Sakurasou is a lot of things, most simply a very good anime. But it’s also an interesting mass of contradictions and an intriguing mix of genres. It really strikes me that this is a fascinatingly original and creative take on teen romance that’s somehow, at its core, very conventional and predictable. I think that’s why each of the last two episodes has started out looking like something bold and exciting, and closed with an ending any anime or manga fan has seen a hundred times before.
I like Sorata just fine as a lead – anybody who names his cats after different Shinkansen trains is OK in my book – but I can’t help but think this show, good as it is, would have been even better if it had been like Mashiro’s manga, with the guy as the erratic artistic genius and the girl as the sensible and nondescript schlub who has to take care of him and falls in love. That would have been truly different, outside the expected norms of manga and anime. As it is, both Mashiro and Sorata are interesting characters in a fairly standard premise, and that dichotomy is always present in everything that happens in this series. Rather than something truly original so far it’s a standard teen romance done very competently, with occasional brilliant flashes of creativity.
Now, that said, if the execution is as good as it is with Sakurasou, I don’t think we’re really owed anything more than that. And without question this is a beautifully executed series. It seems to have been the absolutely Platonic ideal of a series for JC Staff – it suits their look perfectly and the content is smack in the heart of their comfort zone, too. There are echoes of Ano Natsu and more than echoes of Toradora, as Okada Mari finds her mojo again and Ishizuka Atsuko channels Nagai Tatsuyuki (which is a good thing to do in my book). I like pretty much all the characters even if, as deployed, they’re all pretty much stock roles for a series like this. Each episode is paced such that it has a beginning, middle and end – the art of intra-episodic pacing being one rarely mastered these days, and one JC Staff seems especially good at executing well.
To give due credit, what’s surprising is that we’ve gotten what feels very much like a series finale – albeit a thoroughly orthodox one – after the fourth episode. With so many eps still to go perhaps this is where Sakurasou will truly break out and become something less a product of what’s come before it and more its own animal. All in all the relationship between Sorata and Mashiro has moved very, very quickly considering this is two cours, which makes me wonder what the series has in mind from here. Is it going to be that rare anime romance that focuses on the couple and not the courtship, or will the focus turn to Sorata’s quest for self-identity? Will it become a romantic triangle as Aoyama-chan makes her move? Will it become a series of “routes” in the VN sense, where each of the residents of Sakurasou (I really want to see Hochan’s Akasaka-kun already) takes center stage for an arc as they chase their dream – or dream romantic partner?
The other thing that stands out about Sakurasou is that it definitely has the capacity to be profound, which presumably falls to the mangaka’s original work. There have been moments of real emotional truth in each episode, and while a bit too self-aware I especially liked Jin’s comment that talented people draw others to them, and that those people get torn apart. As Sorata says, though, it’s usually the case that they tear themselves apart. It’s hard to be with someone smarter or more talented than you, no matter how much we’d all like to rise above such things. Even if it remains at heart a conventional story rather than a true ground-breaker, Sakurasou seems to have a good sense of human nature and a deft way of showing it off – and if predictability is the thing that limits its upside, it’s that keen emotional radar that provides assurances that it will never be less than an entertaining and involving show.