Sakura Diaries Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: TV 14
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 150
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Sakura Diaries

Sakura Diaries Vol. #1

By Mike Dungan     January 10, 2006
Release Date: September 27, 2005


Sakura Diaries Vol. #1
© ADV Films


What They Say
Urara likes Touma. Touma likes Mieko. Mieko might like Touma, but Mieko will only date a college man, so what’s a low achiever like Touma to do? Well, why not lie and say he got into the most prestigious college in Tokyo? Now all he has to do to win Mieko’s affection is show up for classes he’s not enrolled in and take tests he’ll never pass. But man-about-campus Mashu’s gunning for Mieko too, and he’s not buying Touma’s excuses. And then there’s Urara. She knows Touma’s no intellectual genius. Will she keep his secret or let the cat out of the bag? What lengths will she go to, to get her chosen man? The only way to find out is to take out your key, open the lock, and sneak a peek into Sakura Diaries!


The Review!
ADV finally releases a bilingual version of the unedited Sakura Dairies, thus closing the chapter on one of the more convoluted releases in the business.

Audio:
Having watched this show several times in Japanese, I was curious to hear the new English dub, a rare directorial effort by ADV veteran Janice Williams. The soundstage was well used, with a nice flow across the speakers; both left to right and front to back. A spot check of the Japanese dialogue showed that the original audio track is holding up very well. I can’t finish without mentioning the opening theme, “From Your Window”, which is still one of the prettiest theme songs I’ve ever heard in anime. The show is almost worth getting just for the opening animation and theme song.

Video:
With the source material dating back to 1997 and 1998, the video transfer looks excellent. I must admit to a bias for the beauty of full-cel animation, so the style already appeals to me. These OVAs had a good budget, and it shows in how smoothly the animation flows. Colors are soft but full. Everything is distinct, with no noticeable cross-coloration or pixelation.

Packaging:
The cover is an eye-catching one, full of white space and the upper half of Urara’s face, her puppy dog eyes staring out at you, almost begging you to buy it. The logo is a simple affair, with a heart-shaped lock hanging off it. The back cover continues the red and white theme, with arrows pointing the reader around the page. A large picture of Urara dominates the back cover, with smaller images of Touma and Mieko, and short row of screencaps. The volume number appears on the front cover and the spine. There is no insert. The DVD itself has a sexy image of Urara in blue against a red background. The credits in the opening animation are identical to the Japanese-language-only Collector’s Edition, but the ending credits are all new, since they need to include the English cast and production personnel. The text used is identical to the previous credits, however, an unusual but very readable font I don’t recall seeing from ADV, before or since.

Menus:
The main menu features Urara, lips pursed, looking expectantly at the viewer. The title, episode numbers, language options, extras and preview for volume 2 are laid out in rectangles of varying sizes, using white and yellow text against a dappled red background. It’s very appealing and quite easy to navigate. There is no transition animation to the sub-menus. The menus are an excellent example of less-is-more in graphic design. When you have attractively designed menus that are easy to navigate, you don’t need all the extra bells and whistles.

Extras:
The cultural notes that were included as an insert in the Collector’s Edition release are included on the disc itself this time. The usual clean opening and closing animations are included, as well as a different, unused ending theme, although the animation is the same.

Content:
(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers) Touma Inaba has left his parent’s country inn to try his luck at attending college in Tokyo. His first night, though, he is visited in his hotel room by a very cute high school girl with short red hair. She’s apparently a call girl, sent to his room by mistake. Although very tempted to take advantage of this gift, he finally throws her out, which surprisingly causes her to cry. The next day, he comes down with a cold and fails the two entrance exams he was confident he could pass. All that’s left is Keio University, the most prestigious college in Tokyo. He was only taking is as a souvenir, but now it’s his last chance. While there, he meets a stunning beautiful woman with long, flowing red hair, Mieko Yotsuba. He’s quickly smitten by her, and she welcomes the friendship. She’s also taking the Keio exam, which she passes. Of course he fails, but in a moment of weakness, he tells her he passed.

Watching all this from the side is the high school girl from Touma’s hotel room. She’s Urara Kasuga, and she’s no call girl. She’s Touma’s cousin, and she was trying to cheer him up before his tests. She had met him only once before, six years earlier, but it made a profound impression on her, and she’s been in love with him ever since. Touma has arranged to live with Urara and her father, so he’s shocked when he discovers his cousin, whom he doesn’t remember, is the call girl from the hotel room. He’s even more surprised when he realizes she’s greeted him in nothing more than an apron and a smile.
Touma is not the brightest of people, so he has no idea how Urara feels about him. She remains flirtatious around him, but he only has eyes for Mieko. While enrolled in a cram school, he’s also trying to maintain the illusion of attending Keio. Complicating things further is Mashu, a devious pretty boy who is attending Keio and has his eyes on the spectacular Mieko as well. He’s suspicious of Touma’s explanations about why he never sees him around the campus. Then there’s Komi, Urara’s boy-crazy best friend, who develops a crush on Mashu and eggs Urara on with Touma.

Conclusion:
Based on U-Jin’s 20-volume manga, the anime’s release in the US has a history nearly as complicated as the relationships between Urara, Touma and Mieko. ADV had released the show previously in two versions. The edited broadcast version had all the nudity removed or covered up. The English dub was produced by ADV’s now defunct Monster Island studios in Austin, Texas with a rather suspect script. The unedited version kept all the nudity, but was released in Japanese only, due to the two versions having different licensors in Japan. Since the edited version is shorter than the unedited version, a bilingual release with the original dub couldn’t be included. With ADV closing the Austin studio earlier in 2005, they couldn’t bring back the original dub cast, so Janice Williams recast the show from scratch. Starring as Urara is Mariela Ortiz, who had been quite enjoyable in Aquarian Age and Angelic Layer. She’s appropriately adorable as the cute schoolgirl in love, with a nice transition to serious when the scene requires it. Newcomer Robert Martinez’s performance as Touma is sadly underacted, never really showing much emotion one way or the other. Other characters fair better. Monica Rial turns in a rare but welcome drop-dead sexy performance as Mieko. Kira Vincent-Davis as Komi is great fun. Chris Patton is deliciously devious as Mashu. Chris Ayres as the bizarrely intense yet laid-back third year cram school student Akimoto turns in an impressive performance. Although disappointed with Robert Martinez, I found the rest of the dub cast more than adequate to the task. Overall, I was pleased with the dub and welcome this new way to enjoy a show I already enjoyed in Japanese.

The show itself is sometimes hard to take, if only because Touma is such an insensitive jerk. His constant cry of “Just kidding!” gets old fast. But he’s not completely without merit. The moments when he acts like an adult serve to redeem him just enough to make Urara’s devotion to him at least a little understandable. Often in anime, the main girl can be the least appealing character in the show, but Urara is a great main character. She’s more than simply devoted. She’s saucy, determined, and flawed. Mieko is interesting as well, since she’s a truly good girl, honest and open with her feelings. The dynamic between the three of them is what gives this show its heart, and why it continues to be a show that appeals to me.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Cultural liner notes,Unused closing them,Clean opening animation,Clean closing animation

Review Equipment
NEC CT-2510A TV, Pioneer 440 codefree DVD player

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