What’s it about? Five girls work in the tourism bureau of their small provincial town. The town revives its “micro-nation” tourism program, which originated from a nationwide movement during Japan’s bubble economy period, and hires the five girls as “monarchs” (tourism ambassadors).
Source: Anime News Network
I’ve talked in this season about how anime lose points with me every time they pander in their premiere episode, and have to do more to offset those negatives to get a positive review. Well, here is a great example of how this works in reverse. A protagonist with ambition and a clear goal? +1. Zero fanservice? +1. The ensemble cast making sure to include multiple adult women of a range of ages, aesthetics and attitudes? +1 +1 +1.
On top of this pretty solid foundation (what some might consider a bare minimum), Sakura Quest is also a fresh take on a princess story.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a princess!” gushes a starry-eyed girl, only to find out that it’s all true, get a makeover and expensive clothes, showing everyone that she had the potential to be beautiful and elegant and attract a handsome young man all along. Not so in Sakura Quest. First off, Yoshino doesn’t want to be a princess – she wants to be a queen. More specifically, her vague recollection of being crowned a queen at some point in her childhood is her happiest memory, and she wants to recapture that feeling of having a place of her own where she is indispensable.
Yoshino hates the idea of being ‘normal’ and is determined to make a success of life in Tokyo without returning to her rural hometown. She wants to feel special, which seems to mean escaping her fate to grow up and grow old in the countryside, even if that means taking secretarial work in one of the 30 companies she has applied to. When she gets her wish to be a queen, it is with a shabby costume over her own clothes in a run-down tourist attraction to a half-hearted audience of elderly residents, followed by a small drinking party with old men. It is far from the adoration and glamour she remembers, and she would rather be a nobody in Tokyo than a somebody in the middle of nowhere.
Sound a little bratty? This is the beauty of her character, already better fleshed out in a single episode than some shows manage in full seasons. Yoshino is well-meaning and hard-working but entitled and careless in a way that feels completely plausible for her age. (And when I say “completely plausible for her age” I mean “I remember being 20 and I am still cringing.”) She is immature without being childish, so set on one image of her future that she is unable to see the possibilities this opportunity offers her yet. However, she is also resourceful, determined and has a raw wish to be useful, which feels right for her age as well.
I am always drawn to character development, and Yoshino’s arc is predictable but appealing. I can’t wait to see her slowly become invested in this “ghost town” and pour heart and soul into a job with more tangible and rewarding markers of success than an entry-level white collar job in Tokyo. Characters choosing to work hard even in unexpected and unconventional circumstances is one of my favourite recurring anime elements, and from the opening credits it’s clear that Sakura Quest will deliver.
To top it off, Yoshino’s animation is expressive and her voice actor hits exactly the right mix of sweet and stubborn, giving life to a well-written character and marking Sakura Quest out as one to watch. There are more female characters to come, and if they all have such strong characterisation this will be a very satisfying ensemble show.
My one concern lies with Kadota, the old man in charge of this whole project, who originally wanted to hire his favourite idol from many years past and is almost too invested in the mythology of the ‘chupakabura’ (chupacabra, surely?) featuring himself as some kind of warrior king. He has the type of character which could see him speaking inappropriately to or about Yoshino, so I’m a little on edge with him. However, there’s nothing like that in this episode, despite obvious openings should they have wanted to go down that road, and his wish to revitalise the town he loves is an easy one to sympathise with. Fingers crossed they lean into his unintentional goofiness and hometown loyalty and stop short of him making blunt comments about Yoshino’s looks.
This feels like the anime version of a live action Japanese TV drama, many of which star adult women in the workplace without being sexualised, infantilised or overshadowed by male colleagues. This isn’t a hard feat to accomplish, it’s just something that anime don’t prioritise too often. A workplace anime is more likely to end up as New Game! than Shirobako, so Sakura Quest leaning sharply towards the latter feels like a rare treat for those of us who consume more anime than josei manga or J-dramas. This well-paced episode was a pleasure to watch, and this is likely to be a season favourite.