「さくら荘へようこそ」 (Sakurasou e Youkoso)
“Welcome to Sakurasou”
To me, the best finales are those that wrap up everything we’ve dealt with so far, but leave the future open to be whatever we, the audience, want to imagine it will be. Clean up the dangling plot threads, but leave endless opportunities ahead. In this, and by the soaring, glorious feelings that filled me for damn near every second of this episode, made this one of the best finales I’ve seen in a long time. Consider me thoroughly biased, but I say it nevertheless. Here’s why:
Symbols of Love
In romantic fiction, a kiss is something to be held back, hoarded, so that they can be deployed for maximum effect later on. Rare enough is the show that has this many couples that are all equally likable, interesting, and important to us viewers, but rarer still is one hat is willing to give us not just one, but three kisses within a single episode! I’ll talk about the first two, and something else besides.
First is Ryuunosuke and Rita. Oh my gods, I almost fell over cheering at that!! I have alluded to this before, but this kiss actually happened earlier in the source material – during Valentine’s Day I believe, though don’t quote me on that. They saved it for here though, and I’m glad. A good adaptation is one that tweaks the source to better fit the different medium, and this is something that the Sakurasou anime has done well, such as when they gave Nanami a larger role in the first four episodes than she had in Vol 1. Here they saved this kiss to help deliver an unending onslaught of romantic moments, and end the series on a high note. I love it! Only you can tame a dragon, Rittan. And Meido-chan too! Don’t give up, you.
Then there’s Misaki and Jin. I don’t have words enough to properly describe how ecstatic this scene made me, but I’ll try. Jin stealing a page from Rita’s book and going in for the kiss was fantastic, mostly because I was still preoccupied by the last kiss and didn’t expect to be hit by another! Then he went so far as to give her back the marriage certificate, with his information filled in!? She was so anxious to be apart from him, but he blew that all away in one go. This is how you do a finale. They’re giving us everything we ever wanted, all in one final burst. This is the way you end things – with a bang!
Oh yeah, and that something else besides – Chihiro and Kazuki. I still feel that Chihiro has been criminally underused as a character, but the good news is that this meant it didn’t take a lot to give us some measure of closure for her. An innocent little lie as he tries to catch her on the “rebound” after all her kids have left…took you long enough, Fujisawa! Now treat her right, ya git.
Hard Work vs Innate Talent
Let’s talk about Nanami. Nanami has been the poster child of the Hard Work vs Innate Talent argument, on the side of Hard Work. Yet I feel compelled to say once again that this dichotomy is bullshit, and I finally have proof from the series to prove why. (I’m going to get a bit philosophical here, so feel free to skip to the next section if you want.) It can be said that the real dichotomy is in Hard Work + No Talent vs Hard Work + Talent, and that’s closer to the truth. Yet I think we all do ourselves a disservice when we think this way. As humans, we each seek to find those things we’re innately good at, those things we’re “talented” at, under the assumption that these were the things we were “meant” to do, and that we could never become world-class in anything but that which we’re talented at – that it is, in effect, impossible to become great at anything else. This is limiting, and limiting is not always a bad thing – in a world of infinite choices, humans often end up choosing nothing, because we get overwhelmed. So we limit ourselves. We box ourselves in so we can decide.
But just because it’s useful doesn’t mean it’s true. Yes, there are some things each of us will never be able to do – a 165cm tall man probably doesn’t have a bright future as a basketball player, whereas I, who stands at 200cm, had a better shot. But that list is small, the minority. When it comes to the work of our brains – which includes creativity and art – the main ingredients are hard work intelligently applied, and passion that never dies. Did you notice how, by this last episode, Sorata and Nanami – our scions of hard work with no talent – seemed quite, well, talented? Sorata is churning out game ideas with confidence – he’s even making a demo for the review stage when he hasn’t even passed the presentation yet! – while Nanami is scaring people just by reading lines from a horror script in her kitchen. If you just met these character, I bet you would think they were talented. They might disagree. You’d both be right, and wrong as well – they are talented now because they worked insanely hard, lived in a nurturing environment, were passionate about their dreams, and because they never, ever gave up. That’s my kind of talent.
