Today I review a series that explores the age old battle of hard work vs. talent. No, I’m not talking about Rock Lee and Neji from Naruto. The competitive world of Arts majors is much more dramatic and unpredictable than your shounen anime. Believe it!
Title: The Pet Girl of Sakaurasou
Original airing: Oct 9, 2012 to Mar 26, 2013
Studio: J.C. Staff
Duration: 23 mins per episode
Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life, Romance, School
Source: Sakura-sō no Pet na Kanojo light novel by Hajime Kamoshida
Where I watched: Crunchyroll (Subbed)
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions
When abandoned kittens and his good conscience force second year Sorata Kanda to move into Suimei High School’s infamous Sakura Hall, the satellite dorm and its eccentric, misfit residents turn his life upside down. The decidedly average Sorata finds it difficult to fit in with the bizarre collection of dorm residents like Misaki, an energetic animator; Jin, a playwright playboy; Ryuunosuke, a reclusive programmer; and Chihiro, the dorm manager, art teacher, and party girl.
Sorata’s friend Nanami, a second year student and aspiring voice actress, pushes him to find new owners for the many cats so that he can quickly move back into the regular dorms. However, his desire to escape Sakura Hall wavers when the pet-like and infantile second year Mashiro Shiina, a world-class artistic savant looking to become a mangaka, transfers in during the spring trimester and quickly latches onto him.
Supported by each other’s quirks, Sorata and Mashiro come out of their shells and trigger change in the lives of those around them. Based on the light novel series of the same name, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo explores the fine threads connecting talent, hard work, romance, and friendship with its ensemble cast.
I actually first put this anime on my list based on The Ultimate Anime Recommendation Flowchart (try it out and let me know in the comments what you get!). KimmieKawaii asked me the questions, leading to the following path: Slice of Life->I was born to feel->Warm and Bittersweet->Premise=Talent vs Hard Work->Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo. Yes, I’m still chasing the Your lie in April feels train. I’ll get better someday.
Of course, at first glance, Sakurasou doesn’t seem like it hits the themes I was hoping for. The trailer gives some hints toward it, but the light tones and silly humor make this series seem like a generic high school slice of life with plenty of romantic comedy cliches and even more fanservice. I suppose I don’t need to go into the whole thing about not judging anime too hastily again as I’ve had many examples in my review series thus far, but Sakurasou is perhaps one of the best cases of how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Chasing ones dreams and finding a place to belong sound like high minded and overly idealistic themes, but Sakurasou spends a good deal of time following its characters’ struggles to do just that. Structured like many other rom com titles, it aims for an overall optimistic tone with plenty of comedy to support the narrative. Far from proceeding along a predictable and/or cheesy path, however, the series presents its themes in a realistic and natural way.
Sakura Hall is home to the outcasts of the Suimei Art College Affiliate High School. The small group of residents there aren’t housed separately because of academic issues, but for their behavioral eccentricities that make living with the other students less than ideal. The lead character, Sorata, doesn’t quite fit the mold for the typical Saukra Hall resident but is forced to move there when he refuses to give up the cats he rescued (a violation of the pet policy in the regular dorms). Deciding that he would accept the arrangement temporarily, until he is able to find homes for the cats, he ends up being there longer than planned when he takes a liking to them; especially a pure white one that is among the last of the litter he takes in. But soon another responsibility turns up in the form of a seemingly helpless girl, Mashiro, who the dorm manager asks Sorata to escort back to Sakura Hall.
Mashiro Shiina proves to be quite a handful when Sorata finds her unable to do most simple tasks, such as dressing herself. She is so dependent upon others that the Sakura Hall group creates “Mashiro Duty” and assigns Sorata to the task. These duties involve tasks such as making sure Mashiro awakes, dresses, and attends school on time in the morning. Mashiro’s helplessness drives most of the comedy in this series, using her many misunderstandings and (unintentionally) shocking manner of speech to set up embarrassing situations for Sorata. But her dependence, not unlike Sorata’s cats, is the very thing that keeps him at her side. “The pure white girl,” as Sorata describes her, becomes like another pet for him to fuss over. Despite the insistence of his longtime friend, Nanami, to leave Sakura Hall, Sorata worries about what might befall Mashiro without his help and thus remains in the dorm.
The one thing that Mashiro does seem to do well, with an almost obsessive drive, is draw manga. She left behind a comfortable life in England to become a mangaka and works late into the night, transfixed on her screen, to meet deadlines. In this sense she is similar to the other dorm residents who are all inspired by a talent or passion. Sakurasou uses these experiences of pursuing careers in competitive fields as a way to showcase the difficult choices and sacrifices that the characters’ face to accomplish their dreams. Sometimes the way to reach their goals doesn’t align with other priorities, and sometimes they encounter setbacks despite the work they invested in pursuing those goals.
