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ADV Films presents
Sakura Diaries: CE (1997)

"At the time, I didn't fully realize this unseemly act of consolation took all the strength she had. I was too blind to see it."
- Touma Inaba (Mitsuaki Madono)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: February 15, 2002

Stars: Kyoko Hikami, Mitsuaki Madono, Mako Hyoudou
Other Stars: Rumi Kasahara, Kunihiko Yasui, Mashuu Tatsuhiko, Naoki Tatsuta, Ishii Naoko, Yuriko Sadaoka
Director: Hiroyuki Yanagise

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (17+ for nudity, mature situations)
Run Time: 04h:22m:42s
Release Date: December 04, 2001
UPC: 702727018824
Genre: anime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-A-A C+

DVD Review

Sakura Diaries (Sakura Tsuushin) takes an interesting place in the anime genre. While the covers suggest that it is a fanservice comedy with a tried-and-true love triangle, there is a lot more maturity involved in the storytelling, which changes the perception of this title significantly. While there is ongoing comedic content throughout, the characters and situations are a lot closer to reality in many aspects, and the show does deal with some situations that are truly uncomfortable, even bearing in mind the cultural differences that allow for the relationship setup of the main characters. Several layers of Japanese society are touched on here, in addition to the examination of a young man facing the challenges of entering adulthood from both an adolescent and more mature viewpoint. It is that clash of childishness and adult responsibility that hinge the series together, but the context has to be seen against the structure of life in Japan. The educational system is the gateway to success in Japan, with high school as a foundation for the extremely difficult entrance exams to college. Acceptance in these institutions paves the way for secure and profitable careers in business, while failing to get in means a more menial lifestyle, and that barrier is extremely significant. For those who fail the exams, there is an educational wasteland known as cram school, which is derided by those who make the cut and are accepted into college. Cram school students are considered losers, so it is not something one brags about. This is one of the fundamental dilemmas for the central character, Touma Inaba (Mitsuaki Madono as Mitsuaki Shinden). The son of an innkeeper, he comes from a rural upbringing, and his big chance to shape his future comes in the form of the entrance exam, though Touma's effort is somewhat half-hearted. The night before he is to apply at three schools, a young girl shows up at his hotel room, claiming to be a call girl. With the hormones of a young man, her extremely forward presentation throws him for a loop. He desires to lose his virginity, but doesn't know what to do in this awkward situation, and ends up tossing the girl out. However, she seems to know him from somewhere, despite his inability to recognize her. It turns out the girl is Urara Kasuga (Kyoko Hikami as Kyoko Nagaue), Touma's cousin, who had met him one summer in the past, and had instantly fallen in love with him.The next day Touma goes to take his exams and falls blindly in love with another student taking her entrance test, Meiko Yotsuba (Rumi Kasahara). Touma realizes that she could be his future, if he passes and gets accepted. Unfortunately he fails, but in the aftermath of this discovery, he gives Meiko the impression that he was accepted at the prestigious Keio University. When he decides to come clean, he learns that Meiko will only date college boys, and finds himself compounding his lies. However, Urara knows that Touma has failed, and has to deliberate whether to blow his ruse to gain his love, or support him no matter what the emotional consequences are to herself. Needing a place to stay, Touma winds up living with Urara at his uncle's home, where his uncle eludes him through long work hours and frequent business trips.Where Sakura Diaries excels is in its establishment of its characters, who, while not wholly realistic, do gravitate more towards the confused motivations of an adolescent than the stereotypical comedic anime personalities. This realism alters the tone of the series, as the appearance of nudity or sexually provocative content can't be taken in the same way as the gratuitous and often more plentiful fanservice found in other series. As the early voiceover suggests, a large part of  the story is Touma coming to understand how Urara, a girl who truly loves him, is dealing with his insensitive and offensive behavour. The show doesn't let him off the hook by letting others punish him, which would allow him a kind of moral absolution— instead, he must bear the responsibility of his actions and learn to appreciate both the pain he is causing, and the strength of character that Urara demonstrates.Touma is driven by a need for success, though not for the right reasons. Academically, he wants the status college will give him, and socially, he has an underlying need to mark his transition into adulthood by losing his virginity. While younger than Touma, Urara is more mature emotionally, but has the hopeless romanticism of a schoolgirl, believing that despite Touma's current fascination for the college girl, they are secretly meant for each other, and that she has to stand by him, even at the expense of her dignity and emotional well being. Still, his self-centeredness can't help but crush her