The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Sakura Quest: Impressions and Review at the ¾ Mark

“They will break upon Warayiba like water on rock. Manoyama’s leaders will cut infrastructure and bureaucratise processes, we’ve seen it before. Bus routes can be reestablished. Traditions archived. Within these walls, we will outlast them.” –Théoden King, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

In the aftermath of the Founding Festival, Yoshino learns that their efforts have yielded very little by ways of generating interest in Manoyama, and despairing, she returns home for a vacation, meeting up with her family and friends. While attending the local festival, she realises that home is a place to return to, and revitalised, she returns to Manoyama with renewed spirit. Meanwhile, Sanae and Ririko have been working on a programme to bolster tourism numbers by turning unused residences into Bed and Breakfasts, enticing Spanish cryptid hunters to visit. Manoyama also begins draining Sakura pond to manage bass populations, attracting visitors. Ushimatsu grows troubled by the event and very nearly drowns after jumping in upon spotting something. He is hospitalised, and it turns out that five decades earlier, he, Chitose and Doku were friends in a band planning to go to Tokyo for post-secondary, but on the day of Manoyama’s Mizuchi festival, his actions led to the event being cancelled and eventually forgotten. Yoshino, recalling the effect of her hometown’s festival, feels that restoring the Mizuchi festival is a step in bringing people back to Manoyama, being a place they can return to. In order to formally do so, she and the tourism board must recover three sacred treasures. Consulting with a local anthropology professor living in Warayiba, Yoshino learns that at least one of the artefacts is in a warehouse. When it is revealed that the bus route will stop servicing the area, Sanae decides to teach the elderly how to use tablets and the internet, with the aim of connecting them and reduce their reliance on the bus routes, while simultaneously crowd-sourcing their efforts to find the treasure. Armed with their new-found knowledge of the internet, the elderly people of Warayiba cede from Manoyama in order to raise awareness of their challenges. Yoshino learns that the professor also took advantage of the situation to help digitise the way of life in Warayiba, preserving it, while Sanae helps develop a website for helping make shuttle bus reservations, helping the locals travel about more easily. Moved by the changes, the professor gives Yoshino the location of one of the treasures before passing away.

By this point in Sakura Quest, the development of the narrative has exceeded all expectations; from Yoshino’s understanding of what makes a place worth returning to, to the efforts that she and the others commit towards solving regional problems while in pursuit of a larger goal, Sakura Quest seamlessly weaves all of the events together in an insightful manner that provides a glimpse into the challenges that Japan faces with its aging rural population. Moreover, while the bigger picture is always in the back of the Yoshino and the others’ minds, they nonetheless demonstrate exemplary commitment in putting an effort into making a positive difference for people living in both Manoyama and Warayiba. This attention to detail without losing sight of the grand scheme is mirrored in Sakura Quest, which strikes a fine balance in illustrating subtleties and illuminating the story’s eventual goal. From the unique adaptations Warayiba’s folks have taken to survive in the mountains, to the consequences of anonymity on the internet, Sakura Quest portrays elements with an exceptional degree of realism to the extent that the anime is more than immersive – it is instructive, reminding audiences that people everywhere have developed very unique adaptations in their lifestyles that allow them to survive in a range of climates and geographies. Simply, Sakura Quest is a wonderful example of anthropology in a fictional setting that reminds audiences of how much culture and values stand to be forgotten if an honest effort is not made to respect these traditions and long-standing ideas, especially in a country such as Japan, where the countryside continues to depopulate as youth move into the cities in search of new opportunity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • No words will be minced in this post – I have not been this impressed with an anime since CLANNAD: After Story. Thus, at the half-way point between the half-way point and the ending, I return to provide some additional thoughts on what I feel about Sakura Quest. Discussion opens with a view from Yoshino’s bedroom window, overlooking her hometown. The harbour is visible, overlooking the endless expanse of ocean underneath a morning sky and it is a fantastic view, capturing flawlessly the image in my mind’s eye of a beautiful Japanese summer.

