Sakura Quest, by many standards, is not an impressive show. It does a number of things poorly, from establishing characters and their motives to focusing on them individually in any effective way. These girls fall flat, not entirely because of their personality, but also by the way their personality was presented. Girls with backgrounds that lack uniqueness or interesting dichotomies between them, they all just get along without any entertaining complications and work on improving a town that no one, not even the townsfolk, really cares about. Before I get too into the weeds, the core cast of this show lacks what the elder side characters already have—a sense of belonging, strong character traits, compelling chemistries and dichotomies—and it all shines through by episode 16.
[Now, I’m not giving Sakura Quest any sort of recommendation, this isn’t one of those things where I pointlessly defend a thing I like even though it’s rough at the start by saying something like “it gets good at episode 16”. Everyone has their breaking points, but I feel 16 is a safe bet for “not worth it”. Anyway, I merely wanted to write about this because I found something that interested me in a show that was otherwise fairly disappointing.]
It all starts building up from the start of the second half of the season (episode 14), where a bunch of Spanish enthusiasts-of-the-supernatural are lured in by the town’s whole “only sighting of Chupacabra in Japan” tourist trap thing. They’re all pretty nice and they make friends with locals after getting over the language barriers. While they’re in town, Sakura pond turns out to be scheduled for a draining session after like 50 or so years. The tourists and townsfolk are interested in seeing what’s at the bottom of the pond, hoping they might find a Chupacabra skeleton or something, but this upsets Kadota (the old guy, head of the town’s tourism bureau) for some unknown reason. At night, he sneaks out and tries to tow something out of the pond without anyone noticing. He fails twice, ending up in the hospital because he’s an old man trying to do hard labor by himself.
The girls find out from some of the town elders (that bitter lady and that mechanic guy) that when they were young, Kadota and them started a band. Together they planned on leaving for Tokyo without telling their families, but the night they were supposed to sneak out of town, Kadota decided to crash the town festival and sink the ceremonial floating shrine in a boneheaded act of rebellion. The annual festival never returned after that night and their band was no more. Of course, behind Kadota’s “boneheaded act of rebellion” was a desire to “wake” his town, to make it change and thrive and stop being so simple and empty.
It makes a lot of sense now that he ended up the head of the tourism board, his motive now being clear, turning him into a more admirable character as a result. We now know what sparked the feud between Kadota and Chitose too (his bandmate), meaning it wasn’t just their personalities that caused them to butt heads, but a history they tried to forget. This builds character in a number of ways, letting the audience know they’re tied together in a way other than proximity. We now know what Kadota when he was young, and how in certain aspects he never grew from those days. Chitose is now imbued with a sense of regret, and a sense of resentment over what had happened, and what she still hasn’t managed to do after all these years.
Sakura Quest becomes a deeper, sadder story as we delve into the lives of these elders, and it’s just the hook the show could’ve used at the very beginning. Surprisingly enough, these young, supple girls just don’t hold a candle to their old, wrinkly elders when it comes to having anything intriguing about them. The seniors have spent their whole lives in the same place, currently walking-talking warning signs, symbols of what not to do in life. Both Chitose and Kadota talk a little to the some of the girls about their regrets, with mournful quotes like “nothing matters when you’re old, so live life while you can”. It’s a bit striking, a bit melancholic, and it shows how desperately in need of hope the residents of this place really are. Hopefully Kadota and the new tourist bureau can bring it to them.