AYWTYL 1: Sakurasou na Pet no Kanojo

sakurasou1Sakurasou na Pet no Kanojo, also known as The Pet Girl of Sakurasou or simply Sakurasou to fans, sounds pretty tame in most descriptions. Our protagonist, Sorata Kanda is kicked out of his highschool dorm for harboring a cat and winds up in the residence hall for ‘problem kids’. He vows to escape his new home, called Sakura Hall or Sakurasou, as he simply can’t stand the strange cast of characters that resides there. To compound his problems, a strange girl named Mashiro Shiina moves in and quickly reveals herself to be incapable of even the simplest of everyday tasks such as dressing herself or preparing food. Sorata now finds himself in the often awkward role of being Mashiro’s ‘handler’.

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Okay, so maybe that last part struck a 10 on your ecchi radar…and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The series does sport a decent amount of fan service, and there are definitely romantic overtones and tropes. However, any synopsis is deceiving because Sakurasou is more a tangle of interwoven plotlines and stories that share a common setting and theme. It’s much more character study than rom-com at times.

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At Sakuraou’s heart are messages about finding meaning and purpose in life, leaning on and learning from one another, and being true to yourself regardless of consequence. Nearly every character main, side, or auxiliary, have distinct personalities– but within Sakurasou’s halls, the residents fall into one of two very broad categories– they either excel naturally or struggle for a dream.

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Ryunosuke is SUCH a boss.

In the first category we find Misaki Kamiigusa and Ryunosuke Akasaka. The former is acclaimed for her gifts in animation and the latter is a genius programmer. He’s also one of my favorite characters ever, but I’ll resist my urge to derail this review on a tangent.

In the second category we have Jin Mitaka, Nanami Aoyama, and Sorata himself. Each of these hopefuls is influenced and directly affected by the gifted in the house. Jin, the object of Misaki’s infatuation, wants desperately to write scripts that can even hold a candle to Misaki’s art. Nanami has worked tirelessly to keep herself enrolled in school in order to acheive her big dreams of becoming a voice actress. Sorata discovers, as the story progresses, that his dream is to create video games.

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Mashiro acts as the catalyst, as she falls into both categories at the same time. She’s not only naturally gifted, but world renowned for her paintings. However, the entire reason for her presence in Japan is to make manga– a choice that the art world is decidedly set against. Sorata is, throughout the course of the anime, both inspired by her passion and discouraged by her talent and apparent lack of struggle. Both emotions play a large role in the arduous journey of chasing his own dream.

To go into too much detail would be to ruin some of the best moments of the series, but the real triumph of Sakurasou is its portrayal of dynamic, likable characters and the ways in which they interact with, affect, and change one another.

sadsakuraIt’s about friendship, love, and growing up, but even more it’s about the inequity of dreams. This anime pulls no punches when it comes to the idea that some people are born gifted and some have to work their asses off. Far from predictable, it doesn’t just hand out happy endings — it accurately reflects the heartache of realizing that sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. You end up really feeling the stumbles and set backs of the characters to the point where you have to wonder if it wouldn’t be better if they just gave up…if only for the sake of your heart as a viewer.

However, this is far from a tragedy and resonates with cheerful hope and optimism. There are many, many funny or touching moments and if the mid-season finale with Nyaboron doesn’t put a big fat grin on your face then there’s probably something wrong with you.

 

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The visuals are awesome. The character designs are vibrant, distinctive, and gorgeous. The animation is fluid and has a real knack for capturing tone as well as visual gags. The comedic timing is second to none and the voice acting is really well cast.

The background music isn’t anything stand-out as I look back on it, but I do enjoy all of the opening and ending themes.

When the anime ended, I definitely wanted more…and that’s always a good sign.

Is there a love triangle? Sure.
Is there romance? Definitely.
Are there various tropes and cliches of the school-drama? Yep.

You’ll enjoy all of them though and chances are you’ll enjoy this show.
So try it out! You might find, as I did, that you’ve got a new favorite series.

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Anime You Wouldn’t Think You’d Like – A Preface

neededit Preface harem anime AYWTYLAnime You Wouldn’t Think You’d Like is a series dedicated to  worthwhile anime that might otherwise go unnoticed or willfully ignored. These titles fall into all sorts of categories from the weird to the wacky to the plain surprising.

I was inspired to make a column like this after a panel at 2013’s Seishuncon kindled my interest with a sampling of titles I would have never even thought to check out. Stuff from genres I would generally never explore, series that showed character and depth even in the first episode or two.

That said, I’m not reviewing the first two AYWTYL  because of bizarre titles, weird premises, or the so bad it’s amazing honors that some featured titles will. In fact, these two, along with other titles I plan to cover, have a lot of fans and people who recognize them as the gems they are already.

So why the “anime you wouldn’t think you’d like” label? Well because I didn’t think I’d like them.

Yes, these two are here purely because of  easily made assumptions and a personal (former) bias . Bias against what, you ask?

Harem anime.

There, I said it.

Love+Hina_wallpapers_151I had nothing against it, really. It’s just that I, like many, met Ketaro and Tenchi back in the 90’s, made it through all or most of Love Hina and the No Need series(es)es)), and called it a day. Harem is as harem does, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…right?

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Well, I thought so at least. Sure I’d catch an episode here and there of something ridiculous and ecchi, and you’d best believe I’m current on several reverse harems… But unless it was outrageous and goofy or nicely filled that little Mary Sue deep in my heart, I didn’t see much point in checking out any title with one guy and more than one girl on the cover. I mean, there are only so many ways to retell the story of “hapless guy awash in a sea of love interests,” and that’s all the male-protagonist slice of life romances were… So I wrote the genre off.

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..highschool?

Then a friend of mine started telling me about titles he was watching. Titles with serious drama, unique characters, and all the feels. Titles that involved male protagonists…and romance. Titles that were…set in highschools. Titles that, as soon as I put two and two together, I started giving him shit for, truth be told.

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…and romance?

However– always an open mind (and a firm believer that mockery tastes better when you have ingredients to cook it with) I agreed to watch a few episodes with him.

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omnomnom.

Suffice it to say, that day I dined on crow.

I now depend on him to share his shows with me because, as it turns out, he has great taste.

So you can thank Brian for the first two AYWTYL entries, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo and White Album 2, because without him, I literally wouldn’t have known they existed.

Stay Tuned!