It is along these lines that Sakurasou really excels. Though there is no lack of lighthearted comedic moments, the series adds enough drama to level it out and deliver an engaging narrative. Some of the students are quite talented at what they do, but still can’t escape difficulties in their chosen career paths. Others, like Sorata, work hard to reach for even a small measure of success but find their efforts ultimately falling short. The harsh lesson that some of the characters learn is that no matter how hard they work, there is always someone better. As discouraging as it is to be shot down while trying to excel in something you’re passionate about, this is an all too common occurrence that will no doubt resonate with viewers.
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I have to state slice of life genre lives and dies by the strength of its characters and Sakurasou is no exception. Fortunately, as I’ve hinted toward already, this is one of the series’ strong points. While they generally follow a single archetype most of the time (eg: Misaki the enthusiastic party girl or Jin the playboy), they are far from one-note characters due to their layered personalities. Of the five main characters, each one sees development through a unique arc that touches upon their relationships, goals, and other motivations. These motivations are generally clear and only change when the story shows why they should.
Arguably, the one character that changes the most is Sorata Kanda. His malleability is due in part to his ‘every man’ characterization, making him quite average compared to the rest of the residents in Sakura Hall. In early episodes, his energy is mainly focused on finding a way to move out of the unpredictable and distracting environment he was forced into. Throughout the series, he slowly begins to realize there are far more reasons for him to stay. By coming to rely on the others’ experience in the arts, he is inspired and aided in pursing a passion of his own. In doing so, Sorata works hard through multiple setbacks and learns from each one. What is compelling about his character is that his development comes entirely from within. It would have been easy for him to stay along his initial path and distance himself from the Sakura Hall group, but a combination of his growing friendship with them and a desire to make more of himself pushes him along.
Surprisingly, the one that inspires him most of all is the innocent, yet impossibly talented Mashiro Shiina. Her monotone speech and subdued reactions, along with her inability to understand most situations, make it seem like she may be autistic (though it is never confirmed). What is clear is her incredible talent, something she herself doesn’t realize the breadth of, that gave her international fame before ever coming to Japan. Her simple nature masks the fact that her character can adapt to any situation the show presents, be it comedy or serious heartfelt moments, despite her plain faced reactions. Those reactions tend to invoke more attention than the other characters as viewers must pay closer attention to her quiet voice. Her development comes as a result of her eventually learning to understand her own feelings and make decisions base on them. She also spurs the development of others as a disruptive element in their lives, in both good and bad ways.
Among the people indirectly influenced by Mashiro is Sorata’s classmate and friend Nanami Aoyama. As a resident of the regular dorms, she is a lot like Sorata in the sense that she is quite average in personality. In addition to her studies, she has been attending a competitive voice acting school, in spite of her family’s refusal to support it. This pursuit leads to one of the most emotionally charged hardships of all the characters. Having taken a risk and struggling to support herself, Nanami has a true time limit to realize her dreams or give them up, either from parental pressure or completing her term at the school. These pressures complicate her feelings for Sorata, who seems to be the only one unaware of her crush on him. Despite this, she assists him in all his endeavors in an effort to stay at his side as long as possible.
The other pair of main characters, upper-classmen Misaki Kamiigusa and Jin Mitaka, act much like supporting characters but have a significant amount of screen time and development on their own (though their drama is mostly centered around one another). Jin works as a screenwriter for Misaki’s amateur anime productions, but viewers quickly learn that she outpaces him in terms of talent. Misaki pursues Jin passionately as a romantic partner, but the divide in their career aspirations causes him to put distance between them. Their interactions mirror much of the same themes found among the other three, including jealousy, failure despite hard work, and one-sided love. Their approach to these problems, and the eventual resolution, make their story all their own.
As good as these characters are, there are a few issues that will nag at more picky viewers. For starters, there are other characters which contribute to the story progression but don’t see strong development. One of them, Ryuunosuke Akasaka, offers his computer skills as an blatantly convenient aid in several story threads, but his interactions with the group feel a little forced. Adding to this is the questionable personalities of some characters, like Jin’s seemingly unnecessary playboy demeanor, that create awkward situations between the characters for either forced dramatic effect or weak story direction. In all honesty, however, these small issues amount to only small distractions and take away little from the otherwise well crafted character work.
