Love is in the air when the story of Sakura Trick begins. Haruka Takayama and Yuu Sonoda were best friends in middle school, and are now attending Misato West High School together. They are assigned to the same class in their first year, but are given seats on opposite sides of the room! If that wasn't enough, it is announced at the entrance ceremony that the school will be closed in three years. This doesn't bother either of them, as they still plan on having lots of fun together during their high school years.
Haruka gets jealous of Yuu making new friends though, so the two decide to deepen their bond. "Let's do something we'd never do with other girls," Yuu says, and they share a kiss in a vacant classroom after school one day. After that one kiss leads to many kisses, the two begin to realize that the relationship they share has changed completely. But what will happen to their relationship once a disapproving older sister begins to suspect that something is going on between the two?
This right here is a cult classic, a chef d'oeuvrea buried under erroneous preconceptions and unfounded criticism. This gem is obscured because it does not shine; it is buried because its tone is that of abyssal black. Sakura Trick pries into to the darkest corners of our subconscious, the most visceral of our cognition, the most carnal of our urges, and the most primal of our instincts. Its sublimity will ever be debated yet always remain objectively irrefutable; the fundamental insight it provides into human and perhaps animalistic nature may shape the basis of sexual psychoanalysis for millennia to come.
Superficially, Sakura Trick appears to
be an anime which caters to the most lowly and deprived among men; conceited critics dismiss it as such often without a second thought. As self-important as these self-proclaimed critics are, they fail to realize that Sakura Trick is indeed a trick, and they are the ones being tricked. Sakura petals, or cherry blossoms, are commonly associated with a sense of beauty and innocence in Japanese culture. As discussed by Ango Sakaguchi in Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita, sakura petals are often a means to enhance and stylize the atmosphere of a scene, be it melancholic, resplendent or sensual. Used famously in 5 Centimeters per Second, the sakura petals constructs an immense yet artificial atmosphere which proved successful in fooling the average fool incapable of critical analysis. What most critics fail to realize, however, is that Sakura Trick is playing them beyond this level. The entire visible layer of Sakura Trick is a euphemistic veil obfuscating the dark and uncanny human psyche which it explores; any tangible material is a metaphor for its meticulous meta-analysis of the metaphysical mentality’s pubertal metamorphosis.
As brilliantly put by Charles Baudelaire, “La sexualité est le lyrisme des masses.” In Ulysses, James Joyce subverts gender conceptions by deconstructing sexual stereotypes; in Lolita, Vladimir Nobakov delves into the abnormal perversion of hebephilia; in Doctor Glas, Hjalmar Soderberg studies sexual catharsis through murder; in Aquarion EVOL, Shoji Kawamori studies the manifestation of repressed sexuality as love. Time and again, great thinkers have demonstrated the immense potential of sexual psychoanalysis in narrative form.
Sakura Trick fulfills this potential.
The exterior plotline of Sakura Trick is straight forward - two damsels unknowingly in love with each other: Sonoda Yuu and Takayama Haruka, start high school in the same class with four other apparent lesbians. This premise alone poses innumerable questions of pertinence - most of which are problematized further and explored as the series progresses. Why are two girls romantically interested in each other? Why are there four more girls of questionable sexual orientation in their class? Were they perhaps influenced by Haruka’s and Yuu’s display of intimacy, implying a nurture over nature determination of sexuality? Do their behaviors suggest abnormalities in their amygdala activity, or is such behavior governed by the wider cerebral hemispheres? Hailed as the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud once said, “The sexual life of adult women is a dark continent for psychology.” The stringency and inadaptability of the traditional approach practiced by psychologists is to blame for this. Sakura Trick is unshackled from such rigidities - by investigating high school girls in late puberty, a time and setting in which sexuality is at its most volatile, and doing so through homosexuality rather than the vapid norm, it sheds light on the enigma which has eluded psychologists for centuries.
