Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo, or The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. This is one of those shows that I watched completely blind. Someone told me to check it out, I saw it had a surprisingly high MAL score, was intrigued, and summarily watched it not knowing anything else about it. The first thing to get out of the way about Sakurasou is that, right off the bat, it is a very much a light novel show. Light novel fingerprints are all over it. The opening scene, the main character’s gonna wake up with panties in his face. That’s just how it’s gotta be; fan service will be a presence. If that’s an immediate turnoff, there might not be a ton here for you, which was my own worry as I trudged through episode one.
As always, this review is provided in video format and transcribed directly below. I would like to note that my reviews are written first and foremost to be experienced as videos (that is, read aloud), so no guarantees that jokes, grammar, or anything else will transition entirely smoothly to text.
But nonetheless, I carried on. Said main character had by his own admission no outstanding features, because of course he doesn’t. He’s a nice guy everyman who happens to be surrounded by all these beautiful women who are all into him to varying degrees, but he is also completely inept at distinguishing the romantic feelings of his peers, because if your lead hooks up... well then that’s the end of the series, riiight?
But I digress. I’m getting ahead of myself. Sakurasou tells the story of Sakura Hall, or (in Japanese ) “Sakura-sou”, a dorm at Suimei High School reserved for only the most eccentric and ill-adapted misfits, which begs the question: if the main character — whose name is Sorata, by the way — if Sorata is such an average Joe, why did he end up at Sakura Hall? Why, because it is the only hall which allows pets, and Sorata stumbled upon some cute little kitties that he just couldn’t bring himself to abandon. Nonetheless, Sorata hopes to find owners for these cats asap and get out of the hall as soon as he can, back to the treasured world of normalcy. But naturally, as he spends time at Sakura-sou, Sorata comes to enjoy the company of his fellow dormmates and finds himself less and less eager to actually leave, especially once he starts taking care of a newcomer to the hall: a quiet, blonde girl named Mashiro Shiina.
So what better place to go from there than talking about the characters? If nothing else the show’s lineup is mostly distinct, and surprisingly multifaceted, even the main character whom I just mocked. While Sorata is at large the usual bland nice guy protagonist, there are certain elements at play that make him somewhat distinguishable, chief among them his unique relationship with Mashiro and his evolving goal to create a video game, neither of which are as decisively separate as they might seem.
The rest of the residents at Sakura Hall come packaged, as you would expect, with their own expressive personalities; once again, “distinct” being the best word that comes to mind. A single female teacher wallowing in her not-exactly-young age and lack of significant other is old hat when it comes to anime, but everyone else is either surprisingly non-archetypal, or surprisingly extreme versions of archetypes, embodied most readily by Jin and Misaki. Jin is at first glance a standard suave megane-kun, but this is immediately turned on its head when he is shown to be a literal playboy, it being stated in no uncertain terms that he’s sleeping around with a number of older women at any given time. That’s kind of eye-catching right off the bat, just because anime is usually so waffle-y about the idea of sex in series that are otherwise not really involved with the subject, but to make things better, that’s only the first layer of his character. Jin is also a writer, frequently collaborating with his childhood friend Misaki.
Misaki, like Jin, doesn’t give a great first impression, coming off as a slightly annoying genki girl with no concept of personal space and no place for “restraint” in her personal dictionary. But, as I said, she spends much of her time working on projects with Jin; while he provides the writing, she provides the animation. That’s right, she makes anime, and in a way that feels believably passionate, not just like a quick quirk thrown in to appeal to the otaku audience. As time goes on, you also get the sense that she doesn’t know how to properly express herself, and as a result overcompensates, which makes everything she says come off as a joke and feel easy to brush off. This is most important due to the fact that she is in love with little Jin. I mean after all, they’re childhood friends, remember? So most of Misaki’s big scenes and plot moments are related to those romantic feelings, trying to both get Jin to notice her and convince him to feel the same.
Last but not least, of the initial dorm members, we have Ryuunosuke, a closeted NEET. Well, technically, just a shut-in, not a full NEET, because he is in fact quite a skilled programmer, contracted to work for several large companies and apparently having an affinity for viruses and hacking. Ryuunosuke spends the early stretch of Sakurasou cloistered in his room, a presence known only through text messages that will, with slight prompting, occasionally provide snippets of sound advice. After a point though, he starts physically showing up for... no real reason whatsoever. It’s as if the author felt a new face was just needed, which is kind of lame. That said, I did enjoy his greater presence. Ryuunosuke played the needed role of a no-nonsense character who always cuts to the heart of the matter, telling it how it is even if other people don’t want to hear it and shun him for it (which probably led to his extreme isolation in the first place).
Anyhoo, after a short time the cast is joined by Sorata’s classmate, Nanami. Nanami reminded me of Toradora’s Minori, a girl who overextends herself, thinking she can do everything until she very clearly cannot. Nanami also has a very big crush on Sorata, but is of course unable to tell him, and actually, she moved into Sakura Hall to begin with because she started feeling a little uneasy about his intimacy with another girl in the dorms, being the only resident I have yet to cover.
