The Infinite Zenith

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

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflection at the Penultimate Episode

“Whether it’s from the biggest, most powerful city, or from the dinkiest little podunk town, there is a certain attachment and connection, and yes, pride about where you came from.” –Cheech Marin

Yoshino and the other ministers manage to locate the Hanging Drum hidden away in the derelict school, while Maki decides to try her hand at an audition. After learning she was unsuccessful, she returns to Manoyama, where Yoshino has planned out a formal closing ceremony for the school. Maki coordinates the play, which is well-received, and it is announced that the school is to be repurposed as a multi-use installation. Later, Erika runs away from home, fearing her destiny is a slow death in Manoyama. Maki and the others look after her, although the situation deteriorates when her younger brother runs off in search of the Golden Dragon after overhearing its power to grant wishes. He is found, and Erika decides to stay in Manoyama for his sake. The Golden Dragon is eventually recovered, but it turns out to be a toy. When the Belem Bakery proposes to open a branch in Manoyama, Yoshino’s team has difficulty finding a spot, later learning that one of the citizens had been burned in the past and is reluctant to assist. This leads to a change of heart amongst one of the Board of Merchant’s members, who agrees to rent his shop to Belem Bakery. Preparations for the Mizuchi festival continue in earnest, and even when Yoshino learns that Manoyama is to be merged with Tomikura, she nonetheless wishes to continue with the festival, feeling that having a distinct culture might be sufficient to raise a compelling argument against the incorporation. A TV company takes interest in the festival and proposes to broadcast it widely on the condition that they are allowed to replace Ririko in the play, but Ushimatsu refuses. Even in light of the ending of her contract, Yoshino continues to do her best, learning that Sandal’s parents met in Manoyama, and later, is given a surprise birthday party. On the day of the festival, Ushimatsu takes off in search of Mayor Naumann, who is visiting the area, with the proposal of twinning Manoyama with his city, which is also Sandal’s birthplace.

From the relentless advance of technology and social norms leaving small towns behind, to the pursuit of dreams and understanding circumstances behind why people make the decisions that they do, Sakura Quest has continued to maintain its exceptionally captivating narrative right up until the penultimate episode. There is a great deal going on in Sakura Quest, and all of this is handled remarkably well; the anime strikes a fine balance between depicting the smaller details and integrating the resulting themes into the overarching narrative, with the effect of giving the characters a sincere, authentic sense. In particular, Yoshino’s term ending has forced her to consider what she might be doing once the term ends, and her remarks, in saying that she now desires a career that is fulfilling, show just how far she’s come since the mistake that took her to Manoyama. A year’s worth of experiences has made Yoshino a problem solver, quick to identify the intricacies in a system and devise solutions that are acceptable to involved parties. Creative and mindful of traditions, Yoshino’s time in Manoyama confer upon her with a highly unique skillset, and a newfound perspective on what a career is. Millennials, such as myself value a sense of fulfilment and purpose in their occupations above all else; in accepting a position she was quite unprepared to work in, Yoshino has learned for herself what she desires from a job. She has come to understand that she desires a career where she is constantly being challenged, one defined by the unexpected and where things are never normal. Such a career, Yoshino, reasons, might or might not be in Tokyo, and in making this realisation, Yoshino concludes that she is okay with working in a small town as well as in a metropolis. From an external perspective, Yoshino’s experiences over a year have made her much more mature, introspective and aware of her surroundings. She’s more decisive and confident now compared to her self from Sakura Quest‘s inception. These are vital attributes, and the Yoshino who’s got a year’s worth of experiences in Manoyama is much better equipped to convey her ability to contribute to whatever occupation she seeks in the future. Yoshino’s growth lies at the core of Sakura Quest, and seeing these subtle differences over time is a major contributor to what makes Sakura Quest worth watching.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The nineteenth episode of Sakura Quest has the best funny faces from Yoshino yet, after the group hears Ririko’s ghost story about how the school is allegedly haunted by a Santa-suit wearing spectre. However, owing to Sakura Quest‘s down-to-earth delivery so far, audiences are well aware that there won’t be any ghosts in the story, so even when a shadowy figure appears, it is hardly any surprise that the “ghost” really is Maki’s father. A little bit of logistics before we continue: I will be featuring thirty screenshots for this discussion, as per usual.

