by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Sakura Quest ?
Stories like this one remind me of why I love Sakura Quest so much. The low-key conceit of the series runs the gamut of every storytelling style and tone, and its full breadth is on display in this episode. It starts with its best comic foot forward, in a phenomenal laugh-out-loud moment as Yoshino's team calls her to find out what she's doing with the seniors. “Um…being a hostage?” The irreverent sitcom stylings of the whole situation set the stage, and we're off.
Yoshino's dealings with the seniors in the outer district of Manoyama and roping the others (particularly Maki) into it makes the lighthearted opening portion of this episode very engaging and enjoyable. There's plenty of fun and plot progression mixed in together, and even a bit of fanservice that we immediately feel kind of bad about (dang it, Danny DeVito). It's all a necessary relief from the spot of tension last episode ended on, and that arc of emotion becomes even more necessary as the episode goes on.
This episode asks a tangential question relating to the Tourism Board's efforts to save the town. Is preservation of the physical presence of something important, or is it worthwhile just to save the culture in some way? Despite the noise he makes in service of the elderly residents themselves, Suzuhara's private conversations with Sanae and Yoshino reveal that his main goal has primarily been using their newly-acquired internet access to make sure the seniors and their ways are not forgotten. As we saw last episode, many of Manoyama's traditions have already been uploaded to YouTube and other social media platforms by the newly net-savvy older residents. It doesn't explicitly preserve everything, but the idea that Manoyama's wood-carving, agricultural, and other traditions could find a way to live on even if the town itself is abandoned is hinted at as a very real alternative to successfully revitalizing the area. This concept of legacies will be important by the end of the episode on a different level, but the show is so adept at keeping you engaged in the moment that you don't fully grasp the more personal layers of Suzuhara's ambitions until it's too late.
Moreso than any previous episode, this week's Sakura Quest really digs into the mix of emotions that residents of a town feel in seeing its decline. After treating it somewhat lightheartedly last episode, this episode shows the less petty issues imposed on isolated seniors by the lack of a bus route, as Yoshino has to drive a woman to the hospital for a procedure. The close-knit specifics of living in a snowy climate are touched on in a way that might teach you something if you're not familiar with those areas. Even that DeVito guy gets a nice moment as he explains the area's rudimentary variation on a neighborhood watch. Of course, the big turning point of the episode is Yoshino actually confronting Takamizawa about the bus route. The Queen's passion for the town is made abundantly clear in this scene, while the point is still made that she's not as in tune with the situation as Manoyama's life-long residents. It's a sharp contrast to the arbitrary accusations of not understanding that were leveled at her last week, and the way things work out here feels much truer to the character's growth.
Just as it goes that tech bros regularly invent public transit, Sanae ends up innovating the concept of a ride-sharing program as a solution for the seniors' transportation woes. However, as conceptually obvious as the idea is on its face, the show's thoughtful way of revealing it makes it work. It's an idea that wouldn't function without first acclimating the old folks to technology, and the way everyone's work from the past couple episodes gets brought together make it more satisfying to see such a ground-level, real-world solution be implemented. You have to wonder if real-life issues like those in Manoyama's outskirts could be handled with this type of solution, and at the very least Sakura Quest makes it believable.
Unfortunately, an arc like the one presented in this story wouldn't be complete without a coda to come down on, so tragedy strikes right when you might expect. If you're at all familiar with these kinds of narrative beats, you'll see the sudden sad event coming right when it occurs. Impressively, for as big a plot moment as this is for the series, Suzuhara's death is handled with as much restraint as you could hope for. Sakura Quest has not shied away from emotional manipulation a few times in the past, but it lets the build-up and impact on the characters speak entirely for itself this week, to much more powerful results. The realistic handling of this fallout is perfect for the show's style, and it still gets to end on one more optimistic upswing as our characters find the first of their necessary treasures.
This episode really does have everything, including some narratively new ground for the show. All that, plus the confident and effective execution of those elements, takes the shaky setup this story arc started on and propels it to Sakura Quest at its self-assured best.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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