© Yujin / Shogakuwan / Kitty Film / Victor Entertainment
Sakura Diaries: Collector's Edition
Sakura Diaries comes from the hentai artist, U-Jin, reknowned for his more risque tales of sexual encounters. In Sakura Diaries, U-Jin takes the traditional romantic triangle and manages to spin an engaging slice-of-life tale about a college student's trials with love.
Sakura Diaries revolves around a young man named Touma Inaba, who travels from the country to the big city of Tokyo to attend college. In Japan, getting into a good college involves passing a series of entrance exams, designed to weed out those who have the aptitude to succeed from those who don't. Touma has applied to three separate universities; two are considered "middle class" and he banks on getting into one of those. The third is Keio, a prestigious institution that only accepts the best and brightest. Touma is resigned to the fact he's not Keio material and is taking the exam for the sheer hell of it.
The story opens with Touma spending the evening in a hotel recovering from the chill Tokyo air (and discovering some of the hotel's perks), when he receives a strange knock at the door. Not sure what to expect, Touma answers the door and is greeted by a cute girl in a school uniform. Touma is taken aback, as the girl proceeds into the room and announces that she is substituting for someone else due to an unplanned pregnancy. Touma suddenly clues in that she's a call girl, but is torn between the idea of sex with a cute girl and holding onto his virginity until he meets that "special" someone. He finally chooses the latter option and tosses her out of his room, much to her chagrin. We soon learn she's Touma's cousin, Urara, and she was playing a joke on him expecting Touma to remember her (they met once, many years ago). Touma, however, has a lot on his mind with the upcoming exams. Even so, he manages to fail the first two exams; the "easy" ones. Dejected at the thought of failing to get into university, Touma finds new resolve to pass the tough Keio exam when he meets Meiko. Meiko is also taking the Keio exam, and Touma falls instantly in love with her. Fate is not kind to Touma, for after failing his first two exams, he really has no shot at getting into Keio.
True to form, Touma flunks the exam, but rather than risk any chance he may have with Meiko, he lies and tells her he made it. Thus begins a tricky web of deception, as Touma enrolls in cram school so he can make another attempt at Keio the following year. At the same time, he must pretend to be a full-fledged Keio student if he has any chance with Meiko. Fate takes another turn when he arrives at his uncle's house in Tokyo, where he plans to spend the year. Much to his surprise, he again meets Urara, and learns that he'll be sharing the house with her and his uncle. Complicating matters are Urara's feelings for Touma, which lands Touma in a tricky situation. On the one hand, he has a cute cousin who feels genuine affection for him. On the other hand, he's madly in love with Meiko and must continue his charade as a Keio student lest she reject him. Not to mention the intense pressure of cram school, on which his entire academic future depends.
While Sakura Diaries uses the traditional romantic triangle, the injection of real human emotions and subsequent actions by the characters gives the series a life of its own. Characters behave in a down-to-earth fashion, particularly Touma. It's easy to identify and sympathize with him, since he's not some anime stud or chick-magnet. He's just an average student trying to cope with his strong feelings for Meiko, his hormonal urges, and the pressures of being a student. He does act like a jerk at times, and a lot of his decisions are far from ideal. But it's these mistakes and the life lessons that follow which allows his character to grow as the series progresses. Urara, his cousin, is much less indecisive, as she only has eyes for Touma. She's quite cute and charming, and her constant flirting (including striping in front of Touma on more than one occasion) results in a lot of amusing reactions from Touma. Completing the triangle is, of course, Meiko, the aloof Keio student possessing an ethereal beauty making her very popular among the male set. While Meiko's character is less developed that either Urara or Touma, we do get occasional insight into her own thoughts and emotions. A few other characters fill out the cast, including Komi, Urara's best friend; Kohji, a hilarious cram school student with plenty of wisdom for Touma; and Mashu, a classmate of Meiko and resident stud at Keio.
I must admit, I was a little uncertain if I would enjoy Sakura Diaries. Fears of an angsty teen drama overflowing with melodrama sprang into my head as I began the first episode. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Yes, Sakura Diaries does possess angst and drama, but it doesn't come across as being overdone. Emphasize is spent on developing the characters and creating believable situations, which gives the show a more realistic edge than your typical anime. The characters, particularly Touma, make mistakes and hurt those around them by doing so. They're not perfect, and in some ways, each is a little selfish in persuing their own desires. As the series progresses, Touma matures and learns much about life and love, and his ultimate choice shows us that he has come a long way from being a country bumpkin failing to get into college.
Production values are solid for a television series of this nature. The character designs are generally attractive and rendered with bright, color-rich artwork. The opening and closing themes are nice, while the various background themes are unremarkable. Since the dubbed version is not available as part of the Collector's Edition set, I wasn't able to check out how the English voice actors performed.
An issue which stirred up a bit of controversy was A.D. Vision's original licensing of the television version of Sakura Diaries. The version which played on Japanese TV was slightly edited compared to what was released to the home video market. There was some fan outrage, but A.D. Vision took steps to rectify this by licensing the uncut version and releasing as a DVD-only Collector's Edition (reviewed here). I can't speak for the differences since I've only seen the uncut version of the show, but the Collector's Edition beats the edited version in value alone (a two-disk set versus four separate disks).
While I found Sakura Diaries to possess an intrinsic charm, I realize this type of show is not for everyone. Fans of other teen/college dramas will probably enjoy this series, while those with an aversion for teen romance should look elsewhere. That said, I still think it's worth watching an episode or two, at least to see if Sakura Diaries will hook you the way it hooked me.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
|last modified: 05-26-03||The Anime Critic and associated content © 1999-2003 Pete Harcoff. All rights reserved.|