The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Sakura Quest

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.

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.

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“Today, I’m going to outline a plan for Manoyama’s economic revival – it is a bold, ambitious, forward-looking plan to massively increase jobs, wages, incomes and opportunities for the people of our country. If we lower our taxes, remove destructive regulations, unleash the vast treasure of Manoyama’s energy, and negotiate trade deals that put Manoyama First, then there is no limit to the number of jobs we can create and the amount of prosperity we can unleash. Manoyama will truly be the greatest place in the world to invest, hire, grow and to create new jobs, new technologies, and entire new industries. Instead of driving jobs and wealth away, Manoyama will become the world’s great magnet for innovation and job creation.” –Excerpt from a speech delivered at the Manoyama Tourism Board

Resolved to improve Manoyama in whatever way she can in her role as the town’s “Queen”, Yoshino begins exploring the region’s specialities, including wood carving and sōmen. Her endeavours and visions are bold – even though the tourist board cannot fund Yoshino’s ideas, they begin making progress slowly: traditional wood carvings from native artisans are installed at the train station, impressing visitors, and a local cooking festival ends successfully. A film crew also scouts out Manoyama as a viable filming location, recruiting the tourism board and locals to assist. Their plans to burn down an abandoned home are met with resistance from Shiori, who reveals that the home is special to her, and the shoot also reveals that Maki had lost her passion in acting. Later, the tourism boards hosts a romance tour of Manoyama for the Community Club, taking them around Manoyama. Ruriko finds herself envious of Yoshino’s resolve and spirit. While Ruriko is embarrassed to participate in the Manoyama dance, Yoshino has taken the courage to learn it. Ruriko later falls ill, and comes across an alternative interpretation of Manoyama’s legend of the dragon while resting away from her duties. When she learns that Manoyama was originally about being open to outsiders, she performs her the dragon song on the final day of the tour. Though it all, Yoshino herself still resents normalcy, as well as her own role in things: when a reality show is filmed in Manoyama, Yoshino finds herself questioning her goals. Even so, she continues to do her utmost in making the tourism board’s initiatives successful, helping the television studio organise a major concert.

Sakura Quest has covered a substantial amount of territory at the halfway point. With twenty-five episodes, there remains another half to go – insofar, Sakura Quest has done a phenomenal job of bringing Manoyama and its characters to life. Whether it be the struggles and doubts each of the characters face, or the realities surrounding social trends in rural Japan, details are elaborated upon to give the town and its people dimensionality. Challenges surrounding Maki’s past with acting, Saenai’s doubts about whether or not Manoyama was her running away from her problems, or Ruriko’s isolation with the community are vividly detailed: flawed and very much human, each of the characters’ attributes come into play and slowly shift through Yoshino’s influence. Despite being an outsider herself, Yoshino also begins feeling more connected to the town of Manoyama, despite having only visited briefly during her childhood – being in this quiet and close-knit community brings about a change in her perspectives that is quite noticeable from her outlooks at Sakura Quest‘s onset, and by the halfway point, it becomes apparent that the synergy between Yoshino and the others have indeed had an impact on Manoyama. With the characters established, Sakura Quest is set to continue with detailing the tourism board’s quest to Make Manoyama Great Again℠, and I look forwards to seeing what Yoshino has in mind for the future.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sakura Quest covers a considerable amount of turf during its first half: story arcs are typically contained within the span of two episodes, depicting a combination of both the main cast’s internal struggles as well as the tourism board’s difficulties in engaging the town. One of the first challenges Yoshino faces in her role as Queen is to figure out how to raise awareness for Manoyama’s wood carving sector. While innovative, the town’s more conservative Board of Merchants and wood carvers immediately take a disliking to Yoshino’s ideas, feeling them disrespectful towards tradition.

  • Feeling that she’s been running away from problem after problem, Sanae no longer feels motivated to help Yoshino, distancing herself from their duties. However, Yoshino manages to motivate her: even if people can be replaced, individuals each apply their own unique touch to a challenge to create their solutions, so efforts are not for naught. Consequently, Sanae’s interest in Manoyama is re-kindled, and she suggests a scaled-back version of Yoshino’s plan to elevate the visibility of Manoyama’s artisans, decorating the train station with work that impresses visitors.

