Sunday, February 3, 2013

Anime Review No. 49-Sakura Wars Ecole de Paris

Title: Sakura Taisen-Ecole de Paris

2003 OVA, 3 episodes

Produced by Red Entertainment/SEGA

Licensed and Distributed by Funimation in USA

Genres: Adventure, Action, Mecha

So, this series of reviews on anime sequels ends on this: Sakura Taisen-Ecole de Paris. Sakura Taisen, also known as Sakura Wars, is a franchise that has been around since the mid-90s. It has a manga, a TV series, movie, and several OVAs, all based on a series of video games. Its creators are Ohji Hiroi (Virgin Fleet), Kosuke Fujishima (Ah My Goddess and You're Under Arrest) and Satoru Akahori (KO Beast, Maze OVA, Sorceror Hunters). It tells the adventures of the Imperial Floral Assault Team, a group of female mecha pilots, who protect 1920s Tokyo from evil hordes. The 26 episode TV series is actually very good, with the right balance of action, drama, character development and comedy I've seen in a mecha series. It's on my list of 10 Favorite Anime series I posted over a year ago and included its opening song in my list of Favorite Anime Opening Songs a few months ago.

Enough of that, for today I am talking about one of the spinoffs. See, the popularity of the game series prompted SEGA/Red Entertainment to go out and make a few spinoffs of this series. This one is set in Paris during the mid 1920s, and there is also another spinoff set in 1920s New York City. Anyway, this 3 episode OVA, made back in 2003, concerns the formation and initial adventures of the Flower Division in Paris. It actually serves as a prologue to the third game of the Sakura Taisen series, which makes some sense.
Episode 1: Flowers at Daybreak

January 1926 starts us off. It starts French? A bit odd, but well done by the English dub cast.
A Flower Division is formed in Paris during the heights of the Roaring Twenties. I love the attention to detail to make this so. The first character we are introduced to is Erika, the readhead who is a bit of a sleepyhead (reminds me a bit of Sakura from the TV series). She acts a bit like a Catholic nun, always doing a prayer and talking about devotion and such. She comes across as being naive and not too smart but good-hearted and kind, much like Sakura in the TV series. The music is very 1920s Francophone with accordion and jazzy/serenading instrumentals.

Of course, Erika runs into Glycine Bluemer, the rich bitch, though not as bitchy as Sumire in the TV series, but certainly comes close. She is stern, aristocratic, a tad snobby and somewhat annoyed at Erika's sillier antics. Some another characters are introduced: Lobelia, a femme fatale thief whose the only one with a proper accent; Hanabi, a young woman with a dead lover and finally Coclequit, a younger girl who works at a circus as an acrobat.

So, the basic plot and premise is established with this first episode. The Flower Division is starting to come together. And, to add to this, Ohgami (the only dude in this series) is coming to Paris to help train this new group. Hurrah! Let's continue!

Episode 2: The Black Cat and the Bad Girl

Here, the focus is on Lobelia, the mysterious glasses, white-haired thief. She is a femme fatale and resident 'bad girl'. By this time, The Flower Division has 4 members: Erika, Gycline and Coclequit (little circus girl) and Ohgami. Just as in Sakura Wars TV, Ohgami is still the most bland and uninteresting character in contrast to the female characters. Thankfully his time in the OVA has been small, for now.

Meanwhile, a mysterious adversary, named Jester who looks like a female Pierrot Harlequin character. Apparently, this is the bad guy. Ok, cool, as this keeps in line with how the rest of the show. Strange occurrences happen which may or may not be linked to Jester.

Something of note:

Each of the girls have specific 'spirit powers' which are more latent here than in the TV series. There, all that meant was that they pilot the Kubos, but here they can do a bit more with their powers, like in the case of Lobelia who can literally bend fire to her will which she uses to outsmart the Flower Division's attempts to catch her.

After a rather lengthy but very good action sequence, Lobelia is finally caught and recruited into the Flower Division. This is a very good episode with plenty of action and excitement to be enjoyed. Let's see how this all ends up!

Episode 3: The City of Love

It has been three months since Ohgami has been in Paris, getting a rude awakening from Erika one morning which I chuckled at I'll admit. The episode goes through a sequence of Ohgami interacting with each of the girls one at a time.

First, Gycline is doing some sword training with Ohgami. She's extremely prideful but reliable with what "The honor of the aristocraticy" bit she keeps going on about.

Next, he's hanging out with Colcequit, who is the little circus acrobat girl. It is a very nice and soft conversational moment. There is a lingering inner sadness to her character, but sadly it isn't fully explored here.

Next, Ohgami is watching Hanabi perform on stage. Hanabi doesn't have much screen time, but the bit of time she is portrayed as a quiet and demure girl who is still moving on from her dead lover.

Finally, he is playing cards with Lobelia. She is expanded upon here, being reckless, morally ambiguous and stubborn. "Last thing I want is a peaceful Paris" very succinctly sums up her character.

Now, to cap off this part of the episode, we get a scene of the four girls in round-table conversation. This is quite entertaining, reminding me of group dynamic displayed in the TV series. I'll admit I smirked at this bit.

Now, we go from that to some government stiffs talking about remote controlled submarines. The Jester takes one and mucks around with it. It then goes about Paris starts causing some havoc.

This prompts Erika and Ohgami to go out in their Kubo units and fight. This is admittedly the best part of the OVA, where the production pulls off all the stops. This action scene which feel and looks like a video game (not surprising), with a nice blending of CGI and cel animation (even for the time it was made).

But, it all ends on a slightly unresolved note. A shame, as this is really good. Best part of this, you can watch this and not lose much aside from Ohgami but that's fine. Overall, this is very well done in terms of whole production (animation, sound, etc). Funimation does a good job with the English dub. Bummer that they couldn't spring enough money to get the second OVA of this, but whatever. As a final note, I highly recommend this.
Next Review: His and Her Circumstances (Valentine's Day Special) to be released February 16th.

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