  • Once Maki’s father puts the lights on, he speaks with Yoshino and company about the derelict school’s state, helping them locate the second of the three treasures. The hanging drum has been stored in a shed at the school for quite some time, and when found, it is in a deplorable state owing to age, exposure to elements and a lack of maintenance. The question of taking it in for repairs is raised, since this is to be a pricey process. Yoshino learns the school is scheduled for demolition, and attempts to work out a solution to preserve it in the meantime.

  • As December sets in, there’s a definite chill in the air as Yoshino takes Ushimatsu across Sakura Pond overlooking the Chupacabra Kingdom’s main building. While Shirobako‘s title was a bit more obscure in nature, referring to the white boxes used for ferrying master tapes around, Sakura Quest‘s title is a bit easier to work out, referring to the Quest around the Sakura Pond area. The water effects are beautifully rendered in this moment, comparable to water effects of a Makoto Shinkai film.

  • It turns out that Ririko’s been practising her performances of the Dragon Song, and she looks to Maki for some assistance, who provides Ririko with some suggestions. I remark here that quite a bit happens, and consequently, even with thirty images, it is not possible to capture all of the moments, including the disagreement that Maki has when visiting home, and her later unsuccessful audition. In spite of these failures and tribulations, Maki continues to push on; her father notes that he misses her old spirit back when Maki had her sights on a career in acting.

  • As an elementary and middle school students, we’ve never had curry days: in Canada, Pizza Days are the most common, and it was here that I learned that I was okay with pineapple on pizza. Yoshino’s first plan, to host a lunch event at there derelict school, is a total failure: no one else shows up, leaving them to eat lunch together. While this could have been a melancholy event, especially since Maki returns from a failed audition, the atmosphere is unexpectedly chipper as the girls decide to host another event once they realise Manoyama’s citizens probably do not know the school had ever been shut down. To this end, they begin organising a proper closing ceremony for the school.

  • For me, one of the greatest joys about watching Sakura Quest was that each week, there had been something to look forwards to, and for the twenty-something minutes that Sakura Quest ran, I was able to completely immerse myself in a different world quite different than my reality. I’ve come to enjoy the sorts of adventures that Yoshino and the others find themselves on in their quest to Make Manoyama Great Again™, and next week will mark the last episode of a fantastic series.

  • Maki’s father is quite enthusiastic about the idea of converting the school into a mixed used facility, after Yoshio draws inspiration from Sandal arriving in the art room to make use of the facilities. While he has very little screentime relative to the other characters, Sandal is a solid character who generally provides comic relief to make a situation less tense, but on some occasion, interacts with the characters that helps them determine a solution.

  • By December, a bit of snow has fallen in the Manoyama region, enough for the ladies to have a snowball fight. Manoyama is based off Nanto City in Toyama Prefecture, which means that my earlier prediction proved correct. Details around the city are replicated with exceptional precision. The real-world Nanto City has on average 10.6 snow days in January, 9.8 snow days in February and 4.8 snow days in December: these happen to be the wettest months in the area, as well. With a population of around 50000, comparable areas in Canada include North Bay, Ontario and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, while the nearest city of this size is Airdre, Alberta.

  • Maki is at her happiest whenever she’s acting, contrary to her claims otherwise, and during the Christmas play for the school’s closing ceremony, she immerses herself fully within her role; the Christmas play was written to dispel rumours about the school’s being haunted by a bloody Santa, and it’s an incredible performance that audiences in-show, as well as in reality, are treated to.

  • At the play’s conclusion, Maki showcases a mural at the school that Yoshino and Shirori find while exploring the facilities. Alumni are impressed with the play and efforts; they fully back plans to convert the school into a mixed-use facility. The event is a successful one by all definitions, and plays a substantial role in staving off plans for the school’s demolition. Later, Maki’s father signs off a cheque that will cover the costs of repairing the Hanging Drum, after seeing Maki and her friends’ commitment towards a better Manoyama. Maki herself is inspired by this experience and decides to return to acting in her own way, by creating her own acting troupe.