  • Because there is so much to discuss, I will feature thirty images in this post and provide thirty corresponding figure captions, opening with some scenery around Yoshino’s home. After a terrifying nightmare where she finds herself being tied to a pole and effectively “stoned” by manjū for her failures, Yoshino reawakens at home. The change of scenery, and opportunity to catch up with old friends provides Yoshino with a newfound perspective on things after she feels her efforts have amounted to nothing in bringing Manoyama back.

  • That Yoshino feels this way about Manoyama demonstrates that she has grown to care for the town, extending beyond her initial obligations to help out as a part of her original contract. It’s quite touching to see her developing a connection to a small town of the sort she was trying to escape while in Tokyo, and during times such as these, taking a step back is a reasonable course of action. She wheels her bike down a slope here, with the local scenery in her hometown visible.

  • Yesterday and today have conveyed a sense of déjà vu; just like the last time I wrote about Sakura Quest, I stepped out for dinner at a Hong Kong-style bistro nearby tonight, as well. This time, I ordered the “American style mixed grill”, which features grilled chicken, pork chop, beef and ham in addition to corn on the cob and fries with a side of fried rice: these sizzling steaks are cooked on a hot metal plate and gain their name from the sizzle resulting from pouring a sauce, usually black pepper, onto the meats. They are popular in Hong Kong, and are absolutely delicious: to have an authentic taste of this at home is such a treat.

  • Ririko and Sanae count Manoyama as home: while everyone else has departed for their vacations, they stay behind to continue brainstorming on how they can elevate interest in Manoyama. With her experiences following the torching of an abandoned residence, Sanae proposes converting other unoccupied buildings in Manoyama into Bed and Breakfast establishments. While viable, there are regulations and guidelines that must be followed: the process is an investment, as older buildings will need renovations and updates to ensure they fall within regulations. In my province, for instance, all potential Bed and Breakfast owners must apply for a business license and conform to the terms established in this document.

  • Sanae meets up with her friends in Tokyo over drinks and dinner at a ritzy restaurant – they note that since moving to Manoyama, she’s become much more confident and decisive during discussions of the challenges they each face at work. Of all the characters working with the tourism board, I relate most closely with Sanae, who similarly has a technology background and works in a highly-paced environment. Her other assets include possessing attributes that make her the butt of some jokes. I’ve previously mentioned that all of the characters are likeable and relatable in their own manner: this is one of the great strengths of Sakura Quest.

  • Moe and Maki spend time with one another at a local pub with beers and grilled foods in hand. Moe believes that Maki is a capable actress and, after inviting her to a play she’s performing in, suggests that Maki attend a workshop hosted by a famous director with the hope of re-lighting her passion in acting. Difficulties in a profession can lead individuals to outwardly lose their love for it, and as Moe understands, it sometimes just takes a little encouragement for people to re-discover a passion.

  • There aren’t any festivals in my area quite with the same atmosphere as a Japanese-style summer festival, but the closest we have is the Calgary Stampede. However, even with the Stampede over, there’s still GlobalFest Calgary, a cultural festival characterised by its fireworks. There’s no shortage of summer-y things to do – just yesterday, I decided to make the most of the summer weather and bought a slush at a nearby convenience store. Summer is the time for enjoying frozen desserts, and it was refreshing to savour a slush while running around in Battlefield 1‘s conquest, kicking ads and taking names. 

  • It turns out that Yoshino has a younger sister, Nagisa, who is in high school. Her parents share a story about how her father managed to convince her mother to stay in their home town, while Nagisa’s presence mirrors the carefree time that being a student entails, standing in contrast with Yoshino, who is working and therefore, subject to the attendent stresses. These conversations with the people closest to her have a considerable impact on her outlook, and emboldened by the prospect of her family visiting Manoyama, Yoshino regains her sense of determination to Make Manoyama Great Again℠.

  • The composition of this view overlooking their town, with the gentle orange light of the lanterns in the foreground and Yoshino preparing to try some Japanese-style grilled squid, is quite magical. This is why I’ve had quite a bit to say about the fourteenth episode alone; it marks the turning point in Sakura Quest where Yoshino has a solid motivation to improve Manoyama beyond satisfying her own ego. Of course, it’s not all fun and games when she returns: in the time that she’s been gone, a Mexican…armada shows up, with shirts made with in…incorrect kanji.

