A decade ago (yeesh), I was very fond of J.C. Staff. They had created my favorite anime at the time in Toradora! and had a distinct style to their visual approach that I was fond of. Even if not all of their series were to my taste (Hidan no Aria and Zero no Tsukaima come to mind), I would still heavily indulge in whatever they would choose to release with each passing season. Even now, per the data of my MALGraph profile, J.C. Staff is the studio I have seen the most works from.
Around this time ten years ago (yeesh), I followed along with today’s subject, Sakura-sou no Pet na Kanojo, as it was airing. Seemingly without any effort, it checked all the boxes from what I wanted in a series: romance, drama, and a strange cast of characters. T’was Toradora! all over again. I happily gave it a very high grade and moved on, satisfied with how it ended.
Time marched onward, and as my taste in things began to shift with my developing ego and experience with the medium, I began to wonder. An 8/10 for Sakura-sou seemed… high. For years I’ve been meaning to go back and re-watch it at some point. Turns out, it would only take nearly ten years! The 2022 Merry Days of Anime shall begin with a long-delayed revisit.
“The first time he saw her, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately for Sorata Kanda, “she” was a cat named Hikari and his school’s rules forbid keeping pets in the regular dorms. As a result, Sorata is banished to the infamous Sakura Hall alongside other troublesome and unusual students like Jin, overzealous playboy, Ryuunosuke, the reclusive hermit, and Mashiro, a brilliant artist who’s so unfocused and clueless about the real world that dorm supervisor Ms. Sengoku assigns Sorata the task of taking care of her along with his ever-growing collection of stray cats!“
This ended up being a very fruitful revisit. While some things rang familiar as I viewed it, many other aspects had been lost to time, allowing me to view this almost like new again. By the end, I feared this post may exceed 2,000 words; there is quite a bit I could talk about with Sakura-sou. For the sake of brevity, though, I will only touch on specific aspects.
This series is incredibly sexual. Wow, I had completely forgotten just how sexual it was. There is no outright sex in this—only heavily implied by the actions of one character whose shtick is dropped fairly early on—but the sexual implications are used quite heavily for the sake of “humor.” Oops, I accidentally walked in on someone changing! Whoa, this strange girl can’t dress herself! Wow, this eccentric senpai sure likes sexually harassing me! Gosh, why is my teacher such a slut?!
J.C. Staff has a bit of a reputation for being fairly heavy on sexual fan service, and Sakura-sou will do nothing to quell that status. Even if the tone of things peters out near the end, it doesn’t excuse how gratuitous this sexual exploitation is near the beginning. So many nude or near-nude naked women, glorified for the sake of its target audience. Try as it may to cover itself with “Oh, but it makes sense within the context of the plot,” it often comes across as unnecessary and borderline predatory.
It does this with the male lead’s middle-school sister, too. Yeesh…
Now that that’s covered, I’ll redirect the attention to something of a more general summation of the whole. Sakura-sou is a series that is both something to be praised and criticized, almost equally balanced in each direction. A fantastic example of a work that exhibits a Yin-Yang approach to the nature of its self. For as much as I enjoy the series for its generally fun writing and strong sense of camaraderie within its cast, I also despise it for what I described above and its incredibly melodramatic approach.
Once again, I had forgotten just how dramatic this series could be. Though I recalled it was rarely a pleasant cruise, the tone rivals daytime soap operas at points. At many points I had to remind myself that these characters were children and that I shouldn’t try to be cynical about how easy it was for them to lash out. They’re still trying to figure themselves out, of course. Still, the amount of times I groaned at some “deep and emotional” lines that caused something within them to “break” is notable.
The score and setting doesn’t help with this, either. Slow piano bits as it rains… must be a perfect time for a character to release everything they’ve been pushing down all at once! The amount of times two characters lash out at each other, with one being antagonistic as the other gasps in shock and stares wide-eyed could be turned into a drinking game.
One other thing to briefly mention is that this series is based off of a light novel. This is notable because light novels tend to be, at least from my experience, far more dramatic and emotionally resonant with the teenage crowd than those that may be adapted from manga or are original works. Sakura-sou, to its credit, knows its target demographic fairly well if the overcrowded bursts of anxious release are any indication.