  • While it’s something I’ve not mentioned until now, Sakura Quest‘s soundtrack, titled “Sakura Quest BEST”, is set to release on the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival on October 4. It retails for 4200 Yen (46.21 CAD at the time of writing), and will feature a total of four disks. The tracklist has not been released yet, but the sheer size of the album is a reminder of the diversity of music seen in Sakura Quest itself. The background music varies from providing a gentle ambiance to strongly accentuating the atmosphere of a scene, and as such, I look forwards to listening to the music.

  • An irate Erika runs away from home, but before she can hitchhike her way out of Manoyama, she’s picked up by Shiori. A minor character working at the local café, Erika is voiced by Tomoyo Kurosawa, who has played as Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Itsuki Inubozaki and Hibike! Euphonium‘s Kumiko Oumae. However, the aural characteristics of Erika’s voice bring to mind Kotori Koiwai (Renge of Non Non Biyori), and so, I was quite surprised to learn that Kotori was not playing Erika. After they give their word to Erika that she can stay with them, Maki and the others tend to Erika and inform her mother of their situation.

  • The shopping district has, similar to this blog, been ailing for quite some time with respect to business, perhaps a sign that I’m a bit out of touch with the times. Yoshino constantly wonders if there’s a way to preserve tradition while introducing innovation, and here, speaks with the owners of a local bookstore. I’m very fond of privately-owned bookstores in small towns, even if their selection is more limited compared to a large retailer such as Chapters Indigo.

  • Ushimatsu speaks with the craftsman handling the construction of the Shrine Float here as the Mizuchi festival draws nearer. The page quote for this discussion comes from the sense of spirit that people have for their home towns, and while Manoyama may not be Yoshino’s hometown, she’s come to love it as if it were her hometown, all the while coming to appreciate her own hometown more.

  • Under the cold of a winter’s night, Takamizawa and his friends locate their clues that point to the location of the Golden Dragon, the last of the Three Treasures required to re-introduce the Mizuchi Festival. Developments in Sakura Quest mean that the anime has not devolved into a treasure hunt as some have predicted; a handful of individuals have claimed that they are “not satisfied with the way the show is going”, “[betting that] the ending is going to be really disappointing” on the virtue that Manoyama will not be saved with the time remaining. It’s quite evident that these individuals are not aware of what the themes of Sakura Quest are – the anime has done a tremendous job of depicting the process involved, and while Yoshino often is faced with reality, she’s doing her best to set in motion events that will help the town from an external interest perspective.

  • Erika develops a toothache from a loose tooth, and lacking any painkillers, Yoshino and Shiori set out to purchase children’s medication. Questions have been raised as to why Yoshino does not split an adult painkiller in half, but the answer does not require a degree in medicine to reach – some pills should not be split because they are structured to work on a timed release. Splitting the pill could result in an overdose, which would be detrimental. Other pills have a hard coat to improve swallowing, and altering them could impact they way the active ingredients are delivered. Splitting an adult pill could make Erika very sick, and so, their choice was correct. While some purport that reopening the pharmacy was “unrealistic”, this perspective only comes about from a lack of understanding of the themes in Sakura Quest. Small stores are more flexible than larger ones, and so, are able to accommodate citizens much more quickly than supermarkets should the need arise.

  • Upon overhearing talk that the Golden Dragon can grant wishes, Anji runs into the winter night in search of the Golden Dragon. His disappearance sparks a search, but before anything happens, Sandal finds him and brings him to the police station, where he is reunited with his family. It turns out he longs for Erika to come home, hence his desire to make a wish. Later, Takamizawa and his friends find the Golden Dragon, but it turns out to be a plastic toy. While it would appear that the actual article has been lost to time, Yoshino later agrees to use it in the festival.