  • Now that we are fifty percent into Sakura Quest, it is quite apparent that Yoshino does not have anywhere nearly as many funny face moments as her opposite number in Shirobako: Aoi Miyamori is a character I remember well for her exaggerated facial expressions. By comparison, Yoshino is more dialled back, and while highly enthusiastic about her duties, is less prone to overexcitement or stress than Aoi, even if her goals put her directly in conflict with the Board of Merchants, the folks who coordinate the businesses in the area.

  • The inaka are beautifully portrayed in Sakura Quest: intricate and remarkably well-done, Sakura Quest captures the countryside. While the cities (Tokyo especially) are a hotbed for economic activity and opportunity, the countryside of Japan has fallen by the wayside, seeing a general decline in population as youth migrate to the cities for better education and employment prospects. However, during my travels to Japan, I found the inaka to be much more enjoyable than the cities, feeling a lot more expressive of Japanese culture than the cities. In some translations, the inaka is represented as “the sticks”, a British expression for rural in reference to living amongst the trees (i.e. sticks).

  • After Sanae’s doubts are resolved, it’s Maki’s turn to have her background explored. A former actress capable of handling a variety of tasks, she refuses to play the role of a stand-in, feeling that she lacks the proper determination to be a proper actress. She rebuffs Yoshino’s request, leaving her with more work, but after a conversation with Sanae and helping coach Ririko with a role, slowly begins to rediscover her passion. When she stumbles across an old class video her father took of her class play, she rediscovers her love for acting.

  • After the director decides to use an abandoned house for filming, Shiori puts up a surprising amount of resistance, concealing the fact that she’d acquired permission from the house’s owners to torch it. It turns out that the house has sentimental value for Shiori, who’d spent a great deal of time there during her childhood. It is also explained that abandonments, haikyo, result from the cost of demolitions making removal of older buildings unviable. Often, buildings are left to decay where they are, creating these modern ruins. When Yoshino steps up to the plate and confronts Shiori about the situation, Shiori comes to understand that the decision is not for her to make.

  • Sakura Quest is the first P.A. Works anime I’ve given a review to since Shirobako – while I’ve watched both Charlotte and Kuromukuro, and found enjoyment in both to some extent, they did not prove to be shows that I could easily write about: thematic elements were tricky to determine, and the plot progression for both anime were inconsistent, making it difficult for me to ascertain what the anime’s main messages were. Comedy and slice-of-life dramas are P.A. Works’ specialities: their down-to-earth stories about everyday people are usually much more compelling than their science fiction or fantasy offerings (Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara are the exceptions).

  • By the episode’s final moments, Maki’s love of acting is reignited, and she agrees to stand in for Moe. Here, she prepares for a scene where she will dive into the burning remains of the home, and the entire event proceeds without a hitch. Later, one of the film staff thanks Shiori, who’s come to understand that allowing the house to be destroyed does not mean that her memories of it will be lost forever; instead, in its final moments, this derelict house allows Shiori to gain yet another treasured moment.

  • Just because Yoshino might not make funny faces does not mean that other characters do not – Maki tries to tug a beer from Yoshino, only to find that Yoshino’s maintaining a death grip on said beer despite having fallen a sleep. One of the things that I found a bit unusual in Japan (and Hong Kong) is the fact that alcohol is sold in the open at supermarkets, right beside conventional drinks. Back home, we have liquor depots and dedicated stores for selling alcohol.

  • Food is lovingly illustrated in Sakura Quest to the point where other viewers have suggested that some episodes should be watched on a full stomach, lest one desire food mid-episode. Today marks the start of the last weekend in June: this month’s disappeared, and it’s now been more than a month since I returned from Japan. Things have been incredibly busy with work, especially with our project migration to a new framework that’s taken longer than I anticipated, so I’m immensely happy that it’s the weekend. While I spent a bit of today helping with adding some features ahead of Monday, things were also relaxing enough so that I could play enough Battlefield 1 to unlock the Lebel Model 1886 and go out to the Café 100 for dinner, where I ordered the Hong Kong-style chicken steak. Delicious and cooked just like they do in Hong Kong, it’s always nice to be able to experience a taste of Hong Kong right here at home.

