Sakura Trick Review

I have a confession to make: I love yuri. Whilst it isn’t my intention to make myself sound perverse, I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge my fondness for all things yuri, or Girl’s Love as it’s sometimes called, when reviewing Sakura Trick, just so you know I’m coming at this from a place of huge bias. Sakura Trick is based upon the 4-koma manga series by Tachi, and is probably the most well known and popular yuri series to come out in recent years, and has accumulated a sizable fan base since it first aired in 2014. Is there more to this series than just girl-on-girl action though? In short; yes.

In case you’re not aware, Sakura Trick is about best friends Yuu and Haruka who have just started their freshman year in High School. Although they’re in the same class, they’re given seats at opposite ends of the classroom and Haruka quickly gets jealous of Yuu making new friends. To remedy this, the pair decide to do something in order to deepen their bond that they wouldn’t do with anyone else and they end up sharing a kiss in a vacant classroom full of sakura petals. After that one kiss leads to many, they quickly realise that their friendship will never be the same again.

Despite the fact that my overall opinion of Sakura Trick is generally positive, the biggest issue I do take with it stems from the relationship between the two leads. It’s certainly not bad, in fact I’d say it’s downright adorable, however the problem is that it doesn’t feel as if there’s any kind of growth or arc for their relationship. Right at the beginning of the series, the two girls are already very close friends, and even after they share the first kiss, I can’t help but feel nothing really changes in the grand scheme, other than the fact that they sneak off to kiss now and again. There’s no real build-up to the two becoming a couple, in fact they share their first kiss about 10 minutes into the first episode, and after that, there isn’t really any turbulence or struggle in the relationship either, at least, not until right near the end, but by then, it’s too little, too late. I’m not trying to say there has to be some sort of drama for a relationship to be good, but there definitely could have been more done in this  department to make it a little more interesting. Only compounding this matter is the fact that there is an interesting relationship in the show, it’s just not between the two main characters. Yes, two other girls, Shizuku and Kotone, also have a secret relationship, albeit one with a bit more going on in it, as it’s revealed that one of the girls’ parents has already arranged for her to get married. Honestly, I think that alone has enough potential to carry a show, but it’s largely in the background and is rarely mentioned. It’s really frustrating because I genuinely think that this is a brilliant idea, yet it’s just squandered. If this idea had been applied to Yuu and Haruka’s relationship, it would have made the series infinitely better, in my opinion.

Now, despite the fact that I just spent a whole paragraph complaining about it, I actually did end up liking Sakura Trick quite a bit. This is mostly because of the characters who are a likable bunch and have some great chemistry together which produces a lot of great comedic moments. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute, but there’s a decent amount of jokes that managed to make me laugh a surprising amount. Then of course, there’s the inclusion of all the yuri scenes, which is probably going to be the most divisive element of the whole show, and could make or break this anime for some people. I’ll be totally honest, the yuri elements are my favourite part of the whole thing, and are very well executed. If people have read any of my reviews before, they’ll know I’m generally not huge on fan service, and whilst all the yuri here is very much fan service, it feels a lot less exploitative than a general ecchi anime, as well as appealing directly to my interests, so I really liked it. If you’re not into the whole yuri thing, I still think that there’s enjoyment to be had here, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first romantic comedy I’d recommend, and there are better examples out there, such as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, that deliver more laughs.

Sakura Trick is animated by Studio DEEN (Fate/stay night (2006), Is This a Zombie?, When They Cry) although you might not think so at first glance. The studio is very much going out of their way here to do their best impression of Shaft (Madoka Magica, Nisekoi, Monogatari) and the general art style and direction is heavily reminiscent of Hidamari Sketch, although I’d be hesitant to call the style a rip-off, considering the fact that the director of Sakura Trick, Kenichi Ishikura, directed several episodes of Hidamari Sketch, as well as the entirety of the third series. Still, even if the style isn’t wholly original, that doesn’t make it any less of a good-looking show. I’m a huge fan of Shaft’s general style, so it’s no surprise that I absolutely love the look of this series too, with its bright colours and use of textures to really make scenes pop. I haven’t seen much of Studio DEEN’s work, admittedly, but this is probably the best-looking show of theirs I’ve watched.

