Anime on DVD Recommends: Sakura Diaries Collector's Edition - Mania.com



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Anime on DVD Recommends: Sakura Diaries Collector's Edition

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Sakura Diaries Collector's EditionSakura Tsuushin logoUrara from Sakura Diaries
ST tankouban 1 coverSakura Diaries (original title: Sakura Tsuushin) is an OVA series based on the popular manga by U-Jin, who is (in)famous for his erotic titles Angel, Konai Shasei (aka the Tales of... series), and U-Jin Brand (all of which have also been animated), among many others. It ran from 1995 to 2000 in Shogakukan's weekly Young Sunday (and 20 tankouban volumes), and remains his longest-running series. A condensed version (with colour pages and new framing story and art) concentrating on the three main characters was published by Futabasha's Action Comics imprint in 2001.

In this series, we follow Touma Inaba, a young man from Izu who comes to Tokyo on a cold day to test for entry in several prestigious universities, including Keio. As he's settling into his hotel room and marveling at the amenities it offers (including very interesting TV programming), someone knocks on his door. It's an extremely cute girl with short red hair in a high-school uniform, who walks into his room, talks about him being her "next client" and even starts undressing, all the while telling him coquettishly to not look at her yet. This arouses him, but also makes him suspicious, since he definitely hadn't called for that sort of service. All the while, she wonders to herself when he's finally going to notice the hints she's dropping and keeps asking him if he recognizes her. He doesn't, and throws her out of his room, followed by her clothes. After she bangs on the door and calls him names, including "Tonma" ("idiot," and his childhood nickname), he opens the door and sees her standing there looking sadly at him, and asking if he has forgotten about something. She then sneezes, calls him a "baka" and walks away. He winds up catching a cold, which causes him to fail two of the exams. We later see the girl in a change room at school (U-Jin, remember) talking with her friend about what happened, and find out that she's Touma's cousin, Urara Kasuga. She had met him only once before, six years ago, but he left such a deep impression on her that she had never forgotten him in all that time.

Touma and Urara at 12Urara from the OP sequence
Later, we find Touma at Keio, bemoaning the impossibility of passing the entrance exam there, when a sudden gust of wind blows an exam ID into his hand. The picture on it is of a beautiful woman, who then appears before him and thanks him for catching it. Her name is Mieko Yotsuba; Touma is smitten by her, and she seems to like him, too, which makes him more determined to get in. On the morning of the Keio exam, he rushes to make it there on time and encounters that high-school call girl waiting for him at the gate. He is none too happy to see her, and after she asks if he still doesn't remember her, which earns another sharp rebuke, she tries to give him a bento lunch, which he slaps out of her hand. She runs away in tears, which embarrasses him when he notices how many people are now staring at him, and he hurriedly picks it up. Later, he eats it as he talks with Mieko, and falls even harder for her as she confides her experiences, hopes and feelings in him. The next day, he goes to see the posted successful examinees' numbers, and Mieko tells him that she passed and runs into his arms. When he goes to check his own results, he can't find his own student number--which means that he failed. However, he's so swept up in his feelings for Mieko that he gives her a thumbs-up and the impression that he did actually pass. Witnessing all this in the crowd is Urara.

MiekoMieko runs to Touma
After returning home to Izu to curse his terrible luck, Touma is determined to go back to Tokyo and attend a cram school so he can improve his chances in the entrance exams next year. At the train station, Urara talks with his mother on the phone and finds out that he'd failed all his exams. His mother arranges for him to stay at his uncle's place, and he is greatly surprised to be greeted at the door by the "bloomer seller" he'd been dealing with. He is then shocked anew when she turns out to be wearing nothing under the apron she has on. She explains that she's his cousin, isn't really a call girl and had done both these things just to try to cheer him up. Before too long, we find out that she loves him dearly, and that there is more to her than he thinks. Thus begins the complicated relationships between the main members of the cast, including Koumi Natsuki, Urara's aforementioned friend (and proof that some girls can have sex on the brain as much as most guys do), and Mashu Tatsuhiko, a Keio frosh and playboy with designs on Meiko who also deftly deals with the crush that Koumi develops for him. Being a U-Jin series, all the main female characters are cute/beautiful/sexy and fan service is not frowned upon. It also means that the story is hardly mindless fluff and the characters are given more depth than most erotic manga artists will even dare to attempt.

