First Look: Sakura Wars The Animation

Alternative title(s): Shin Sakura Taisen: The Animation
Game Adaptation by SANZIGEN
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Set after the 2019 Sakura Wars game, the Imperial Combat Revue Flower Division – a troupe of mech pilot troops – must deal with a new demonic invasion as well as take care of the amnesiac sole survivor of the Moscow Combat Revue. Also the OP is a banger.

Iro’s verdict: This Is A Lot

I’m only passingly familiar with Sakura Wars as a franchise, and the new show makes pretty much zero effort to onboard me as to what to expect. On some level, I suppose it’s fair to assume that someone watching Sakura Wars knows what Sakura Wars is about, but watching this episode was borderline sensory overload. Demons! Mecha! Idols! Offscreen massacres! Cyborg dinosaurs! I am not necessarily opposed to any of these things (okay, maybe idols, but the “Imperial Combat Revue” is really more like an acting troupe), but having them all dumped on me is a lot to deal with. I don’t really expect this show to be very good, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it based on this first episode, but I hope that I’ll at least have fun watching it.

Gee’s verdict: Overwhelming

Sakura Wars is a series that’s always existed on the periphery of the Western anime fandom. We’ve heard of it, we might have seen bits of it, we might have looked up its iconic theme song on youtube, but we’ve never really experienced the venerable Tactics/Dating Sim video game franchise. And well, we still haven’t as of this writing, but Sakura Wars The Animation is the closest we’ve gotten to a “true” presentation of what this franchise is. And boy, it’s a lot. So you have your alternate timeline Taisho/Meiji setting (or as I like to call it, 20th century Japan before it became Problematically Imperialist), your steampunk robots, your massive airships, your demonic invasion, your magic, your secret double life shenanigans, your dating sim elements, your G Gundam-esque international anime stereotypes, the list goes on. Sakura Wars is the most 90s ass kitchen sink setting I’ve ever seen. It’s an encapsulation of every trope that was ever popular during a highly specific 10 years or so of anime and Japanese media.

And…it isn’t terrible? I’m not sure I’m ready to call it good, but there’s something compelling about its madcap worldbuilding and frantic pace. The first episode is content to throw a dozen different names, concepts, and aesthetics at the viewer, expecting to either let it wash over us or to come along for the ride. It’s an anime in which a giant robot casts magic by reading spells from a proportionally sized giant magical tome while another one clears the streets with its rocket powered hammer. They’re being assailed by what appear to be techno demon velociraptors while an ominous top hat adorned android watches from a distance.  It’s exhausting in its sensory overload and complete disregard for aesthetic consistency, but in a way that doesn’t feel unpleasant. At least for now. It’s hard to say if Sakura Wars The Animation has the substance, resources, or personality to maintain this kind of energy for the rest of the season, but for now, I’m certainly interested in seeing it try.

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