Reviewby Samantha Ferreira,
Sakura Wars the Animation
In Taisho era Japan, humanity has harnessed the power of steam to power everything from creature comforts to heavy industry. Factories hum on the horizon, letting wisps of vapor into the sky, which is inhabited by carefree coasting blimps. On the ground, cars buzz to and fro, trains clack and clang noisily along steel tracks, and electric lights hum as they cast an unnatural din. A demonic force looms beneath the bustle of progress,waiting to descend upon humanity. To counter this threat, the government formed the Imperial Combat Revue: a brigade of psycho-powered song-girls who pilot super robots as they crush the emerging darkness while filling the nation's hearts with light.
In the years since their formation, the Imperial Combat Revue was lost in battle, leaving former top star Sumire Kanzaki to bring together a new generation of heroes led by Seijuro Kamiyama. In this sequel to 2019's Sakura Wars reboot, the Imperial Combat Revue must welcome their newest member, Klara, and solve the mystery of the enigmatic Moscow Combat Revue while protecting Tokyo from a demonic threat that could tear the city asunder.
On March 29, 2019, Sega fans from across Japan gathered in Tokyo for the first day of the publisher's annual Sega Fes fan event. The crowd was abuzz with excitement as visions of Phantasy Star, Persona, and more danced through their heads. The room erupted in applause when the clock struck 9:33 PM Eastern, and Sega president Haruki Satomi took the stage for the event's keynote address. The energy ebbed and flowed over the evening as Satomi bubbled over beloved classic games like Space Channel 5 and new favorites like Persona 5. The president's countenance took on a wry smile as the presentation entered its twenty-ninth minute, when he noted that Sega had “one last announcement.” The lights went dim, and a hush washed over the room.
“Year 29, Taisho Era… 10 years since the previous Combat Revue was lost…”
That night, Sega fans across the globe, whether in the audience or watching streams, witnessed a brilliant revival as the Sakura Wars franchise rose from the ashes. The series would return to the world on December 12 of that year with an all-new adventure that introduced a new generation of the Imperial Combat Revue, now led by Naval Captain Seijuro Kamiyama.
Sakura Wars the Animation, which began airing on April 3, 2020, is a direct sequel to this reboot, taking place mere months after the events of the game. As such, the series does little to bring newcomers into the fold. After a sixty-second explainer, the episode dives straight into a tense battle, with members of three Combat Revues and a mysterious masked woman doing battle with a demon to secure the safety of an unnamed girl. The actual members of the Flower Division don't even make an appearance until midway through the episode, when the scene cuts to a shot of hundreds of patrons filing into the Great Imperial Theatre to see new leading lady Sakura Amamiya star in a performance of Frozen Soul.
One thing leads to another, and Seijuro introduces the new girl, named Klara, as the team's newest member before promptly heading off to Russia for fieldwork. This sets up the dynamic for most of the series, with the remaining members of the Flower Division bonding with the newest member of their found family. They must remain vigilant against demon attacks all while unraveling the mystery behind the shadowy New Moscow Combat Revue, which descended upon Tokyo with the intent of claiming Klara for themselves.
To be frank, this is arguably Sakura Wars the Animation's biggest strength and its greatest failing.
As a sequel, the show is arguably the strongest direct follow-up since 1998's Sakura Wars 2: Thou Shalt Not Die. The series captures the atmosphere of its 2019 prequel, weaving an array of character spotlights and whimsical side ventures against the growing demonic threat in the background.
Removing Captain Seijuro from the picture was a smart decision, as doing so allows the rest of the cast to finally exhibit some agency and growth without the omnipresent gaze of a stand-in player. The world grows little by little at the same time, from a loosely connected collection of maps into a vibrant universe.
All the while, an increasingly nefarious subplot begins, building up to a brilliant climax that will bring the world's most accomplished warriors together in one final confrontation. Klara's role in the world, and the mysteries of the franchise's iconic Kouma demons, slowly unravel to turn nearly two decades of established lore on their collective head.
The world is brought to life by the series' cast, which is made up of a who's-who of industry heavyweights. From Maaya Uchida as the spunky Hatsuho to Ayane Sakura as the perennially sweet Sakura Amamiya, each cast member brings their finest to the recording booth. In particular, though, props have to be given to Ryōko Shiraishi and Tomokazu Sugita, who play fast-talking shopkeeper Komachi Oba and gruff mechanic Reiji Shiba respectively. Sugita brings a manic energy to his character, which elevates the number of schemes running through several of the series' lighter episodes. Shiraishi serves as a brilliant foil, tinging her delivery with a bitingly dry snark.
Sadly, the same can't be said for the character animation. Though the series was produced by Sanzigen, who produced the cutscenes for the latest Sakura Wars game, there is an odd stiffness to the overall presentation. Character motion feels slightly jerky and stilted, and facial animations seem oddly unexpressive. Body language and facial expressions often fail to convey the emotion of many of the most impactful scenes.
It's a sharp contrast to the show's action segments, which are fast and fluid with outstanding choreography. Characters dance across the stage while blades clash and shuriken fly, their every step feeling like a dance of life and death. Likewise, the steam-powered Spiricle Armor and Kobu mechs come to life as pistons churn, steam blasts dramatically from vents, and each individual part seems to move in concert like a delicate clockwork.
That said, this is strictly from the perspective of a Sakura Wars fan. The rate of enjoyment derived from the series versus knowledge of previous entries rises in a straight line. Outside of a 30-second explainer in the first episode, very little effort is made to hook newcomers. Viewers are expected to have prior knowledge of the franchise's characters and trappings, and the video gamey delivery by dollar-store mannequins will do little to endear audiences who haven't received their allocation of rose-tinting to look past the show's greater faults.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : A
+ Fantastic soundtrack and mecha animation; Story and writing capture the spirit and tone of the original games.
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