  • I may have lapsed into a bit of a Rick and Morty moment there, but I was not lying about the Spanish tourists who show up in Manoyama: cryptid hunters interested in the Chupacabra pay the town a visit, and despite the language barrier, they settle in quickly, befriending the locals and enjoying the atmosphere in the area. Ririko and one of the female travellers exchange contract information owing to their shared interests in cryptids, promising to meet again and perhaps even travel the world together.

  • Rural sunsets in anime are always depicted in stunning detail; for all of is more uncommon content, Yosuga no Sora is one such instance, making use of golds and oranges to create a sense of longing characters face by covering the landscape in a warm light. By summer, the longer-wavelength lights usually appear later in the day, leading to golden sunsets, but in winter, the lower elevation means that even afternoon light has an evening-like quality to it.

  • As Sakura Pond is being drained, Ushimatsu begins to behave contrary to his usual self, staring into the slowly-draining Sakura Pond with Doku, one of his long-time friends. I imagine that this is the locale that gives Sakura Quest its name. A question that is often posed is what separates a pond from a lake, and the answer is the depth: a lake is sufficiently deep so that sunlight does not reach all the way to the bottom, and also has distinct layers separated by temperature. Ponds are shallower; sunlight can reach the bottom and they lack the temperature stratification, so in some places, ponds can freeze solid.

  • By nightfall, something prompts Ushuimatsu to swim out into the pond, although he’s unable to swim effectively and ultimately, Sandal jumps into the water to rescue him. A transient character with an air of mystery about him, his combination of enigmatic words and somewhat broken Japanese makes him an entertaining character to have around, although there are also occasions where he lends his wisdom to Yoshino and the others.

  • After succumbing to fever, Ushimatsu is hospitalised, and the draining of Sakura Pond continues. It turns out that Chitose and Ushimatsu were close friends during high school. Disgusted with the lack of opportunity in Manoyama even fifty years previously, Chitose, Doku and Ushimatsu planned to leave Manoyama and pursue a career in Tokyo. However, at the last moment, Ushimatsu backed out, deciding that he would stay behind to try and make a difference. He ended up toppling a float that was a integral part of the Mizuchi Festival, leading to its cancellation, and the float ends up being a source of shame for Ushimatsu, explaining his actions.

  • During her youth, Chitose looks like a more energetic, outgoing Ririko. The smile on her face as she considers the prospect of ditching Manoyama is a world apart from her current scowl; she’s quite a different person as a result of the events that have happened in her life since, and Ushimatsu’s actions presumably led their friendship to decay, explaining why she and Ushimatsu do not get along so well.

  • My days as a student have not faded entirely into oblivion yet, and so, I vividly remember the sort of personality the anthropology professor brings to the table when Yoshino and the others visit to ask about one of the Sacred Treasure’s whereabouts, giving them a challenge in the process of figuring out how to find it and also asking of them what their definition of home is, explaining that while he did not intend to live in Manoyama, circumstances have led him to develop an interest and reason to stay despite the area’s declining population and services, such as the proposed cancellation of a bus route out to Warayiba.

  • The challenge of finding the treasure prompts Sanae to bring her own skills to bear: she sets the seniors up tablets and introduces them to the internet such that they can remain in touch with one another more easily. As the seniors learn this technology, some aspects of the internet, such as anonymity bringing out hostilities amongst individuals, are accurately captured. Fortunately, these misunderstandings are quickly reconciled. However, Yoshino and Sanae appear a bit embarrassed at what the seniors do, as they live stream seemingly mundane or trivial everyday components of their lives.

  • Takamizawa and Erika trade verbal blows when the latter suggests that self-driving vehicles could render bus drivers obsolete in a very short period of time. The incorporation of advances in technology and their effects on society are a major focus of Sakura Quest‘s seventeenth and eighteenth episode. Advancement of technology, automation and machine learning are inevitable, and ultimately, it’s up to people to keep in touch with the progress or risk being left behind: even though I’m a part of the group that grew up with advancing technology, things are moving so rapidly that even someone like myself feels it to be a bewilderingly fast progression.

