I’ve had the nagging feeling for a while that Sakurasou was a series torn between two impulses – one, to be a somewhat radical and certainly unusual mix of different genres and styles, with a penchant for the major surprise. And two, that it was basically a formula teen romantic comedy with above-average execution. My opinion on which side was winning has tended to waver as the tone of the series has shifted, and the argument seemed to be playing out on-screen. I like the show either way, but my personal preference would certainly be that Sakurasou’s true nature is the mold-breaker – but my gut feeling was that it when it came right down to it, the show was pulling its punches a little bit.
This episode, for what it’s worth, might not be proof that the conventional gene is dominant but for one week certainly points Sakurasou in that direction. It was easily the most formulaic episode so far, and a lot of that is laid at the doorstep of Aoyama. She represents the third point of the love triangle that seems destined to emerge as a dominant – and quite formulaic in itself – theme, but not only that, she’s a rather formulaic character herself. She’s the male lead’s “bro” – the brash and outgoing pal who longs for more, and seethes as the new romantic interest turns his head. On top of that she has a violent streak and plays the tsundere role to the hilt.
Given that we’ve seen all those things a thousand times before and none of them are especially favorites of mine, it’s not a huge surprise that I wasn’t overly keen on the direction Aoyama’s shift into a starring role took Sakurasou this week. While the premise for her moving into Sakurasou itself is perfectly logical and relatable – she needs to make it on her own because her parents disapprove of her ambitions and Sakurasou is a cheap place to live – the show feels more tired and played-out when she’s heavily involved. Misunderstanding comedy where the female friend gets the wrong idea, the guy getting punched in the nose for being nice, panty innuendo – it’s all pretty old-hat at this point, and even when it’s done well (the exploding watermelon gag and random voices were quite clever) it’s hard to do that sort of thing and make it really interesting. And for me, there wasn’t much happening this week that was really interesting – apart, perhaps, from Shiina’s somewhat more assertive role in staking her territory, which represents a potentially fruitful direction for her character to go. If Aoyama’s presence in Sakurasou has a net positive impact, that’s where it lies so far.
One thing that really stood out from last week’s 4th episode is how much of an air of finality it had, considering it was only the fourth episode of a two-cour series. What that made obvious was that whatever kind of series Sakurasou is, we really hadn’t seen it yet – those four episodes were just the prologue, the setup. Would it be a conventional three-cornered teen romance, a bildungsroman about Sorata’s quest for a purpose, an ensemble series à la Mahoraba (a truly original show)? The answer to that is going to determine everything in terms of what kind of staying power the show has, because being really good at doing the conventional can’t take you as far as truly having something to say. There’s a lot of potential here still – Misaki and Jin’s dysfunctional relationship, the mysterious hikikomori Akasaka and his influence on Sorata, and Shiina herself. She remains largely a cipher at this point so she too is a question whose answer will be critical to the success of Sakurasou. I still have hopes for this show’s upside and I don’t see any reason to think it won’t at least be entertaining, but I’m withholding judgment because right now, the early returns just aren’t conclusive.