by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Sakura Quest ?
You have to appreciate P.A. Works's eye for detail. Amongst all the character drama in this episode of Sakura Quest, the movie-making element is mostly a framing device, yet it's given an air of realism and grounding that helps sell the real-world setting of this show. There are lots of takes, explications of how shots are gotten, and even a momentary acknowledgement of how long makeup for just a walk-on actor can take. Seeing all the elements of the film come together works nicely for this episode, as the characters and their struggles converge into a solid conclusion to the storyline.
I expected that Maki's performance anxiety would be resolved by this episode, but the show seemed to be racing me to its conclusion, as she runs in to assist Ririko with her attempt at acting in just the opening minutes. However, the more hands-off approach she takes only precludes the growing that Maki needs to undergo as the episode unfolds. It's not just about using her knowledge of performance to help the team as she usually does. She needs to embrace her true love for acting and move past her established issues.
This manifests as the episode unfolds, when Maki and Ririko converse in the school during the shooting of another scene. Maki seems to presume that Ririko enjoyed her turn at acting, as Maki always does, but it quickly becomes apparent that the enjoyment of acting is not universal. Maki's appreciation of the craft is directly tied to her personal love for the artform, which she's been suppressing as an excuse for not moving forward out of fear of failure. The show illustrates this by showing us Maki's early role in a school play as a humble tree. It was effectively nothing, but she gave it her all, and Ririko even remembers and compliments her performance. It's a great exchange between characters that illustrates the episode's tone well.
Maki's rumination on this leads to the one stumble of the episode, probably the biggest misstep of the show so far. The episode suddenly shifts to a trite musical sequence of Maki walking around to various areas, seeing visions of her childhood self while a heartwarming insert song plays. It sticks out badly with the more grounded narrative style Sakura Quest has employed thus far, so obvious in its emotional ploy that the audience barely has time to digest it before the show has moved on entirely. Maybe I'm being overly harsh on this sequence, but Sakura Quest has always been so good at communicating details and ideas through effective presentation that such a flowery attempt at drama doesn't gel. The show is better than this.
Fortunately, Sakura Quest proves its usual excellence in the very next scene. It's been teased since the previous episode that Maki's father might be the source of some issues about her acting, but that narrative gets turned on its head after he sends her a video of that tree performance. Seeing the characters watch this video and learn the story behind its filming sells the heartwarming resonance that the previous out-of-place montage couldn't manage, making me wonder why the insert-song interlude was there at all beyond filling time. Maki watching the video of her little tree performance is honestly one of the best segments of the show so far.
Maki's acting issues largely resolve in the scene where the house is burned down, which brings me to the other major plot thread running through this episode: Shiori's relationship to the house and her hesitance to sign off on its destruction. As the previous episode made obvious, Shiori does have a connection to the building, through a sentimental attachment to the woman she visited there when she was a child. It's a simple explanation, but the show's execution of this B-side conflict (as is often the case with Sakura Quest) pushes it above average. Yoshino predictably discovers Shiori's withholding of information and confronts her about it, and the two of them exchange some initial harsh words, but after ruminating on their issues, they're able to reconcile in a later scene.
I initially took issue with Maki's development following the same beats as Sanae's, while indicating that Shiori's seemed to be following a more unique path, but both structures seem somewhat reversed for this episode. Despite getting chewed out by Sanae previously, it's Ririko that Maki is able to offer the help to surmount her issues, while Shiori's problems are resolved through a couple conversations with Yoshino. Granted, none of this is a bad thing. I rather liked the later reconciliation scene between Shiori and Yoshino for how mature it all feels. These are two adults who, after starting with more raw issues, are able to talk through their problems and come to a mutual understanding. Anime (and storytelling in general) is filled with convenient misunderstandings driving plots between characters who just won't communicate, so seeing these two friends and co-workers actually resolve their conflict naturally is a welcome dramatic break.
Of course, it all works out in the end. Shiori is able to watch the home of her childhood memories burn down with understanding and acceptance, while Maki finally makes up her mind to "eat her own cicada," by performing a film-ending stunt that only she can do. It gets her the same amount of recognition as playing a tree, but she nevertheless puts her all into it to earn her token of adulation.
It's a very character-based episode of Sakura Quest this week. One thing that really impressed me was, for the first time ever, it felt like all of the main characters were juggled equally. Maki and Shiori get the lion's share of development, but they bounce off Ririko and Yoshino to do so. Even Sanae, with her role as lecturer in the last episode used up, still has plenty to say and do with the others, including another comic relief moment (we can add kids to the list of things she doesn't know how to deal with). The show truly feels like an ensemble piece for the girls of the Tourism Board this time around, even if it leaves the town-revitalizing elements more on the back-burner. There is some thematic lip-service paid to the idea of keeping Manoyama's heritage in mind while still moving forward (most obviously symbolized in the burning of the building and the respect paid to it by the end), but that's mostly ground that was already covered in the wood-carving arc. I get the feeling this will be the driving concept of the show for the time being, and if it's going to mostly focus on character work while it keeps that as a style guide, at least we can tell where it's going.
The ensemble character work for this one does leave this episode of Sakura Quest feeling a bit fragmented. It jumps between scenes with its usual effective pace, but it's another case where all the disparate presentations don't quite come together until the very end. Particularly, front-loading so much of the apparent development at the beginning of the episode does a disservice to the developments that come later, and ill-advised experiments like Maki's musical montage only exacerbate this problem. Overall though, the strong parts are very strong, and the way everything converges by the story's end makes this one stand out as more than the sum of its parts.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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