It's the year 1919, and Earth is in trouble. The forces of darkness are mounting, and the only way to stop them is to gather those who possess large amounts of spirit energy. And, naturally, they're all young, nubile women (of a sort): Kirishima Kanna, the rough, tough, but kind karate master; Maria Tachibana, the Russian gun specialist; Iris Chateaubriand, the insanely cute French preteen psychic (always with her teddy bear Jean-Paul); Li Kouran, the Chinese mechanical genius; Kanzaki Sumire, the rather spoiled heiress of the company who develops the weaponry they all use; and Shinguji Sakura, an earnest, sweet-hearted country girl who has inherited a powerful sword technique. Plus, their male commander, Ohgami Ichirou, who is promoted from naval gofer to everyone's love interest somewhere in between episodes.
Moonlighting as the Imperial Theater acting troupe, they bring light into the hearts of Tokyo's citizenry, while secretly they use high-tech steam-powered technology to fight the demonic hordes who would consume that light. Fight on, Imperial Flower Division!
Well, it's no classic, that's for sure. But since it's based on a series of dating simulation video games, you can't expect the plotline to be too highbrow.
Given that, Sakura Wars is cute and fun, which is never a bad thing. For starters, the characters, though a bit on the stereotypical side, are a lot of fun to watch (and pretty, to boot). Not one of them seems out of place, and watching how they deal with each other is half the fun of the series, especially once their commander, Ohgami, shows up. Sure, Iris is a bit too cutesy, Sumire is a bit too much of an ojousama, Kouran is a bit too fanatic, and Sakura is a bit too earnest, but hey, that's the genre for you.
The setting is really interesting - think an alternate world Japan where steam-powered cars run alongside traditionally garbed townspeople. It's an original take on how perhaps industrialization could have happened had steam power been fully utilized, leading to some rather silly-looking mecha at times (check out those power suits!) but all in all, better than others I've seen.
However, the whole thing does come off as a bit lightweight - the bad guys were creepy for a bit, but they obviously weren't the focus of the show. The plotline really revolves around the coming of age of the characters, particularly Sakura herself, as they all learn to live and fight alongside each other. Anyone expecting an epic plot (or even a coherent one) will be disappointed ... that's a story for the games to tell, though I don't foresee the games being brought over soon (much to my personal chagrin).
Interesting note - during the character interactions, they actually spoke in various languages other than Japanese, ranging from the cool (Maria's Russian-accented English) to the silly (Li Kouran's Chinese is borderline atrocious, but really funny).
Good music and well-done visuals complete a package that, while maybe not the best OAV series ever made, is at least enjoyable, though perhaps not quite up to what it makes itself out to be. Of course, with a TV series on the air as of this writing, there's a lot more material where this came from - refer to that review for further discussion on this interestingly strange franchise.
As it is, it's certainly worth a rental, or a purchase if you can find the DVD for a good price.
Fun, but fluffty. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Apart from a bit of violence (chopping up demons and enemy mecha) and one scene where Ohgami accidentally stumbles on top of Sakura, there is nothing objectionable. No nudity, no fan service, and no harsh language. Hey, I'll accept that! Only the youngest of children may be scared by the rather Alien-like demons.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Sakura Wars © 1996 Red / Sega Enterprises Ltd / Bandai Visual / Animate Film
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