  • While I’ll respond that Shiori is my favourite of the characters in Sakura Quest, with Yoshino coming in a close second, all of the main characters are likeable. Presenting realistic characters simply means giving them a range of traits, both positive and negative, and allowing these interactions to drive things – these elements mean the characters are believable, and consequently, audiences tend to care more for them, developing an interest to see what events will await them. By comparison, dull, jejune characters are blatantly overpowered, have little difficulty in accomplishing their objectives and constantly struggle from their own internal sense of inadequacy without any well-defined reason (this is the main reason I’m not particularly fond of Sword Art Online‘s Kazuto Kirigaya).

  • Celebrating Sayuri’s moving out to become a nurse, Shiori and her family encounter Kumano, an old friend of Sayuri’s from high school who trained in France as a chef and intends to inherit the family restaurant. He has long held feelings for Shiori’s older sister, Sayuri, but owing to a miscommunication, neither was able to make their feelings open to one another. In spite of this, his dedication is commendable: his original intent to study French cuisine was because Sayuri greatly enjoyed French toast.

  • Shiori’s response to Kumano’s French Toast speaks volumes as to its quality. Sakura Quest states that French Toast is not French in origin – P.A. Works has plainly done their homework, and the combination of soaking bread in egg before frying it with milk has been around since the fifth century, being of Roman origin. The French take on this dish is called pain perdue (lit. “lost bread”), after the idea of making tough or stale bread more palatable by frying it in egg, and both England and Germany have their own variations on this dish. The modern incarnation of French toast is actually a bit of a misnomer: similar to French Fries, they are a food item popularised by arrival of French immigrants in North America, hence the nomenclature.

  • While the Tourism board’s plan to host a cooking special event conflicted with the Merchant Board’s event, Shiori takes control of the situation and strikes a compromise that allows both events to proceed: the cooking competition will be to make the best sōmen dish, which is a Manoyama special. It typifies Shiori’s resourcefulness when the situation demands it, and she’s the first person that Yoshino turns to whenever questions about Manoyama and its background arise.

  • While Shiori works out the details to ensure the event’s success, Yoshino works behind the scenes to get a special display ready: a mechanised nagashi-sõmen game where the goal is to catch and eat noodles as quickly as possible to maximise score. It’s a little messy, as Yoshino finds out, but the exhibition turns out to be a success, drawing the children’s interest. Yoshino is open to making use of new technologies into reviving Manoyama traditions, and while this initially puts her at odds with the townspeople, this new perspective also offers Manoyama something new.

  • Shiori and Sayuri are both rather clumsy at times: when their mother remarks that Shiori’s fear over the festival date is a trait her sister shares, Shiori realises that Sayuri must’ve missed Kumano for the same reason. She sets in motion the events that allow Sayuri and Kumano to meet again at the Chubacabra Palace, bringing their story to a solid conclusion and also allowing the two to make their feelings open to one another. One wishes reality would allow for such neat resolution, but more often that not, this is not the case.

  • With the festivals over, Yoshino makes Shiori a “Minister of Mediation” for her role in talking things through to ensure that all parties are reasonably satisfied with arrangements.

  • The Manoyama romantic tour programme turns out to be yet another story arc filled with a fine balance of comedy and mystery: comedy arises with the community club’s members putting the moves on to impress the ladies who arrive for the tour, and despite their reduced numbers, Yoshino and the others do their best to ensure the events are successful. It is here that the Manoyama dance and its origins are revealed: like the Legend of the Fire Maidens in Sora no Woto, there are two different versions of the story behind Manoyama’s dragon.

  • The men and women participating in the tour are in their middle ages: travelling around to meet people is a rather interesting concept. One observation thrown around amongst folks of my generation, the millennials, is that it is more difficult to find meaningful courtship relative to previous generations – commitment and trust is weaker than it has been for numerous reasons, but I personally think that it’s a lack of maturity for the most part. Once folks become a bit older, they will have a more well-defined notion of what they want, and by extension, more realistic expectations of what a relationship entails.

  • The Manoyama dance is an area tradition that all Manoyama girls learn. Ririko’s shyness precludes her from participating, and as a child, she’s withdrawn, spending very little time with her peers during school. Her interests are in the occult and supernatural: things like extraterrestrials, spirits and cryptids are right up her alley. Despite this, she slowly opens up as she spends more time with Yoshino and the others. By comparison, Yoshino is very much willing to learn and experience new things, picking up the Manoyama dance well enough to perform it for their guests.

