Sakura Quest steadily eases into its narrative this week with a bit of introspection from Yoshino about the small town she commits to live in.
Thankfully, much of the charm from the first two episodes persists here, breathing life into several of Mayotama’s tangential characters, as well as the anime’s core cast, too.
As Yoshino slips into her role as the mascot Queen, gone is her goal of selling hundreds of custom pastries so she can skip town, she’s got more realistic work to deal with.
A “parade” down Main Street in a pink convertible is attended only by one angry resident telling them to shut off the 20th century warbling that Kadota calls music, and then Yoshino makes her TV debut.
In a local interview segment called “Hello, Sleepy Town,” Yoshino’s red crown and robe-getup meets the hosts’ suit and bowtie-capped duds. And excellently masked behind the familiar bravado that comes to mind when you think of Japanese TV programming, Sakura Quest hits its protagonist with questions that are pointed and journalistic.
Yoshino’s crown meets the hosts’ bowtie-capped duds
“There have been efforts towards reinvigoration small towns all across Japan — surely you’re away that very few of them have succeeded?” the anchor says to Yoshino.
And as the anchor’s grilling questions drift away from the cheat sheet Kadota comically has taped to the back of his Chupakabura costume for Yoshino to read while on camera, her lacklustre acceptance of (rather than application to) her new job becomes apparent.
When all she can champion about the town is how pretty its scenery is, it’s no wonder Yoshino’s answers fall flat when trying to represent Mayotama or describe what should change. Her canned responses hearken back to the rote replies she gave in her last Tokyo job application. And if this TV chat is akin to another hiring interview, she bombs it, not knowing about the company culture at all.
“She’s got to feel the town! Feel its wind on her face!” Kadota tells her, And his metaphoric advice doesn’t fall on deaf ears, but it’s not very helpful either. Throughout this episode, Sakura Quest continues to build up Yoshino as a great listener. We see her attentively watching others and actively seeking out conversations with the locals.
Sakura Quest builds up Yoshino as a great listener
She shows up, smile on-face and notebook in-hand, to question farmers about the town’s kabu (turnip) agriculture tradition, and she even tries to flag down a senior puttering by on a scooter. But the reaction she gets from the locals when she asks about change is far from inspiring.
“What could an outsider possibly do?” one man says. “No point in fighting it,” another shop owner responds, resigned to accept the exodus of Mayotama’s youth. No matter how earnest Queen Yoshino’s listening skills may be, when her subjects don’t have much to say, she really has her job cut out for her.
Having not lived in a small town for a long period of time myself, the way Sakura Quest frames its cast in these scenes feels especially important to establishing the temperament of Mayotama’s public. The show puts its protagonist in these one-on-one conversations to add humanity to its exposition.
If their daily necessities are accounted for and the immediate future seems secure, Sakura Quest makes it seems easier for the townsfolk to hope the status quo persists, rather than dream of rapid cultural and financial growth. But that’s not what country-girl turned Tokyoite Yoshino wants to believe.
Yoshino tries to understand her new home
The title of this episode is a telling one in this case. “The Cry of the Mandrake” doesn’t explicitly refer to any magical shenanigans happening on screen in this slice of life drama. It refers to the whimper of the uprooted Yoshino, trying to understand her new home and the people that live there.
As she watches Kadota, his staff, and her new friends argue about whether they should present the old Kabura Kid or the newer Chupakabura in a mascot competition, the audio of their bickering ducks down, and we see flashing vignettes of Yoshino’s earlier conversations around the town.
Sakura Quest shows her considerate face following the debate as she remembers her first-hand research. She’s an outsider looking in, with a unique ability to reassess Mayotama’s state of affairs. It’s a great dramatic moment that brings the small conflicts from this episode’s story to a head.
Sakura Quest anchors its cast to a core idea
Yoshino seizes control of the mascot decision after deliberating and decides to split the difference, using the mask of Kabura Kid with the scaly suit of the Chupakabura.
On live TV, she commits to supporting her town and learning about what makes it special. Her choice doesn’t win the contest, but it’s a big step towards redefining the town’s brand. It’s modern-day Marketing 101, and it looks like it’ll continue to be a pleasure to watch thanks to the Sakura Quests’s focus on characters, each of which have a story to tell.
The four other women who helped her sell pastries in the previous episode agree to work alongside her during her year-long journey. And with that, Sakura Quest anchors its cast to a core idea and an overarching narrative arc that’s broad enough to allow a varied story each week, but focussed enough to give its audience something to look forward to at the end.
You can catch Sakura Quest streaming on Crunchyroll every Tuesday.