“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s such a simple question that often times has no answer because many people just honestly don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s here where P.A. Works brings their storytelling flair to answer that question, giving us Sakura Quest, a journey of one girl and her friends to save a dying town.
Koharu Yoshino is a girl with a dream of finding something special. Leaving her countryside home for the big city, she finds herself in a rut unable to find anything stable. With one last chance given to her way out in the countryside to help the dying town known as ‘Manoyama’, she ventures out to the almost forgotten town, and finds it in shambles with a giant castle dedicated to the Chupacabra. It’s here where she becomes the town’s ‘queen’ (aka, tourism spokesperson), and helps to revitalize the weathered village.
Focused on the progression of Yoshino and her new friends aiding the residents of Manoyama, Sakura Quest is a twenty five episode long journey showcasing the different ways its main female cast tries to resolve its low population and tourism rates be it through gimmicks, events, or by making the quality of life better for those who live in the town’s buildings. As a result, the show has a clear sense of progression and character growth as the show builds upon and explores the different facets of its cast and the culture of the town they live in.
What’s more is that the show sets the place up as a living, breathing community with episode after episode building more and more of the town that is Manoyama, giving the audience insight and history on how everything came to be. It feels genuine and like something that’s actually alive, a quality that benefits the show greatly by giving the side cast a role that’s essential for the storytelling of the overall product.
Despite that, the show runs itself in two different directions with two diverging themes. With the tourism board and the rest of Manoyama, the show focuses mainly on the idea of ‘home is what you make it’, as Sakura Quest showcases a heaping amount of worldbuilding with its sidecast showcasing their way of life to make the place feel as alive as it does. On the other hand, its quintet of five girls is funneled into ‘what do I want to do?’, as each of the five girls are given a sort of mini saga pertaining to their individual problems on what they want to do moving forward. The latter is quite stilted, as when compared to the former, the progression doesn’t really feel that natural. P.A. Works tries to use both at once on several occasions, but the former usually comes out on top and the supposed character progression, while nice, doesn’t come off as meaningful as it probably should.
All in all though, Sakura Quest was a solid show that fulfilled a great amount of what it set out to do. The progression of seeing how the characters grow and change to help the people of Manoyama is a very rewarding storyline to witness, and the little stories about each of the town’s residents was one of its best story elements as it gave the show an unexpected vibrancy that only improved its story. Indeed the progression for the main cast needed much help, but overall, the story was firm enough to stand on its own merits.
+ Good, gradual sense of progression
+ Excellent worldbuilding
– Main character growth feels forced
The Queen of Chupacabra herself, Koharu Yoshino, is a bright dreamer who puts her all into the tasks in front of her. Despite being initially confused and disgusted by the state of the place that her year long contract sent her to, she gradually becomes involved in all states with Manoyama, earnestly trying to help the people of the town and fulfilling her end of the contract. Her qualities as a protagonist really shine when you see her attitude change as the episodes roll by as she invests more and more time into learning and understanding the people of the town. Personally I think her progression is the most prominent and rewarding out of the bunch, as it feels more natural than the rest.
Maki and Ririko, or the actress become handywoman and the UMA girl, get the second-most attention in the series. Their stories refer to a wavered dream and self-expression respectively, and a good portion of the show dedicates their growth to overcome their struggles from the past in a semi-meaningful way. The problem I find with these two is, while they are given the time of day, their progression happens in a matter of episodes, placed back to back to give them a quick story to progress their character. In a show where things are slower, having this rushed progression made their stories feel more artificial than they should’ve, ultimately creating stories that while do impact the grand scheme of things, lose quality because they’re thrown in kind of haphazardly.
Sanae and Shiori however really don’t get the time of day. An IT girl and a country girl respectively, both of their stories are only mildly existent. There’re only about two, maybe three episodes that even mention the kind of internal struggles they have, and even then it’s so little that they never seem all that important. The imbalance becomes quite clear once the show picks up, and it sucks how the show left these two in the dust without really much payoff for them.