  • Noticably absent from the proceedings is Ririko: similar to how Sanae, Maki and Shiori have seen exploration with the wood carving, film-making and cuisine arcs, respectively, the romantic tour arc places emphasis on Ririko. Reserved, shy and stoic, she lives with her grandmother after her father left for work overseas following divorce with Ririko’s mother, an outsider. This explains her grandmother’s mistrust for Yoshino and also explains why she’s cold towards the Tourism Board’s activities. Walking home alone under a thunderstorm, she catches a cold and is resting for much of the subsequent episode.

  • Alexandre Cena Davis Celibidache, known by his metonymy as “Mr. Sandal”, is a wanderer with blonde hair and who speaks with a very laid-back manner, dropping by to offer deep and mysterious insights whenever Yoshino or the others are wondering what their next move is. Voiced by Vinay Murthy, Alexandre’s Japanese is slower, more broken and accented, hinting at his foreign background: he also speaks English quite well. His story is that his grandparents were Manoyama natives, and despite his wandering nature, he is a skillful artist familiar with Manoyama’s history.

  • The climbing wall and tower overlooking Manoyama offers a fantastic view of the area. This moment in Sakura Quest offers yet another reason why I continue to watch anime after all this time: the attraction of skies of deepest blue and vast landscapes of mountains, plains and forests have long held my attention. I have not seen any cartoons of Western animation that go to quite the same lengths to render these landscapes: in FuturamaRick and Morty and Adventure Time, skies are usually a solid blue colour on clear days.

  • Yoshino finds Ririko at a local temple after the latter sneaks out to the library while she’s supposed to be recovering from her cold. It is here that Yoshino learns the alternative interpretation of the myth, and in an emotional moment, Ririko and Yoshino shed tears as they open up to one another. This brings about a change in Ririko: while her grandmother is long-weary of Yoshino and the others for their perceived tendency to disturb the peace, Yoshino sees this as a chance to show that the Tourism Board is not selfishly absorbed in their own machinations. Thus, she invites Ririko’s grandmother to the finale of the romance tour.

  • The surprise is that Ririko performs the Dragon song; while she whiles away her days on the internet and is not employed owing to her withdrawn nature, Yoshino manages to bring out the best in her, allowing her to take the first step towards changing. Ririko is voiced by Chiemi Tanaka, a newcomer in voice acting whose only previous role was as Sansha Sanyou‘s Sasame Tsuji, but Sakura Quest shows that Tanaka has a beautiful singing voice. Her rendition of the Dragon song is incredibly moving, to the point where it would be an insult should it not be included in the soundtrack or one of the character albums. The anime’s opening and ending albums have been available since June 7.

  • I take a brief detour to note that in its current form, the slogan “Make Manoyama Great Again℠”, is attributable to a design that I alone have created. It’s an uncommon enough slogan so that a cursory search for it will not yield too many results – one may find other usages before my first post on Sakura Quest, but since that post, folks on image-boards have taken to using the slogan more widely. The page quote is an adaptation of the current POTUS’ economic speech at the New York Economy Club back during September 2016, modified to work with what is in effect, what the Tourism board is trying to do with Manoyama.

  • The pressure of a reality film crew filming the Tourism Board’s daily routine causes Yoshino and Shiori to speak strangely, with Yoshino finally cracking up under the pressure. It takes a certain degree of control to ignore the camera and proceed normally, and while I’ve done several appearances on local television for news segments featuring my old research lab, as well as being comfortable in speaking in front of audiences, I’m not entirely sure I am cut out for live-streaming my Battlefield 1 and other gaming endeavours on Twitch.