Perhaps most imperative and counter-intuitive of all, Sakura Trick investigates male sexuality through the scope of lesbianism. Je veux te baiser, baisez-moi! What is the sexual appeal in a couple which can only engage in abortive reproduction? When exposed to intercourse in explicit yuri, it is plausible that lust for the opposite gender can override the notion of evolutionary feasibility. Despite the lack of explicit intercourse in Sakura Trick, male viewers nonetheless experience a craving for the girls’ well-being instead of jealousy and contempt for one of them as would be rational. This paradox challenges not only the Darwinian theories of evolution, but also Freud’s theories of sexuality. He wrote, “A man's heterosexuality will not put up with any homosexuality, and vice versa.” Sakura Trick proves the exact contrary: heterosexual men more than put up with the homosexuality in the series. According to psychologist Henry Havelock Ellis, “Reproduction… is highly complex and not yet clearly understood. It is not necessarily connected with sex, nor is sex necessarily connected with reproduction.” Havelockian philosophy noticeably makes its mark in Sakura Trick; by taking hold of this anomaly in human behaviour and untangling its implications, it explores the darkest depths of our consciousness which borders between flesh and mind.
In his essay The Sexual Abberations, Freud discusses human disposition to perversions, including hebephilia, as an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct which is not limited to the psychologically ill. Sakura Trick takes this theory beyond mere discourse and puts it into practice. The characters in Sakura Trick are impeccably crafted, not only in their characterization and likability but primarily in their support of the series’ psychological study. Rather than each being equipped with sexually inviting traits, some characters are simply “cute”, for lack of a less vulgar word. A certain je ne sais quoi of the girls are successful in generating not just physical, but more importantly emotional cravings from the audience.
The brilliant technique of Sakura Trick’s probing into the atavistic lust is most aptly demonstrated through the analysis of the two main characters: Haruka and Yuu. On the one hand, Haruka is characterized by her lascivious and manipulative personality, pneumatic figure, seductive voice, and red hair indicative of her prurience. In contrast, Yuu has an innocent demeanor, underemphasized curves, a sweet voice characterized by childlike tenderness, and bright amber hair adorned with flowers – all of which are suggestive of a girl in the early stages of puberty. By contrasting these dichotomous traits, Sakura Trick follows in the wake of Vladimir Nobakov and his analysis of the abominable erotic attraction to the so called “nymphets”. A range of recent research by neurologists suggest paedophilia’s origin as a deep-rooted predisposition that does not change, rather than the previous theory of causation by psychological influences. Perhaps influenced by this paradigm shift, Sakura Trick attempts what has never been done before – bringing out, in men, pseudo-paedophilic reactions to girls older than the previously stipulated plateau age of thirteen. This is achieved through the stark contrast between Haruka’s maturity and Yuu’s infantility which tampers with the viewers’ preset dispositions. The additional fact that it succeeds in bringing out such abnormal responses not only in the susceptible older population, but chiefly among the young, truly underscores the groundbreaking impact of Sakura Trick.
La peinture parle d'elle-même, il n'y a rien à dire; to describe the artistic qualia of Sakura Trick would be to describe colour to the blind, wisdom to the young, or life to the unliving. The artistic eminence of this series is utterly unparalleled. The visuals are primarily based on a minimalistic design reminiscent of Frank Stella’s later paintings, yet some of the most visceral moments of the series display a paradoxical resemblance to abstract expressionism. This visual style is augmented by subtly and tactfully altering its background or occasionally foreground objects into abstract patterns or drawings depending on the situation and atmosphere. Certain patterns such as polka dots reoccur frequently throughout the series, showing inspirations from early pop-art but crafting a style most avant la lettre. In a masterful display of expertise in art-direction, these aesthetic shifts are extremely frequent yet uncontrived and never interfere with the viewers’ immersion. This enigmatic and radical style vividly complements the metaphysical nature of the series, reinforcing its character as an original pastiche of the post-modernist movement. It is an embodiment and perfection of the ideals that SHAFT had in mind for but failed to accomplish in their shows such as the Monogatari Series and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.
Another of Sakura Trick’s aesthetic perks is its use of letterboxing: further cinematic flare is added to the already immersive series through the occasional framing of the video in bars. However, in an bold act of defiance and subversion, Sakura Trick makes use of white bars rather than the traditional black. In addition exuding an ephemerally fey charm, the white letterboxing holds several implications that one may only speculate on. Does it symbolize the series’ immense depth as it creates a dual-layered letterboxing on monitors which do not match its aspect ratio? Does its brightness reflect the series’ enlightening exploration of the previously unknown? Does it indicate the series’ nature as an antithesis to conventional psychology? Incidentally, Sakura Trick shows an abnormal and seemingly perverse focus on the characters thighs. In any other context, this would be plain pandering to the lowest common denominator. Nevertheless, when contextualized in sexual analysis one will realize the use of thighs as a study of fetishistic reactions to sexually inert objects. Sakura trick is sublime not only in the depth of its investigation, but also in its breadth.
