by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Sakura Quest ?
Much like the residents of Manoyama, Sakura Quest has its own way of doing things. A lot of pieces were getting moved into place last episode, and there was even a last-second cliffhanger reveal of the possibility that Manoyama would get absorbed into a neighboring town. However, these more dramatic concerns continue to take a backseat to the show doing what it knows it does best: showing the girls of the tourism board demonstrate their skills for the town.
The tone of this penultimate episode is classic Sakura Quest. The show has always been at its best when it didn't lean too heavily on the type of melodrama that would be expected of more typical series in this vein. Much of what transpires this week is set against uplifting scenes of the characters building sets for the play, cleaning off shrines for the festival, and so forth. Even the reveal of Manoyama getting absorbed is followed up with the explanation that proper protocol will take a few years to actually take effect. Grounding the situation this way lets the characters discuss the pros and cons of absorption, without forced arguments for the sake of a dramatic finale. Instead, the series simply continues to lean on its central major question: "What is culture, and what does it mean to people to hold onto it?"
That isn't to say that things don't become serious given the raised stakes. Despite the refreshingly measured discussion surrounding it, this threat of absorption still casts a long shadow of tension over all the proceedings in this episode. That tension is released vividly halfway through, when it falls to Kadota to chase off the reality TV producer who ruined Manoyama's last big event. As soon as Amamiya appears to warn the team about the producer's less-than-sincere intent (somewhat redeeming himself in the process), there's some concern that this repeated beat will overtake the last story arc as the dramatic focus. However, thanks to Kadota's sheer lack of patience for such manipulations, the issue is nipped in the bud. We don't want to experience this storyline again, since it was a major (though effective) downer in the first place, and when the Chief yells at the producer and chases him off, it's a real sigh of relief. The characters in this show have learned their lessons.
“How far we've come” seems to be a major theme underlining this episode. There were several returning elements last week, but those pale in comparison to the huge number of callbacks coming full-circle here. The momentary revisiting of the reality show plot is just one, but there are plenty of references here rewarding its viewers for watching so far. It also speaks well to the larger theme at work. Seeing the various characters, concepts, and running gags brought back all fit naturally with the story being told, leaving this incredibly dense episode feeling natural despite all the continuity coming back. In effect, it's a demonstration of culture in the context of the series. We recognize these recurring elements in Sakura Quest because the show has endeared them to us over time. We chuckle at the mention of Kumano's French toast, then realize that such a pleasant association is why people want him to open a new restaurant in town. We react to cameos from past episodes in the same way you knowingly nod to someone you pass every day on the way to work. It's a meta-concept executed extremely well, and it helps to sell that understated conflict. We would not want Manoyama to go away, because at this point we know it too well.
Just like at the beginning of the series, I could go on forever about all the little touches that make this episode work, multiplied by how well we've gotten to know them all. For a next-to-last episode that makes a point of downplaying its own stakes, it's still very affecting and enjoyable. It's all in service of disarming you so that when the festival starts and the credits play, you wonder “Hey, wait a minute, this should be final episode material. What are they going to do now?” For that problem, Sakura Quest does have one more ace in the hole. While it was a too-convenient reveal way back when it first came up, Sandal's Manoyaman heritage being the key to potentially saving the town works this time because it's been firmly established at this point. Admittedly, the mayor of his home town just happening to be touring Japan at the moment is even more of a stretch, but it works both as the kind of ridiculousness we expect from Sandal, as well as an understandable necessity to set up a ‘big’ final episode. After all this, Sakura Quest could go just about any direction for its finale, but I expect it will know exactly what it wants to do.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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