  • Yoshino’s personal peeve of being “normal” is mirrored in her appearance – she’s the only character to have a distinct hair colour, and her uncommon way of thinking is what’s precipitated all of the events in Sakura Quest insofar, to the point where even Ushimatsu praises her. The definition of “normal” is the point of contention in Christopher Boorse’ definition of health, which states that “health is the absence of disease defined by a statistical normality”. My classmates still repress a shudder when the name Boorse is brought up despite the six years that have elapsed since we read the original 1977 paper: we argue that health is an incredibly complex topic and extends well beyond the state of being free of disease. Further to this, health as a human construct is intrinsically value-laden: by Boorse’s definition, if a large portion of humanity were to be afflicted by a condition such as blindness, then being blind would still constitute as “healthy”, since it is typical that most folks cannot see in this hypothetical population. Conversely, a value-laden approach would tell us that this population has an endemic condition impairing their quality of life.

  • I’m not here to continue discussing the definition of health: I exited the course with a decent mark and we’ll leave it to the medical specialists to discuss what health is. Returning things to Sakura Quest, the reality show is compounded by the appearance of a famous band, which promises to bring in a large number of visitors into the Manoyama region. While exciting, the logistics prove to be a rogue element, since the producers continue to assure Yoshino and the others that everything is under control. The outcome of this will be left for the upcoming episode.

  • Yoshino, Maki and Sanae are surprised at the unexpectedly large turnout for their concert. The twelfth episode comes to an end here, and looking ahead, I imagine that Sakura Quest is building up towards Yoshino’s inevitable departure once her year-long contract expires. Regardless of what the outcome will be, Yoshino will have gained a considerable amount of experience working in Manoyama by this point: staying in Manoyama and calling it home, or else returning to Tokyo with a competitive set of skills are both possibilities, and I look forwards to seeing the journey that Yoshino will have in reaching this milestone in Sakura Quest‘s second half.

It should not be surprising that I am enjoying Sakura Quest the most out of any of the anime this season. With its character development, stunning artwork and a highly relatable narrative, Sakura Quest represents a triumphant return of P.A. Works – with the exception of Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara, I’ve long felt their work and slice-of-life anime to be the strongest. Incorporating genuine social issues into the narrative is also a fantastic touch that elevates the anime’s authenticity: whether it be the community dynamics of a smaller town overarching in the anime or something as simple as why haikyo come about, Sakura Quest is faithful towards occurrences in the real world. This is something that Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha excelled in depicting. Sakura Quest is following its predecessors in execution, and it’s difficult to find any strikes against this anime – even the more critical of viewers are enjoying Sakura Quest. Each episode has been enjoyable to watch thus far, and having passed the halfway point, Sakura Quest appears on track in its the quest to continue captivating its viewers. With its honest but colourful depiction, it might be more appropriate to consider not whether or not Yoshino and her colleagues can Make Manoyama Great Again℠, but rather, the route that they take to get there and what changes Yoshino’s time in Manoyama will have on her, those around her and the town as a whole.

Sakura Quest: Review and Impressions After Three

“I felt the need to be more open and expressive of my feelings, not just about the hills and the countryside, but about the daily life.” –Donald Hall

Faced with the challenges of finding full-time employment as her graduation draws near, Yoshino Koharu finds herself offered with an unusual position: to become the Queen of Manoyama, a small town in rural Japan far removed from Tokyo, to promote tourism to the area. While this offer turns out to have been made on the basis of mistaken identity, Yoshino learns that Manoyama was the town where one of her fondest memories of being crowned were made: she nonetheless is displeased with prospects of staying for a year, attempting the impossible task of selling a thousand boxes of manjū on the condition that she be released from her contract on success. Despite failing, she draws upon her resources and know-how to try and bolster sales with the friendly Shiori Shinomiya, Ririko Oribe (Shiori’s friend with a profund knowledge of the occult), ammeter actor Maki Midorikawa and the web developer Sanae Kōzuki, becoming closer to them in the process. Later, during a televised competition to promote Manoyama, Yoshino realises that, following her attempts to learn more about the town and its residents, she genuinely wants to make a difference, and to Ushimatsu Kadota, head of Manoyama’s Tourism Board, she agrees to stay the year and help out on the condition of being able to work with Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko. I am all smiles when watching Sakura Quest, and there is little doubt in my mind that this is going to be one of the strongest anime on my table for this season: wielding both sincerity and comedy, Sakura Quest is a reminder that P.A. Works is at their finest when they work with original anime set in the real world to showcase the trials and tribulations of people. Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari and Shirobako were each excellent works, firmly about challenges and adversity in life, as well as making the most of what one is dealt to ultimately craft a highly compelling story whose characters audiences can empathise with.