Hard Work, Rewarded
But I got a little ahead of myself, and sidetracked as well. On the hard work front, the problem that many of you pointed out was that, for a few episodes there, it looked like Mashiro was going to get everything, while Nanami ended up with nothing – she would be shipped off to Osaka by her father, losing both her dream and her love in one fell swoop. It seemed like hard work was going to lose to talent (and hard work). And I agree, that would have been terrible. The dissonance implied in such an ending…no, that would have been no good.
Not that I ever really thought that was going to happen. Logically, at least.
Here’s the thing: if Nanami had her dream crushed but she still got together with Sorata, she still would have lost. Love, until it’s at the levels shown by Jin and Misaki, should be secondary to one’s dreams, and should never be considered a consolation prize. No, the path ahead was always clear to me – Nanami would return to Sakurasou for the next semester, her dream still alive. That was why Mashiro and Sorata’s good bye to her on the train platform was so perfect. It was not “farewell”, but a “see you when you get home.” Even in the face of the two kisses that preceded it, that was the perfect way for her to go. Nothing else would have fit.
And she came back! My heart sang when she reappeared, and I’m glad they took the time to show us that, because not doing so would have been the kind of dangling plot thread that would have made me rage. She returned back home, her old dream still alive, only now with her father’s (begrudging) blessing as well! Chihiro-sensei was right when she said Nanami took the child’s way out of just saying “screw you!” and doing it anyway, but, as I expected, it was good that she did that, since that was what enabled her to convince her father. Now she’s back, with her dream still intact, and maybe her love as well. Which brings me to…
It Can Be Whatever You Want It To Be
I said that the best finales wrap up all the loose ends, but leave the future open. It is clear that Sorata’s eyes are firmly turned towards Mashiro – he even admits himself that she has him wrapped around her little finger. Oh yeah, and there was that love confession the other day too. Yet even so, they didn’t kill off the Nanami ship entirely, and that’s okay. Here’s the thing – now that it’s over, each of us can decide how we’d like to imagine it going from here. He’s turned towards Mashiro, but maybe they’ll date for a while, break up, and then Nanami gets together with Sorata. I wouldn’t bet on it, but then again I quite like Mashiro x Sorata. Who’s to say that’s not in the future? Until the author himself (trope!) shuts off a possibility, we can imagine whatever we want.
That’s why Jin said “There’s no need to give up. That means on Sorata too.” Oh, Nanami! That was also why the kiss we got between Sorata and Mashiro wasn’t the full dealio. Mind you, I would have liked to see a full kiss from them, because even that would not have stopped those who wanted to from imagining – hell, even a true Mashiro End wouldn’t have done that, though it would have made it harder. Plus, it would have been soooo great to see! I have to admit though, the long lead up to the almost-kiss, which Hikari broke up (damn jealous cat!) made me howl with frustrated laughter. What a cat tease! But they roped me in good, enough that I had to laugh to avoid cursing. (Okay, I did some of that too.) And now we can even better decide on the future each of us would prefer, even if all signs point to a certain painter/manga-ka for the time being. For the time being. You can imagine whatever you want from here.
The leap forward to the new semester was wonderful, because it provided the true closure that this series needed – not just of the romance, but of the great group of friends centered around a certain old building. A Sakurasou that’s not lively isn’t the Sakurasou we’ve come to know and love, and for this series to end the way it must, we needed that back. Enter Hase Kanna (Yamazaki Haruka), the highest scorer on the entrance exam who can’t sleep with someone else in the same room, and Himemiya Iori (Shimazaki Nobunaga), i.e. Hauhau’s little brother, who got caught trying to peek on the girls’ bath on his very first night in the regular dorms. As soon as these two were introduced, I knew this would only get better. A pervert and a serious girl to be disgusted by him? Great, love it, just what we needed! And then Yuuko is there too!? I loved her exchange with Sorata: “If you say it was actually 66, I’m not your brother anymore.” Hah, of course! It would have been a shame to not use such a hilarious character, but it’d be no fun to have let us know she was coming so far ahead. And as I alluded to before, Misaki-sempai is back with her new house right next door. Erh–that is, Mitaka Misaki is here, since she got a little impatient. Seriously, from the second that Kanna and Iori met, I was laughing non-stop. Just a wonderful way to end it all.