feelings time after time, as he is oblivious to the love she has to offer him. Instead, he relentlessly pursues the girl of his dreams, while really knowing nothing about her. Meiko is also given depth that doesn't really emerge until the latter half of the show, where she changes from an idol for Touma into more of a complex being. The supporting cast is limited, allowing the triangular relationship to take center stage, but the ancillary characters, such as Urara's best friend and confidant Natsuki Koumi, add much to the comedic element of the show. There are elements in Sakura Diaries, however, that many will find justifiably offensive; many who had bought the first installment of ADV's prior release were turned off the series by the second disc. However, as disturbing as this may be, it does have a valid plot consideration, causing Touma to consider how his behavior affects others, as opposed to his usual, self-serving interests. Touma is forced to accept responsibility for his actions, thus beginning a transition to a more mature way of thinking. The show also doesn't have a neat and tidy ending, which again leans it more towards a real life drama than a storybook one. As one of only a handful of U-Jin's anime series to be brought to North America, Sakura Diaries made its first DVD appearance in a four-disc set, containing both subbed and dubbed English tracks. That release however, was made from the show's late night television cut, which censored some of the original nudity, and used alternate animation in a few scenes. Unfortunately, the rights for the prior laserdisc release lay with another company, which meant that in order to satisfy fan's demands, they had to secure an additional licence for this version. Thankfully, they did so, and now offer both versions of the show—the TV version on a dubbed/subbed four-disc set, and the unedited version on this all inclusive two-disc, sub-only set, with newly translated and more accurate subtitles. This is not a show for everyone, but with a more mature approach, and real life issues to deal with, it does have a place in a well-rounded anime collection.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Image quality is up a notch from the previous TV release, with more overall sharpness, except where purposefully soft. Colors are well-rendered, black levels look consistent and the transfer features no mentionable defects and minimal graininess. A very decent presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in Japanese stereo only for this release. Sound quality is clear and clean, with no edginess or distortion noted. The stereo field is nicely utilized, without any gimmicky effects. For a character-driven comedy this is a fine presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 48 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Nadia of Blue Water, Original Dirty Pair, Slayers: Book of Spells, Plastic Little, New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer's Beginning, Princess Nine
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Clean credit animation
  2. Alternate clean end credit
Extras Review: As this release is based on the Japanese laserdiscs, the next episode previews, which were included on the TV version, are replaced on here with the laserdisc preview trailers following every second episode, and have a separate chapter mark that is not accessable from the menu. Extras are divided between the two discs, with the first containing a selection of standard ADV trailers for Nadia of Blue Water, Original Dirty Pair, Slayers: Book of Spells, Plastic Little, New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer's Beginning, and Princess Nine.The second disc contains both the opening and closing credits without text, plus a second, unused end credit sequence, again with clean animation and a different theme song. The show's preview trailer is also included.ADV also did a new translation for the subtitles, which is truer to the original Japanese, and include a double-sided sheet of liner notes that elaborate on some of the cultural references used in the show. Note that the remarks for episode 5 have unfortunately been cut off mid-sentence.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

ADV does fans proud by going the extra mile to secure a second license to bring the uncut version of Sakura Diaries to domestic DVD, and releasing the entire series in one low-cost collection. A bittersweet story of young love, adolescent idealism, and the dawning realization of social resposibility, Sakura Diaries presents a humorous, thoughful look at the maturation process through the entanglements of a love triangle between a college girl, a cram school student, and his younger cousin. Young Touma must come to terms with his shortcomings, mistakes and misplaced ideals, while trying to resolve his feelings for the two women in his life. The way is paved with some disturbing errors in judgement and real world consequences. Sakura Diaries does not go where it's expected, presenting a different tone than typical anime relationship comedies, nor is it the gratuitous fanservice-fest the earlier episodes would suggest, with events darkening the tone markedly as the series moves on. All of this is balanced by the comical absurdities of the situation, and the light-hearted characterization of Urara. This won't be everyone's cup of tea, and the 17+ rating should be heeded, as this is for mature audiences only.

 


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