The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is an anime based on a series of light novels by Hajime Kamoshida and produced by J.C. Staff. The titular Sakurasou is a run-down dormitory affiliated with the Suimei University of the Arts High School, and a dumping ground for the strange and troublesome students who don’t fit in with life in the regular dorms. After being told he can’t keep the stray cat he picked up in the regular dorms, Sorata Kanda, an aimless and otherwise ordinary young male student finds himself living in Sakurasou, at least until he can find someone to take in the cat so he can escape this madhouse. Instead of getting rid of the cat, Kanda takes in even more strays, thus sealing his fate as a Sakurasou resident…
As the containment pen for the most out-there and troublesome students of an Arts School, Sakurasou is home to some wild characters. The ultra-hyperactive ball of genki Misaki Kamiigusa, an animation prodigy capable of producing incredible works. Jin Mitaka, the gifted writer and noted playboy, and Ryunosuke Akasaka, a hikikomori computer genius who rarely if ever leaves his room or attends class and communicates primarily through an AI program he created, Maid-chan. Under the not-so-watchful eye of resident teacher Chihiro Sengoku the residents of Sakurasou go about their crazy lives, throwing hot-pot parties whenever they can and generally causing mischief. Then, Chihiro’s cousin Mashiro Shiina transfers to Suimei High and Sorata’s world is turned on it’s head yet again.
The quiet Mashiro Shiina is a world renowned artist who has moved to Japan from England to study and draw manga. Unfortunately, she also bereft of any of the basic life skills needed to take care of herself, so Kanda finds himself on ‘Mashiro Duty’ – Helping her with everything from getting dressed in the morning to getting ready for bed at night. Shiina is incredibly talented, and quickly manages to become a published mangaka with a story that somewhat mirrors her experiences at Sakurasou. As she lacks life experience, she often wants to do new things and see new places, and Kanda gets dragged along for the ride more often than not. It is these initial experiences that give us not only a lot of the comedy, but also a lot of the growth of the relationship between these two.
If Shiina is the effortlessly talented artist, Kanda and his long-time admirer and classmate, Nanami Aoyama, are the absolutely average every-person. Nanami is determined to become a voice actor despite her parents disapproval. She works multiple jobs to support herself and pay for her training classes, often pushing herself to the point of absolute physical exhaustion with all that she juggles in order to inch closer to her dream. Likewise, the initially aimless Kanda is inspired by Shiina and Nanami to pursue game design, and works on game pitches and presentations with varying degrees of success.
The dynamic between these three characters not only creates something of a love triangle as the series wears on, but also introduces and drives one of the main themes of the show. That is, the difficulty of being ordinary in the face of extraordinary talent, and dealing with and working through feelings of inadequacy when trying so hard to create something while others seem to be able to create and succeed so effortlessly. It sounds like a petty theme, but it has quite an impact. I’d wager most of us have felt this way about something we’ve attempted before. It brings some very real moments and creates empathy for the characters on all sides of these situations as they arise, and the emphasis is always on pushing forward rather than dwelling on the negative, as hard as that may be.
At it’s core, though, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is a slice of life comedy with a lot of heart. It’s kind of strange that Shiina can’t look after herself and at first is a little off-putting as she kicks around mostly naked because she doesn’t know any better, but we see quite a bit of emotional growth as she makes friends and experiences life at Sakurasou. Likewise, the series does a great job of fleshing out each character and their relationships, particularly that of childhood friends Misaki and Jin.
I felt the series took a couple of episodes to find its feet and settle on its tone – it starts off with quite a bit of fanservice and almost-nudity. Indeed, from the screencaps on back of the DVD case you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that this was just another bland harem anime. Thankfully, they dial that stuff back significantly as the show goes on. Once it got going I found myself able to sit and watch three, four, five episodes at a time as I really felt invested in the characters, their relationships and their problems. The DVD is presented in Japanese with English subtitles only, no English dub, and extras consist of promos, trailers and footage of a Japanese launch event with staff and actors. It impresses me a lot that Madman are willing to release lesser-known series in subtitled only collections these days. It shows the way the anime scene in Australia has really grown – in those early days of Madman DVDs a sub-only series collection would’ve been seen as way too much of a high-risk release to even consider, I’m sure! The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is funny, emotional, interesting and highly recommended.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.