But best of all may have been how Sorata, Mashiro, and even Nanami were freaking out the newbies like the true Sakurasou residents that they are. Apparently it only takes a year living in Sakurasou to become totally weird. Good! It’s better than being boring. Bring on the nabe party! I have a feeling there will be plenty more of them in the year ahead.
While I would have liked to see a full kiss from Sorata and Mashiro, I couldn’t help but love it when the old 「DAYS of DASH」 came on, and they went through what I think was probably every single one of Sakurasou’s best lines and moments, all in one go. It was a rocket ship down the street named nostalgia, as everything I loved about this series literally hurtled right past my eyes. And that pause – just to remind us of how much these characters have gone through, to remind us of all their pain and effort, they made us wait, made us wonder what was going on – and then the music came back, and exalt! It’s a brand new day my friends, and a glorious one at that! DAYS OF DASH! Needless to say, chills aplenty were had, my friends, chills aplenty, right up until the credits finally ran out.
In concluding this episodic portion, the one thing I always worried about this show was that it would follow in Toradora’s footsteps and rush the ending. Gladly, Sakurasou’s ending, especially these last two episodes, was some of the greatest work they put out. This series ended on a note higher than almost any it reached, and it reached some damn high ones, which were matched only by how deep the lows were (in emotions, not quality). This series was a roller-coaster, and one I’m…but I should save all that for the final impressions below.
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – A wonderful finale. All the loose ends were tied up, while the future could be anything we want it to be #sakurasou
- “It’s interesting because there’s more to come.” Was that a sequel hook, Mashiro? Ufufu~
- Did you catch how Yuuko said she “spent last night with Kanna-chan”? Ahhh, it all makes sense. Now we know who her really noisy roommate was!
- Also, how about that Nanami blushing when Sorata leaned against her? Fear not, Nanami shippers! She definitely hasn’t given up, that’s for sure.
Expectations were not especially high for Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo going in. Its art made it look a like Toradora, but the degrading-sounding premise turned a lot of people off. Even I wasn’t sure about it, and when I heard it was 2-cour, I was honestly worried – I wasn’t used to covering multi-cour shows, at least not without a break in between, so I wasn’t sure if I had gotten myself into something I would end up regretting. So what’s my verdict now, here now at the end of it all?
Love & Art
Damn, I’m glad I picked this one up! (I know, you’re surprised.) Sakurasou has been a wonderful trip all the way through, starting from the very first arc, which shattered all my expectations and drove the progressively higher. It would take me too long to list off all of the things I loved about it, but here are a few: art that beautifully suited the atmosphere; the strong emphasis on B-couples rather than a single harem; the spot-on humour, especially Sorata’s tsukkomis; the intense drama that pulled me in and made me love the characters; the fact that characters actually failed, and it made them grow stronger; the slight tweaks to the source material to make it fit the screen better; how much it made me smile, cry, and feel all the emotions usually denied to me in my everyday life.
Sakurasou has been a good romance, and if it was only that then I would have enjoyed it. But it delved deeper, and tackled themes that are both far-reaching and near to my heart. Sakurasou was at its best when it spoke to the nature of art, on pursuing one’s dreams, of dealing with failure, and on working insanely hard on what you’re passionate about. The end of episode 8 still shines as one of the moments of any anime that most resonated with me, when it talked about trying with all your might, and failing, but enjoying it because you dared to try, and picking yourself up to do it all over again. I too love people who live as hard as they can! And that’s only one of many times they spoke on what it truly means to be an artist, to chase after your dreams, to persevere through rushing failures. These were themes deeper than I’ve seen in many a story, and they were treated with deep respect. That helped to elevate Sakurasou to something greater than just a romantic comedy. It elevated it to art itself.
