Sakura Wars

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Our rating: two lava lamps.

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Sakura Wars
Sure she looks mean, but you
should see her in H.M.S. Pinafore!
Sakura Wars is a potpourri of anime clichés. Let's see, it has a fighting team made up of cute, ethnically diverse women, steam-punk robots, magical sword attacks with long names, and demons from another dimension that closely resemble something H. R. Giger would come up with. Sakura Wars also has excellent character designs and nice animation. What Sakura Wars doesn't have is a satisfying story. The four episodes that make up the series seem to be missing important plot developments. This may be because Sakura Wars is based on a video game (unreleased in the US) and there are parts of the story that we are supposed to know before start watching. So if you know the video game well, you may want to add one lava lamp to our rating.

In the year 1919, Tokyo is recovering from a war with demons from beyond. Intent on not being caught unaware should the demons strike again, the Japanese government forms a special fighting unit that will use magic and technology. They put a bureaucratic type named Yoneda in charge of organizing the team.

The technology part of the imperative is represented by Kanzaki Industries, which is attempting to build robots that can be powered by people's spirit energy. Sadly, though a prototype has been built, no one can use it, because no one who has tried to pilot it has enough spirit energy to make it move. You'd think they would have tested the system out to make sure it was possible for the average soldier to use it before they built the prototype, but apparently Kanzaki just likes to do really expensive beta tests. Luckily, it turns out that the founder's granddaughter, Sumire Kanzaki, has enough spirit energy to run the robot. In fact, she overloads it.

Sakura Wars
"Hi, my name is Iris! I'll be
saving the world from demons! I've been
out of diapers for three years!"
Yoneda, and his assistant Ayame, begin to scour the world for people who can use the spirit armor. For some reason, only young women have enough spirit energy to do it. The members of the newly-formed Imperial Floral Assault Unit include Ri Kouran, a Chinese gadget master; Kanna Kirishima, a macho woman who resembles Ryu from Street Fighter to no small degree; Maria Tachibana, a sharp shooting Russian; and finally Iris Chateaubriand, a little French girl with a teddy bear and awesome psychic powers.

In order to more effectively fight the demons, the members of the Imperial Floral Assault Unit must go undercover as performers at a musical comedy review. No, really. The Japanese government is even building a special theater for them.

As the unit is forming, we meet Sakura Shinguchi, a young woman who is heir to father's sword. Her father died beating back the demons the first time, and Sakura is trying to learn a special mystic ability called the Cherry Blossom Attack. Learning it is a bit difficult because her family will not tell her how to do it, and the parchment that is supposed to teach her how to do it is completely blank. When she finally learns the attack (she's supposed to make it up, really) Sakura joins the Imperial Floral Assault Unit.

Sakura Wars
New from Apple! Spirit Warriors
come in vanilla, bannana, and grape!
In episode four, the Imperial Floral Assault Unit is joined by a man named Ichiro Ohgami who becomes the group's leader. Apparently he has enough spirit energy to use a spirit armor, which is pretty surprising because we were told only women had enough. His joining comes completely out of the blue. We see him only briefly in previous episodes, swabbing the deck of a ship.

While we know that there is supposed to be a demon war going on, we don't actually see much of it. The earliest incarnation of the team fights a single demon at the end of episode one, and there is a pretty big fight between the spirit armors and a large group cyborg demons in episode four. But we never get much of an idea who the demons are. More screentime is devoted to the group's travails while trying to put on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream than to the demons.

The animation is good and the characters are cute, but the flaws in the story keep calling attention to themselves. Who are the demons? Where did Ichiro come from? When Kanna left in episode three to avenge her father, what happened? She's back in episode four, with no mention of what may have transpired. Plus, Sakura Wars doesn't have much of an climax. They fight one big battle, perform A Midsummer Night's Dream for the residents of Tokyo, and that's the end. Again, this may have made more sense if you're familiar with the game, but for casual anime watchers, Sakura Wars is just not worth the effort.

Pictures for this review were provided by Akemi's Anime World.

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Review date: 12/30/99

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