by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Sakura Quest ?
Sakura Quest took on a lot of issues front-loading the setup for this cooking arc last week, so seeing its somewhat relaxed way of settling those issues in this next episode is surprising. The show has taken on an uneven pace for this whole story, but the gear shift it undergoes this week solves a lot of the problems from part one.
As she indicated at the end of the last episode, Shiori takes on leadership of the cooking project. In a development that interestingly mirrors the early-resolution fake-out from the movie-making storyline, she manages to actually solve their problem within the first five minutes of this episode. With the revelation of somen as a Manoyama staple dish and their now-expected solution of getting the whole town involved, a contest for concocting variations on the noodles at the Merchant Board's event is proposed and quickly accepted as a solution. This resolution is surprising in its expediency, but it's welcome in showing how efficient the Tourism Board has become at resolving these issues by now. I have to wonder if the prowess they show in overcoming this obstacle will let them proceed to bigger, more unique issues in the future. Sakura Quest is already running the risk of falling into a rote formula for its storylines, so it will need to up the stakes moving forward.
At any rate, the rapid resolution of the previous episode's big problem does provide a knowing shakeup to the show's routine. Shiori proving herself so early on turns the rest of the episode into a victory lap for her and the rest of the characters, as they fine-tune their own recipe for the competition and engage with any remaining issues. It's interesting to see how, after the previous episode saw Shiori glide down a singular path of plot events from the cooking problems to her implication in her sister's romantic misunderstandings, all those plots separate into their own distinctive sections this time around. The cooking scenes become their own light distraction, while the romance side-story hovers around as the one remaining problem to be solved in its own devoted scenes.
It's nice that the misunderstanding-fueled forced drama of the previous episode is mostly done away with in this one. Any possibility that Shiori's parents wanted to set her up with Kumano is rapidly discarded, and the plot instead turns to the slightly more interesting business of finding out why he and Sayuri never got together in the first place. His side of the story, featuring an anecdote about French Toast that stands on its own as one of the most amusing moments of the episode, is significantly more interesting than the simple scheduling mix-up that fuel's Sayuri's side of the issue, although at least calendar crack-ups can be seen as an odd unifying thread of this arc.
There's even a C-plot introduced in this episode as well, featuring Yoshino teaming up with Doku, the inventor from a few episodes back, to make a somen splash at the competition in a way only an eccentric and an outsider can. This storyline is responsible for providing most of the comedy in the episode. The lead-up to the reveal of their crazy idea is effectively done, and the presentation of the actual “5-DX” Somen arcade machine is an amusing moment, if not quite as hilarious as the show seems to think. If nothing else, it's interesting to see Yoshino demoted to pure comic relief as Shiori takes the lead this time around.
In the end, Shiori is able to come up with a special somen in time for the competition, using yet another traditional Manoyama ingredient we learn about for the first time. (Though for variety's sake, it's interesting to find out that the kombu was simply an imported good to the town that happened to catch on.) While she doesn't end up winning, her recipe is well-liked and adopted at multiple places anyway. At this point, the feel-good resolutions to Sakura Quest's storylines are one of its most finely-honed elements. The romantic-comedy ending that Shiori sets up for Sayuri and Kumano fits that same bill. It's nothing surprising at this rate, but it's something the show does well all the same.
On that note, I'd like to address the ending as well, featuring the girls of the Tourism Board gathering together to celebrate their recent success. The movie storyline did this as well, and it's such a likable and effective setup that I can only hope it becomes a staple for the series These scenes do a wonderful job of communicating the chemistry between the team, making them feel like believable co-workers and endearing us to their efforts. These little parties contribute to our desire to see them succeed, which is an important motivating factor for a series like this. Since Sakura Quest may be falling into a trap of rinse-and-repeat storylines, keeping the characters likable enough to root for will be the remaining linchpin to get us to continue watching.
Someone on the production team may have figured partway through the script that the metered pacing and forced drama of the previous episode was not working out, hence this episode's quick resolution and leisurely slice-of-life pacing. It's probably the best bounce-back from last week's misstep that I could have hoped for. Sakura Quest isn't a perfect series, but it seems to have an even handle on what it's doing, and the staff knows well enough to course-correct when needed.
Sakura Quest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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