Hanasaku Iroha dealt with Ohana learning about the worth of hard work and dealing with her feelings for her friend, Kō, Tari Tari follows a group of friends seeking to create an opus magnum before their halcyon days in high school draw to a close, and Shirobako sees Aoi Miyamori settle into her job as a production assistant at an anime studio, being later promoted to production manager as she discovers her own talents in the position. Each of these anime were highly engaging, and in Sakura Quest, P.A. Works’ talent for depicting real-world stories continues. Yoshino’s predicament in trying to help Ushimatsu drive tourism to Manoyama parallels the struggles that towns in Japan’s inaka, or rural Japan, face: their populations aging, and with youth like Yoshino being drawn to the city for its greater opportunity, populations in the inaka are declining along with economic prospects. However, in some places, settlements and towns in the inaka are making a resurgence, brought on by the people’s desires to escape the manic pace of the city or as a result of increased promotional efforts. This social issue is captured in Sakura Quest, and despite a healthy dose of comedy present, Sakura Quest is very open about the challenges that inaka communities, such as the fictional Manoyama, face in their futures. Consequently, Sakura Quest‘s upcoming depiction of Yoshino’s journeys with her newfound friends in Manoyama will certainly be one that is as much about her own personal discovery as it is about how a group of friends can indeed make a difference in a a part of Japan that seems stubbornly set in its ways even in the face of decline.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I will mention this again later: Sakura Quest has twenty five episodes in the works, meaning that I will be returning at some intervals to discuss how the anime is progressing. I also open with the remark that I’m up to speed with Sakura Quest, and that of the numerous discussions I’ve seen so far, none have delved into the societal elements of Japan that drive the narrative of Sakura Quest. Population aging and decline is a very real issue facing the countryside, and programs incentivising citizens to move to or stay in the countryside definitely exist.

  • Yoshino Koharu is Sakura Quest‘s Aoi Miyamori, the reluctant hero who finds herself thrown into situations she’s initially uncomfortable with handling. Yoshino is voiced by Ayaka Nanase, a relatively new voice actor for whom this is her first leading role. After arriving in Manoyama, Yoshino is greeted by the tourism board, who immediately note that she’s not the person they’re expecting. In a bit of dark irony, the individual they were expecting had died some years back, and consequently, they’re ready to see if Yoshino might be a fit.

  • The interior of the Manoyama Tourism Board’s office will undoubtly be a location that audiences can expect to see more of in the upcoming episodes, being their base of operations. Its depiction in high detail here complete with one of the employees playing Go on their laptop, is a reminder of the level of quality that P.A. Works places into its anime. In general, their anime strike a balance between highly intricate and organisation in its environments that create a detailed, yet clean setting.

  • Shiori is a Manoyama native roughly around Yoshino’s age. Being friendly and kind, she’s a member of the tourism board with a genuine interest in bolstering tourism around the Manoyama area and is extremely knowledgeable about the region. Shiori is voiced by Reina Ueda, whom I’ve seen previously as Kuromukuro‘s Sophie Noelle and Shizune Takatsuki of Infinite Stratos². I finished Kuromukuro in December, some three months after it finished airing, and the reason why I never did write a review for it was because I had mixed feelings about it after the conclusion.

  • After Yoshino accepts her position, she has dinner with some of the more senior members of the Tourism Board. While food and drink is partaken, I take advantage of the moment to steal a cursory glance at my archive for this month: I’ve got a fair number of gaming posts out as a result of having pushed through Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered. I’ve still yet to actually write about Titanfall 2: the past while’s been busy in real life, and yesterday, I returned to the CYSF as a judge. After a light pastry and apple juice, I stepped out into the fair to begin my adjudication of the student’s projects.

  • The last science fair I participated in was eleven years ago; it was a rainy day, and I’d struggled to get my trifold to the exhibition venue. My project, outlining the implications of genetics research, went reasonably well, earning me a bronze medal and a small cash prize: looking back, it was a fun experience. Presently, it was an equally fun and meaningful experience to approach the science fair from the judge’s perspective, encouraging young minds to explore science. Back in Sakura Quest, Yoshino meets Maki for the first time, who irritates her to no end with her abuse of the word “normal” (普通, futsū).

