I won’t pretend for a moment that Yozakura Quartet is anything profound or brilliant, but there’s a certain charm to this series that usually manages to put a smile on my face. It drifts and sputters sometimes, but when it focuses on something it can deliver surprisingly compelling plot, and the atmospherics are pretty reliable even when the plot is AWOL. And after a couple of so-so episodes, it’s nice to see Hana no Uta finish with one of its best.
Yozakura Quartet is really the story of two men, mangaka Yasuda Suzuhito and Director/Animation Director Ryo-timo. Yozakura already had one TV series, with a good director (Kou Matsuo) but it wasn’t until Ryo-timo applied his unique vision to it that it really blossomed as an anime. It’s ironic that so many fans of the manga love to complain about Ryo-timo’s changes to the designs, because Yasuda-sensei loves them – he’s a full collaborator with this series, working on scripts and animation. His story is all quirks and characters under-reacting to the ridiculous and episodes that seem to start and stop in the middle of other episodes. It’s a state of mind as much as a traditional narrative, and Ryo-timo’s adolescent, restless creative genius is a perfect match for it.
Nothing every really happens traditionally with Yozakura Quartet, and this “ending” is no exception. Of course it stops in the middle of a conflict with no resolution, but the next part of the story is already underway in the OVA series Tsuki ni Naku (the franchise’s second OVA series), and that will stop in the middle too. This series is selling much better than the Nomad one, though hardly a blockbuster – about 3000 units for the first volume – so it seems at least possible that Tatsunoko (who’ve become a reliable source for throwback, 1990’s Gainax-style animation) might produce more anime after Tsuki ni Naku ends. I hope so.
While the Juri/Lila subplot was a snoozer, the TV at least has the good fortune to close with an episode focused on Enjin. He always seems to be involved in Yozakura’s best dramatic moments, and his special connection with Akina means that the latter never feels more relevant and connected than when he’s battling Enjin. Enjin basically represents Akina’s darkness incarnate, and he’s inhabiting the purloined body of Akina’s best friend – it’s easy to imagine why it’s so agonizing for Akina to have these skirmishes with him.
We’re finally teased with another glimpse of the other side, but as usual it’s just a tease – we never get to see what Enjin shows Akina, though it’s clearly not pleasant (and probably involves his grandfather). This is always the elephant in the room with Yozakura Quartet and I suppose if the series ever gets around to actually having an ending, the other dimension is going to be at the heart of it (I’ve always thought that it was a metaphor for the afterlife). Enjin’s power to summon – the legacy of his being part of the “branch” side of the Hizumi clan that split off after the birth of twins, centuries earlier – is a game changer in this story. As is the fact which he reveals to the Vice-principal, namely that in both himself and Akina lies the power to do what the other side of the family can do – though in Akina’s case that power is dormant.
When Enjin and this storyline aren’t in-focus, Yozakura tends to be a lark. It relies on the fanservice, the cheerfully bizarre character dynamics and Ryo-timo’s always interesting visuals to get by. That’s certainly enough for the most part, though it gets a little thin from time to time. That’s what the series is, really – a fantastical and absurd slice-of-life with short bursts of intense action and a near-record number of panty shots (which Ryo-timo proves endlessly creative in finding ways to deliver). Anime certainly needs series like that, even if they’ll never be the standouts on the schedule – and it needs more creators like Ryo-timo, who seem incapable of a shot or a scene that isn’t interesting to look at. If there’s more Yozakura Quartet and he’s the guy behind the camera, I’ll definitely be watching.