by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Sakura Quest ?
I often have a weird aversion to seasonal episodes of shows being watched outside their nominal time-period. But as winter comes to Manoyama and the characters offhandedly mention Christmas, I don't mind so much, since I enjoy Sakura Quest's overarching approach to time passing, and the wintry outfits they've designed for everyone are very cool. The changing seasons are effective in demonstrating the time that must pass for the characters to achieve their goals.
This episode kicks off the Tourism Board's latest escapade as they head into an old school building late at night (they got permission beforehand of course), finally meeting Maki's occasionally-mentioned father face-to-face. The school and Maki's dad will be the central focus of this arc, as the second of the festival relics, a drum, is found almost immediately, though it will require some repairs.
Bringing Maki's father into focus shines the spotlight on yet another component of the whole hometown living conundrum that fuels Sakura Quest. People's relationships with their parents are often a major factor in deciding if they stay home or move away. We know Maki spent some time in Tokyo trying to make her acting career happen, and that she opted to squat in the dormitory rather than go back to her parents' house even after coming back to Manoyama. Maki's dad seemed to send her a symbol of his care and appreciation with the video way back in episode 7, but as anyone with parents knows, relationships with them are usually much more complicated than that.
References to that past continuity actually make up one of the weaker portions of this episode, though less so on Maki's side of things. Yoshino and the other members of the Board spend too much time in the first half discussing what they're trying to do and reiterating the oft-learned point that innovation will be the key to success. Kadota's sign-wearing walk-of-shame through town is funny, but his chats with Yoshino don't cover a lot of new ground, and it feels like the series stalling again. There's nothing wrong with keeping the audience up to speed, but there's a fine line between refreshing the material and just spinning your wheels.
Fortunately, Maki's half of the plot is much stronger and more interesting, making up for a lot of those shortcomings. She's made many strides in the series so far, but Maki always comes back to the fact that her stint as an actress was a failure, and here we learn that she dropped out of college to pursue that dream, to the chagrin of her parents. Failing ourselves is one thing, but there will always be an extra dimension of complication when we're disappointing someone else, least of all our own parents. It's a thorny, messy mire of feelings, and I think it's something we've all had trouble facing at some point in our lives.
Sakura Quest and its meditations on failure and success have always threatened to get "too real" for a breezy sitcom, but that also tempers the characters and their reactions. As she hears her father enter the house, Maki gets a look on her face that speaks volumes about the emotions being felt. Thankfully, the crew knows when too much is enough, and the rest of the dinnertime confrontation plays out just lightly enough that it doesn't turn the whole show tense and dour. The background music helps a lot, but in general it's a relief that it's more awkward than scary.
The rest of the episode navigates Maki's decision to attend an audition and how it relates to her confrontation with her parents. It's easy to be afraid of success, even moreso than the failure, especially when you're already familiar with the easier choice of not trying. This choice also shines a spotlight on Sakura Quest's unique use of characters. The series has always been a little more about ideas than characters, but it's developed them through the ideas it espouses, then often turns around and makes those characters choose between themselves and the big picture the story has been developing. It's this kind of crossroads Maki finds herself at. We know the team would benefit from her being with them, and we want her to keep being a cast member in the show, but we also care about her enough as a character to want her dream to come true.
These complicated feelings manifest themselves as her father speaks to her again. After the previous thorny confrontations, it doesn't feel completely sincere that he supports her acting career, but there's an effort made at least. I also enjoy the multi-layered allegory on display as he questions Maki about whether there's difficulty in continuing to love the things you love. For such a grounded show, Sakura Quest has never been subtle in its symbolic speech, but it generally works anyway.
At this stage in the show, each time a Board member gets on a train, we can't be certain it means they'll be coming back. Maki does seem to have a presence with the others in the next-episode preview, but what that portends for her own story is up in the air. As with the earlier two-parters in the series, there's a lot of moving parts this episode, and it can be hard at this point to guess how they'll converge in the end. So it feels a bit disconnected right now, with some disparate sections clearly being stronger than others. Fortunately, the strong parts are good enough to hold interest, and this is a series that has easily earned the benefit of the doubt.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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