  • Taking inspiration from Warabiya, Shiori and the others prepare LED lanterns that gives the shopping district a warmer, more inviting feel by nightfall. While seemingly a small action, Yoshino’s influence and choices have definitely made Manoyama’s citizens more aware and appreciative of their town. Thus, when I’m met with the response that Sakura Quest is in need of “new settings, plot progression events, interesting new characters, etc. [where] the experiences would add up to a nice exciting finish”, I counter that Sakura Quest exceeds expectations precisely because it is grounded in realism. There is a limit to what Yoshino can credibly accomplish with the Tourism Board, but even the small accomplishments, such as introducing lanterns into the shopping district, are enormously satisfying to behold.

  • While subtle, one of the details I’m always fond of seeing in Sakura Quest are the discussions of future plans around mealtimes, and in Sakura Quest, one of the challenges Yoshino originally faced was figuring out a cuisine unique to Manoyama. In Calgary, Alberta Beef, pancakes and Ginger Beef are counted as regional specialties, although for folks like myself, a taste of home is never too far away. There are plenty of Hong Kong style establishments in Calgary, and tonight, I enjoyed the evening special (deep-fried pork chop and mango sauce on a bed of spaghetti) at a local restaurant.

  • One of my favourite aspects of Sakura Quest that I predicted would occur was the gradual warming up of Chitose to Yoshino; while staunchly opposed to the Tourism Board’s activities in the beginning, she’s come to accept Yoshino in both helping the town out, as well as for befriending her granddaughter, despite Yoshino being an outsider. It speaks volumes as to the sort of impact Yoshino has had since joining the Tourism Board, and here, Chitose makes to speak with a fellow by the name of Akiyama, hoping to convince him to rent his property to a well-known bakery.

  • Takamizawa and the others decide to open a café of sorts in the old school, and Sandal here assists with the refurbishing of the interior. The effects of a fresh coat of paint are already apparent in this image: the classroom has taken on a much warmer, inviting feeling than the classroom seen at the beginning of this post when Yoshino and the others were hunting for the Hanging Drum in the dark hallways.

  • Chitose calls a meeting to discuss a possible dissolution of the Board of Merchants, as their businesses no longer seem viable in light of being unable to secure a location for Belem to open. Where Chitose reveals that Akiyama had once opened his space to an outsider to rent, but the shop owner deserted, leaving Akiyama to pay the difference. Since then, he’s been unwilling to open his space. Yoshino decides not to force Akiyama into making a difficult decision, but this changes the perspective of another shop owner, who decides he will accept the smells associated with a bakery.

  • During her time in Manoyama, Yoshino has become a capable listener who makes decisions based on all perspectives. While Manoyama’s citizens have traditionally placed a degree of mistrust on outsiders, Yoshino is the first to demonstrate a genuine love for the town. She thus acts as the catalyst for change and finds herself successful precisely because she considers all pertinent arguments before devising a solution.

  • While they still refer to one another by their nicknames, it’s clear that Chitose and Ushimatsu have reached a point where they now (reluctantly) accept the other: Chitose gives the go-ahead here to continue with the Mizuchi Festival at full steam. I’ve been taking a look at opinions of Sakura Quest elsewhere, and for the most part, reception to this anime has been very warm: the folks at Random Curiosity are rooting for Yoshino and the others, while at AnimeSuki, viewers largely feel Sakura Quest could be one of the most solid slice-of-life anime of the year. In other words, expectations entering the finale are quite high, but I’m confident that whatever direction P.A. Works chooses to take with Sakura Quest, it will be a satisfying ending.

  • While it might be a plastic toy dragon, Yoshino nonetheless accepts it as a stand-in for the real deal. One wonders what happened to the real Golden Dragon, but a bit of logic would likely lead one to the conclusion that it’s embedded in the mud at the bottom of Sakura Pond ever since Ushimatsu tipped the Shrine Float over, and recovery would require a considerable amount of effort. Here’s a bit of trivia: apparently, there’s a manga incarnation of Sakura Quest that is serialised in Manga Time Kirara.