I once read an article where Paul Barnett, the creative director behind Warhammer Online, said the following: “I believe WOW is a work of flawed genius. When you dismantle [these works] you can never be sure whether you get genius or flaw.” To me, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo is a work of flawed genius. I think most of you will agree that there were certainly flaws – even if we ignore the rather cringe-worthy title, it had a habit of trying to force the drama, to the point of handing characters – especially the male ones – the idiot ball (trope!) and making them act seriously out of character in order to propel the story along, or just stretch it out for a little longer.
And yet, there was genius here as well. Even if the drama was sometimes forced, it worked more often than not, giving us some of the deepest lows and highest highs, crushing us with the characters’ depression and then uplifting us with their triumphs. There was undeniable power in this series, at least for those of us who let ourselves be drawn in by these characters who were so real and alive, we who allowed ourselves to ride along with their torrential lives. I watch a show like this, and then I think of the ones that KyoAni makes. Though I have had the pleasure of covering the last two, there’s always something so clinical about the stories they tell. They check off all the boxes and do everything right, but in trying to be perfect, some essential spirit is lost. They’re good, but I don’t feel the art in them, the passion – they feel like they were designed by a group of very smart people, not by one passionate person who slaved away at their kitchen table trying to bring their singular dream to life. Sakurasou was flawed, but it had spirit, and a soul – it was the artistic expression of one man trying to tell the story he wanted to tell. This adaptation brought that forth well, and I love it for that.
Find Your Dream
A good story can be the kindest teacher we could ever hope for. If nothing else, one of the best things that Sakurasou does is exactly what Mashiro did for Sorata – it gives us all, the audience, permission to chase after our dreams. True, it is a story. It is fiction. Yet the themes in it are very real. Through all the trials and tribulations, the best times in Sorata’s and the others’ lives were when they were working wholeheartedly towards their dreams, and let me tell you, they are right. I have had jobs I did not like, schools I did not particularly enjoy, and there was nothing fulfilling about them. But when the lessons sang, when the challenges were interesting and evocative, and when it was my own dreams I was working towards, those were very fun indeed. For some of them, they still are.
Here’s the lesson I take from Sakurasou, and I hope that each of you will take it as well. Even though most of them failed – Jin, Nanami, and Sorata did, and most of them twice or more – they still enjoyed it, and were grateful and happy to have tried. I guarantee that if you put your full and honest effort into your dreams, if you pour your personal, irreplaceable, and vulnerable passion into your work, even if you fail, you will not regret it. Human beings are not meant to slave away at jobs they hate! Better to risk failure, because you also risk having a life you might genuinely enjoy. You don’t have to quit your job and draw manga or create games, though those are fine if you want to. No, you can find art in any profession, as long as it’s one you’re passionate about. When you find that, when you really care about the results – not because it’s your job, but because you actually care, because it is important to you yourself – then your days will be a lot happier. That is art, and it is worth the risk.
Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo is a work of flawed genius, a piece of art that sings all the louder for its imperfections. These are characters I have come to love. I loved watching them find romance in one another. I loved watching them come closer to accomplishing their dreams, and have learned more about my own dreams in the process. This has been a wonderful ride, and I am truly glad that I’ve gotten to write about every one of these 24 episodes for you. Thank you for allowing me to do that, and for reading my words.
Now, my fondest wish is that each of you – every single one of you – would heed the lessons of Sorata and the others, and go out and chase your dream. Whatever you do, care about it with your full heart, or find something to do that you can. It’s scarier that way, but the rewards are all the greater for it, because it’s only when you embrace the fear and do what you’re really passionate about that your life can truly sing. It’s only then that you can shine.
Hey. What colour do you want to be? Because it’s your choice.