Sakura Diaries, created by the prolific adult-manga artist, U-Jin, surpassed every one of my expectations and delivered one of the most heartfelt themes about independency, pride, and responsibility.
Sakura Diaries focuses on our protagonist, Touma Inaba, a slacker whose ambitions are those of a selfish nature and whose desires are those of a lustful encounter. Touma isn't interested in going to one of the top colleges in Japan, Keio University, and merely wants to take the entrance exam as a souvenir token. His intentions is suddenly turned on its head when he bumps into Meiko Yotsuba, a remarkably attractive woman that Touma quickly develops feelings for soon after their brief confrontation. Along the way, Touma meets up with his cousin, Urara Kasuga, who is deeply in love with Touma and tries to reconcile with him after years of separation. Touma, however, want to steal Meiko's heart, and enrolls in a cram school in hopes that he will make it to Keio University. This love triangle between Touma, Urara, and Meiko is the main focus that drives the plot throughout the show.
Touma is the worst romantic protagonist, but for all the right reasons. Throughout the course of the show, he is always making mistakes and finds himself constantly lying. Whether it's to get closer to Meiko, or to protect Urara's feelings, it becomes apparent that he is the only character in this show that is emotionally hurting other characters. Touma is, by definition, his own antagonist and its his selfish endeavors that keeps him from making any progress in the relationships between his friends and lovers. Adding in the fact that he wants to lose his virginity and his disinterest in his studies are also vices that plagues Touma's life. What makes Touma stand out are his countless efforts of self-reflection, where he is aware of the dire consequences of his actions and tries to remedy it, only to find out that he doesn't the skills or courage enough to set everything straight. When Touma learns that he is being deceived, he doesn't curse at the deception but instead promises himself to improve himself by becoming a better person. This level of introspection and self-improvement is what Touma brings to the show, that he's able to grow and mature even if it hurts him the most.
Urara, Touma's cousin, wants nothing more than to be by Touma's side and desperately wants to get his attention, despite how much he dislikes the idea. Urara's character might sound simple, and the fact that she never changes as much as Touma perhaps proves that point. Perhaps it isn't too silly for me to say that she represents the rom-com character as the ditzy but supportive (and sexually promiscuous) female lead. It wouldn't come off as a big surprise when I also think that Urara is a product of society. Her only friend wants to have sex, and her naughty and crude discussion only fuels her loose behavior around Touma. She is also surrounded by popular culture (television, magazines, etc.) that promotes sex positivity and beautification. Urara doesn't change, but she allows others like Touma and Meiko to change themselves for the better.
Speaking of Meiko, Meiko is a unique character that will only describe her as the most mature individual in the show. When we are first introduced to Meiko, she is remarkably beautiful and her friendly nature compels Touma to follow her in hopes of making her his wife. Her true intentions are never clear until she herself breaks the news to Touma. I can't give out much away about her character, but her revelations and her overall character arc does keep me interested without making me feel disgust or enraged.
So with all of that said, Sakura Diaries is a character-driven show, and with such realistic characters on its roster helps it to stand out from its predecessors of the genre and show that it can move on from its tropes and cliches without feeling compelled to satisfy those traditions of the past. Sakura Dairies, on the surface, seems to be just your average rom-com where everything done and said is insignificant, but within it lies the heart and spirit of what makes characters fill with passion and vigor.