I guess I should probably include at least one piece of my Sakurasou commentary – after all, despite my incredibly mixed feelings towards that show, formalizing my criticism of its narrative and character failings was basically what taught me my current writeup format. So here’s a “greatest hits” collection from the final “What did you think of Sakurasou?” thread
As xRichard implies, I’ve already spilled way too much imaginary ink over this series, on basically every conceivable topic. So let’s see what past me has to say about this show, say… fourteen episodes ago.
“Regarding the comedy. It’s true that there is no such thing as “bad comedy”. However, there is “easy” comedy, or “dumb” comedy, or “commonly used” comedy. A key element of great humor is the unknown – jokes you have heard a thousand times lose their element of surprise, and thus their impact. One way to avoid this trap is to be brilliant, and have great, unique gags. Standup comedians are pretty much forced to do this. Another way is to weave your humor into the very specific personalities of your characters, so your jokes are both fresh and ride on the sympathy your audience has built for your cast. Sakurasou does neither of these things, and while this doesn’t make its comedy objectively bad, it does make it objectively routine.
Regarding the drama. I personally like subtlety in my character relations and dialogue, but I also enjoy a ton of unsubtle things (Chuunibyou isn’t subtle at all, but it still excels in pretty much all fields). My complaint with some of the drama/dialogue isn’t that it’s unsubtle, but that it comes off as false – that it feels like the writers are putting words in the character’s mouths to spell out the themes and the messages of the show. This was most egregiously done with Childhood Friend as they were running away from the pool, and when it does happen, it immediately pulls me out of the show by drawing attention to the raw mechanics of the story.
By the way, Shiina is one of the worst and most discomfort-inducing romantic leads I’ve ever seen.”
Whoa, whoa! That sounds pretty harsh! But that was a while ago, and as we all know, it takes a while for these romances to really get cooking. Let’s check back in a month later…
“Jin seemed like the most interesting character for a while there, but they’re doing serious damage to that relationship by prolonging this drama of false expectations while avoiding a real conversation between those two.
It feels like J.C. Staff believe that if they shake these characters hard enough they’ll get another Toradora, but I think there just isn’t enough substance to their emotional conflicts. They’re artificially prolonging the melodrama – treading water.
I think my biggest problem with this show is that almost none of the characters can have actual conversations with each other. Sorata and Aoyama? Nope, Sorata’s too oblivious and Aoyama too tsun for them to actually talk. Jin and Misaki? Certainly not, both of them avoid talking honestly to each other all the time. Sorata and Shiina? Yeah, those are really incisive discussions between intellectual equals. Romance requires give and take – you show romance by revealing how two people interact with and compliment each other, not by telling the audience these two people love each other and then only showing them avoiding real conversation.”
Jeez, this guy is mad! Maybe another couple weeks could fix things?
“Speaking of forced drama, my eyes just glaze over during every single Aoyama scene. She exists to fail, and to have it be sad when she fails, and to create little hurdles for Shiina to dither about then effortlessly, obliviously sail over. When a love triangle is this transparently lopsided, I don’t think “I wonder what will happen next,” I think “get on with what I know will happen next”. Maybe if she were a bit more distinctive of a character, I wouldn’t have this problem.
Overall, I am desperately hoping next week sees the drama come crashing down. This emotional status quo needs to die in a fire.”
Hah, oh man, did Sakurasou kick this kid’s dog or something? Jeez, what a whiner! Okay, let’s wrap this story up. Episode 20!
“Damn! This was definitely one of the best episodes so far, with great character moments from Akasaka, Rita, and Nanami… none of whom I really thought had it in them. Akasaka’s speech in the first act displayed an awareness and individual perspective that more characters in this genre need, and I still have hope that Sorata’s clinging to an ephemeral present will be called out in some larger way. Plus Nanami’s results weren’t dragged out or used for cheap melodrama – she reacted by bottling all of it, just like she always does. Shiina is still a holy terror of an uncharacter, but outside of her, it looks like the show is emerging from its incredibly rocky middle stretch with some dignity and sense of purpose intact. I’m actually feeling pretty optimistic about the conclusion now.”
What? Something positive? Well, that’s boring… in fact, it looks like most of the comments for the next three episodes are positive, with only vague references to this… Shiina… character. Oh, wait, here’s the ending.
“Regarding the entire series, well… I mean, that kind of is what this series has always done, right? It’s almost like an American sitcom in its fear of disrupting the status quo, to the massive detriment of its characters. The main trio were by far the worst offenders in this regard, and it doesn’t help that they were the most thinly and stereotypically characterized as well – Sorata, Shiina, and Nanami all spin in the same dramatic circles for virtually the entire series. Some of the side characters fair better, though Misaki is pretty generic as well (but she gets good speeches on occasion, like when she confessed how tired she was of chasing Jin to Nanami). The comedy was predictably hit-or-miss throughout, leaning too heavily on tired slapstick and exhausted embarrassment gags, but occasionally pulling out a snappy aside or distinctively silly reaction face. The themes were… well, I guess “underserved” would be the diplomatic way to put it. “Used, cheated on, and ultimately abandoned” would be my actual diagnosis – every idea about self-worth, creativity, and the callous nature of the real world this show promotes ultimately gets taken for a ride and then forgotten in the pursuit of reliable melodrama and a universally happy ending. There are good ideas here, ideas a better show would have run with and respected, and there are many scenes scattered throughout that ring personal, distinctive, and true. But they are the exception, not the rule.
I guess, ultimately, I can’t accuse JC Staff of not trying, but I can certainly accuse them of not trying very hard. Picking a love interest like Shiina was obviously the first, most central, and clearly largest mistake – her core personality is “helpless, doesn’t know how to interact with others,” and the only growth she experiences is “learns to love Sorata and Sakurasou.” That isn’t a character arc – her initial flaws are never addressed, never challenged, never risen above. Sorata, for instance, has to change from lacking any real goal, to truly wanting something, to gaining the discipline to pursue his passion through hardship, to dealing with the jealousy and anger of being close to others who are more talented than him (compounded by his quick temper, a definite and convincingly articulated flaw), to dealing with the pain of true failure, to (okay, as I said, they kind of skip how he reaches this, but…) being at peace with trying his hardest while knowing failure is the standard result (actually, they don’t really make him accept that either… okay, so this show sucks at characterization and being consistent with its themes, but the point remains). Shiina? Shiina is an object. Shiina is a goal. Shiina is a reward. And so all the dramatic plot points about her are things like “find the Shiina,” “deal with my feelings about the Shiina,” or “explain this very simple concept to the Shiina” – her own agency is pretty negligible, because she lacks the personality to really bounce off other characters and the intelligence to have goals outside of “staying with the people who are nice to me.”
I honestly hope they realize how big of a problem this is – I mean, they’re not idiots, writing and directing any show is a ridiculously difficult process, and having to work around a human-sized lump like Shiina only makes that task that much harder. And there were still sparks of good stuff here, as I said. But ultimately, Shiina’s character, the cyclical drama, and the way it either abandons or fails to meaningfully follow through on its interesting themes all drag it down. I don’t regret watching Sakurasou, but it wasn’t a good show.”
And back to your narrator
Sorry I didn’t rewrite all my thoughts, but I stand by the thoughts I had in the first place. Good base themes, some good characters, a scattering of solid episodes (mainly 8-12 and 20-23), but it goes in dramatic cycles to no actual effect, it abandons its own themes for the sake of a cheap happy ending, and Shiina is both offensive and by her base nature allergic to romance or meaningful drama.
That said, it’s been a pleasure discussing it with all of you.