“The Princess Who Loves Bones”
Rivalling the Competition:
I was hopeful going into Sakurako-san. Hopeful, but skeptical. Good mysteries are hard to come by these days, and with Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider airing the day after, I was prepared for Sakurako-san to be the lesser of the two. Even so, I kept my fingers crossed that the title for best mystery of the season wouldn’t be a one-horse race, because even though there is more hype and acclaim surrounding Subete ga F ni Naru (and for good reasons), it would be boring not to have some competition between the two. I had all those thoughts running through my head seconds before I started this episode, hoping that we’d get something good. And we did. In fact, Sakurako-san was better than good; it was beautiful, disturbing, and it completely drew me in.
A Normal Highschooler in a Stagnant City:
It all starts off with ominous narration from out protagonist, Tatewaki Shoutarou (Enoki Junya), who seems like your typical high schooler. However, within a minute or two you can see there’s something different about this kid. The moment he steps forward and picks up the corpse of a ran-over kitten is when my brain clicked and I thought ‘even if he’s a little plain, he’s definitely interesting’. In a way it’s refreshing to have a character whose apparent normalcy doesn’t exist to show off the ridiculousness of a rainbow-haired harem of girls. Shoutarou isn’t a secret badass, he just comes off as an average boy in the same way that Hibike! Euphonium’s Kumiko is possibly the most realistic depiction of a high school girl in modern anime. Of course there’s more to Shoutarou than meets the eye, even stating himself that he also would have flinched at the sight of death if it wasn’t for him meeting a certain woman under a cherry blossom tree.
The other part about our lead that I appreciated was his voice, by which I mean his narrative voice, not his actual seiyuu’s voice (though that’s pretty solid as well). “I was born in a city where time has ceased to exist” is a strong opener, and it only becomes more interesting from there. We learn a few details of his home: Asahikawa City, a stagnated city in the northernmost prefecture of Japan. I always find Hokkaido to be a compelling setting in modern-day anime, if only because it’s nice to not always be thrown into the bustle of Tokyo or seeing those familiar rivers and bridges running through in your typical suburb setting (once you’ve seen one grassy slope overlooking a canal with a walk-path behind it, you’ve seen them all). So although Shoutarou is bored with the straight and unmoving nature of his home city, to me it feels like a breath of fresh air. I’m sure it’s different to live there, but as a setting for the story I’m already keen to see where we can go from here.
An Eccentric Osteologist and Bone Collector:
While Shoutarou serves as our point of view (quite literally in some shots, which I also liked), his bone-loving companion is the true star of the show. Kujou Sakurako (Itou Shizuka) is an oddity; she’s the compelling eccentric counterpart to our straight-man. If you got Sherlock vibes from her strange behaviour and mannerisms, then you’re not likely to be the only one. The normal and the eccentric make for a classic duo, but once you factor in the noteworthy age gape (7 years, Shoutarou is 15 and Sakurako is 22) you’ve got something you don’t see that often in anime: an adult woman as a main character. Not only that, but Sakurako doesn’t seem like an anime character, by which I mean she doesn’t fit into your typical selection of character archetypes. I’d stick with my comparison that she’s more like a female Sherlock than anything else, which isn’t exactly a new concept, but it’s a different sort of character from what we’ve come to expect from most female leads.
In this episode alone we see the dips and peaks of her personality, showcasing that she’s capable of some humour along with her serious obsession with bones. Satou Michio’s work as both the character designer and animation director pays off in the moments where she drops her obsessive mask and reveals she’s got a softer, sillier side to her. All in all, she’s a compelling character, and one that I’m sure many people will wish to see more of.
Mystery of the Bones, Not the Killer:
I wasn’t sure how the mystery of Sakurako-san was going to play out, and it’s still difficult to tell from this episode alone – which appears to be a standalone that serves as an introduction to the characters and their dynamic more than anything else. If this is an example of what we can expect from the series going forward, then we’re more likely to focus on revealing the truth behind the bones rather than the hands that dealt the blow. Less whodunit and more whatdunit, or howdunit, or whendunit. Both the case of the woman from a century ago with the battered skull and the double suicide/homicide victims were more about revealing the truth behind their remains, which, if continued, might prove an interesting take on the mystery genre. Still, I suspect we’ll get into more of an overarching story involving various characters (the housemaid and the yet to be seen husband, for example), which will perhaps force Sakurako and Shoutarou to investigate crimes further than what we saw this episode.
I expect some will be iffy about Sakurako’s ‘concentration mode’ when she analyses the second case. I can see how some would consider it a little outlandish, but I wouldn’t take any of it too seriously. I don’t believe Sakurako has any sort of superpower when it comes to identifying bodies – that scene with all the skeletons just symbolises her accumulated knowledge in a single moment so she can put all that information to use. It’s merely a visualisation of the inner workings of her mind, which doesn’t detract from the very realistic revelations and reasonings behind her analysis. The 100-year-old cavity, the rope-tying dilemma, and the lack of evidence of the couple drowning are all sound reasons, and I’m hopeful that all future cases will be solved in a similar fashion, rather than relying on other-worldly powers that require little explanation and expect us to just accept the results.
Overview – First Impressions:
I am over the moon that I’ll be blogging Sakurako-san. Part of me was prepared for this to be the lesser of the two big mysteries this season (and it still may be, we’ll see how Subete turns out when it airs), but early signs are positive. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this was the best non-sequel first episode of the season. I’m already loving the character dynamics as well as the vibrant colours and excess of falling sakura petals. The result is a lovely balance between style and substance – both things that any good anime any needs, it’s just finding the perfect half-way point that’s the hard part. I can’t wait to see what direction the story takes from here. Whether episodic or overarching, I’m sure these bone-related mysteries will keep me thoroughly entrained for the foreseeable future.
In other news: I posted an Anime Summer 2015 Review on my personal blog. Feel free to check it out and see what I thought of the past season – I even ranked all 24 shows I watched in order from worst to best.