  • If time permits, I may go back and continue to judge science fairs as a volunteer. For the present, I return my attention to Sakura Quest and share with the reader a cruel laugh at Yoshino’s expense: she learns that her contract is to be a year rather than a day, choosing to flee for her life rather than honour it. However, Manoyama’s remoteness makes escape next to impossible – the train station is closed. It brings to mind the gulag of the Kolyma region; these were sufficiently isolated and located in frigid lands such that escaping was pointless, as escapees would simply freeze to death.

  • P.A. Works might be known for a variety of things, but for me, I know them best for their exceptional “funny faces”: Shirobako featured Aoi wearing a variety of hilarious expressions, and one of my goals this season for Sakura Quest will be to capture as many funny faces as I can in the reviews that I do for this series. So far, it’s been pretty disciplined, but I’m hoping that we see Yoshino with some Aoi Miyamori-level facial expressions soon. Here, Yoshino flees after a “Chupacabra” appears. Refusing to use a special sword to dramatically take it out, Yoshino winds up injuring Ushimatsu instead.

  • A thousand boxes of manjū are delivered in error, and Ushimatsu decides that Yoshino is free to go if she can sell of all thousand boxes within a week before their “best before” date. This is a Sisyphean task: Manoyama’s entire population is around fifty thousand, and Ushimatsu pegs it a test of Yoshino’s resolve. Her initial efforts are unsuccessful, and she decides to figure out a means of marketing their presence to the locals, recruiting the local web developer and blogger Sanae to help.

  • Demonstrating her knack for creative solutions, Yoshino suggests that they try to capitalise on the chupacabra sightings in the area to create a sense of intrigue around the manjū; they speak with Ririko here to learn more. Sakura Quest spells the chapacabra as “chupakaura”, the katakana form for the cryptid. Life in the inaka is said to be remarkably quiet, and outside of work, there is not too much to do. Surprisingly, life in suburban Canada without a vehicle is rather similar – folks suggest picking up a good hobby, and armed with a powerful internet connection and a sense of adventure, I would imagine that, besides a significantly longer commute, my life in the inaka would probably not be too different than it is now: I would spend weekends exploring the countryside via hikes on days with pleasant weather and game or write if the conditions is unfavourable.

  • Yoshino’s resourcefulness drew me into Sakura Quest, and it is quite clear that despite her numerous rejection from jobs in Tokyo, she has a unique skillset as a result of her studies in Tokyo. Simply because companies might not count her as being a qualified candidate does not mean that Yoshino lacks skills, and it is reasonable to imagine that her experiences in Manoyama change her in appreciable ways, either setting her up to stay in the countryside or equipping her with marketable skills in order to gain an offer.

  • With sales of the manjū doing quite poorly even after a few days, Yoshino further resolves to create a short movie to capture the novelty around them, hoping to motivate sales. Even this proves unsuccessful, but the exercise accomplishes several important functions, such as bringing Yoshino, Ririko, Sanae and Maki closer to one another. It is often through failure that critical learnings are attained, and the value of these learnings can become much more valuable than the success itself. It is around the events of the second episode where Sakura Quest truly begins shining, providing viewers with an iron-clad incentive to continue enjoying this anime.

  • Although dejected, Yoshino tries a manjū, learns that it is exceptionally good, and suddenly realises that her time with the others has been an enjoyable one. They decide to stick together long enough for Yoshino to check out the sakura blossoms in the area one week from this point: fate itself continues to draw Yoshino back to Manoyama, and despite her reluctance, Yoshino slowly will come to appreciate the different features and pacing of the inaka. While I speak as though there is source material, Sakura Quest is an original anime; my speculations (and confident delivery of such) is motivated by my familiarity with outcomes in such narratives. Knowing what happens, however, is not where the fun lies – the real enjoyment comes from watching how a narrative’s events progress.

  • It typically takes me some time to become acclimitised to all of the characters and their names, but in the case of Sakura Quest, I’ve become familiarised with all of the major characters at the third episode mark; there’s no need for me to look at an external reference in order to determine how to spell their names or identify who they are. This is a solid start to Sakura Quest in the exposition component, introducing enough characters to get things started without overwhleming the viewers.

