Monday, December 18, 2017

Is your job your life? The five girls of Sakura Quest

I didn’t like Sakura Quest as much as I had hoped I would and it was for the simple reason that I just didn’t resonate with any of the five girls. In some ways, the girls were really similar and I don’t just mean in art style, this is a story about working adults and yet it seems like all they do IS work!

Let me elaborate on what probably seems like a strange, no-brainer comment: I am a working adult but my job is only a part of my life. If I was to describe myself I would always talk first about my friends, my family, or even my hobbies before I brought up my job. I don’t think you could say that about any of the main characters in Sakura Quest, almost all of their hobbies are related to their job (like Ririko making use of her video skills to record videos for the village), nearly every interaction with see with any family member has to do with their “job” in Manoyama (with the one exception maybe being Maki’s younger brother). And as far as I can tell these five girls don’t really have any other friends. “Helen,” you might argue, “this is part of PA Works ‘Working Girls’ series, of COURSE they’re only going to focus on their jobs!” This is true, and there are American sitcoms focused on adult, working life that basically only show the characters at their jobs but even those feel a little different from Sakura Quest. I wasn’t bothered by this in PA Works previous “Working Girls” show, Shirobako, but that was because it seemed like the characters literally did not have the time to have lives outside of working in anime (which is also a problem obviously). In Sakura Quest I got the distinct sense that the story was glossing over anything that the writers didn’t think was “exciting” or “relevant” enough and I was sorely disappointed.

Also, it kinda doesn’t make sense! Of the five characters, only two, Yoshino and Shiori, seem to be directly employed by the Manoyama tourism board (and, side note, if Yoshino was being hired on for a year-long engagement shouldn’t she have noticed the amount of money in her contract reflected that? I mean, I’m assuming her agency does have standards and wouldn’t send her out to work for less than Japan’s minimum wage). I think Sanae is still making some money freelancing as a web designer and both she, Yoshino, and Maki are sleeping at the building the tourism board provided which certainly resolves some living costs but I was never quite sure if Maki was making money on the side doing her odd jobs or what. The last member of the group, Ririko, still lives at home with her relative and IIRC works in the sweet shop as well so it’s clear how she’s financially surviving at least. And it was the details like that which didn’t make me buy into the show, what I’m supposed to believe that this is a story about five girls working and yet you never even show me how some of them make a living? Sakura Quest certainly does knowingly portray a rosy, sakura-colored life for these young working woman but the story likes to also say “I’m telling a realistic story too!” when it shows the girls struggling with goals and expectations. 

Clearly this didn’t work for me, life is full of hardships and delights on all sides so there’s no way I can believe that their “jobs” only gave them some hardships and yet a lot of satisfaction. This is why I wanted a richer, fuller portrait of their lives, a portrait that wouldn’t just show what their jobs were like, one that would show what their lives were like.