MVM’s release of Sakura Trick is Japanese audio only, with English subtitles. The Japanese cast all do great, providing the group of cute girls with suitably cute voices, with the cast including voice actors such as Yuka Iguchi (Monogatari, Fairy Tail, Girls und Panzer), Haruka Tomatsu (Coppelion, Gintama, Punchline) and Hiromi Igarashi (Hellsing Ultimate, Brave Witches, High School Fleet). Music is provided by Ryosuke Nakanishi, and is a pretty decent soundtrack, but nothing too memorable. The same can be said for the OP and ED too, which, whilst serviceable, are generally nothing spectacular.

In Summary

If you like yuri, then this is absolutely a must-see, in fact, if you like yuri, you’ve probably already seen this show. Even if you’re nonplussed by yuri, I could still somewhat recommend Sakura Trick, as it’s largely enjoyable, although don’t expect anything groundbreaking or new.

Title: Sakura Trick
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Slice of Life, Romance, Comedy, Shoujo-Ai
Studio: Studio DEEN
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Yurikuma Arashi Review

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“Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby.” – James Rollins

It rather rare to see a yuri anime released in the UK. I, for one, don’t recall ever reviewing one before so it makes for an interesting experience. It certainly becomes more interesting when a lesbian romance series features a surprisingly high number of murderous bears.

In Yurikuma Arashi (Lily Bear Storm) the world has undergone a dramatic change. A minor planet called Kumaria exploded and the resulting meteor storm showered the Earth. The result of this was that it made the bears on Earth intelligent, man-hunting killers, and thus bloody conflict between humans and bears took place. In the end, a giant barrier called the Wall of Severance was built to keep bears and humans apart. If a bear makes its way into the human side it is shot on sight.

It is possible for bears and humans to cross from one side to the other, but in order to do so they have to go on a Severance Trial before three male bears named Life Sexy (the judge), Life Cool (the prosecutor) and Life Beauty (the defence attorney). If one agrees to the terms they can cross, which normally means having to give up on the thing you hold most dear to you.

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On the human side of the Wall, at Arashigoku High School, schoolgirl Kureha Tsubaki is in love with classmate Sumika Izumino. She also has a deep hatred of bears, her mother having been eaten by one. One day her class gets two new students: Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, who are actually both bears in disguise – admittedly not very good disguises due their habit of constantly saying “growl” at the end of each sentence.

Soon things start to go wrong for Kureha and Sumika. First, the flowerbed at school which they have tended so lovingly is vandalised; then when they tell the class rep Mitsuko Yurizono they narrowly avoid being hit by a brick. Then, worst of all, the following day Sumika vanishes.  Kureha gets a mysterious phone call asking whether her love for Sumika is genuine, and tells her to go to the school roof to prove it. She does so, rifle in hand, where she finds Ginko and Lulu in (chibi) bear form. What follows next is a Severance Trial with Ginko and Lulu in the box, the result of which appears to be some form of dream sequence in which they transform into beargirls and lick nectar from a lily growing out of Kureha’s torso, and you can’t help be feel that the lily stamens are meant to represent a penis. While this is a yuri series, the target demographic is seinen.

Anyway, after this Kureha wakes up in the nurse’s office at the school. She wonders whether what she has experienced is a dream and goes outside. There, behind the flowerbed, she discovers two bears eating a girl. She then learns that Sumika has been declared dead, but she refuses to believe it. Thus she attempts to prove that Sumika is alive, while all the time the human forms of Ginko and Lulu keep pestering her. As the series progresses, we learn that there are several humans and bears keen on Kureha’s past and future. Some are in love with her, some want her dead, and some think she is evil. The result will ultimately change the relationship between the humans and the bears.

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There is an awful lot going on in these twelve episodes. For starters there is the romance. You have the relationship between Kureha and Sumika, then between Ginko and Lulu, then Kureha, Ginko and Lulu together, and then other characters become involved too. While there is a lot of nudity, it is never full frontal and don’t see anything untoward. There is hugging and romantic relationships, but anything more physical is normally just implied, like in the stamen-licking sequence.

Another recurring theme is that of prejudice. You obviously have the whole case of the bears and humans excluding one another, but in this series “exclude” can have many meanings, even going as far as murder and execution of those who stray outside of what are considered social norms. As the series progresses, we learn that Kureha is someone who is excluded by her classmates and frequently treated with disdain, and thus Sumika is treated similarly because of their relationship. Further on in the series, we see this exclusion has been dogging her for a long time, and ultimately the series is about the bears and the humans being able overcome the prejudices of human society with the power of love.