  • When Ushimatsu returns to Manoyama later, he bears bad news: the area is to be incorporated into another region. The merger or splitting of a municipality usually is done by consensus and was originally designed so that regions could increase usage of facilities without creating new ones, such as schools, as well as ease burdens on areas that are in debt. While sobering news, Yoshino remains optimistic and believes that a successful Mizuchi Festival could at the very least, further awareness of Manoyama’s unique culture. Because the merger is still quite some time away, Shiori and the others resolve to worry about the present and focus on putting on the Mizuchi Festival.

  • Progress for the Mizuchi Festival is underway, and the Shrine Float here reaches completion. However, when the TV crew from earlier return and request that an idol be inserted into the Dragon Song play in place of Ririko in exchange for an extended broadcast, Ushimatsu puts his foot down, saying that the Mizuchi Festival is by the people, for the people. His commitment to integrity is his way of atoning for shutting down the festival fifty years previously, reflecting on his desire to follow through with the hard work that everyone’s put in without compromising the locals’ efforts.

  • While cleaning up the Shrine where the Shrine Float’s route concludes, Doku finds a stone engraved with a commemorative message. It turns out that Sandal’s ancestors engineered Sakura Pond, and that this is where they’d met. Sandal’s connection to a distant city later inspires Ushimatsu to try and get Manoyama twinned, and he sets off abruptly to meet with the mayor of said city right as the festival begins to raise this proposal. While Chitose fears he will interfere with the festival again, Yoshino and the others have faith in his decision, knowing he’s working to Make Manoyama Great Again™ in his own fashion.

  • Preparations for the festival leave Yoshino so busy she’s very nearly forgotten her birthday, but Maki and the others have not. Maki asks Yoshino to inspect a prop, closing her inside before preparing the birthday surprise. It’s a rather warming moment, and as a gift of sorts, everyone’s sporting the same happi coats. Yoshino had earlier remarked that it’d be nice if everyone could have the coats, but understanding that they have budgetary constraints, she was okay with not providing happi coats for everyone.

  • With this post now over, I’m greatly looking forwards to seeing how Sakura Quest ends. It’s been five months since the anime began airing: I still recall watching the first few episodes on a quiet Sunday morning after playing my first few matches of Battlefield 1‘s They Shall Not Pass expansion, and it seems that these past few months have passed by in the blink of an eye. While I initially found it a fun anime, Sakura Quest eventually became an immensely immersive, entertaining and instructive anime that augmented my world views. It’s a little early in the game to be saying so, but if the finale succeeds in bringing the messages together, I would count Sakura Quest amongst the few anime I’ve seen to score a perfect ten, a veritable masterpiece. This verdict, I will decide upon once the finale has concluded.

The question that is worthy of speculation, thus, is what path Yoshino will take once the finale is reached and the time comes to make a decision. Yoshino herself states that she might be willing to move back home and make opportunity there, and folks with familiarity in narratives such as these will often predict that Yoshino will stay in Manoyama, having grown attached to the town, its people and attractions. Another reasonably likely outcome is that she does leave, but manages to find a position elsewhere as a result of her accumulated experiences. With due respect, both outcomes are equally likely – regardless of what direction Yoshino chooses, she now has the skill and experience, plus understanding of her own aspirations, to find success in whichever path she follows. While I’ve decided to focus on Yoshino for the post prior to the finale, the closing stages of Sakura Quest deal with a variety of issues, from Maki’s conflicting desires to act, to the Board of Merchants’ struggles to keep the shopping district relevant in an age where modern supermarkets defeat their purpose, or Erika’s refusal to stay somewhere with no prospects (mirroring the real-world phenomenon of youth leaving their homes in the countryside to seek opportunities in urban areas). There is considerable depth in Sakura Quest, and all of these elements come together to create P.A. Works’ strongest presentation since Shirobako: I’ve come to care for each of Yoshino, Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko, plus Manoyama’s citizens, who each have their own stories and goals. In short, they are fantastically written, as human as you and I, and each week since April, it’s been an absolute blast to immerse myself in Yoshino’s world. This is a series that I will miss considerably once it concludes, but for the present, there remains the finale that will be airing come Wednesday; I look forwards to seeing where one chapter of Yoshino’s story concludes and what her future entails.

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