[Synopsis]: High School student Tatewaki Shoutarou (Enoki, Junya) led a normal enough life until he met Kujou Sakurako (Itou, Shizuka), a beautiful, young woman and genius Osteologist who is endlessly fascinated with bones. Together on their outings they always seem to chance upon human remains after which it falls to the unlikely duo to discern the story of the bones and solve the mysteries they present.
Sakurako-san focuses almost entirely on the explorations and interactions of its two protagonists while intermittently featuring recurring supporting characters alongside a primarily episodic cast. The show’s attention to its main characters is well founded as none of the supporting cast receives much in the way of characterization beyond their own independent installments.
The first episode of the show does a great job of introducing both Shoutarou and Sakurako – you get a strong sense of each of their personalities and dynamic of their relationship. Shoutarou is typical enough as far as high school students are concerned and his ordinary outlook and design serves as a point of contrast to Sakurako’s stranger perspective on the developments of the show. As a layman he serves as our investigative eyes into Sakurako’s world of bones and murder mysteries. He avoids feeling cliche in a number of ways however perhaps the most interesting is the straightforward nature of his attraction to Sakurako – the two make great friends outside of the realm of romance and seeing such skin-deep and hormonal elements at play in their relationship was refreshing and unique. While Shoutarou certainly had a place in the show initially it felt like he was quickly dispensed into becoming a sort of straight man in opposition to Sakurako’s outlandish assertions and blunt nature. Its one thing to have him keep her in check and keep the story grounded however something else entirely to simply point out the eccentricities of her behavior as if to remind the audience that her actions are something other than typical.
Sakurako on the other hand I felt quite compelling all throughout for a myriad of reasons. For one thing I thought that having a slightly older heroine was refreshing but moreover her personality, a marriage of the smug intellectual with near-childish enthusiasm, was a great deal of fun given her age and vocation. Its always a pleasure to see an emotive, adult character and Sakurako exhibits great reasons for why she acts the way that she does. She is distant emotionally and generally isn’t phased by sentimental attachments which go well with her logical persona. Her brand of morality is slightly warped by her logic and practical mindset but something more human and emotional seems to be stirring under the surface which gives her a wonderfully complex and genuine feeling. To speak to her one fault within the show, it rests outside of her actual characterization and instead with the way in which she interacts with the plot of the show. The first episode does well in establishing her area of expertise – making her out to be not only fanatical about bones but incredibly knowledgeable about them as well. The problem that arises is that it often feels as if Sakurako is perhaps ‘too knowing’ at times.
It is quite well figured that she knows what she does about bodies and murder scenes given her interest in bones and her familial relation to a forensics investigator however when the terrain shifts towards that of the artistic and even the religious she seems to sport the same wicked intellect without skipping a beat. The show occasionally treated her more like a resource of absolute information in order to tell the story instead of an individual with concrete knowledge and expertise. She often became a font of uncommon knowledge rather than a character with intellectual limitations. Little is done to lampshade this character trait and so its awkward presence goes more or less unanswered within her overall characterization.
I quite enjoyed the visuals of Sakurako-san and the first episode opens with an exciting sequence of animation and colors. The character designs and some of the environments are highly reminiscent of TROYCA’s other work Aldnoah.Zero however I felt that Sakurako-san gave a familiar aesthetic new life. Its definitely safe to say that the show is very pretty – it has a great variety of colors and plenty of wonderful scenery ranging from incredibly detailed houses to vibrant forests.
Something I felt Sakurako-san did especially well was animating facial expressions and character movement which were used effectively to convey emotions and add some much appreciated legitimacy to the actions and behaviors of otherwise plain, supportive characters as well as the main cast. Another minor thing to note relates back to Shoutarou’s seemingly adolescent attraction to Sakurako as discussed above. The show hardly busies itself with fan-service however the camera work surrounding Shoutarou’s perception of her I thought was an intelligent addition to the show and their chemistry. The camera shots of Sakurako’s cleavage and exposed stomach in different episodes do a great job of emphasizing his surface-level, sexual attraction to her. These scenes avoid feeling like true fan service due to their highly intermittent presence and inconsequential nature but present what I thought was a refreshingly straightforward take on a characters attraction to someone else.
