by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Sakura Quest ?
The good news about this episode of Sakura Quest is that the more forced conflicts from the previous installment are toned down to more manageable levels this week. Everyone's responses to Erika's desire to leave town this week feel less contrived than some of the establishing content did. Unfortunately, the attempts at dramatic symbolism and platitudes continue to lay things on too thick, and the resolution to the town-restoring segment of the plot is lackluster. All this results in a story the show had to tell being executed beneath Sakura Quest's usual standards.
Alleviating the forced hostility of the atmosphere does help the beginning of the episode come across strong, with good comedy juxtaposition as half the team searches for the Golden Dragon, while the others speculate on how successful they'll be (answer: not very). There's also a strong bit where Erika calls Shiori out on not having all the answers in her plan to leave town, and I appreciate how genuinely the show wants us to see both sides of this conflict. Everyone always has room to grow, as evidenced by Yoshino's funny moment of déjà vu when she scolds Erika. The ideas about growth are better than the points this episode constantly reiterates about dreams. We get more information about the shuttering shopping district throughout (to be wrapped by the end), but I can't help but feel all this dream talk has Sakura Quest coming off too sentimental for its own good. The show's always had one foot planted in nostalgia country, but like Shiori's inability to fully articulate why she likes Manoyama, the series seems to be using that feeling as a crutch for actually demonstrating the appeal of the town.
The show keeps driving at cheap symbolism throughout the episode, something that Sakura Quest has frankly struggled with throughout its run. Erika and Shiori bathe together (in a rather classy scene, honestly), bearing their feelings more than their bodies. The segment with Erika's loose baby tooth calling attention to her lingering feelings of being a child was a slightly cleverer setup, but it's still too on the nose. At least everyone whipping out their phones to look up information was a great scene borne out of this, nicely working with Sakura Quest's real world atmosphere.
Having to go to the shopping-district pharmacy also lays the series' angle on local-town advantages on a little thick. It's a cute touch in relation to the focus on Erika, but the way the series keeps calling slightly too much attention to the shops makes them more of a distraction for this arc. Sakura Quest normally makes its storytelling look easy, so when it's trying too hard like this, it really shows.
That primary plot does at least get an effective resolution, as the search for Erika's little brother lends a strong air of excitement for the climax and her return home afterwards delivers as well. That's two strong emotional monologues we've gotten from good voice actresses in as many episodes, and Erika's outburst gives this arc some of the better portrayals of kids in anime. Even if you don't find her relatable, you'll likely at least find Erika's frustrations understandable, and the following scene with her mother is endearing without being cloying. With all the other elements of this arc being more lackluster, you have to wonder if they couldn't have just cut all the Erika content into a single stronger episode. It's especially frustrating given all the smaller threads throughout the series that have coalesced into this storyline about the youth of Manoyama; it's an overarching plot that deserved a more consistently strong conclusion.
Indeed, the weakest part of the episode is its conclusion after wrapping up the shopping district subplot. While it's kind of neat that the lanterns from a few arcs back return (and the music as the team initially tours the sleepy district is very nice), the actual idea of just hanging the lamps from the closed shops doesn't do a lot for me. It's effectively sentimental, an emotion this arc has leaned into pretty hard, but it doesn't really accomplish anything for the tourism or commerce of the area; it just looks nice. It's the type of the idea the Tourism Board has pointedly been trying to move away from in this series, so to fall back on something like this just because the writers thought we needed some sort of resolution to this established problem smacks of cheapness. It's emblematic of the issues holding this whole storyline down, going for the most obvious answer when they could have spent a little more time coming up with a more nuanced solution.
At least I enjoyed the final fake-out with the Golden Dragon, bringing everything up a few points simply by feeling the episode feel less roped into a formula. It leaves me with hope for how the story of finding the ‘real’ Golden Dragon will turn out, almost as if the series itself were admitting it could do better than the water-treading it managed for two-thirds of this storyline. Even spelling out its final message of “You can't wait for someone else to grant your wishes, you have to do it yourself” stings of a series that knows it can do better and hopefully will. I'd hate to see Sakura Quest fumble at the end simply by falling back on easy solutions.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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