about an old man getting beaten by Sandal in online Shogi, or the quick laugh-out-loud moment of the cabinet-making YouTube video. Perhaps less funny is the oddly Danny DeVito-esque old man whose singular refrain of pervy butt jokes wears thin almost immediately. One of the caveats of an episode having more comedy than usual is that not all the gags are going to land effectively.
The episode also has issues with setting up its central developments. When they meet with the old citizens at first, Suzuhara admonishes Yoshino and the others for not knowing enough about the town or making an effort to learn. If that feels familiar, it's because this refrain was a keystone of Yoshino's character development in the earliest part of the series. So it definitely rings hollow to have it thrown out as a stock issue by an episodic character for the sake of conflict, particularly when the series has devoted so much effort these last few episodes to showing how appreciative and invested in the town Yoshino has become.
Maybe they could have crafted a more believable source of antagonism, but that spur is ultimately just the stepping stone on the way to the sequence of events that makes this episode work. With the seniors taking over the local internet and getting ready to make their voices heard, it seems like the crew is on the verge of real reform, but a side effect of this helps expose the complexity of the process, when the bus driver Takamizawa bickers with the young girl at the restaurant over his job's possibly falling to imminent progress, and her rebuttals bring up the youth's disdain for the town itself. This small confrontation in the background as the Tourism Board girls bask in their momentary progress is a good reminder of the overall atmosphere of the series, and the importance of reconciling successes with working for the good of everyone in Manoyama.
It all comes to a head in a truly unexpected escalation, as the previously quirky oldsters are suddenly rallied into militancy by Suzuhara and threaten to secede from the Kingdom of Chupakabura if their demands for bus route reform are not met. This cliffhanger ending, complete with Yoshino being ‘taken hostage’ to star in their streaming protest video, leaves off on the whiplash of absurdity that Sakura Quest has milked well in the past. Truthfully, this is nothing like how I expected this relic-gathering arc of the show to play out, but I'm always happy when a series I was too comfortable with takes me by surprise. There's still some rough spots throughout, but this is a fun ride of a storyline so far.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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