Judge Adam Arseneau has much to say on the subject of hot naked cousins. Much to say indeed.
Urara likes Touma. Touma likes Mieko. Mieko might like Touma, but Mieko will only date a college man.
So what's an underachiever like Touma to do?
This will be the third time ADV Films has released Sakura Diaries onto DVD. Third time's a charm.
Facts of the Case
Touma is a young man fresh out of high school, on his way to Tokyo to take entrance examinations for college. During his first night in the city, he is visited by a beautiful and increasingly unclothed young woman named Urara. She throws herself at Touma, who has no idea who this young nubile woman is. Unbeknownst to Touma, Urara knows Touma quite well and has every intention of making him her man.
The next day, when checking out schools in Tokyo, Touma meets a beautiful young woman named Mieko and falls madly in love with her on the spot. Unfortunately, Mieko will only date college men, inspiring Touma to study hard and gain acceptance, but when Touma realizes to his horror that his grades are not strong enough to get him into the prestigious school, in a fit of madness, he lies to Mieko and tells her he was accepted!
Desperate to shore up his grades, he enrolls in a cram school, but continues to masquerade on-campus as a college man, gaining Mieko's affection. When Urara learns the truth, will she let the cat out of the bag? How will Touma resist the increasingly aggressive advances put forth by Urara to win her man?
As previously mentioned, this is the third time ADV Films has released Sakura Diaries on DVD. The show first appeared on laserdisc in Japan in 1997, uncut and unedited, and was re-released for Japanese television a year later in a slightly edited, toned-down form. When ADV Films purchased the distribution rights to Sakura Diaries in 2001 for DVD release, they ended up purchasing the television version instead of the unedited version, much to the ire of hardcore North American fans. Quickly realizing their mistake, ADV re-released the series unedited, but dropped the English language dub, making it a subtitle-only release, ticking off an entirely new section of fans who demand English language dubs.
This third release of Sakura Diaries is the long-awaited compromise between those two hasty releases, featuring the show uncut and unedited, but also adding brand-new, much-improved English-language dubbing and subtitling. Sakura Diaries, Vol. 1: Secrets & Lies contains six episodes, which is pretty decent considering the series only has 12 episodes total and that ADV had previously spaced the series onto four separate DVDs. I suppose this means that somebody is thinking sensibly about how many times they can realistically sell the same series to the public.
Thankfully, despite the endless releasing to DVD, Sakura Diaries is still as charming as ever. There is a reasonable amount of fan service for people who enjoy that kind of thing, but probably not as much as you might expect. In the dance between outright pornographic and tantalizingly sexy, Sakura Diaries ends up firmly on the latter side, always teasing but never quite giving up the goods. The story is light, smart, funny, and wholesome…err, well, not wholesome exactly, as there is far too much nakedness and sexual tension for that sort of thing. Still, it does possess a charming teen romantic element about it that gives the illusion of wholesomeness. You know, naked wholesomeness. Err, with your cousin.
For a show that borders on the romantically absurd at times, what keeps Sakura Diaries relevant and compelling is the genuine emotion that comes forth from its characters. Sure, the plot might border on the bizarre, but the characters themselves are multi-dimensional, complex, and not always completely likeable…especially Touma, who can be a real jerk sometimes. It has a maturity about it that belies first impressions; it treats love as a serious, challenging, and confusing issue that results in broken hearts as well as soaring ones. Almost everything about the show, from the writing to the characters, is top-notch.
The visual presentation is pretty sharp. The show has aged somewhat in the passing of time, drawn in an animation style that has gone somewhat out of fashion, making Sakura Diaries appear older than it actually is. The color palate is light and bright, and black levels are generally good, but some print damage and spotting is noticeable and edges tend to get jagged at times.
Two nice-sounding audio tracks are included, a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track and an English-dubbed 5.1 Surround track. The surround presentation from a technical standpoint is pretty solid, with a loud and firm presentation, though it still has far too much center channel action. In comparison, the Japanese track is quiet and harsher in the treble range, though admittedly neither track are particularly beefy on the bass end of things. I like the music in Sakura Diaries, both the strangely catchy acoustic theme song and the infectious Muzak-inspired Japanese pop score, and both tracks capture it quite nicely.
Though I dislike English dubs, ADV did a good job reformulating this one, adding some youthful and goofy voice actors into the mix. Still, it would have been nice to see the original Japanese language track get the 5.1 treatment. This is a new trend I have noticed of late, short-changing the native track, and I can't say I like it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Truth be told, I don't have much bad to say about Sakura Diaries. I loved the series the first time I saw it, and now viewing it again years later, I still love it. The only thing to still mention is the rating.
ADV Films has rated the show as appropriate for ages 14 and above, which in the interest of full disclosure, might be a fairly loose rating for many parents. The show never really gets obscenely naked, but there is an awful lot of sexual suggestion, skin, and even a traumatic and tense sexual assault sequence. These elements seriously, seriously push the envelope of a TV-14 rating. Like, Mike Tyson push.
Sexy, charming, hilarious, and romantic, Sakura Diaries covers just about all the bases in a romantic comedy anime you could hope for. Anybody that puts the time into the series will be hooked by the end of these six episodes, especially given the way things end between Uraha and Touma, and will definitely be in for the rest of the series. I guess the abundance of scantily-clad girls doesn't hurt, either.
As far as the presentation, Sakura Diaries is a bit dated by today's standards in character design and animation, but it's nice to see ADV Films reissue a classic series and give it a final, solid treatment that can stand the test of time. It's a shame it took them three tries to get it right.
Hell, yeah. Bring on Volume 2.
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