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Japanator Recommends: Sakura Taisen

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To the modern otaku, Sakura Taisen sounds almost laughably quaint. Its fighting teams fight for truth, justice, and the Glory of the Empire. Its heroes and heroines unabashedly  were heroic, villains comically malicious. Its cast is chock-full of classic archetypes, the plot teeming with now-familiar tropes and telegraphed twists. In short, it sounds freakishly, naively old-school. That, however, is where the property's greatest strength lies, for Sakura Taisen helped build the old school, cementing thematic foundations that later works would profit from subverting. Hit the jump to read more.

Sakura Taisen
Art by Ikku Masa, Story by Hiroi Ohji, Character Design by Kosuke Fujishima
Published by TOKYOPOP

Given how familiar Sakura Taisen will feel to anime/manga connoisseurs, it's ironic that the games making up the core of the series material never made it overseas, mainly due to how unfamiliar their hybridized strategy-bishoujo game playstyle would be to the videogaming public. With a game finally setting sail for the New World, reading Sakura Taisen can serve as a primer of sorts for the craziness that many may have missed out on. 

 An alternate 1920s sees all technology powered by steam, with steam-powered cars, computers, and even steam-powered air conditioners, however impossible that may sound. In the aftermath of an apocalyptic demon war, a (steam-powered) plan was drafted to secure Tokyo from further evil assault. Apparently, that plan called for spiritually-endowed girls to pilot trashcan-shaped steam mecha in combat, all the while masquerading as famous actresses in the Grand Imperial Theater. Seriously. Such is the world that Ichiro Ogami is drafted into, tasked with leading the Imperial Fighting Troupe's Flower Division into battle, and then taking tickets at the theater entrance when off the clock.

Leaping further over the top, Sakura Taisen's Tokyo hides gargantuan military bases hidden under familiar Japanese landmarks, such as having the Asakusa temple walk just splitting in half and opening like a hatch to allow a giant armored blimp to launch, or steam trains making Free Willy-style jumps out of the Ueno park lake to expose mecha-launching cannons. And of course, the Imperial Fighting Troupe's briefing room can only be accessed by sliding down a tunnel, which automatically replaces one's casual clothing with an incredibly elaborate battle uniform.

To make up its cast, writer Hiroi Ohji played mix-and-match with anime's most enduring personality archetypes, shoehorning the results into appropriately absurd backgrounds. From a Russian-revolutionary-turned-mafia-enforcer-turned-actress to a Chinese-kansai-speaking-mad-scientist-also-turned-actress, the girls of the Flower Division run the whole spectrum, all the while maintaining consistent flower-themed naming conventions. Combined with the already-crazy setting, the affair projects a colorful, appealingly shallow vibe.

Ikku Masa's clean lines and rounded edges contrast to Kosuke Fujishima's original, sharply-pointed character designs. At the risk of reading too far into it, the new art seems friendlier, seemingly aware of its now-retro status in today's world. The writing also manages to smooth out the rough edges that come from any attempt to adapt a multi-path bishoujo game. The new scripts more closely follow Ogami, developing him into his own character rather than just an avatar for the player, rewriting and rearranging events so as to sidestep moments where a player would have to choose one heroine over another, potentially causing a disconnect between the fan's experience and the writer's. In fact, of the seven volumes currently available, the first is the most surprising, concentrating on Ogami's frustration over what, for all apparent intents and purposes, was a demotion, assigned to go-fer duty for a senile drunkard and babysitting a bunch of primadonna actresses (and a loli).

If you've been feeling a little sick of all that complexity, or are just looking to hype yourself up for the franchise's first English outing, pick up Sakura Taisen and remember a more innocent, cliched time.


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reviewed by Josh Tolentino

 

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 



Filed under... #manga #reviews #Tokyopop #Video games

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