J.C. Staff is in their element with this series, considering it follows along the same thematic lines as their other well received work like Toradora! and Waiting in the Summer. Released in the same season as other impressively animated work like Psycho Pass and Magi, this series holds up very well as one of the studio’s better projects and remains one of the more popular anime of the season. Using vibrant colors and a lively tone reminiscent of their other work, J.C. Staff captures the energetic feeling of the anime’s characters and setting.
From the first episode, the series is striking for how colorful it is. The story begins and ends in spring, allowing for vivid scenes among cherry blossoms that reflect a beautiful new beginning in a not so subtle fashion. Spring isn’t the only season featured this way either, with the exuberance of summer and the low light of winter being used to highlight the characters’ emotions. The emotions themselves are also animated well, keeping consistent detail throughout the series and making the most of the unique character designs to portray their reactions just as distinctly. Even with characters like Mashiro, the small facial changes go a long way in echoing their feelings.
As nice as the animation can look, it unfortunately does have a caveat. If my previous statements about Mashiro not being able to dress herself was any indication, it should come as no surprise that the series doesn’t go out of its way to avoid fanservice. The early episodes feature plenty of scenes framed to embarrass the straight laced Sorata more than enough times to get the point across. If this were the only occasion it could be forgiven as a way to illustrate her dependence on a caretaker. When the obligatory bath scene takes the opportunity for the girls to compare ‘size,’ it can’t be considered anything other than cheap fanservice.
The music for this anime can best be described as light and poppy, complementing the visual style that the series aims for most of the time. It ranges from synthesized instrumentals for energetic themes and whimsical moments alike. The animation for the openings and endings are also really fantastic, capturing a wide variety of moods that mirrors the series’ tonal diversity. The first half of the series has the more ‘fun’ opening, sung by Mashiro, Nanami, and Misaki’s voice actresses. Konomi Suzuki delivers a pair of catchy songs in the second opening and the first ending which are a lot of fun to listen to as well. As an example of how diverse the music is, a slower piano arrangement of Days of Dash is one of the most emotional BGMs of the series.
As good as the character work is in this series, it would have fallen short if not for the top notch voice acting. Ai Kayano (Menma in Anohana, Futaba in Amanchu!) had become one of my favorites before I ever heard of this series; her soft performance as Mashiro is more reminiscent of Mei Tachibana from Say “I Love You.” The fact that she is able to inject so much emotion into Mashiro’s monotone voice is a credit to her skill and I couldn’t imagine the character being more charming with another voice behind her. Sorata’s voice actor, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, doesn’t have a large number of main roles under his belt, but he has had a huge one just one season prior to this series as Kirito in Sword Art Online. On top of his dozens of supporting roles it’s not a surprise that he was chosen for the diverse emotions of Sorata’s character.
The rest of the cast also have huge resumes, leaving little mystery as to why the voice acting seemed so well done for this series. A lot of the actors play character types they are accustomed to from other series, but the lack of experimentation with casting choices seemed to pay off well. There is an interesting note with regards to the casting credits at the end of each episode, as Ryuunosuke’s AI program Maid-chan is listed with a mystery credit for most of the series. The final reveal at the end is a bit of meta-humor that hints at the nature of his program, which I’ll leave you to discover on your own. Even if the voice acting was great, non-Japanese speaking viewers who have trouble with subtitles are out of luck. The series is unfortunately missing an English dub, and considering that it came out back in 2012 it’s not very likely that it will be getting one at this point.
Those who love slice of life will find plenty to enjoy in this anime, as it revolves mostly around character driven story threads that explore realistic and relatable situations involving romance, responsibility, and struggling with life choices. The series exceeds the viewer’s expectations in this regard by presenting it as a bubbly school series while exploring issues of identity, self worth, and worth to others.
Hidden beneath the over the top situations and melodramatic exchanges is an authentic portrayal of the issues these characters deal with. The romantic part of the romantic comedy tag presents itself in several ways, most notably in the form of the love triangle between Sorata, Mashiro, and Nanami. It is slow moving and full of contrasting emotions, but doesn’t feel forced as a result. The relationships feature the usual reluctance to confess their feelings, only in a more complex way than most romance anime go for. They still display a range of other emotions toward one another as well including annoyance, anger, jealousy, and resentment, which makes them feel more like real people than formulaic romance characters. If your main draw is romance, however, Sakurasou isn’t going to be as satisfying as something like Toradora! There is a conclusion for all the characters’ romance arcs, but the result may disappoint those wanting more finality.
Comedy generally works better with more outlandish elements, but this series manages to be very entertaining regardless. Most of this has to do with Mashiro and her ridiculous statements, spoken straight faced as only she can do, that shock and worry the others. Coupled with her complete lack of understanding about the world and her tendency to say mundane things in the most scandalous way possible, her ignorance is played for charm regardless of how troublesome it is for Sorata. These sort of jokes might not work for everyone, but at least in this series it draw laughter better than the few moments of physical comedy.
