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"Sakura Diaries" Vol. 1: One Re-Release Too Many

ADV originally released Sakura Diaries back in 2000. At the time, ADV didn’t realize they had dubbed an edited version. So they re-released it with the unedited version (with nudity), but only included the Japanese audio and English subtitles. Now, five years later, ADV has decided to re-re-release it with a new English track.

Sakura Diaries is a below average romance anime, not bad per se, but the new dub definitely don’t justify a re-release. It’s doubtful many fans of newer anime will be interested.

Touma, the main character, is a high school student waiting for his college entrance results. His reason for going to college isn’t for the education, but to get closer to his crush Mieko. However, he’s also quasi-involved with his cousin Urara, who has a crush on him, though the feeling isn’t mutual. As Touma’s an academic failure, when he doesn’t get into any of the top schools, he pretends to be a student at a prestigious university just to stay near Mieko.

Throughout the course of the first six episodes, Touma develops “feelings” for Urara, since he’s desperate to lose his virginity and Urara’s the most readily available. Plus he finally realizes how cute and willing she is. Took him long enough.

Do you care about what happens to these people? I didn’t. Touma is frustratingly dense, Mieko is little more than breathless eye candy, and the other regular, Urara’s friend, is a typical annoying, nosy hanger-on. The one exception here is Urara, who, while still fairly unoriginal, at least has some amusing methods of trying to cheer up and/or seduce Touma. For example, she pretends to be a prostitute in the first episode and in episode two hangs around the house in nothing but an apron.

Urara also genuinely cares for Touma, and I ended up rooting for her more than him. But in a romance show that’s supposed to be all about the characters, tired stereotypes rob the show of interest. Yes, the web of lies and moral dilemmas created by each character make them more human and create some interesting complexities and eventual conflicts, but even so, I wasn’t as enthralled as I should’ve been.

The animation is also subpar. I know this is anime, where one is supposed to put up with limited animation in anticipation of smoother action scenes, but in a lethargic romance like this one such action scenes are nonexistent. So what we’re left with is bland, stiff movement for the entire half hour, only brightened up by flashes of higher-quality fanservice. Even the daydream sequences, which in other shows are showcases for super-deformed, wacky antics and exaggerated reactions, are quite subdued here. I’m not a fan of the older-style character designs, either, though I have to give the artists credit for giving the characters more realistic proportions. If you prefer true-to-life figures to basketball breasts, you’ll appreciate them.

The new English track includes mostly new voice actors. Though I’ve never seen the 2000 dub, I can’t imagine this is a huge improvement. For one thing, the dialogue is very unnatural, only awkwardly matching the lip flaps. An unintentionally funny Harvard accent from the first episode was a good example of the occasionally mismatched voices.

The actual performances are lethargic and monotonous, lacking any punch or direction. Sometimes, a character may appear to be shouting, but the English voice stays jarringly low-key. I found the Japanese audio to fit better in all circumstances. The music in the show goes with the mellow tone just fine, though the guitar-heavy opening and closing themes would sound more at home in a PBS nature documentary.

Extras include opening/closing videos, a meager two pages of cultural notes, and an alternate closing theme.

Though Sakura Diaries is from 1997 and thus it’s tempting to cut it some slack, in reality it’s a very disappointing OVA regardless of its age. It’s not that I hate romance anime, either — I’m a big fan of Midori Days and I still found the plot and characters in Sakura Diaries completely unappealing. Chalk part of that up to the dub, which isn’t very good, but also part of it due to an unengaging lead like Touma.

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