Sakura Wars is another show that has sat on my shelf for years. I always like to get everything from a series before watching it, so I don’t forget possibly crucial information that is needed in the subsequent movies and OVAs. Thankfully I finally got around to watching this without buying the other parts to this universe, as it saved me from spending money on this truly awful series.
Story - 2/10
This series suffered from having a somewhat interesting plot, a group of mecha piloting fighters with special powers who moonlight as actors for a famous playhouse, but failing to know what to do with any of it. While I know the series is based on a popular video game franchise, you need to assume a portion, if not a large portion, of your audience is going to be new to the series and can’t just fill in the blanks from previous versions of the story.
Throughout the series the ladies battle demons with a backstory as iffy as the girls themselves. Eventually there is a larger villain to overcome, but much like with the battles before it, they are able to defeat their foe by having their secret inner power conveniently come out at just the right time. I do appreciate that they tried to add a little suspense here and there with the fights, but it’s just the nature of most forms of entertainment where the good guy always has to win, they just made the ability to win cheap, instead of having to actually write good way for the girls to succeed.
The theater aspect of the show just felt as if it was there to cause petty conflict between the girls, playing on the worst possibly stereotypes that young females just want the spotlight and will hurt anyone who gets in their way. While they talk about how the ability to perform on stage should correlate to performing in their Kobu robots, almost all the play scenes consist of Sakura screwing up and the audience thinking it’s all part of the show.
The one promising portion of the show, focusing on Sakura and her attempts to help Iris deal with her powers and everything going on around her, added some life to the story, but would have been much better if they found a way to tie Sakura’s advice into her own life’s experiences. Since Sakura was also just getting to know her inner strength, they could have had her and Iris grow together, but instead they just had Iris essentially become a Super Saiyan, where she would scream when her friends were in danger and suddenly they’d all be saved.
The bad attempts to copy other anime series don’t stop at little our Goku, and it won’t be the last time that series has a major moment relived in Sakura Wars. As with many series, both in the anime world and outside, they had to add in a scene where the military is just as bad as the monsters, but our heroes will instead save the day! Likewise they forced in one the of the stupidest tropes that every mecha series feels they need to shoehorn in, that somehow the robots are actually feeling creatures just like humans, thinking that they are being deep and profound in the process. Finally that callback to the biggest anime (probably) of all time, in order to finally overcome to greatest evil all the girls needed was for their fans to chant “we believe in you,” and suddenly they have the power to defeat Kid Buu, I mean Major Yamazaki.
As much as I disliked the story here, I think that if it was given to a different creative team and produced with a wider audience in mind, they could have actually had a very good show, also provided they cut it down to a dozen episodes.
Animation - 6/10
While the character designs were pretty basic and unoriginal, the art itself was on par with other decent works created at the end of the millennium. The only real gripes I have are that some portions of the show look as if they just tossed a blur filter over the top layer of animation, which could be an issue in the digitizing process of each frame, while others were created to be in very dark environments with all the main elements also being dark, causing the scene to be visually underwhelming if not pointless. This over darkening of scenes screwed with lots of the scenery too, which otherwise appeared to be very nicely drawn and colored. Being able to create something visually stunning, but without a proper light source, is an art unto itself, and here the team had no idea how to do it.
Sound - 4/10
It would appear that Sakura Wars was dubbed in the heyday of anime being imported into the U.S., but sadly I don’t mean that in a good way. Listening to the show I would guess all the very good, kind of good and not so good voice over artist were booked on other jobs, because pretty much everyone in this series sounds awful. From their lack of emotion, unclear speaking voices and just overall terrible sound, there were very few moments in this series that weren’t an auditory train wreck.
They tried to go with a wide variety of voice styles for the members of the Flower Division, which in this case just didn’t work out. Besides our titular character Sakura, who’s artist did a decent job at voicing her character, everyone is just out of place. Sumire is an annoying valley girl with a lisp, Tachibana a Russian with an ever changing accent, Iris the typical annoying little girl, who also can’t decide if she’s French or Russian, and Kohran the nerd from pretty much every series of this time. Truly the worst of the characters is Kanna, who apparently is supposed to be a oaf from Brooklyn, New York, or so her voice would have you believe.
Music wise things aren’t so bad. The opening theme is quite catchy and sounds like many from this period of anime. The first closing is also typical of what this type of series, from this time span, would have, just a soft pop song. The second closing is a bit different, it’s a alternate version of the opening, with some traditional Japanese sounding music, but just really awful singing. Background music for the show often worked well with the scenes and some actually sounded pretty good, though it could have just been because I wanted to hear anything besides the bad plot and terrible voices.