Enjoyment may be a pivotal factor of anime-viewing for the ordinary viewer. For experienced critics such as I, however, examining a show of such depth and complexity brings only misery and agony (which true intellectuals welcome, mind you). Attempts at analyzing Sakura Trick’s implications and unraveling its messages necessitate great concentration and effort, which is further exacerbated when so much of my blood flows elsewhere than my brain when viewing this show. As studied in neuromagnetic stimulations, encumbering the brain to a great extent can be a cause for physical pain. We critics are martyrs – through our self-sacrifice we free plebeians of their ignorance and ablute them of their sins.
There have been numerous undisputable masterpieces among anime, such as the Ishihaya Tatsuya’s strikingly realistic classic Clannad or the tactique extraordinaire Code Geass by Taniguchi Goro. Sakura Trick will not join their ranks; its surface is too generic, its themes too provocative, and its messages too obscure. It will remain underground – treasured by the most avant-garde among intellectuals for its edifying if horrifying insight into the fundaments of sexuality. Philistines and self-proclaimed critics alike will shun Sakura Trick, but you can’t fault them for that. It takes boundless wisdom to appreciate its subtleties, and courage to side with the unpopular opinion. Sed domi maneas paresque nobis novem continuas fututiones. The time of Sigmund Freud’s sovereignty over psychoanalysis has passed; Sakura Trick is the herald of a new era that is to come.
When it comes to Anime, implied sexual attraction between two female characters is an often repeated trend. The main issue here is the word "implied." Very rarely are we treated to a blatant representation of lesbian couples, and the most we get are vague undertones that are just sort of there in the background. This stirs the audience's imagination, while still playing it safe at the same time. It's a real shame, because this squanders golden opportunities for presenting unique relationships that could potentially result in more memorable characters. Sure, Yuri series have been done before, but just try finding more than a couple of
examples from the past few years. If you're not looking through Hentai, it isn't easy. Sakura Trick is a rare gem that isn't afraid to go all out, as if in direct opposition to the current trends. With its cast of colorful characters, along with an intimate romance that has the ability to melt the hearts of countless viewers, Sakura Trick offers solid proof that there is too much untapped potential present in the Yuri genre for it to keep being neglected any further.
There isn't any overarching story present in Sakura Trick, as is usually the case with Slice of Life series taking place at high school. Instead, each episode is divided up into two segments that depict a different day from Haruka and Yuu's first year of school as they deal with the comical situations that their budding relationship gets them into, as well as the complications that inevitably arise along the way. The first segment lasts for around half an episode, and then the second takes up the remaining run-time while covering a different scenario. Despite this, the pacing for each part isn't as fast as you would expect. A lot is packed into twenty minutes, but there's plenty of slow and easy-going moments that will make you feel very comfortable with the way things are proceeding. While some may view the lack of a concrete story as a negative point, it's clear that Sakura Trick's priorities lie with the characters and their romantic development.
As the main couple of the show, Haruka and Yuu get the most time in the spotlight. Haruka is very possessive of Yuu, and gets jealous whenever others get too close. She's very assertive, but never to the point where she does anything that Yuu wouldn't be okay with. She also has a very overactive imagination, leading to some of the best comedic moments of the show. Her perverted fantasies make her a far more realistic character, as they mirror the thoughts that any young girl might have towards the person that they like. Yuu on the other hand, has a more stubborn personality, and isn't as honest with herself as Haruka is. This results in some great progression later on, as Yuu begins to express herself to Haruka in more direct ways. The contrast between Haruka and Yuu makes their unique form of love all the more fascinating to watch, and at no point does it feel unnatural that they are together.
Yuu's older sister Mitsuki provides needless conflict to Haruka and Yuu's relationship, but still manages to be likable in her own right. She forms a crush on Haruka, and struggles to come to terms with her newly found affection. The issue is that this creates a bit of unnecessary drama later on, which just feels out of place in a show that was doing so well without it.