  • My own quest to capture as many of Yoshino’s funny faces continues, although by this point in Sakura Quest, it is becoming apparent that such moments are both uncommon relative to the number of funny faces seen from Aoi Miyamori of Shirobako, and nowhere near as exaggerated as those seen in Shirobako. Here, Yoshino reacts to the prospect of being a hostage for the professor and Warayiba’s elderly, but she ends up helping them, feeling compelled to assist in their goals after Warayiba’s residents announce their intention to break off from the Manoyama jurisdiction. The page quote, then, is inspired by their actions, walling up and making a bit of a ruckus to draw attention from the world.

  • The seniors ultimately capitalise on their newfound knowledge of streaming and capture technologies to digitally archive subtleties about their learnings in Warayiba, whether it be preparing a particular dish or their work. Here, Yoshio, Shiori and Ririko follow some elderly ladies during a hunt for mushrooms: while they can’t tell poisonous mushrooms from edible ones, the seniors can, reflecting on how a lifetime of living in the area has imparted on them knowledge that best suits their survival.

  • Using the mechanised exoskeletons that Doku’s constructed, Warayiba residents prepare sidings to help deflect snow and prevent it from amassing on walls. It is such a nice touch that Doku’s exoskeletons are still being used at this point in the game; it’s a strong reminder that Sakura Quest pays attention to the details without losing sight of the bigger context. While Manoyama’s precise location is never disclosed, being similar to the location of Springfield of The Simpsons or where Calvin and Hobbes occurs, the mention of snow narrows down the locations by a small margin, as does knowledge of how long it’d take to get to Tokyo.

  • Inspection of annual snowfall maps narrows Manoyama’s location to Toyama, Nagano, Niigata, Yamagata and Akita. If memory serves, it takes around three hours to get to Tokyo by train from Manoyama, so Toyama or Niigata seem to be likely candidates for Manoyama’s setting. Of course, I imagine that once Sakura Quest finishes airing, supplementary materials will detail which parts of Japan inspired Manoyama; it will be interesting to see how close or how far off I was in my predictions.

  • One of the details that I really enjoyed in Sakura Quest‘s eighteenth episode was the explanation for the lanterns that Warayiba’s residence place in front of their homes by evening. A lit lantern indicates the occupant is safe, showing neighbours that things are normal at a particular household. It’s a sign that people of this area, then, are very closely knit: harsh climates and terrain typically motivate a region’s occupants to work together and survive, hence the strong sense of community.

  • Sanae’s conversations with the professor eventually lead her to devise a solution for the bus route challenge: she builds a web app that allows users to book shuttle rides that pick them up right at their doorstep and drops them off at their destination. Takamizawa agrees this pilot project, remarking that the web has made it feasible to do a direct-to-door service, since the web server handles the role of a receptionist. Without another employee on the payroll, such a program becomes more feasible from a financial perspective, finally allowing it to come to fruition.

  • Although insecure and worried about this prospect sufficiently to pick a fight with a child, Takamizawa eventually does as reasonably expected and embraces technology, resolving to do his best until his time has come. Yoshino is quite excited about the prospects of a such a program, feeling that it’s the solution that the professor was seeking from the folks in Manoyama. It’s a pleasant outcome for the professor and area residents; the former admits that he had no intention of actually following through and intended the exercise to raise awareness of the challenges Warayiba faces.

  • Yoshino and the others, then, have exceeded expectations through their actions in helping out, showing that the Tourism Board’s efforts to help Manoyama have not been in vain. With this incredible surge of momentum, audiences exit the eighteenth episode feeling fantastic: it’s the ending that Yoshino and the others deserve, having worked so hard towards making reality the solutions that can beginning addressing some of Warayiba’s difficulties.

  • However, the professor passes away from old age as the episode draws to a close. Unexpected, and a bit saddening, it puts a bit of a dampener on the episode. Nonetheless, in his passing, the professor departs with the knowledge that he was able to learn enough and make a difference, raising awareness of the lifestyles and tribulations faced by residents living in rural areas.  His final act is fulfilling his promise: he lets Yoshino know of one of the Treasures’ locations, and after paying their respects, the Tourism Board make use of the new shuttle programme to bring this immense artefact back into Manoyama.