I am of course referring to the show’s titular character, Mashiro, the “pet girl” of Sakura-sou. You might speculate that this “pet girl” refers to someone who just really likes pets or something — that would fit with the premise, since Sorata has those cats he’s trying to get rid of — but no, rather, Mashiro herself is practically a pet, at the outset seemingly unable to handle basic solitary activities nor grasp the essentials of human social interaction.
Mashiro almost certainly has some sort of mental disorder and I say that in full seriousness. It is never directly stated, and I won’t pretend I’m versed enough in the field to properly diagnose her, but her peculiar actions very strongly imply something. She can memorize things after only seeing them once, describing the process as “imagining them like pictures” when asked. She frequently cuts through the roundabout conversation of her peers with her lack of tact and filter, in a very obviously unintentional manner. When a friend gives an impassioned diatribe directed squarely at her, Mashiro literally responds by saying that she doesn’t understand what is being said, utterly failing to grasp the intricacies of emotion. This extends to even include herself, telling Sorata to “get out from inside me” when she starts to develop feelings for him, unable to properly process what those feelings are.
It’s a very fascinating representation of her character, managing to avoid seeming like simply a robotic “anime” girl and instead illustrating someone who thinks and perceives fundamentally differently... which frankly also leads to Mashiro being comedy gold, simply repeating prior remarks when the conversation has stalled, or overstepping bounds without realizing it.
But Mashiro’s presence is not a purely comedic one. As implied by the aforementioned feats of memorization, Mashiro is a savant. She might not be great at the whole “talking and empathizing” thing, but she can totally do art, which brings us to the point of Sakurasou. The show is ostensibly about talent, the talent gap and the endless struggle to fill it. Characters will be driven to despair by languishing in another’s shadow. They question how it’s fair for other people to be immediately so successful at what they themselves want to do. They ask, is it even worth it to try if there will always be someone better? If your hard work is never rewarded?
Because of this, the show is also surprisingly willing to lets its characters fail, since in reality, flawless victory on your first try is exceedingly rare. Most people aren’t great right away. They need to take time and put in extraordinary effort to reach those lucky people that do start higher up thanks to that unfair, nebulous “talent”. This also shows that failure inherently isn’t the end of the world. Life always goes on, letting you try again, and again.
Now that’s a message I can get behind, on paper, but I felt the show was raising these questions and these points without really coming to a conclusion on them. By the end, it just sort of fizzled out, which was hardly helped by the muffling presence of your usual anime bullsh*t.
There is a not-insignificant degree of fan service in Sakurasou, as I mentioned at the very beginning. The show’s not exactly a harem, but Sorata certainly finds himself surrounded by plenty of cute girls, most of whom end up shoving their boobs and butts in his face at one point or another, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The series feels too committed to being a typical romance-drama piece, with all the cliches and tropes that anime always brings to the genre, namely people refusing to talk to each other, and the plot bending over backwards to maintain an indistinct, unresolved status quo.
So much of the drama and the problems that the characters deal with could be immediately resolved if people just opened up a little, and actually had a conversation about things that are important. Mashiro has a great excuse, since she doesn’t get emotion so she wouldn’t know how to talk to people, but no one f*cking else does. And it even pulls out the infuriating, tantalizing teases, like “oh, you want progress? You want the character’s relationships to change in a meaningful way? Well, here’s a love confession — oh wait, she backpedaled by pretending she was just rehearsing for a voice-acting gig”. God dammit! Really? Or how about this line:“No matter how close you are to someone, there are some things you just can’t say.” Why? Why?! It’s a confession of love, not murder! Jesus christ. Who enjoys this? Who enjoys the cast being in a constant state of limbo, playing a never-ending game of musical chairs — where’s the satisfaction in that? What’s the point? What is the fuc—
*deep breath* Okay. Moving on. The show’s visual presentation is serviceable but unremarkable. Unlike a KyoAni work, which usually combines stellar character animation with strong digital effects, Sakurasou goes nearly all-in on the latter. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s bright. Literally, really bright. They laid the lighting on way too thick for certain scenes, and it just felt kind of oversaturated and hard to look at it. There are moments of sakuga, moments of inventive ideas, but likewise moments of terrible animation and/or no ideas. In short, I have no strong feelings on the show’s aesthetic.
For all that, Sakurasou does nail its last three or four episodes. My reviews are spoiler-free remember, so don’t worry I won’t give away what happens, but in those last handful of episodes, the plot builds up some actual momentum, the drama comes to a satisfying if somewhat silly head, and the ultimate ending feels appropriate, so much so that I was surprised to find out that the anime covers not even half of the light novels. No Game No Life’s ending this is not.
So at the end of the day, what do we got with Sakurasou? The characters are pretty okay, it’s pretty funny, it has some halfway interesting points to make (even if that’s all it does with them), and the ending was solid. Unfortunately, it is very much a light novel romance drama anime, and I think your mileage would vary wildly depending on how many cliches you can tolerate.
So after taking everything into account, on a scale from F to S… The Pet Girl of Sakurasou gets a B. It was just above-average enough that I don’t think a C would be fair, but it’s definitely far, far from an A. Give it a shot if you like what you hear, otherwise… eh, it’s not something you really need to see; it’s — it’s alright.
Oh, and speaking of which, Sakurasou is available on — whoo, a ton of places: Crunchyroll, Hulu, Amazon and HiDive
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