If I were honest, I feel that Sakura Wars: The Animation episode 2 is going to be the episode which causes a fair few people to walk away from the series if they’re less familiar with the franchise it’s derived from. This isn’t to say the episode is bad, by any stretch, as I enjoyed it in the same way I found the first episode a decent introduction to the anime.
The issue, once again, is related to accessibility. Although the first episode was mostly able to dance around this last week, the anime’s incidental approach to introducing new concepts is hit-and-miss this week and, in some crucial areas, is completely non-existent. Unfortunately, this works to the series’ detriment.
(Anything But) Short and Sweet
Last week I noted that, aside from the name-dropping of various characters through the use of the newest recruit to the theatre troupe, the amnesiac Klara, audiences are left in the cold if they wish to understand the rules of this alternative Japan.
It worked, though! In episode 1, the biggest issue was introducing the alternate Taisho-era Tokyo the world of Sakura Wars uses as its setting, as well as allowing us to meet the large ensemble cast of characters we would be spending the next few months with. While familiar to those who’d played the PS4 title set for release in English at the end of this month, many will enter this anime lacking this familiarity. These people will need to be brought up to speed, and as an introduction to the world of Sakura Wars, it mostly succeeds.
Such an approach is less effective this week, as the anime is forced to flesh these characters and settings out into more than a name and a pretty face. Sakura Wars episode 2 suffers by assuming it can introduce an alternative geopolitical structure and a large ensemble cast through off-hand dialogue.
For example, the character introductions are poorly handled. Having briefly met these characters last week, over half of this week’s episode is spent with Sakura taking Klara around the theatre to meet the various characters working in the Theatre Troupe. While I’m glad we get to know more about the cast beyond the immediate positive first impressions they gave off last week, I’m not sure who these introductions were made for.
If you’re someone who’s played the new Sakura Wars game and are therefore familiar with these characters, you don’t need these scenes at all. The opening moments of the game introduce you to the characters in almost identical terms, and considering series fans who played the title will be a major audience for the series in Japan, this will feel repetitive. Even for those internationally who’ve yet to experience the game, the scene takes up too much time and is poorly paced. While in gameplay you get to interact between introductions and have more involvement, moved into a non-interactive form these introductions feel excessive.
Then there are the other elements of the world. While brief discussions of other Theatre Troupe battle units around the world occurred last week, Sakura Wars episode 2 offers no further clarity on this despite their importance. This is a world order far removed from that we’re familiar with, and a lack of any sort of explainer to clue the unfamiliar into how these teams work together and what the forces they’re battling against are would make the series much easier to follow.
These two issues bring down the much stronger elements of the episode. I liked it when Sakura was interacting with Klara, and how everyone came together to protect her when she was threatened by the mechanical black cape. I liked the introduction of the white-caped mystery helper, despite Sakura’s obliviousness to their true identity when it’s painfully obvious. The action was smooth, and I’m intrigued by the cliffhanger ending of the episode too.
The story is handled well, but the pacing holds it back.
Sakura Wars The Animation Episode 2: Pacing Problems Hold The Series Back
Sakura Wars episode 2 gives us a worrying sign that the series may not understand its target audience. The episode gives off the impression that the creators don’t know whether to target the series to diehard fans of the franchise or whether to court new audiences. The long introductions will feel like repetition to veterans, yet the pacing of these introductions coupled with the lack of introductions to other important aspects of the world of Sakura Wars will leave new fans in the dark.
This is the reason I fear many will leave this series after this week’s episode, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Well-animated action sequences and glimpses of quality can’t hide these more glaring issues.