  • Yoshino wilts when she sees the first Treasure, a large spear. Sakura Quest is enjoyable for a different set of reasons than Shirobako, having an incredible diversity in artwork and also being a little more unconventional compared to the down-to-earth aspects of Shirobako. My earlier remarks on these work/drama productions on P.A. Works being their most enjoyable continues to stand as the eighteenth episode draws to a close, and I will be returning at the penultimate episode to offer some remarks on where Sakura Quest is in the future. For now, the next major posts on the horizon will deal with Łupków Pass of Battlefield 1, and the upcoming Brave Witches OVA.

As a consequence of the directions Sakura Quest has taken as of late, Sakura Quest has proven to be something that continues to exceed expectations each passing episodes. While seemingly about Yoshino’s experiences in Manoyama, Sakura Quest has developed into something far greater than any one individual. Eighteen episodes into Sakura Quest, it becomes clear that Yoshino and the others are banking on restoration of the Mizuchi Festival to help Manoyama stand out on the map. The journey towards accomplishing this goal will certainly take Yoshino and the Tourism Board on further adventures (and misadventures) in the manner that P.A. Works has become so adept at wielding: the masterful combination of the comedic and dramatic come together to really bring Manoyama and its residents to life. I find myself asking how Sakura Quest manages to impress, and I answer myself that the sum of its elements in conjunction create a highly complex world, bringing together the detail-oriented facets of Shirobako and the premise of revitalising a small town premise from Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita. Not quite as ordinary as Shirobako or light-hearted as Locodol, Sakura Quest incorporates the strongest elements of both to yield an anime that’s offered no shortage of entertainment and material for discussion. With all of these aspects in mind, I am greatly interested in seeing what journey awaits Yoshino and the Tourism Board as they strive to bring back the Mizuchi Festival and make a tangible difference for a small town.

5 responses to “Sakura Quest: Impressions and Review at the ¾ Mark

  1. Remy Fool August 7, 2017 at 22:44

    Some people have been complaining that this “fetch quest” development regarding the Mizuchi Festival is arbitrary and doesn’t recapitulate the character arcs that had occurred earlier in the series. I struggled to provide a good rebuttal against this, but your write-up of the current events in Sakura Quest thus far reassured me that they’re overlooking important thematic messages that arise from Yoshino’s desire to help out Warayiba as well as the narrative direction necessitating these recent episodes while placing importance on the Mizuchi Festival. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith August 8, 2017 at 22:23

      I have a feeling, especially if these individuals are coming from imageboards where they can remain anonymous, that said individuals likely do not fully understand what the whole point of Sakura Quest is about. The rebuttal offered is straightforwards: Yoshino and the tourism board are on a journey to bring back a festival with the goal of giving Manoyama something that can draw people back, and this journey is like life itself – it’s not a straight shot to the destination, and the smaller stops along the way all contribute something important to this journey. The fact that each of Yoshino, Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko have a role to play in the treasure hunt and attendant deployment of a new bus route in Warayiba show how far they’ve come as members of the Tourism Board.

      Having seen how imageboards work, I know that there’s a fixation on details in a vacuum, which stifles thoughtful discussion and impedes understanding of the entire context. These are, however, merely my thoughts on things; I’m fond of the big picture, and believe that details should be looked at in presence of other details, but it’s not an approach everyone is fond of. Thanks for offering your insights: I close off by saying that, while I’d love to have a crack at these individuals, it’d also probably be a time-consuming exercise offering limited returns, akin to wasting 7.62 x 51 mm NATO rounds merely to shoot fish in a barrel 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Remy Fool August 9, 2017 at 08:24

        Ah, yeah, imageboards frustrate me because of how posters fall prey to reductionism and tunnel vision. But this particular individual is a mutual on WP and even though he and I usually agree on most things (and he is fairly more articulate than I), he dropped the ball for these last few episodes of Sakura Quest in my opinion.

        That’s a wonderful rebuttal. Fair enough about how people can vary in their approach to their favorite animated Japanese medium.

        Yeah, that’s a waste of bullets c:

        Like

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