These aspects, among other smaller details, represent the Yin of the series. The Yang can be just as overwhelming, only in harnessing good feelings of peace and self-fulfillment.
Something that Sakura-sou can take with stride is that it isn’t pointless. Many times anime will just take a premise and do nothing with it, or do basically nothing until they feel they need to make a “banger” finish. Every “arc,” so to speak, has a goal in mind. Something it wishes to say, whether about the characters (usually) or their situations. A push is always present to keep things rolling—filler is practically nonexistent.
To somewhat contradict an earlier criticism, a lot of the drama contained in the plot isn’t unwarranted. If one were to spend years of their life working towards an “ambition” and they’re faced with a blunt “Rejected” notice, there’s no fault in taking it hard. My only issue is that it goes overboard quite often, transcending realistic frustration into the agonizing woes of reckless emotional abandon.
Quantity aside, the framing of the narrative is stable enough to keep interest and stakes palpable. This is more apparent near the halfway point of the series, when the tone starts to shy away from a carefree, exploitatively comedic nature. Every character has some sort of endgame, a desire or motivation that keeps them chipper. Whether it’s getting someone to notice them, getting someone to notice them, or getting someone to notice them, the variety is very apparent!
Jokes aside, though there is a lot of romantic tension between characters, there also lies matters of self-improvement. Comparing one’s success to others, trying to make a name for oneself, feeling “good enough” in a cruel world… these are topics that aren’t usually addressed to such an extensive degree in similar genres. Sakura-sou makes sure that even the male lead(!)’s goals are never forgotten, despite how much they change with time.
Concerning the characters, this is likely the strongest point of the series… kind of. When the writing is not taking advantage of these women being very loose with their comfort levels regarding skinship, they’re a genuinely fun bunch. When the writing is not trying to bait people into believing it’s a riveting manifesto psychoanalyzing the human mind, it’s fairly entertaining and empathetic.
Each character represents one piece of the whole picture, each serving their role to almost masterful effect. Even if some sort of linger in and out of overall importance (Jin, Arataka), the care they receive from others comes off as genuine. Both expressive and grounded characters combine to ensure the tone never leans too far into each extreme. They unfortunately couldn’t do this with the drama, but at least the fun parts were mostly fun.
All right, here’s the part of the review where I talk about the audio and animation, which, admittedly, is not something I’m super passionate about in most cases. Here, I’ve divided it into some key points:
- Animation is generally fine. They get sort of over-animated when they’re being dramatic, but otherwise it’s sort of cheesy how often bad things happen in the rain.
- Didn’t care much for the musical aspect. Like with the rain, the soft piano melodies during emotional breakdowns from characters mostly served to annoy me. One specific passing track sounded way too much like something from The Sims.
- Voice actors are generally pretty good. Misaki and Sorata are characters that come across much better thanks to their respective performances. Occasionally obnoxious, but it suits the more comedic tone of things.
To wind this down, one more negative talking point. There are two types of characters in this series: people who are dumb and people who are smart. Those who are dumb are generally the ones driving things forward, pushing towards dreams, and carrying the emotional foundation of the story. Those who are smart will go with the flow, offer sage advice, and don’t offer much outside of the second point. Hence the issue.
Smart characters are almost literally just there to go, “Hey, dude, stop being such a whiner.” The dumb one then replies, “Oh, you’re right. I should stop being such a whiner.” And then everyone claps… well, that doesn’t happen until the end. Basically, they feel more like self-help kiosks than characters, than people. For a series that already struggles to balance itself with tone and general writing, it’s another thing to add to the Yin.
Some will gladly take the good with the bad. When it comes to analyzing something on a more objective scale, what do you get when the positive and negative aspects are equal in volume? Balance. Equilibrium. Or, more cynically put, average. Such is what Sakura-sou is, a series that is unrelenting in its emotional overpour, both making and breaking itself in the process.
I can see why it’s highly rated. I can also see why I rated it so high back then. Now, though, there are different circumstances to what I look for in entertainment and what I’m willing to tolerate when committing time to a (semi) longer series. Some episodes (episode seven) made me want to die; other episodes (first half of episode twenty-three) made me appreciate the time I spent watching it again. These strange people will be hard to forget, whether you want to or not.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
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