P.A. Works’ latest slice of life show, Sakura Quest, takes a recent university graduate’s job-search woes and spins it into another fun take on its real-world “Working” series of anime.
Much like Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha before it, this anime focuses on a predominantly female cast and the challenges they face while living their lives and doing a job. Much more like Hanasaku Iroha than Shirobako though, our protagonist isn’t too keen on the job she’s tasked with doing.
Yoshino, a young woman with sakura-petal coloured hair, hasn’t had much luck with her employment hunt, despite applying to 32 Tokyo companies.
“What do you think after not having received an offer from anyone of them,” a black-suited man asks her during one of her hiring interviews. His tone isn’t terribly condescending, but the subtext of his question is obvious: No one wants to give her a shot.
As someone currently hunting for an internship myself, I notice Sakura Quest does an excellent job of showing the inner struggle of Yoshino. It’s this dramatic cycle of getting extremely excited about the possibilities of working with an talented team to seize the day — only to be rejected as the company wish you the best of luck in your endeavours.
“Tokyo has everything. And you can do anything!” She later tries to explain to a new friend asking why she wants to work in the urban centre so badly. “It’s a city full of dreams and there are opportunities everywhere.” In saying so, Yoshino reveals that she might not be as laser-focussed on exactly what opportunity she wants to take, so it’s fortunate when a one-day modelling gig comes her way.
Only, it’s not a one-day offer. Neglecting to read her contract, she gets sucked into serving as the mascot “Queen” of Manoyama village, and the agreement is supposed to last a year.
Sakura Quest sets up her desperate acceptance of the initial gig well, and when it turns out she was offered even this gig as a mistake, the show does an even better job of introducing us to her character. Kadota, the chief of the town’s tourism board, is ready to ship her right back on the train she rode in on. She quietly listens to his unreasonable arguments about how his handwriting is fine, and there’s no way he could have misspelled the name of the actress he really wanted for the job (who, incidentally, died eight years prior).
Then, showing she’s a great listener, Yoshino counters with a thoughtful response that hits all of his qualms in quick succession, changing his mind, and leading to her “coronation” minutes later.
In the first half of this anime’s premiere, we quickly learn about Manoyama’s idiosyncrasies — the Chupakabura kingdom was a marketing fixture established with a boom of national tourism funding that has long since busted — and the foot-tour Yoshino takes to make some of these discoveries does a good job of establishing a sense of place and granting a first glimpse at the supporting cast.
Yoshino moved to Tokyo to get away from the sticks, so finding her self contractually tethered to another rural community elicits a believably stubborn reaction from her. She laughably tries to catch a train home in the middle of the night, accidentally hospitalizes Kadota for wearing a chupakabura costume and trying to scare her into staying, and then finds herself practically blackmailed into an ultimatum: Sell 1000 boxes of branded pastries in a week, or stick around as the Queen for a year.
It’s through this impossible challenge that Sakura Quest really introduces its supporting cast members, who each seem just as interesting as the women from P.A. Work’s previous anime in the series. It’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely no narrative connection between the three shows — only a comparable aesthetic of good people doing honest work.
Sanae’s an older woman also from Tokyo and familiar with web-publishing, so she agrees to help advertise the pastries with a website. Maki appears to be a failed actress, and agrees to help out after she essentially gets caught freeloading in the empty dorm Yoshino’s staying in. Ririko’s a Manoyama local who shyly rocks a high-end video setup and a personal occult obsession that we can’t help but assume are related. And Shiori’s a kind soul who really looks forward to spending time with a girl close to her age in the form of Yoshino.
The five women produce a no-budget video and schtick-y promotional webpages after their attempts from each previous day fail to generate sales. The way they stumble through Yoshino’s weeklong task says a lot about each of them, and the way they describe the fun they had with each other after they inevitably fail the challenge makes it seem like this motley crew will be really enjoyable to watch.
The detail Sakura Quest affords its characters is akin to the sound of rattling bangles on the wrist of whoever’s snapping their fingers in the anime’s ending theme; this show presents something very relatable and familiar, but it looks poised to do it with the kind of essential depth that made P.A Works’ previous slice of life anime excel.
You can catch Sakura Quest streaming on Crunchyroll every Tuesday. It’s also the first show I’m making a firm commitment to continue writing about as this spring 2017 anime season continues.