The artwork is probably the best thing about Yurikuma Arashi, partly because of the designs used, such as the chibi bears, but also because of the use of certain visual images to deliver messages to the viewer. A frequent one is that when one of the girls begins to form a new loving relationship with one of the others; it cuts to a shot of a white lily opening and someone singing the line: “the lily opens”. As you may have gathered, “lily” in Japanese is “yuri”, so it indicates the blossoming of lesbian love. However, when it is one of the bears who develops similar feelings, the shot is of a black lily and the line sung is: “The bear opens.”

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Regarding extras in this collection, you have some episode commentaries, promos, trailers, and the textless opening and closing. Personally, I thought that the end song, “Territory”, sung by the actresses who play Kureha, Ginko and Lulu, is better than the opening “Ano Mori de Matteru” by Bonjour Suzuki. However, concerning these releases and others ones recently made from Anime Limited, I have become annoyed by the way Funimation have affected them. Namely, when you load the disc you have to sit through adverts that you can’t skip through. They must also annoy Anime Limited in some way because some of the stuff advertised is content they don’t sell. For example, the second disc advertises Michiko & Hatchin, which in Britain is released by MVM rather than Anime Limited.

The anime itself however is an enjoyable watch with many elements going for it. What would be really interesting, however, would be a release of a yuri title that is actually aimed at women.

Title: Yurikuma Arashi
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Girl, Romance, Science Fiction, Yuri
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Manga review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Vol. 1 © coolkyousinnjya 2013

Everyone who has ever gotten drunk has probably done something they have come to regret, whether it’s making drunk texts to ex-loved ones, or accidentally buying a load of stuff online while inebriated. But these pale somewhat in comparison to inviting a dragon to come and live with you.

Miss Kobayashi is a low level systems engineer and closet otaku who, one drunken night, went up a mountain and met a dragon called Tohru, who had been attacked with a sword. Kobayashi helped the dragon and the two got talking. During the conversation, Kobayashi suggested that Tohru should stay in her flat, an offer which Tohru accepted. Now Kobayashi has to put up with co-habiting with a legendary monster in her home, but to make things easier for her Tohru adopts a human guise and decides to work for Kobayashi as her maid, although she can’t hide her dragon horns.

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Tohru has some talents. She is able to get Kobayashi to work incredibly quickly, although her hard skin makes the ride uncomfortable. If the laundry is taking too long to dry because it is overcast, a quick burst of flame towards the clouds will make a hole big enough to let the sun shine through. Tohru also has some problems though. She distrusts other humans such as Kobayashi’s work college and fellow otaku Makoto Takiya, and her cooking is terrible.

There is also the problem that soon other dragons start visiting Kobayashi. There is Kanna Kamui, ejected from the dragon realm for playing a prank; Fafnir, whose attitude to humans appears to be summed up with the word “kill”; and the oddly dressed and buxom Quetzalcoatl.

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid-2While this title comes from the same publisher as How to Build a Dungeon, this manga is much more family-orientated. However, you still get the feeling that perhaps the “all ages” rating is not quite true. There is a brief scene where Tohru is naked, and at the beginning of the volume Tohru claims she likes Kobayashi “sexually”. Apart from those instances however, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is pretty much suitable for all. Perhaps it is best to think of it as “PG” rather than “U”.

The main characters are what make the series work. Kobayashi has to put up with the stress of keeping Tohru and later Kanna in check, but is also free to loosen up and suddenly start debating with Makoto about the differences between Lolita fashion and maid outfits. Tohru meanwhile has so many different comic elements: trying to adjust to the human world, her love of Kobayashi, her jealous feelings toward Makoto, and then there is just her doing what to her is normal, but what Kobayashi and for that matter any human would think is bizarre – like play-fighting with Kanna, which involves a potentially massively destructive battle.

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It is certainly a jolly title and it already has built a fan base. There is currently an anime adaptation of the series in the works, so watch out for more.

Title: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Volume 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Yuri
Author(s): Coolkyoushinja
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: All ages
Length: 150 pages

Score: 7/10