by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Sakura Quest ?
It's interesting to see how the tone of Sakura Quest has adjusted itself since its first few episodes. At first there was a definite sitcom vibe (not unlike an anime Parks and Recreation), with regular jokes and a bouncy, lighthearted feel. That's leveled off since the show got into its groove with these fortnightly plots, becoming more focused on character development as the Tourism Board carried out their various plans. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and there was still plenty of comic relief sprinkled throughout, but I was beginning to miss that more amusing tone.
This episode of Sakura Quest, particularly its first half, does return more to that sitcom style. The latest mission the girls of the Tourism Board have undertaken is to create a signature Manoyama dish with which to attract hungry visitors, and all the escapades that follow lead to plenty of jokes, sight gags, and ridiculous reactions. It contributes strongly to the entertainment factor of the episode, but the rest is actually a little lacking by Sakura Quest's usual standards.
Despite just coming off her house-burning B-plot from the last arc, Shiori is once again the focus in this episode. Granted, while that previous story had more to do with her residual feelings and ability to communicate them with her co-workers, this one instead dives into her family life and lack of personal motivation. We find out that her family owns one of the major farms in the area, having undertaken modernization to impressively efficient levels (which is nice to see in a show where so many obstacles are built around townsfolk who are stuck in their ways). She sees her older sister preparing to move away to become a nurse, and through a series of story turns, Shiori's parents and grandparents start pushing her to settle down and prepare to take over the farm, causing her to realize that she was never sure what she wanted to do in the long term anyway. It's a solid foundation for a plot in a show like this, especially as the show continues to focus on character development, but making this just the ‘set-up’ chapter for basically one storyline runs it a little thin.
Shiori is an interesting character, but while this arc is clearly set to build her up more, she's not strong enough to carry it on her own yet. Her defining characteristic through much of the episode is her unwillingness to take charge, even when the pacing would be well-served by more forward movement. We get Shiori listlessly hearing sides of the story from her sister and her cook classmate Kumano about their non-committal not-courtship, then going along with a parental misunderstanding to simply hear her father out about how she should marry the guy instead. She offers mild criticism (but never pushing too hard) on the cooking of her co-workers, but most often comes across as a spectator in her own story arc.
The reliance in this episode on devices like that aforementioned misunderstanding is the other major factor driving it down. Much as I praised Sakura Quest's sitcom elements earlier, its mature and grounded way of handling problems was another appreciable element too. But with simple romantic miscommunications or the basic scheduling mix-up that fuels the episode's final twist, it feels like Sakura Quest isn't trying as hard.
That final twist does offer a ray of hope, though. We've seen Kadota and Oribe butt heads so many times already that their recurrent issues have worn out their welcome and need to evolve, so hopefully this conflict with the Merchant's Board will finally win the Tourism Board some good graces and shift that antagonistic relationship. For what it's worth, Oribe does bring up an extremely good point about Kadota sourcing the ingredients for the new manjuu from outside Manoyama. On the one hand, you'd think he would have learned by now, but on the other hand, it fits with his role as the previous leader of the Board whose mistakes drive the new girls to innovate better. More important than all that is Shiori finally standing up to lead the team in a role she knows she's cut out for, after all her hemming and hawing until this point. After two straight story arcs where the cliffhanger was the focal character running out on their duties, it's nice to have the turnaround be the opposite this time. For as much as Shiori dragging her feet drug out this episode, her renewed sense of motivation could make for a spectacular push for victory in this arc's part two.
If the comedy at the beginning and the energy at the end are only counterbalanced by the weak holding pattern of the episode's middle, they're not done any favors by the deteriorated artistry on display this week. The animation seems to have downgraded a bit, with characters looking flat and off-model more often than not, and what actions there is seems stiff. I strive for P.A. Works's crisp production values that I've come to enjoy, so hopefully they get back on track next week, with a step up in the story as well.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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