Yozakura Quartet – Hana no Uta – 03, 04
For a 1 cour series, the 3rd episode is one I typically pay extra attention to, not so much that I subscribe to the 3 episodes rule (I tend to decide within a single episode for most animes anyway) but really because it’s a fair point into the series where the minor annoyances of the show start appearing to be real problems. It’s the point where I start getting a lot more critical, especially for a 1-cour series that doesn’t really have all that much time to turn things around. So does Yozakura Quartet have real problems? Not exactly, since the show still has its great visual direction, the appealing blasé storytelling and the incredibly endearing cast of characters that, while somewhat stock, has some of the best group chemistry I’ve seen this side of the business. Yet the narrative still sees fit to take things at its own, nonchalant pace. The whole episode is little more than a characterization framing for someone we’ve yet to hear much from, despite being a co-protagonist: Akina. And therein lies my annoyance, if I may be so bold. The show is still very much slice-of-fantasy-town-life, focusing on the mundy hijinks of the Sakura Town, more concerned with expanding its world and characters in these piecemeal bits. We’re notably detached from the main plot concerning Lily and Enjin, their various bits of muckery being little more than superficial ties and assurances that there’s still more to Yozakura Quartet’s storyline. I don’t sense any much of the desire to push the narrative strongly, or to have it develop into more intriguing (read: dramatic) territories, if the desire is even there at all, and that’s incredibly worrying for the series’s longevity over the season. What I’d grant is that Yozakura Quartet still works as a rather offbeat, fantastical slice-of-life because of its characters and general vibe, but it’s not doing anything memorable or magical enough in that niche to elevate this from merely good to great.
Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily nitpicky; the episodes have all shown an incredibly capability to ramp up the intensity of the show as easily as it winds it downs in one smooth, natural motion, and there’s no saying it can’t do the same for the core narrative.
While saying that, the characters interactions are still what sells the show to me (along with the great visual direction and vibe) and the focus on the relationship between Akina and the ogre siblings Kyousuke and Touka was very competently done. We’ve been seeing the signs that Touka is unable to fully keep her powers in check, starting with a crushed lunchbox, but this episode goes to town with the idea; a near miss with Akina barely dodging the coffee table she accidently flings (still fun and laughter here) and then the well-intentioned but disastrous attempt at saving the kids from the sabotaged car (What the eff!? Blood! Blood everywhere!). Yozakura Quartet quickly dispels with all this heavy-heartedness, showing that the two vampire-mermaids are perfectly fine and dandy, but the trauma continues to reverberate through the rest of the characters, especially for a particular pair. Touka’s power has always been a powder keg between Kyousuke and Akina, due to Akina’s refusal to use his abilities: as the dutybound, he hails from a linage that can tune the displaced Youkais on earth back to their original dimension. Kyousuke blames Akina for not giving them an escape from the prejudice they suffer due to their dangerous powers, and what’s clear is that this isn’t the first time they’ve clashed over this; a short flashback shows they’ve been at each other’s throats since childhood, likely over the same issue as well. It eventually gets wrapped up in brotastic fashion, and while there’s nothing wholly original about it nor its punchline, the execution of their reconciliation is brilliant.
This episode really was more evidence of the narrative’s balance in characters, the same way one would see in a show like Durarara. Despite the complete shift of focus from characters like Hime and Kotoha that took up the majority of screentime, what I really liked here is how the show’s still showing that same, natural dynamic between its group of characters without ever dropping a beat. But as I’ve said, it’s not nearly doing anything enticing enough with this alone, and the only way I can conceivably see it do anything of significance is if the show pushes into more interesting areas for its characters; and how else but by pushing the story out of its comfortable niche?
「 ソノトキヲ」 (Sono Toki wo)
It’s sometimes hard to tell with Yozakura Quartet what it really wants to be doing here, and I suppose that’s the core issue with episodes like this, where the show starts to get too carried away with itself. In all previous episodes, there has been a distinct method to the character piecemeals and the everyday life of Sakura Town, which arguably served to paint a better picture of Yozakura Quartet’s Sakura Town, it’s characters, and the world better than words ever could; perhaps the best way to describe it is the “show, don’t tell” quality that I deeply admire. The fantastical, playful nature incorporated into this makes Yozakura Quartet feels incredibly charming in a way few other shows are.
All that seemed lost when this episode started out; I don’t have a distinct complaint about the oodles of fanservice and the light comedy (For the record, I found Hime an absolutely adorable crying/binging drunk) but the whole pool sequence, which took up nearly half the episode, didn’t quite have any of the well-meaning playfulness or conscientiousness. It’s fluff for fluff’s sake, with absolutely nothing distinct about it; we’ve all seen the swimsuit episode and the comedic drunk routine everywhere else, and it doesn’t play to Yozakura Quartet’s established strengths in character interaction or ambient storytelling the least bit.
Thank god the show regained its bearing by the second half. Hime’s patrol around town was a little bit more of the Yozakura Quartet I was expecting: As a fairly inexperienced mayor trying to fill in the shoes of her attuned grandmother, we see a fairly normal high-school girl trying her best to live up to her grandmother’s legacy while dealing with duties of being mayor, and the mixed opinions she get. Here, the show also indulges in its typical silliness with Hime cousin’s Kohime, a nine year old running for elections in the next town and who idolizes her onee-sama. The show is completely unsubtle with the fact that she is literally Mini-Hime, but I really liked the contrast with Big-Hime that Kohime brings into the show. Big-Hime is now living the very same grand aspirations that Kohime and herself have; working as the mayor, studying in school, practicing with the spear, playing lacross, eating ramen, lazing at the office, and doing everything she ever wanted to do. And through Kohime, it shows that Hime is undeniably satisfied with her life, even if it means she’s so busy she has to cram homework at a mayors’ meeting. But like a child, she’s only lacking reassurance; it might make Hime a rather simplistic character – she herself admits to it when talking with Akina – but I find that simple honesty of hers, not overblown nor exaggerated, incredibly charming. The show also gets playful here; a cranky disbeliever in Ginroku defending his “artistic” pottery with an assortment of gizmos, and the fact that a nine-year-old can be running for elections at all, and these hijinks definitely feels more at home with Yozakura Quartet’s offbeat vibe.
The characters and the atmosphere are unquestionably still the strongest aspects of the show, but if I’m to be completely honest, the plot is an oddly structured mess at times. If you’ve seen the preview, there seems to be a “surprise twist” that Hime’s actually a Youkai, or part-Youkai; but shouldn’t everyone have figured that out after her grandmother had to be attuned? And the history lesson courtesy of Akina feels out-of-place when we’re still awfully detached from the whole Enjin/Lily issue as well, even though I have no doubts of their connection to the pillers’ blooming. The plotline of the “politician trying to take over the town” screams of tacky as well; certainly, Yozakura Quartet might be a tad playful with itself, but this just seems incredibly juvenile especially after what I’ve seen of the OVAs. What’s clear is that this takeover incident is pretty obviously tying back to Hime’s character arc over the next few episodes. I don’t think it’s going to take much time to tell it, but I can only wonder how well this weak story will be able to carry Hime’s development.