  • Shiori and Yoshino meet Maki’s brother, who is trying to convince her to return home. On top of being easy to remember, the characters of Sakura Quest are (perhaps with the exception of the cold townspeople) immediately likeable – this presentation seems to suggest that the anime will be about the tourism board trying to rally the town behind them to Make Manoyama Great Again℠. While long associated with the presidential campaign of 2016, the phrase “Make America Great Again℠” originates with Ronald Regan’s campaign in 1980.

  • Despite being the Queen of Manoyama, Yoshino realises that she has very limited background on Manoyama and its people. Here, she’s preparing for a televised interview about Manoyama, and promptly botches it despite support from Shiori. Ever-supportive and cheerful, Shiori and Yoshino get along remarkably well: Shiori is the first to begin supporting and encouraging, Yoshino, who finds her own feet with the conclusion of the third episode’s events.

  • While idealists have grand visions in their minds about bringing about change, the largest impediment to change is the fact that for the most part, people are unaccustomed to change and prefer the status quo. This is why disruptive forces, such as new technologies, often do not take off until on particular approach to the technology catches on for its convenience and ease of use. The smartphone is a fantastic example of this: the IBM Simon Personal Communicator was the first-ever smartphone, being able to make calls and receive emails. Introduced in 1992 and retailing for 1099 USD, the device had a touch screen. However, these devices remained uncommon and largely used by businesses until 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone. The concept of a device that could do mobile computing in conjunction with acting as a phone was nothing new by that point, but Apple succeeded in creating a smooth, enjoyable user experience that subsequently changed the face of electronic communications forever.

  • It would be quite unrealistic (and unfair) to expect Yoshino to streamline a concept or process in order to revitalise Manoyama’s economy, but to see what she makes of her situation is what will make Sakura Quest fun to watch. When a costume mishap leads to #TeamManoyama nearly missing their allocated time slot in a competition, Yoshino steps in and orders for them to combine the two costumes, then proceeds to deliver a heartfelt speech that, while not scoring any points with the judges, conveys her own conviction in helping Make Manoyama Great Again℠.

  • While on hanami with the others, Yoshino comes to realise that she’s found four fantastic friends in Manoyama. She comes to a conclusion, making a request to Ushimatsu to work with them, and her decision thus sparks the remainder of the story that will be presented in the upcoming weeks. I’ve always been fond of origin stories, and seeing how things begin – Sakura Quest is no exception, and I look forwards to seeing how things proceed in this twenty-five episode anime. The opening and ending songs, Morning Glory and Freesia, respectively, are set to release in June 7. Overall, the visuals and direction in Sakura Quest have been solid, but the soundtrack’s been a bit lower-key so far.

  • After lifting weights, I spent most of the day playing through Battlefield 1 and went for a walk to acquire the Earth Day challenge on Apple Activities. It was an overcast evening that I stepped out to for dinner; besides a special fried rice with garlic shrimps, we also had Thailand-style chicken, sweet and sour pork, a stir fry and fried fish balls. With the “after three” post for Sakura Quest in the books, I will be looking at Saekano♭ after three episodes in the near future. In addition, with Washio Sumi Chapter‘s second act available now, another post for that will be rolling off the runway in the very near future. This is about it for the anime I’ve got lined up to write about in the foreseeable future – Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 Premium are the other two posts that are on the list of things I aim to finish before April is out.

Immensely relatable right out of the gates, Sakura Quest seems an anime that audiences in my age bracket will relate with quickly: the uncertainties associated with making that transition between school and work is a frightening one, and sometimes, opportunities can arise from the most unlikely of circumstances. This is precisely what happens to Yoshino, whose career in the tourism industry begins with a mistake arising from illegible handwriting. This opening reflects on how reality itself can play out in the most unusual of ways, and for those persistent enough to stick things out, the journey can prove to be a rewarding one. With this remark, I have an inkling that I may have with reasonable accuracy, described Sakura Quest‘s main thematic element already, but like all of its predecessors, it is this journey whose worth makes the anime worth following. Sakura Quest is slated to run for twenty five episodes – such a number corresponds with an adequate time frame to really capture Yoshino’s experiences, and consequently, it would not be mistaken to surmise that Sakura Quest could be as captivating and entertaining to watch as its predecessors set in the real world.