Haruka and Yuu are joined by a circle of close friends that liven up their high school days. Noda Kotone is a rich, playful girl who lives her life to the fullest in order to leave no regrets behind. She is staying at the same house as the quiet and reserved Shizuku, who doesn't have much of a presence. Eventually a love forms between the two of them as well. The few scenes that they share together are some of the cutest of the whole show, so it's really a shame that more episodes weren't devoted to expanding upon their relationship. The last two characters are Kaede and Yuzu, who are mostly present to provide their own wacky sense of humor. They play their roles near-perfectly, but they're definitely low on the show's priority list. For what little screen time they share alone together, they are given a fair amount of depth. Without these supporting characters, Sakura Trick would lose a large piece of what makes it so enjoyable.
Sakura Trick is renowned for its adorable romance, and this is one area where it really shines. If you want to see some heartfelt moments between two lovers, this series has you more than covered. It doesn't take much to throw two characters on screen and have them kiss, and indeed Sakura Trick does do this, but there's a reason why it works so well. It's because the emotions feel genuine. Haruka and Yuu share a relationship greater than that of two random girls making out solely to appeal to the male demographic. This isn't some forced, fake romance--it's real.
There are numerous examples that establish the authenticity of these feelings. We can tell that Haruka cares more about Yuu's happiness than her own. She'll go out of her way to form a study group when Yuu is having trouble in class, and she'll make an appeal to the student council to have a cheering squad just so Yuu can fulfill her dream of being a cheerleader. It's the same with Yuu, who despite getting into quarrels with Haruka, always has her in mind. She knows Haruka really values their kisses, so even though she has a more passive personality, she tries her best to take the initiative. It's because of this mutual affection that a mere kiss can become something truly special. The fact that Sakura Trick didn't stop at pointless fan service and went that extra mile by presenting a believable romance reveals that the creators had more than just money on their minds. Other romance series can take a few pointers from the pure, consensual love present in Sakura Trick.
If you're after a few laughs, Sakura Trick will most likely satisfy in that department. This show is based off of the original 4-koma manga, where a joke needs to be effectively executed in a mere four panels, so extra care is put into each and every punchline. It never feels like a joke was thrown in just for the heck of it, and some even reveal quite a bit about the characters involved. Unfortunately, there are a few cliches and repetitive jokes, such as misunderstandings between characters, mixed in with the more well-written material. Overall, I wouldn't say the comedy is anything entirely new or groundbreaking, but the characters are what really make it work.
A lot of effort was put into Sakura Trick's animation, and it shows in all the right ways. Vivid colors are used to emphasize the characters' unique personalities, while the backgrounds are less detailed but focus more on creating a calming atmosphere that make watching very easy on the eyes. If you notice any similarities to another major animation studio, then you aren't imagining things. Studio DEEN uses many of Shaft's techniques, to the point where you'd think it was a Shaft work before looking it up. It closely mimics many aspects of the popular series Hidamari Sketch (the primary reason being that the same director was involved); it uses the same quick scene transitions and sound effects, as well as symbols used on screen to represent the position or introduction of a character. Because of this, Sakura Trick fails to establish its own identity in the visuals department. They aren't exactly terrible though, and anyone unfamiliar with Shaft's works will still be able to appreciate them.
On the subject of visuals, I should also note that the fan service can really get obnoxious at times. The camera just loves to focus on bouncing breasts and the thighs of characters at the most unfitting times. This is one of the major reasons why I couldn't bring myself to fully enjoy the show. Sure, it's nowhere near as bad other current shows, but those looking for a completely pure experience will sadly be disappointed by this fact.
The sound itself is unremarkable, with the exception of the soft piano and violin tracks that play during romantic scenes. The opening and ending themes will be catchy enough to stay stuck in your head for a while, and I'd say that they are what stand out the most. The voice actors also put on a above-average performance, especially Iguchi Yuka as Yuu and Tomatsu Haruka as Haruka.
Sakura Trick is one of my favorite romance anime to come out in recent years. It's much more than mindless fan service devoid of any sort of substance, and actually portrays a love that feels both endearing and natural. While each character has their own flaws, it only makes them feel more human and less like an uninspired cardboard cutout. Sakura Trick is a step in the right direction for romance shows, and for Yuri in general. Hopefully it will inspire others to create better stories that depict this often neglected form of love. I certainly hope that time comes soon.