Urara in apronUrara comforts Touma
How this version of the series came out here is a drama by itself. ADV Films originally released the 12 episodes between mid-2000-early 2001 as four dub VHS tapes or bilingual DVDs only (pictured on the right) as an "experiment" in marketing, which angered sub fans who hadn't made the move to DVD yet (there were still quite a few at the time, including myself). I even started a petition to get a sub VHS version released, which I was embarrassed to see go over like a lead balloon...until the word got out about what ADV had actually released, when it was held up next to the few episodes that had been fansubbed before the licensing announcement. According to the report (Warning: Contains nudity) on Jim Lazar's No Editing Zone, the OVAs were originally released in Japan (on six VHS tapes or LDs) between May and November 1997, and then they were adapted for late-night TV broadcast (which started in November 1998), with digital lingerie added and some scenes completely changed. The latter was the version that ADV had been sent. He also had issues with the translations, especially with the wide differences between the sub and dub scripts. As soon as word got out about this, fans bombarded ADV with demands to get a hold of the original version and release it, since there was no way they were going to stand for this. Sub VHS version? Forget about it; much bigger fish to fry. On Anime on DVD's forums, David Williams kept us up to date about their acquisition of the original OVA masters, and we awaited the final results with bated breath and itchy wallets. When the Collector's Edition was finally released, we waited for word from people who knew their stuff in these areas...and it was good. The price was less than the cost of two of the original DVDs. Every body part was fully intact and shown in its original splendour. The translation was redone from the ground up, and those in the know said that it was more faithful to the original (although there are still a few tiny loose spots in it, but nothing really bad). Due to the changes made in the TV version which the dub was built around, this version was subtitled only (which didn't make a difference to most fans; they hated the dub anyway). According to reports, even the video quality was noticeably improved over the original four discs. This made Sakura Diaries CE a historical release, in that it was the most prominent example at the time (if not the first) of a company admitting that they had made a mistake, and then not only answering fan demand, but going a few steps further as well. Since that time, ADV Films has surpassed all other domestic anime companies in customer relations, which has left such a strong impression on the industry that new company Synch-Point polled fans extensively about what they wanted on anime DVDs before they started production, and their releases of I'm Gonna Be an Angel! and FLCL have also won acclaim. On the other hand, companies whose customer relations are next to non-existent, which is frequently reflected in the (lack of) quality of their releases, are subject to a lot of criticism (and personal boycotts) by hardcore anime fans. And rightly so, in my opinion.
Don't buy this disc...
...or this one...
...or this one...
...or even this one.
Koumi and UraraTouma ponders geometry
Unlike some of the other authors in Anime on DVD Recommends, I'm not going to pretend that Sakura Diaries is a perfect series. Many people who have followed the original manga have taken exception to how the main characters' personalities are not quite the same in the animated version; most notable was Helen McCarthy, in a feature in issue #17 of the now-defunct Manga Max magazine. The tone and events in the story are also softened from their occasionally gritty origins (if it had followed the manga faithfully, this would have been a Soft Cel release, even though it's not as gratuitous as U-Jin's popular work usually is), which makes things seem more shocking when the OVAs take a turn in that direction halfway through. Also, since the manga was still running in Young Sunday while this series was being produced, the ending is pretty ambiguous and anticlimactic. However, it's a testimony to the strength of the story that it stands up well as a romantic drama despite all these things.

This is the one to buy.Sakura Diaries Collector's Edition
Released by: ADV Films, 2001 12 04
In Japanese with English subtitles.
Running time: 265 minutes (on two DVD9s)
MSRP: $44.95 US
Rated: 17 Up
Article and layout by Dave Watson, who now collects anime DVDs (when his funds permit),
but still has a soft spot in his spleen for DVD snobs--right next to all the other types.
Return to Anime on DVD Recommends.
Return to Anime on DVD.

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