A joy, Sakura Wars on the PS4 should not be missed. Unfortunately, Sega has released a terrible anime, crafted by entirely different writers, to coincide with the game’s release in the west. In an attempt to convince those unlucky enough to have viewed the anime that Sakura Wars is not like the atrocity they’ve witnessed, I shall explain why the video game is a loving celebration of human connectivity while the show is a gross-harem.
Sakura Wars: The Animation defines Seijuro’s relationship to his team as that of a sexualized parent. Hearing that Seijuro is returning from a mission, Sakura – the team’s central figure – fantasizes about their reunion. She blushes and remembers his promise to treat her to “chocolates” and “shopping” if she behaves. When Seijuro returns with a child who needs protection, though, Sakura becomes jealous and believes Seijuro is in a romantic relationship with the kid, unable to separate parental relationships from romantic ones. Even when the child actually falls into danger Sakura only vows to protect her because the captain orders her to, not because it’s morally right. It’s creepy and degrades everyone, including the audience.
In the video game, Sakura is driven by her own purpose. She has an insatiable desire to see good done in the world, and, despite being a tired character archetype, she feels genuine. Sakura’s view of heroism deepens and matures throughout the game as she learns how to define her own life. While she cares for Seijuro deeply, and respects his command, she follows his orders because he too is morally grounded, not because he is the captain.
The way Sakura, and the others, depend on Seijuro in the anime not only cheapens them, it cheapens Seijuro too. Not a major character in the anime series, as he is off on secret missions, Seijuro is reduced to the brooding bad-ass stereotype. He only appears to fight, give orders, or be ogled. He is the aloof alpha-male all the girls want to be with – nothing more. But, this is not his character.
Despite having combat prowess, Seijuro is a goof. The girls all fluster him and he has difficulty expressing romantic feelings. Seijuro, like the rest of the flower division, has spent most of his life in military training so relationships are completely foreign to him. One of the joys of Sakura Wars is watching the characters bumble their way through their emotions while they learn how to better express themselves.
The common awkwardness shared by Seijuro and the girls in the game is not the only thing that balances their relationship as they all depend on one another to grow and better themselves. Seijuro feels shame over a failed attempt to save a city when he was a navy captain. The civilians survived, as did Sejuro’s crew, but only because they were saved by someone else. In the game’s first chapter, Sakura finds herself in a similar position. There is a threat, her team is down, and she is barely holding on but she won’t give up. She keeps pushing. It inspires Seijuro who then has the courage to go out into combat with her and together they push back the demons without needing the aid of the rival revue.
The relationship that binds Seijuro and the team in the Sakura Wars game is not founded on lustful longing, military hierarchies, or parental approval; it’s a familial bond that grows naturally. Just as Sakura and the team help Seijuro find his worth as a leader he helps them take pride in themselves.
Azami, for instance, is a brilliant ninja-like warrior with shrewd environmental awareness. Yet despite her skill, Azami has difficulty trusting herself because of her young age and the fact that many look down on her “ninja” status. She is talented but seen as an imaginative child rather than a student of an ancient tradition. Seijuro helps Azami take pride in herself by encouraging her to turn to her own actions for validation instead of others’ opinions.
Such encouragement is lovingly depicted in Azami’s team attack as its preceded by a beautifully animated metaphor. Azami clones herself and asks Seijuro to identify the real her. He responds by cloning himself, in kind, and telling her all her clones are real. Seijuro recognizes Azami’s ninjutsu as a skill so tangible that it can be learned and executed by others. He gifts her a mirror by which she can see herself.
But of course, in Sakura Wars: The Animation, Azami and the rest of the girls are buffoons. At one point in episode three Azami tails a suspect and gets spotted multiple times. She has the grace of a bulldog, awkwardly hiding behind corners and stumbling about. Without Seijuro, or some “adult” figure around, Azami and the others cannot take of care themselves.
The show further insults its characters by making Seijuro the defining part of their friendships. In Sakura Wars, the girls bring Seijuro into their family and, together, build each other up. However, in the show, the idea of being a familial unit is created around Seijuro with all the girls swooning at his revelation when, in fact, they were a family without him — Sakura and Hatsuho describe each other as sisters on multiple occasions. Throughout the game, the player and Seijuro strengthen these bonds to be sure but they don’t create them, and they certainly do not manage them.
While Seijuro may have the designation of captain, he isn’t in a place of true authority over the girls. When they’re not in combat his only official role is to collect ticket stubs and dress up as the theater’s mascot, Peanut. Both of these jobs inverse any potential power dynamic found in combat – the only place the girls receive orders from Seijuro. The girls won’t hesitate to question his authority too if he makes an egregious mistake. During one particularly emotional sequence, if the player disregards a team member all the girls will call Seijuro out and question his worth as captain. They aren’t toadies but individuals,
Sega’s Sakura Wars champions love without any hint of irony or sarcasm. There’s a sincerity to the entire production with characters encouraging one-another to find something to love within themselves. It’s a story built around the profundity of human relationships. In contrast, Sakura Wars The Animation hates people as the girls are dis-empowered while Seijuro is denied the humanity found in vulnerability. They’re all degraded to sell a male fantasy.