What They Say
It is the 1920s, and Japan is under attack by demonic invaders. The government has designed sturdy, albeit steam-powered, robot armor suits for the impending battle, but only young ladies with the proper combination of virtue and spirit can pilot the robots successfully. Enter young Sakura, arriving in the Imperial Capital from the countryside to join the Imperial Flower Combat Troop.
For this viewing, I listened to the English dub, which is offered in 5.1 surround sound. The Japanese track is available in 2.0. The sound is clear with little drop out, and the surround adds some nice depth, however, the mix is fairly basic. The dialogue stays on the center track, but there is some directionality added to the sound effects, especially during the fight scenes. It would have been nice if they utilized the technology a bit more, but it sounds fine.
The visuals were a disappointment. For a series that is only a decade old at this point, this release looks particularly dated. The imagery is in a soft focus, and the colors look a bit washed out. To add to it, there is also a bit of aliasing at times, though with stronger coloring it probably would not be as noticeable. This is definitely a title that could have used some remastering. As it is, it just looks old.
Have I ever mentioned that I hate STACKpacks? That is what the Complete Sakura Wars TV Series comes in. The design is decent, with a nice picture of Sakura on the cover in her traditional kimono with sword by her side set against a pink image of her Oobu. The back has some screen shots, as well as some small profile images of each of the girls, mixed in with the summary and technical details. It is a basic design, but a nice one. Yet I just cannot get over it being a STACKpack. At least Sentai are starting to put pieces of thick foam in the booklet section to prevent as much shifting of the discs as possible, but I am still not a fan.
Pretty basic design here, too. The menu is a static picture, with two of the girls off to the right, and the selections aligned to the top, all set to a general pink theme. The edges of the screen are lined with steel girders, hinting at the steampunk nature. A slow song with traditional Japanese influences plays while in the menu. It is a fine menu, as it is easy to follow, but also unspectacular.
All that is available for extras are clean versions of the opening and closing and a few trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sakura Wars was an anime that I had wanted to see for some time. I read the first volume of the Sakura Taisen manga when Tokyopop began publishing it in 2007, and it the concept was neat enough to make me want to see more, though until now I had not had a chance. Unfortunately, the TV Series—which I understand is quite different from the manga—does not quite live up to what I had in mind three years ago. It still has potential, and I still liked a lot of it, but there are a few things dragging it down that I just cannot get past.
Sakura Shinguji is the last surviving member of the Shinguji family, and the heir to the spirit energy of her ancestors. As such, she is the designated wielder of the family’s Spirit Sword and a prime candidate to fight evil. Her destiny is fully realized when she is called upon by General Yoneda to join the military’s secret Flower Division to help prevent a reoccurrence of the Kouma (Demon) War which killed her father and threatened humanity just five years earlier.
Imagine Sakura’s surprise when she arrives in Tokyo and finds that as part of her cover she is expected to join the Grand Imperial Theatre as a performer. Since she has never performed on stage, the concepts of acting, dancing, and singing are fairly new to her. Add in that the Flower Division uses powerful machines known as Oobu in its struggle against the kouma, and Sakura has a lot to get used to in just a little time.
All of this put together means that Sakura has a tough time getting used to her new job, and therefore struggles to fit in with the other members of the Division—in particular Sumire Kanzaki, the lead actress of the troupe who views Sakura as a klutz and refuses to accept why Sakura has joined up. But despite any initial flaws Sakura might have, the higher ups in the military understand that she has to be the focus of any defense plan if the kouma are ever going to be defeated. The question is whether or not she can handle the pressure.
There was quite a bit to like about the Sakura Wars TV Series. The plot was interesting, the action fairly intense, and there were quite a few really good characters. I particularly liked Setsuna, a demon and member of the Black Sanctum Council who likes to draw on the fears and weaknesses of his victims. There are some truly chilling scenes when he is playing around with his prey, which adds some deep levels of darkness to what is already a fairly dark conflict. But he also acts like the child he is depicted as: loves to have fun at others’ expenses, but whines and complains the moment things stop going his way. He’s a petulant bully, and I really liked the dynamic he brought to the table.
I also really liked the setting. It was neat to see steampunk being brought into a Japanese setting. Typically, steampunk takes place in an industrial-revolution-Londonesque-type setting, which lends a Western/European flair to the plot and characters. Sakura Wars takes the same steampunk concepts, and instead places it in industrial-revolution-Japan. Nothing else about the concepts of steampunk change, but by switching locations, there is a different tint to the proceedings. And it made for some nice changes.
But there were a few things that I did not like about Sakura Wars, and they were strong enough that it really hampered my enjoyment of it. For starters, the series tends towards some rather sugary scenes of camaraderie and friendship that was a little too sweet for my liking. I understand that the majority of the cast are female, but the syrupy scenes really did not gel well with the otherwise dark nature of the conflict at hand. The episode of the troupe attempting to throw a proper birthday party for the little girl, Iris, especially stands out to me as one I am fine with if I never see again.
My biggest issue, however, was with Sumire. As the emotional antagonist for Sakura, it is natural that Sumire would start the series as unlikeable. I can accept that. However, she comes off as such a bitch for much of the series that it hampered my enjoyment of everything else. It is one thing for the plot to make me want to root for either her fall or her redemption, but instead I just did not want to watch any scene she was in. And being Sakura’s rival meant she was in every scene. When she was finally redeemed, and the conflict between her and Sakura was finally resolved, I found that I was angry that they went the redemption route with her. And unfortunately, my level of dislike for her clouded everything else that the series tried to do.
The Sakura Wars TV Series was one that I really wanted to like. Most of the characters were great, the central conflict was well put together, and I adore the concept of steampunk in different settings (in this case, Japan). But the tendencies toward sweetness combines with my loathing of Sumire really ruined for me what otherwise might have been a decent title. Someday I might rewatch it with the idea of trying to ignore those things, but they really jumped out on me on a first run-through. It certainly was not the worst thing I have seen, but it was disappointing. Thumbs firmly in the middle.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: C
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: D
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 4th, 2009
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080p, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System