# Least Surprise (Sakura Trick) I've joked before that I judge things by their Kolgomorov complexity. But like everything in life, novelty is best enjoyed in moderation. At least, that's the only explanation I can find for how much I'm enjoying *Sakura Trick*. I've enjoyed formulaic series before. *Heartcatch Pretty Cure* had maybe 2/3 of episodes hold to the same template (at least until the final arc): character encounters problem with their hobby (cycling, photography, cookery... ) and is turned into a Desertarian. After causing some chaos they are found by the pretty cures and have sense beaten into them, allowing them to work through their issues. Heck, I'm on record as a fan of transformation sequences, and Gundam launch sequences, and even the Tracy Island stock footage - as plain an example of unoriginality as you'll ever see. But those shows use their formula more as frame than content; the characters and their equipment are the backstory, and the stock footage is a visual shorthand for everything that's come before this point. In the Age Of The DVD Box Set it's harder to justify, but for an individual episode considered in isolation it makes a lot of sense - particularly when a show is aimed at younger viewers with less effective memories. Be that as it may, *Sakura Trick* is not one of those shows. Rather than a formulaic structure (that hopefully brings out the differences between the content of individual episodes), the arc shapes of each episode are actually quite varied - haphazard, even. When *Evangelion* gave distinct titles to each half-episode it seemed like just another piece of arbitrary symbolism (particularly given how little sense those titles made). *Sakura Trick*'s titles are painfully obvious, and bluntly reinforce that this is a compressed adaptation of existing material; the last show I can remember with this structure is *Azumanga Daioh*. The level of continuity is similar too: a series of vignettes that don't directly connect, but with character relationships building up over time, and telling the story of the girls' progression through school. In *Sakura Trick*'s case we get extra cheap (but effective) angst from the fact that the school will close when they finish. And then there's the kissing. So far every episode has come with a seemingly minute-long scene of leads Haruka and Yuu liplocked and making noises, in a more or less compromising position. On Japanese television, it's probably groundbreaking - this is the show that *Yuru Yuri* (say) wanted, but didn't dare, to be. To an internet viewer, with all manner of hardcore just a directory away, it seems... well, quaint. In fact, "quaint" is a fair description of *Sakura Trick*. It's a comedy, but not in the 100-laughs-per-second style of the internet age (yet another similarity with the 10+-year-old *Azumanga Daioh*). I've mentioned *Yuru Yuri* and it would be remiss of me not to talk about *K-ON!*, which almost invented a genre of "cute girls doing cute things". But those shows are ultimately about the characters and exploring their personalities through their relationships with each other; while it's subtle at times, Yui and friends really do grow and develop as the series progresses. This is the key to most truly great shows, but it's a path denied to pure comedy, because the jokes rely on the characters' established personalities and flaws, and allowing them to overcome those flaws removes the very thing that makes the series funny; thus we have the hated conclusion of *Watamote*, where the lead seems to abandon everything she's learnt and snap back to where she was at the start of episode 1. Romance shows have an analogous problem: the tension between the partners is at the core of the show, but the only way they can develop is by destroying that tension. Either the series stalls into an endless will-they-won't-they holding pattern (or, worse, allows developments only to reset them), or the couple find themselves happily together - at which point there's no story any more, at least without a substantial genre shift. And while I'm in favour of a limited show that tells a circumscribed story and then ends before it wears out its welcome (my personal top two come in at 11 and 13 episodes each), I can understand why creators would wish to avoid that. Curiously, despite its content, *Sakura Trick* really isn't this kind of romance. We have any number of tedious misunderstandings between the leads, but it's in a context where their underlying love is never in doubt. The jokes and tension come when one misunderstands or upsets the other, but it's almost a married-couple sitcom; one of them may end the episode in the doghouse, but an actual breakup is never a serious possibility. Their relationship feels bizarrely timeless, part of the setting rather than the story - and the same is true of the characters. The flipside is that they never really develop. We have almost nothing in the way of backstory for the leads (or anyone), no idea of family (aside from Yuu's sister Mitsuki) or previous friends, nothing in the way of hobbies or interests. We have no idea what either of them does at the weekends (at least when not seeing each other) beyond the utterly predictable: when the gang go for coffee, Yuu orders something sweet; when they do a "test of courage", she's scared and Haruka's protective. I'd even say Mitsuki has far more characterization than the leads, and more story too; again, this is partly because her relationship with Haruka in particular has somewhere to go, which can't be said for the main couple. So: a comedy with few jokes, a character drama with barely any characters. The animation isn't bad, but it's below modern standards (particularly the inspid ending sequence), and while I have a soft spot for the opening song it's objectively not that great - and, in any case, hardly going to carry the show. And yet. The jokes are gentle and spread out, but that gives them a delicacy, subtlety even. The characters are the barest sketches, but their love is very true; unrealistic, perhaps, but their simple joy in each other is enough to charm this viewer. It's the opposite of the - realistic, but tiring - melodrama that occupies most teenage romance series. This is love as a simple, safe, even bland thing - but still something to be celebrated. After a couple of stressful personal events, it's exactly what I need. <br/> <br/> Note: this review took longer than expected; I'm writing without having seen episode 6. Let's hope it doesn't undermine everything I've just written. [Home](/) <div id="disqus_thread"></div> comments powered by Disqus