Characters - 2/10
To say these characters are almost all awful and unlikable would be a massive understatement. There are series that give good characters flaws, in order to make them more realistic, here they just made the characters nothing but flaws.
Obviously, by the title, our main heroine is Sakura, the daughter of a former military officer who was instrumental in defeating the demons last time they appeared. She’s a somewhat innocent and naive girl who has powers that allow her to become an important part of the Flower Troop. Unfortunatly at the end of the series she’s still a naive and pretty absent minded girl who generally screws everything up and only succeeds by accident. The peak of her stupidity comes near the end of the series, when she just has to wait for Kohran, “Because we’re a team!!!!” completely disregarding the fact that by doing so hundreds of people will die, but you know “friendship” and all. At points in the series it was possible to look at her as likable character, but really in the end she’s as terrible as everything else in this anime.
The rest of the flower troop consist of ladies with cliche roles and weak personalities. Kanzaki is the mean high school girl who is resentful of the new girl getting attention. Tachibana is the wise and stoic former military officer. Kohran is the tech nerd.. Worst of all is Iris, another child character who holds no real purpose for being in the show outside of being massively annoying, yet somehow anime creators still think a useless screaming child makes for a good character. The least terrible of the members is Kanna, sure they make her appear to be a tomboyish putz, but she’s probably the only member who has a level headed vision of the world, is compassionate and is a loyal friend, this show should have been Kanna Wars, maybe it wouldn’t have been bad.
The worst part of all with the characters, which is often the case with shows that don’t know where they are going, is the lack of good back story, their connection to those watching and an overall unnoticeable change or growth in characters.
Overall - 2/10
I’m not familiar with the game, but from the anime it seems as if the creators really had no idea where they wanted to go. It appears as if they were trying something a bit new, A Historical Superpower Mech show targeted to a more female audience, but instead what they put out was just a bunch of annoying characters arguing with each other, and then a snap conclusion done in a very cheap way.
I think the show’s idea, given to a writer and director who has some clue how to create interesting work, and limited to a twelve episode series, could be done very well, but as for this iteration, it’s just too many badly thought up ideas, thrown at a wall, where none of them stuck.
If you have played the game (Sakura Taisen 2) and developed an emotional connection with the characters, then I think it’s safe to say you will enjoy the show. If you haven’t, then I think you will probably enjoy the show, but not as much as a good original series or manga adaptation.
The villain-related plot is tripe, as expected. It follows the basic contours of the game but with large modifications, which made it slightly less tedious than having to watch the game’s plot again. However, the overwhelming focus of the series is on the main characters, and so the weakness of the overall plot is not as large of a demerit as it would otherwise have been.
The character development plots were well executed. When Sakura first arrives at the theatre, the other girls seem like complete b##ches (not even Iris is spared), but thaw out gradually over the course of the series in a natural way. Every character gets roughly equal amounts of screentime, apart from Sakura (who gets most) and Kanna (who gets least). Thankfully there is are no romance subplots, and Ohgami general stays out of the way, so fans of any particular girl bar Kanna should be satisfied. I feel that a light, light touch of sexual tension between the girls would have spiced things up a little, but I understand the creator’s decision to keep it completely sexless.
Sumire’s subplot deserves special praise. She is always the antagonist in the intra-troupe spats, but as the series goes on one realises that, while undeniably proud, her worst excesses are an act to protect herself from intimacy, which she has little idea of how to deal with. Her influence on the plot almost rivals Sakura’s.
Voice actors are the same as the game’s. Sumire and Ayame put in excellent performances. Sakura, Iris, Ohgami, Maria and Yoneda are good. Kanna and Kouran perform adequately, but Kanna’s timbre grated on my ears, and they should have hired a real Osakan to play Kouran, rather than have a Tokyoite fake it badly.
Character design and expressions are top-notch. The animators did well to preserve the quality of Kousuke Fujishima’s original designs. As expected, Sakura gets the most creator attention in this regard, but Sumire gets a suprosing amount too. The rest of the animation is good, with a strong sense of style holding everything together, with the major exception of the terrible CGI used for the Koubu simulations.
The OP has become a classic that every Japanese person young at the turn of the millennium will know. The rest of the music is an enjoyable mix of original compositions and tunes adapted from the game itself. The stage musicals don’t get much love unfortunately, with only a few bars composed for each. ED was OK but I usually skipped it.
I enjoyed watching Sakura Taisen. I took many screenshots of Sakura and Sumire (those eyebrows ( ・∇・) ). If you have played the game then I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you have not, give the first 4 or 5 episodes a try. If you like Sakura, then you can watch the whole series without caring much about the rest ^_^