Like many mystery shows before it, Sakurako-san unfolds in a fairly episodic manner with the majority of the episodes being standalone stories of Shoutarou and Sakurako’s adventures. The two certainly share something resembling a Sherlockian dynamic though Shoutarou may leave a bit to be desired in this comparison while Sakurako measures up quite well given her ability to pick out minute details concerning the bones they discover. The show at first seemed interested in developing certain themes such as stagnation and the passage of time however I felt these things were quickly forgotten after the first episode and though the final episode attempts to resurrect these ideas they appear highly non-relevant and jumbled.
The early episodes I felt were enjoyable and the manner in which Sakurako went about solving the mysteries felt unique and interesting because of how she derived most of the information from the bones she found. I remember episode 4 particularly well as it was quite slow paced and very methodical in its detailing and conversation which made the character interactions and behaviors feel especially realistic. My main gripe with the plot of the show is in how, even early on, it begins to establish something more overarching and significant than the individual mysteries but never finds the time to actually capitalize on that area of the story. There appears to be something linking together many of the victims and situations that Sakurako and Shoutarou encounter but rather than building up the eventual conflict with minor details scattered throughout and delivering a final, more imperative story in respect to the show’s main characters, it simply peters out without addressing anything.
Normally I would at least somewhat forgive a show in Sakurako-san’s position if it were simply a case of the show not having enough time to tell the story that it wanted to however given a handful of episodes that I didn’t feel were all that interesting or even relevant in the midsection of the show I can’t help but feel it squandered what time it had. Some episodes for instance were of no import to the characterization of the protagonists or the overarching mystery behind many of their adventures. These would feel far more at home in the show had it not split its ambition in this way and proceeded either concisely with a significant end in mind or purely on a standalone basis without attempting to develop something greater than itself. This isn’t to condemn the show’s episodic nature due to its inability to deliver something of greater import before the end because I think a majority of the episodes were entertaining in and of themselves.
To make matters somewhat worse, the show ends on a somewhat odd note – not in the cliffhanger sense but rather it left me feeling as if the episode could have been utilized better. It focused primarily on Shoutarou and a dilema of his that didn’t have much prefacing within the show or even much reason to give it consequence. The show arrives at a somewhat disappointing conclusion after eluding to a figure behind the otherwise independent events of the show and just before pulling back the curtain greets the viewer with a contextual flashback episode that attempts to answer questions that were never asked in the first place. The episode itself is alright in respect to the characters however it felt as if it could have taken place at any time during the show.
The show’s soundtrack was pretty enjoyable all throughout and matched the show’s atmosphere and subject matter well though, outside of its main theme which seemed to reappear at some point every episode, I didn’t feel any of the music was too memorable.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Sakurako-san was a show that initially had me quite excited because of its early episodes, Sakurako’s characterization, and her chemistry with Shoutarou. While the mysteries were fairly interesting there was an unpleasant tendency exhibited by the plot where it would wrap back around to supporting characters it had already introduced in highly improbable ways resulting in a myriad of more or less standalone stories feeling far more self-contained than they had any right to be. It felt unbelievable, especially for a mystery show.
I gave Sakurako-san a 6 because it had wonderfully unique main characters, a flashy, vibrant aesthetic, and a handful of interesting-enough short mystery stories that kept my attention. It fell short of higher scores because of its failed attempt to create something more substantial and its lackluster supporting cast along with its needlessly self-contained narrative progression. Ultimately it was more fun watching Sakurao with her brash interactions and childish enthusiasm than anything else.
I would recommend Sakurako-san to anyone interested in a decent mystery show with a fun heroine character though I would warn that it is the kind that reveals the details of its mysteries by means of its characters rather than allowing them to be picked up on by its viewers and pieced together beforehand, foreshadowing aside.