(Warning, the following article contains spoilers for Sakura Quest. Read at your own responsibility)
As you may recall, I quite like it when an anime series focuses on adult characters. So as you might imagine, my ears perked up when I heard that P.A.Works, the studio that did the phenomenal workplace series about making anime, Shirobako, was going to be doing another original anime series about working adults. I did not know what to expect going into this, but I was at least hoping this would be one of P.A.Works’ “hit” series(to say that P.A.Works’ track record has been extremely hit or miss is a vast understatement). Sakura Quest stumbles a bit out of the gate, but beyond that I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this series.
However I probably should begin with that iffy beginning. Sakura Quest begins with our main character, Yoshino Koharu, trying to find a job in Tokyo before she gets kicked out of her college dorm following graduation. There is just one teeny-tiny problem, she keeps bombing the interviews. A huge factor in this is how she responds to questions such as her willingness to work in a company’s branch location out in the countryside. You see, Yoshino herself actually was from a rural town when she was younger, and let’s just say she is less than enthused to return to the sticks.
But desperate times call for desperate measures and Yoshino eventually agrees to join the tourism board for a struggling rural village called Manoyama and act as their “Queen” for a day. A few problems arise, though. For starters, it turns out that Yoshino wasn’t who they actually wanted for the job, but rather some long dead idol/actress from decades past who had a similar name.
To rub salt to the wound, Yoshino didn’t even actually read her contract properly, as the job wasn’t for one day, but one year. So Yoshino’s initial goal is to get the hell out of dodge as soon as possible. Even the discovery that Manoyama was the source of a cherished memory that caused a recurring dream for Yoshino since childhood wasn’t enough to keep her there.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t like Yoshino at first. I felt like she was being a downright jerk, especially since part of her so called “suffering” was self-inflicted because she didn’t properly read her work contract. Now I get it, reading contracts is one of those things most people can’t be arsed to do, especially when it is something simple like a user agreement. But when it is a freaking god damn work contract, you better examine that thing front, back, and side-to-side thrice over before you know what the hell you are getting yourself into.
Thankfully Yoshino isn’t in douche mode for long, and she gets over herself actually rather quickly all things considered. A large factor for this is the friends she makes while in Manoyama; Shiori Shinomiya, Maki Midorikawa, Ririko Oribe, and Sanae Kozuki.
Shiori and the others are promoted to minister positions on the tourism board and their main job, together with Yoshino, is to somehow figure out a way to bring economic life back to Manoyama. This is a task much easier said than done, especially when you consider two factors. The first is that the tourism board already tried to do many of the ideas the five of them come up with. The second is that, from what I can tell, the majority of the people in the village are extremely stubborn when it comes to change, so they desperately cling to their traditional way of life like a drowning man clinging to a log.
Chief among the anti-change sentiment is Ririko’s grandmother, who runs a sweets shop, and holds a massive grudge against Yoshino’s boss. If they have any hopes of making any real progress, they need to convert her at all costs. This is something they seem to be doing bit by bit as the show moves along, though, thanks to their inside woman, Ririko.
While I enjoy watching the girls’ attempts at revitalizing Manoyama, and I am sure it will continue to be a big aspect of the show in the long run, the thing that really draws me into the show is how it tackles the subject of young adults in their twenties struggling with finding a career, or even an identity. Yoshino is the most up front example of this, of course, due to her struggling views when it comes to city life vs. rural life and the fact that she failed over 20 interviews. Of course she isn’t the only one struggling like this. Maki is a former actress who wanted to become an artist, but her father didn’t exactly jive with the idea of her going to art school, so she ended up just dropping out from college.
Sanae, however, is the one whose plight I can probably most relate to. She used to live in Tokyo, but her constant, bordering on neurotic worrying about her position at work led to her going above and beyond the call of duty to the detriment of her health. When her body couldn’t take it anymore and she had to be hospitalized briefly, her world crashed down around her as she began fearing about how her absence was affecting her coworkers’ work. Upon finding out they had no problem keeping up because they simply had someone pick up her duties, that old chestnut thought of, “Anyone can do this job, why am I needed?” began running rampant through her mind and she ran off to Manoyama for a chance at a new beginning.
When Sanae told Yoshino about her past, Yoshino, in a rare case of maturity above her age, gave Sanae a speech about how while it may indeed be true that anyone can do her job, no one else can do it the way she can and that everyone puts a little bit of themselves into their work. The reason the situation around Sanae resonates with me so much is because I’ve gone through the same mental path she has gone through. Maki also has said some things that ran me through, including this particular line from the most recent episode:
That line pierced me right down to my very core, because that is a thought I’ve fought with many times over the last few years. I’m nearly a full decade removed from high school and I still don’t have a career or even an inkling of what I want to make my career. Sure I have a lot of passion projects and hobbies, but none of them are things I look at and say, “I can absolutely see myself doing this for money for the rest of my life” and it is one of the many things that eat away at me as time goes on.
When you are a teen, it is pretty much beaten into you that you need to figure out what you want to do before you get out of college, let alone your twenties. I know all too well the potential for anime to affect you on an emotional level, but even with that in mind what Sakura Quest has been able to do has taken me by surprise. For an anime series to legitimately make me sit for a while and think, “What the hell have I actually done with my life so far?” says a lot about how invested I am in the series and how close to home its themes hit. As Sakura Quest is a two cour show, there is still plenty of room for things to go south in a very bad way, but for now I think Sakura Quest is one particular quest absolutely worth taking.