In short, this is a romantic comedy, but I'll stop you right there before you start thinking it's anything like a typical love story. I would appeal to any thoughts that it's prefaced with stereotypes and clichés after the first two or three episodes to continue; by episode four I could already see that J.C. Staff were letting the characters drive the story, and my expectation that they would not be forced to fit into plot-convenient situations was well rewarded from extended viewing. The focus of a show like this is the characters and their relationships with each other. To summarize if you don't want to trail through the gigglefit of the rest of this review: Sakurasou is romantic comedy done right.
The central character exploration focuses on all the characters' struggles as equally important. The show's writers never elevated one conflict above another and made Misaki and Jin's relationship just as crucial as the Sorata x Aoyama x Mashiro triangle. Before anyone calls "harem" I'm coming to that right now. The love triangle works in a realistic sense more than other romcoms in the way it's dealt with as a (dis-)functioning relationship a lot of us might be able to identify with, whether you're the Aoyama or the Sorata of the group, Sakurasou isn't blaise about human emotion - in short, the show never makes love out to be a simple affair, something that reflects in J.C. Staff's other work, Toradora.
I think it's fairly easy to sum it up as a romantic comedy, but that wouldn't do it justice and certainly everyone's expectations are different with such a vague definition. The story of Sakurasou is an on-going and involved process starting with Sorata Kanda's banishment to Sakura-sou after he breaks the school rules of keeping a cat in his student dorm. The students of Sakura-sou are there because they are problematic, outcast from the general student body by eccentric whims. It soon becomes evident that each student residing there possesses some rare talent and drive to achieve more than the average teenager.
This is a love story, yes, but it shows that love is hard and impeded by misunderstandings, self-esteem, and other emotions that come about from external problems that present themselves in an organic way. Nothing ever felt intrusive or written purely to add drama, it flowed nicely and dealt with a range of problems and concerns that teenagers might face.
~~SPOILERS beyond this point~~
Sorata is a shy person, with low self-esteem and struggles with his own self-identity. At first, he seems naive to Aoyama's feelings for him, but I can't stress enough that he acts and thinks like a lot of average school boys, and here is where that realistic approach to his character comes in.
Where other romcom leads are oblivious to what's going on around them and rarely develop in the course of the show, Sorata learns, adapts, and perceives his situation to an extent that he's able to turn around failure, find the right words to comfort another, and understand when he's made a mistake.
While some of his mistakes are so dumb I could slap him for them, he kind of does that to himself when he figures out he's been a dumb-dumb. This is what I like about him, he feels like a real person and is able to grow from the average kid with little-to-no prospects in life, to a confident designer, learning that failure is never the end but a process.
In regards to Shiina Mashiro, the pertinent love interest of the show, his inferiority complex towards her natural talent drives the majority of the conflict. There are a few instances as a result of this where I actively disliked him but the writers make a good effort of relating his inner thoughts with us.
At times I could feel like I was being gently coerced to understand the feelings of the characters and why they act in a way that looks juvenile and petulant. But then I realized that I've acted that way, and so has everyone I've known. I'm criticizing the characters for what is a very natural and common thing that we reject in others because we hate to see it in ourselves.
Mashiro is also affected by that same talent gap. Her work came easy to her because it's all she's known, but she didn't know how to let people into her bubble of existence, didn't know how to empathise with others until she came to Sakurasou and met Sorata.
I've talked a lot with people about Mashiro Shiina, as she's easily the most controversial character of the show. She's a talented individual with an overwhelming skill in art, but lacks any form of common sense to start with. As a soft-spoken individual displaying little emotion and an inability to even dress herself properly, she at first appears to be air-headed. However, getting further into the show I noticed her ability to express emotion and an awareness subtly concealed beneath her demure manner.
She's able to figure things out by herself and I quickly realized that her model of socially acceptable standards is different to the average norm. Devoting most of her waking hours to her art wasn't because she had no interest in others, rather she didn't know how to interact with them and hadn't developed knowledge of any social etiquette.
There is a lot to be discussed about her depending on how you see her, but in my opinion she's not mentally challenged but very intelligent and, later, perceptive, but has always relied on others for mundane tasks that are natural to us.
People might critique the first few episodes in which Mashiro performs "ecchi" acts on Sorata, but they served as a purpose for her to study her story-writing and they weren't noticeably or intentionally lewd. The ecchi theme just isn't there, despite what you might hear. This one instance fit within Mashiro's personality and her ignorance to personal space and others' embarrassment.
Jin is the more analytical member of Sakurasou – until we meet Ryuunosuke - and the only complaint I had was that it frustrated me a little that he wasn't able to be completely honest with rejecting Misaki. The effort Misaki puts into showing Jin how she truly feels is evident enough that she does love him at least as much as he loves her, and I just wanted to scream in his face for him to stop being foolish. Luckily, Sorata did that for me.
Jin's blunder is part of what makes him human though. He gives out advice, is blunt and honest with his critique of others, and still makes a mistake in the same vain for reasons that aren't too unfamiliar with Sorata's own inferiority.
Misaki is the other artist of the group, and displays a vivid difference to the quiet personality of Mashiro. She's eccentric, bubbly, and jovial, but this doesn't stop her from being an incredible animator and having a more thoughtful side brought out in dramatic moments.
Aoyama is the last member to join Sakurasou, and from the outset she is confident and pushes herself until she literally keels over from fatigue. Her driving ambition is to be a voice actress, which her parents are staunchly against, and to this end she has done everything by her own agency. This plays up in the long-run when, although she is scared to confess to Sorata, she helps Misaki overcome her fears and find a resolution with Jin. She and Misaki are both a driving force for several events in the show but I would say Aoyama is more-so, even with all her insecurities and doubts.
The last pairing we see less of in the show is Akasaka Ryuunosuke and Rita Ainsworth – a former friend of Mashiro's from England. The former is a closet shut-in, his intellect having alienated him from group projects in school that he hardly ever shows up at school any more. Ryuunosuke has a knack for saying what's on his mind, to the grievance of those that have to hear the hard truth of it. One can even say he lacks empathy and doesn't consider others' feelings, but his words, while scathing, conflagrate the others into action, and he most certainly cares about his fellow Sakura-sou students.
For the most part J.C. Staff has always had an above average animating team, but there are several frames per episode with noticeable drawing issues. Facial proportions seem distorted by awkward angling, and at times I didn't get the impression that the characters were following an object of interest just to save time on the animating process.
Despite that, we have a lovely setting in both the high-school and the dormitory in which our cast reside and the animated rendition of Mashiro's paintings is exquisite.
The biggest problem I had was Mashiro's voice actress. Mashiro's emotions were conveyed solely by her dialogue until the final few episodes, lacking the stresses and intonations that should add more impact to them. She was fairly soft-spoken throughout the show, and only brought out a variety in the 20-somethings episodes. Sorata's seiyuu was perhaps the most versed in his role, and delivered a range of feeling that we could identify Sorata with, as with the other characters.
I don't really like talking about the sound because I'm not really a technical person, but despite the few voice acting quirks the music blended into the scenes and provided the right atmosphere.
It is a compelling drama motivated by human emotion. A decent adventure into relationships and social contact commonly paced with light-hearted comedy that always hits the right note. For most of the show had me laughing in places, my heart warmed by tender moments, and even a few tears for those dramatic pauses when the show opened up its heart and made me feel for the people in the story.
Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo is at the top of its genre, providing a great cast that are the proponents of the story. The only critique I have left is the title of the show becoming obsolete after the first third of the show.
Had it not been for my concerns with the animation and sound this would have been a straight 10/10.