One of the problems that faces all studios, regardless of their medium, is how to build on success. The most obvious solution is to create a sequel, however as most people know, the sequel is rarely on par with the original, and it's unfortunate that following the success of the Sakura Taisen game and the OVA Ouka Kenran, the follow-up anime is guilty as charged.
Released in 1999, Sakura Taisen: Gouka Kenran is set between the first two games and follows the lives of the members of the Imperial Assault Force - Flower Division. The Demon Wars have ended, and the members of Teikoku Kagekidan Hanagumi are finally able to rest, recuperate, and focus on their work in the theatre.
Unlike the first OVA though, Gouka Kenran (which actually translates to The Radiant Gorgeous Blooming Flowers - the first OVA was called The Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms), focuses on the characters in a much more direct manner. Because of this, the second OVA is often called a "character study", and while there are nods in that direction, in truth this is nothing more than a secondary introduction to the characters. Each episode is about one or more of the characters, and contain a mixture of drama and comedy, with little in the way of action over the course of the OVA.
Deviating slightly from the main review here, there is one major factor that affects every aspect of this OVA, and it needs to be mentioned. The second OVA is not simply a sequel in the same sense as something like the Aria series, and the main reason for this is because of the owners of the franchise - Red Entertainment and Sega. The success of the game and first OVA caused them to try and capitalise on the franchise. Unfortunately they decided to do this by changing not only the series director, but the animation studio as well. This change has played a pivotal role in the creation of the OVA, and for those who have watched Ouka Genran, the differences are obvious and, at times, extreme.
Going back to the review, there is a distinct lack of focus in Gouka Kenran. The decision to replace the original director, Ishiyama Takaaki, with Kudo Susumu, was a poor one indeed. That is no criticism of Kudo's skills as a director however, it simply means that it would have been preferable to have someone familiar with the characters at the helm. The change from one director to another impacts greatly on the pacing and style of Gouka Kenran, in particular the elements that made Sakura Taisen such a popular series. Kudo has tried to stamp his mark on the series whilst remaining true to the original game and OVA, and it's unfortunate that it hasn't worked for the most part. The plot tends to drag, or be overly dramatic at times, and without any real action to balance it, the OVA can become a chore to watch for some.
Another aspect that has been adversely affected by the produciton changes is the art and animation. Where the orginal OVA was produced by Madhouse, Gouka Kenran was made by ANIMATE, and the difference is telling. The animation in the second OVA is a definite step down for the series, especially as the characters move in decidely rigid, and at times robotic, manner. The colours are as bright and cheery as they were in the first OVA, however the backgrounds have a far more "cartoon" feel to them. The only thing that couldn't really be changed was the character design, however the implementation makes them look odd at times.
It's strange, but the one area that seems not to have suffered from the production changes is the sound and music. This may be partly due to the fact that the cast from the original OVA reprised their roles in the sequel, but on the whole the sound throughout the anime is of a decent standard. The music is well chosen, although some of the comedic scenes could have done without the comedic music. The effects are well used for the most part, however there are occasions when the vocals take a back seat.
On the whole though, the sound is reasonably good.
One would think that, given that this is supposed to be a character study, there would be some good characterisations and development. Unfortunately this is not the case. The fact that the series tries to focus on almost all of the members of Teikoku Kagekidan Hanagumi precludes any substantial development for any of them, and is the reason why I called this more of a secondary introduction rather than a study. If the intent was to study the characters, then the series should have been at least 26 episodes instead of 6 as there just isn't enough time to go into any kind of detail. That doesn't mean that the characters are bad though, as they are all likable in their own way. No, the problem is that there just isn't enough time spent with each character to make the audience relate to them.
As with the original OVA, this is a tough one to recommend to any but fans of the franchise. It's unfortunate, but also true, that one should watch the original OVA before watching this as well, as this way the viewer will at least have an idea of what's going on, who each character is, and why they are in the anime. Although it lacks the same kind of pace and punch as the first OVA, the fact that the characters are effectively allowed to "step out" of their roles is an interesting approach that, due to time issues, doesn't actually work out.
Ultimately though, the entire OVA is effectively all "filler", which is a shame as it could have been so much more.