In terms of side cast, the majority of its members are the residents of Manoyama who as mentioned before, get a large majority of the show’s attention as Sakura Quest builds up its thriving community with more and more people with each passing episode from members in the board of merchants, to those in the tourism board and beyond. What I like most about this side cast is, there’s always something. There’s never just a generic trait or anything randomly tacked onto them. You might not remember their names, but you remember their story and the kinds of things that they had growing up. The side cast are treated like people, not characters, and that’s a quality that really stands out for the show.
+ Great main protagonist
+ Detailed and alive feeling side cast
– Other protagonists don’t feel as good
Produced by P.A. Works, the art for Sakura Quest is…less than stellar. The show has the customary ‘P.A. Works’ look to it with a bright color palette and rather nice backgrounds, but the overall quality really isn’t something worth batting an eye at.
Sure the quality is good, but when compared to a good number of the company’s previous works: Angel Beats!, NagiAsu, Charlotte, the quality just isn’t there. Of course I’m really just criticizing the art based on the show’s previous track record. In the grand scheme of things, it’s still…average. Nothing wrong with average, but it’s just…average.
+/- Average art
Since the show is two cours long, the show has two pairs of OPs and Eds all made by (K)NoW_NAME, each with their own flair and tone that separates one pair from the other.
For the first half, we have “Morning Glory” as the OP and “Freesia” as the ED, a pair of soft pieces with a bright and cheerful, and soft and somber tones respectively. Personally, when I think of ‘Sakura Quest’, I think of these two. They really connect to the slice of life theme that the show exudes and the bright optimism that Yoshino has when she’s trying to help the people of Manoyama. Not to mention both of them are really nice tracks with memorability due to the OP’s repeated chords and the ED’s soft chords complimented by snapping fingers.
In contrast, the second half has the songs “Lupinus” and “Baby’s Breath” as the OP and ED respectively. In contrast, Lupinus is a rock song with heavy emphasis on electric guitar as its instrument of choice. To be honest, the song doesn’t really fit Sakura Quest. Despite being a decent song, it’s a bit too energetic for what the show is, and doesn’t have that special quality to it to make it memorable. Its ED on the other hand is very similar to Freesia, relying instead on acoustic guitar accompanied by a softer voice to make it sound like you’re returning to your roots. Personally I think they’re all good songs, each with something to offer, though some more than others.
+ Good, memorable songs
– Second OP doesn’t really fit the show
There’s something about P.A. Works that I attach to. Maybe it’s the fact that they manage to input a fun little quirk within their shows to give them that special quality along with their message, the fact that most of their shows are original, or maybe it’s because a number of my favorite shows come from them. Regardless, P.A. Works is that one company I always anticipate, adoring their good shows and heavily criticizing their bad shows. They’ve done some bad shows in the past, and some…really bad ones (Haruchika, Glasslip, looking at you), but thankfully, Sakura Quest wasn’t one of those.
While Sakura Quest certainly isn’t one of their best works, or even their most noticed, it’s a show that is an honest return to form from the company. Admittedly it wasn’t the highest priority on my watchlist, but it was still something that I earnestly enjoyed because it really had the spark and quality of storytelling mixed with the inherent character wackiness that I like from P.A. Works. And honestly, that’s all I as a fan could ever hope for.
Did I like this show?
Yes. In particular, I really liked how the show shed light on some of its crankier members of the cast, changing them along with the story and turning Kadota and Chitose into likable and redeemed characters that I actually wanted to see more of. (Also Yoshino too, but that’s kind of a given.)
What didn’t I like about this show?
I don’t fully understand the need to do the whole five girls thing. They did this back in Shirobako, which albeit worked better, but quite honestly, seriously developing five characters takes a lot of time and effort, and the problems really show when Yoshino is the only one who greatly improved. Sure the others have change to them, but it’s really not that good. Also Sandal. He’s a…weird character. That’s just kinda shoved in there for the sake of being weird. (There’s also a surprising amount of Engrish in this show.)
Would I recommend this show?
Yes. Personally, I see Sakura Quest as an underrated gem that never really got the time of day it deserved. Sure the premise is weird, and it’s got a number of character problems, but the setting and the growth of the show over time feels so alive when you’re watching it that a number of those mistakes can be forgiven. But only some. Iunno, I just want people to watch this show cause I’m just happy we got a good P.A. Works for once.