The most meaningful parts of this series aren’t found in simple romance or comedy though. The characters’ development, through trials and tribulations that mirror real life struggles, is what make them endearing enough to carry the story. The series does a good job at making you care about the characters, whether it’s Misaki’s hopeless pursuit of Jin or Mashiro’s desire to see Sorata treat her with the same subtle affection he shows others. The impact that Mashiro has on the students, and eventually on Sakura Hall in general, makes for a touching drama that draws affection for her character no matter how strange she seems. The effect of everyone doing their best also leads to a heartwarming viewing experience, especially when the group comes together toward a common goal.
Summary and Recommendations
The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is a fantastic slice of life series that defies first impressions. It presents a bright and colorful setting with wacky characters that uses its lighter tone to take the edge off the more serious issues it explores.
The students of Sakura Hall are all very talented in the arts but have a strange behavioral quirks, making it an odd match for an average student like Sorata. Forced to stay at first because of his cats, he becomes attached to his talented classmate Mashiro.
The characters act like certain archetypes but are all well developed, facing challenges that push them to work incredibly hard or make important decisions. The interpersonal relationships between the group feels real, as they deal with romantic problems and difficulties expressing their feelings.
The animation and sound work together to accent the tone, using a wide variety of colors and musical styles to highlight the many emotional beats the story portrays.They are both done with great attention to quality and are a good representation of what the studio has to offer. The highly talented voice actors bring the characters to life and represent the characters in a remarkably genuine way.
Viewers will resonate with the successes and failures the students go through as the series show them struggling with the challenges in front of them. The character arcs are all well done, though not all the stories are believable. The resolution of the love triangle isn’t completely satisfying, but the romance is otherwise sweet.
Watching the characters overcome their personal limitations and find their way along an imperfect path allows this series to be a standout entry among the list of feel-good Slice of Life stories. Whether or not this series fits one’s genre of choice, it has themes that most viewers can relate to and appreciate.
Watch if you:
Love romantic comedies
Enjoy good character development
Like realistic inspirational stories
Don’t watch if you:
Hate typical genre cliches
Are sensitive to fanservice
Get annoyed by exaggerated archetypes
A bit of extra fluff dragged the series a little, but this is an otherwise great anime. I give it 4.5 out of 5 Shiinas.
Shows like Sakurasou really remind me of the potential of anime to explore complex relationships and deep issues in an accessible way. As entertaining as the series can be at times, I almost missed the fact that I was learning something while I watched. I had little idea about the well executed character work before starting this series, so I was astonished by how honest the series was in portraying the various personalities and how they deal with the situations that surround them. Perhaps not knowing exactly what to expect made my experience that much better, but I think that’s a topic I’ll save for another time.
Considering how this series starts, I knew I would be drawn in. Watching characters become inspired to change for the better is particularly captivating for me, so seeing how Mashiro impacted Sorata’s life and made him re-evaluate the ordinary path he had chosen for himself was a real treat. She was indeed a special addition to his life, but it wasn’t her influence alone that spurred his change. Sorata needed to look inside himself and see where his goals align with his dreams and his situation. Only then could he figure out the steps he needed to take, and inspire others to do the same.
I’ve mentioned already that the series deals with failure, but I can’t understate how different the struggles are compared to other anime I’ve seen. Stories about achieving your goals through hard work are heartwarming but common. Much more rare are stories about failing despite your best efforts. There are a great many quotes about not letting failure define you, but not many stories illustrate it the way Sakurasou does. Life is seldom easy, and hardly ever fair. Without incredible talent or improbable fortune, nothing worthwhile comes in the absence of considerable effort. Even then, nothing is guaranteed, and only perseverance can sustain hope. Sorata and others could have given up plenty of times over the course of the series, but seeing them pick themselves up again and again make for a better narrative than typical success stories.
Not yet ready to end your time at Sakura Hall? See these posts from other great bloggers:
Pet Girl of Sakurasou by Jonathan at Otaku Post
A great article that discusses the talent vs hard work aspect more in depth than I did, and how elegantly this anime explores it.
Never Give Up On Yourself by KKSparrow
A post brimming with enthusiasm for the show that talks about why it’s a must watch. I agree with a lot of of the points brought up here about the emotions the series evokes.
Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo: My Favorite Anime by remyfool at The Lily Garden
This entry was part of remyfool’s 30-day anime challenge and discusses what makes the series his favorite with some fun real life anecdotes.
For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.