Sakura Trick started out as Tachi’s seinen yuri four-paneller, and fittingly, this show tricks you into thinking the target demographic dominates the narrative. To begin with, it’s very much a straight lad’s yuri show, right down to girls behaving like horny boys where boobs are concerned. Seriously, girls do not obsess about other girls’ breast sizes like this. Unless the school lives outside my shy bubble went further over my head than I thought.
Haruka Takayama and Yu Sonoda grew as close as two petals on a lily in middle school, and are both ecstatic that they’ll be attending the same high school too. The same class box is also checked for their perfect three years ahead. But the seating plan is a bust, the two of them placed halfway across the classroom from each other. Reluctant Haruka starts socialising with the other girls in her class, and as a wider friendship group grows around them, she and Yu decide to find a way to make their connection special.
The answer comes to them in a deserted classroom, sakura petals floating in through wide open windows, circling them as if to draw them nearer. They kiss for the first time, and though they’re embarrassed at first, they can’t help but come back for more, and more. Most episodes just play out as a succession of girl kiss setups, as their new friends Kotone and Shizuku fall for one another too. Both couples are trying to keep their loves secret, and in Yu and Kotone’s cases, the underlying reasons why gradually reveal themselves. But foremost in Yu and Haruka’s minds is the fact that they simply don’t understand their feelings for one another.
For most of the series, yuri devotees will be sat there thinking it won’t ever move past the classic stance of ‘close friendship’. The tricks don’t move far beyond fluffy-fluffy cute-cute, even when there are openings for some deeper drama. But even so, at times it becomes a sensitive portrayal of jealousy between girlfriends, and even sisters as senpai Mitsuki Sonoda starts snooping. In these moments of closeness, their sweetness warms the heart. But that doesn’t stop Mitsuki’s deepening crush on Haruka feel anything other than exploitative.
The animation is competent but unremarkable, something that feels strange coming from Studio DEEN. Save for some pretty touches on the romance, and the lovely and varied outfit designs, it’s only the instinct for the moment that keeps you hanging on. Things can get pretty steamy, on occasion in a way that feels real. It’s the look in the eyes and the timid escapes into hiding that makes it all breathe faster.
Only the scripts don’t manage to keep up with the building tension. The writing is a serial raunch-it-upper, to the point that it takes a needle to the heartache. It even pulls the “Which one is the girl?” line, contradicting its own characters with the idea that they’re just playing at relationships. But this all changes for the ending. Everything’s there, the moment, the music’s tearful cascade, the honest dialogue, the pastel glow of DEEN’s signature animation style; all that makes you hold your breath and smile.
You realise then that all the conflict between the girls’ actions and words have been because that’s what the show is really about – learning what love means and the difficulties in making it part of your everyday life, especially when your love goes against the grain. Only one question remains. Why wasn’t that mentioned earlier? Just a little more sensitive scripting, and less of the boob and thigh gap emoting, could have let us know that Sakura Trick had a soft, insightful heart all along.
Extras: Clean opening/closing animation; trailers