After Fall 2013’s Meganebu, which I admittedly only watched one and a half episode of, Sakura Trick was the first Studio DEEN show that I watched. And immediately, its visual style pleasantly reminded me of some of Shaft’s shows, Hidamari Sketch most of all. In retrospect, that is not very surprising, because some of Sakura Trick’s staff had previously worked on other shows over at Shaft. This, together with the so-called “yuri physics scene” and the extremely catchy OP song (and animation), is what caught my attention and caused my interest in Sakura Trick.
The thing that led me to really appreciate the show, however, had nothing to do with the Shaft connection. The thing that I really liked about it was the bold and unashamed portrayal of girls’ love and, for that matter, sexuality in general. While most of the aspects of the show, from characterisation to style of comedy, were pretty standard compared to the usual anime tropes, it did not opt for the “shy” portrayal of love and sexuality where hand-holding is too lewd for public display and kissing is absolutely off-limits. Instead, it had a lot of kissing, and the kisses were long, and tongues were not spared. It was the first time I saw anything like that in anime, and I haven’t seen it many times since.
This portrayal has proved divisive among the anime audience, or at least among the people I know. To some, the girls’ love aspect of it was taken too lightly, that it was treated as if it was aberrant instead of natural. Others objected to the objectification of the characters, because after all, the show (or at least the manga that it was adapted from) is aimed at men. Some just thought it was a bad show. And I personally can’t fully disagree with any of these things. If the mere existence of the kissing scenes didn’t grab you, there weren’t really any other really gripping elements. And yes, the male gaze problem is definitely noticeable, especially if you compare Sakura Trick to something like Aoi Hana. And as for the portrayal of homosexuality, the show went for the middle-of-the-road approach, that is “If girls kissing girls is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!”. Which is probably better than condemning it entirely, but it also wasn’t bold enough to just admit that being gay is okay and natural.
Which, in retrospect, was actually kind of disappointing to me. There were a few scenes that I think worked well on a serious level, but the final and definitive “message” of the show seemed to be that there is something wrong with girls who like girls. If I had the power to change one thing about the show, that would definitely be it.