A country bumpkin (by Japanese standards), Inaba Touma travels to Tokyo to enter a university so that he might experience something other than the resort / hotel in the Izu countryside where he was brought up. Upon arrival at his hotel room in Tokyo, he meets a girl who he doesn't realize is his cousin ... and who happens to have an unrequited love for him. As the story moves along, he then fights for a position in one of Tokyo's most distinguished universities, while struggling for the love of yet another girl.
Inaba Touma (nicknamed "Tonma") is one the most clueless characters in anime, and it's not ignorance of the cute sort. His narration of the story is sad and wistful ... which gives a good idea of the mistakes he commits in this series. The characters are *all* childish and unsympathetic towards the others, and at times downright mean.
On the positive side, the plot and animation are good, and the storyline is actually quite interesting. Apart from a disturbing near-rape in the unedited version of the series, there is very little violence here, unless you count Tonma slapping Urara just for having cooked him lunch (!) ... again, Tonma is ... unsympathetic, to say the least. You won't fall in love with these characters, since they never seem to grow up. (Okay, they do, it just takes a loooong time.)
Sakura Diaries does give a good example of how Japanese colleges are like, and what students must do when they fail the entrance exams. In that sense, it's even educational. The situations these characters face are true-to-life and the decisions they make are sometimes understandable, but the intelligence of the cast leaves something to be desired. If you ignore the Urara-exclusive fan service, this could be a pretty good soap opera. But there is something amiss here, and it's a shame. The background music is bland and uninspired, and the themes are slow folksongs that are nice, but won't win over too many fans. When the starting theme song comes on, you'll swear you're about to watch a PBS instructional.
The frustrating thing is that there really is a kernel of a good show in here. It seems to us that the anime creators wanted to focus on the fan service and titillation aspect (after all, it's *U-Jin*), conveniently forgetting that U-Jin was actually going for a romance story, and not porn. It's a shame, because the half-hearted scripting hides the surprising fact that U-Jin can actually write an excellent love story to go with that beautiful art of his. At least the ending turns out well.
Good animation and plot are this anime's forte ... if only the characters and animators cared more ...
Recommended Audience: Again, no violence, though there's the occasional nudity. It seems Urara needs to be naked to be cute, which is pretty sad. There is one very jarring near-rape in one episode. Not nearly as blatant as you'd expect from U-Jin, though. (See U-Jin Brand.) The sixteen and over age group may like this, though; anyone younger wouldn't be interested, anyway.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub; R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Sakura Diaries © 1997 U-JIN / Shogakukan / Kitty Film / Victor Entertainment
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