At the start of the season, Sakura Trick came in strong. While there has been tons of yuri undertones in anime, characters with physically intimate relationships are still pretty rare, so seeing two high school girls locking fingers and making out was what one would consider "the bees knees", and animation segues in vain of Hidamari Sketch, and even the same DIRECTOR? Hell yeah. Sign me up. This could never get tiring, right?
Turns out, it takes a mere half a season for it to go from a novelty to a daily routine. After a dozen and half make out sessions, they stop meaning anything and
begin to seem like a time filler. Beyond LESBIANS~, you are stuck with a cast of characters who are, quite frankly, dull as dishwater. Too much time is squandered away on Haruka, Yuu, and Mitsuki, and the rest of the supporting cast don't get enough individual screen time for themselves or to even get a chance to develop their own side-stories that aren't resolved instantaneously.
While the OP and ED are high energy, the actual OST is rather serene, giving scenes that require a higher tempo BG no punch, and at times, comes off as dissonant with the activities and dialogs being exchanged. Even if backed by a proper OST, it still wouldn't help because gags are too seldom and too few warrant a chuckle.
The visuals are fine, but mostly because it's similar to Hidamari Sketch, except heavily indentured. Part of Hidamark Sketch's charm was the odd animation segues, cutaways, and minimalism. The SHAFTisms separated it from its other SoL peers. Unfortunately, Studio Deen isn't SHAFT. They're a poor company who make low budget garbage like Hetalia, Higurashi, and Pupa, so we're left with the most basic fragments of Hidamari-esque cutaways. Instead of attempting to reinvent Hidamari's SHAFTisms, it's more than content to copycat them very, very poorly. Aside from those little touches, the coloring, while a nice change from many shows that use bright hues, can contribute to the malaise I was feeling as I powered through each episode week after week. The animation is what you would expect from a low-tier studio: most average, but spotty. In terms of quality, it's pretty high end for Studio Deen, so I guess congrats on not making something that looks like complete pigshit for once?
By the end of the season, watching Sakura Trick went from how I kicked off waking up at God-knows-what-hour on Friday mornings to go to college into a chore that I would hold off for several days, finished only out of obligation for coming so far. I really did want the novelty to never die. I really did want to like the characters and find them interesting, but as episode 12 was coming to a close, I had my epiphany: This show is boring as shit.
Sakura Trick is a refreshingly different Slice of life show, it throws away the concept of static timelines often seen in SOL shows, there is continuity between each episode and changes in each character and their relationships, minor or major, can be felt together with the passage of time.
The show presents to us a cast of multifaceted characters and the relationships they share, not solely romantic bonds, but also the ties between friends and between sisters.
What I loved most in the show was how it built on its characters. Sakura Trick avoids the use of heavy dialogue and inner monologue as a means
of developing it's characters. Instead, the characters change subtly with the happenings of each episode, leaving space for interpretation on the part of the viewer as well as giving it a natural feel.
For example, as Mitsuki says, Yuu is often not honest with her true feelings, this is something we see through her actions rather than words. I'll give a minor spoiler to illustrate this point.
This trait can been seen from the very start when Yuu makes a phone call to Haruka. She 'checks on' Haruka and quickly hangs up as if just doing a routine check, but the fact that she was awake past midnight and that she called Haruka with nothing substantial to say gives away the excitement she's hiding, she's starting her life as a High School Student after all.
The way the show dealt with dramatic scenes was another thing I liked. There is no reliance on contrived situations nor do they blow mundane problems out of proportion in Sakura Trick. Tense situations are resolved quickly and the characters avoid escalating the issue. Presenting drama this way feels much more natural.
Some might see this as weak storytelling but I would argue in the opposite direction. Because of the show's episodic nature, there is a tendency to dismiss that each scene has significance beyond their respective episodes, but as I previously pointed out, the characters change subtly with each event, the feelings they experience at each point weighs on them and affects the way that they behave.
It's easy to overgeneralize and dismiss the series as purely fan service. Fanservice is present, in terms of selective shots, but this does not distort the characters. Some dumb down the kissing to being a service for the viewers, completely overlooking the relationship between Yuu and Haruka and the emotions which drive each kiss.
If you do plan to pick up this series, try to look at it from your own perspective. Look at the characters as real people rather than try to stereotype them.
Girls are said to be the most loving beings in existence, something that is true in real life and in anime. So what about girls who love other girls? Well that, my friends, is the definition of yuri anime. From just friends to more than friends, here are 20 of the best yuri anime of all time.