Saturday, January 24, 2015

Anime Review No. 93 (Sakura Wars)

“With Fiery Passion!”
Sakura Wars TV (2000)
Director: Ryutaro Nakamura
Writers: Hiroyuki Kawasaki, Kunihiro Okajima, Yoshimi Narita, Katsuhiko Takayama, Kenichi Kanemiki, Gou Tamai, Sachiko Doi, Takao Yoshioka, Tatsuya Suzuki, Ken Abe, Kazuharu Sato, Takao Yoshimoto
Studio: Madhouse

Ok, so now we are at another important title, at least in my development of being an anime fan. Around 2009, I had come across this on the shelf at Best Buy when I was at college in Virginia. This was actually one of the early complete collection sets I gotten, the first one being Evangelion Platinum Edition back around 2006. That show being, as you expect, is Sakura Wars. Please note that I am only really talking about the TV series here. Yes I am aware of the games, manga, OVAs and the movie but my focus will rest with the 25 episode TV series that aired in 2000. So what’s it all about?

Well Sakura Wars (Sakura Taisen in Japanese) is the story of Sakura Shinguji, a country girl who ventures to Tokyo to become part of the Imperial Combat Troupe-Flower Division, a part of the defense force defending the capital from the denizens of evil. Although at first, she is a bit out of her depths when dealing with the other team members, both during and outside of combat and training. Of course, in the process she becomes part of the team both on the battlefield and on the stage. All set with a backdrop of alternative historical 1920s, steampunk-esque Tokyo where advanced mecha technology converges with dark mystical power.
The story of this series rests on the hands of three men: Ohji Hiroi who developed the original manga and acted as creator/producer for the franchise, Satoru Akahori.the head of the writing team (series composition) and finally Kosuke Fujishima who along with Hidenori Matsubara handled the character designs which you tell as the character designs closely resemble those from the contemporaneous Ah My Goddess the Movie. And they managed to succeed in forging a franchise that persists for several years. Sakura Wars is a brilliant meld of Super Sentai, Japanese historical fiction and nice character driven storytelling.

Of course, the series itself is drawn back from being truly great and that is for two BIG reasons. The first reason is that the story takes a very ‘long game’ approach to the storytelling. Which means for one thing it takes time for the show to get really great, like in halfway through I would say. But once it does it becomes easily one of the most interesting and entertaining anime ever. A colleague of mine once told me that he tried watching Sakura Wars but couldn’t get past episode 7 or 8 and I can understand in that leads to my other reason: The cast starts off very unlikeable or very shallowly developed, with a few that come across very stand-offish or straight up loathing. But thanks to the ‘long game approach they do get appropriate development as they are shaped by the events that occur and their interactions with each other and others is really compelling for the last few episodes.

The animation is well, alright and functional. Granted this was done by Madhouse before they were particularly well-known for the quality work that they are known for nowadays. It also falls in that same category of previously reviewed anime like Nadesico and Silent Mobius where the meld of traditional cel animation and digitally painted cel animation/CG. This does make the anime look a bit rough around the edges but by the final few episodes the production look a bit more even. What works great in the show’s favor is the soundtrack, with music done by the legendary Kohei Tanaka. The OP as I have mentioned before is one of the best OPs I have heard-an all time favorite.

Now for the english dub. Oh boy, what an uneven jumble. Of course, this dub is brought by the now long defunct Monster Island Studios, the secondary studio in Austin that ADV ran from 1998 to 2005. This is the same group that dubbed stuff like My Dear Marie (my favorite and only recommendable dub from this group), Eden’s Bowy, Zaion and heck Wedding Peach. What hurts the dub is several things. For one thing, it starts off not really good, sort of directionless with either too much hammy overacting or too little effort put into the vocal performances. Most of the supporting cast sound alright, but the main cast aren’t all that good starting off, no surprise that aside from a few (Larissa Walcott and Samantha Inoue-Harte), this was the one and only project that they were involved with. Worse still most of them employ rather obviously fake accents. Though to be fair, they do grow into the roles by the end, though its too little too late.

So overall Sakura Wars is an example of a rather interesting premise that gets fudged up by production troubles but its still impressive given the effort and work that went into it. I would add that the TV show serves as a good primer for the whole franchise. My opinion of it might have soured against it recently, but the series hold some significance to me regardless.
Speaking of significance, the next series I am reviewing is also another real important show for me…..

Til next time, dear readers

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