This right here is a cult classic, a chef d'oeuvrea buried under false preconceptions and unfounded criticism. This gem is hidden because it does not shine; it is buried because its tone is that of abyssal black. Sakura Trick pries into to the darkest corners of our subconscious, the most visceral of our cognition, the most carnal of our urges, and the most primal of our instincts. Its sublimity will ever be debated yet always remain objectively irrefutable; the fundamental insight it provides into human and perhaps animalistic nature may shape the basis of sexual psychoanalysis for centuries to come.
On a superficial plane, Sakura Trick appears to be an anime which caters to the most lowly and deprived among men. Conceited critics dismiss it without a second thought. As self-important as these self-proclaimed critics are, they fail to realize that Sakura Trick is indeed a trick, and they are the ones being tricked. Sakura petals, or cherry blossoms, are commonly associated with a sense of beauty and innocence in Japanese culture. As discussed by Ango Sakaguchi in his Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita, sakura petals are often a means to enhance the atmosphere of a given scene, be it melancholic, resplendent or sensual. Used famously in 5 Centimeters per Second, the sakura petals created an immense yet artificial atmosphere which proved successful in fooling the average viewers incapable of critical analysis. What many critics fail to realize, however, is that Sakura Trick is playing them beyond this level. The entire surface layer of Sakura Trick is a euphemistic veil obfuscating the dark and uncanny subconscious that it explores; any tangible material is a metaphor for its meticulous meta-analysis of the metaphysical mentality’s pubertal metamorphosis.
As brilliantly put by Charles Baudelaire, “La sexualité est le lyrisme des masses.” In Ulysses, James Joyce subverts gender conceptions by deconstructing sexual stereotypes; in Lolita, Vladimir Nobakov delves into the abnormal subconscious perversion of paedophilia; in Doctor Glas, Hjalmar Soderberg studies sexual catharsis through murder; in Aquarion EVOL, Shoji Kawamori studies the manifestation of repressed sexuality as love. Time and again, great thinkers have demonstrated the immense potential of sexual psychoanalysis in narrative form.
Sakura Trick fulfills this potential.
The exterior story of Sakura Trick is straight forward - two damsels unknowingly in love with each other: Sonoda Yuu and Takayama Haruka, start high school in the same class with four other apparent lesbians. This premise alone poses innumerable questions of pertinence - most of which are problematized further and explored as the series progresses. Why are two girls romantically interested in each other? Why are there four more girls of questionable sexual orientation in their class? Were they perhaps affected to some degree by Haruka’s and Yuu’s display of intimacy, implying a nurture over nature determination of sexuality? Do their behaviors suggest abnormalities in their amygdala activity, or is such behavior governed by the wider cerebral hemispheres? Hailed as the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud once said, “The sexual life of adult women is a dark continent for psychology.” The stringency and inadaptability of the traditional approach practiced by psychologists is to blame for this. Sakura Trick is unshackled from such rigidities - by investigating high school girls in late puberty, a time and setting in which sexuality is at its most volatile, and doing so through homosexuality rather than the vapid norm, it sheds light on the enigma which has eluded psychologists for centuries.
Perhaps most important and counter-intuitive of all, Sakura Trick explores male sexuality through the scope of lesbianism. Je veux te baiser, baisez-moi! What are the reasons for a male to be aroused by the prospect of a relationship between a couple that cannot produce offspring? When exposed to intercourse in explicit yuri, it is plausible that lust for the opposite gender can override the notion of evolutionary feasibility. Despite the lack of explicit intercourse in Sakura Trick, the male viewers still experience a craving for the girls’ well-being instead of feeling jealousy and contempt for one of them as would be rational. This paradox challenges not only the Darwinian theories of evolution, but also Freud’s famous sexual analysis. Freud wrote, “A man's heterosexuality will not put up with any homosexuality, and vice versa.” Sakura Trick proves the exact contrary: heterosexual men more than put up with the homosexuality in the series. According to psychologist Henry Havelock Ellis, “Reproduction… is highly complex and not yet clearly understood. It is not necessarily connected with sex, nor is sex necessarily connected with reproduction.” Havelockian philosophy noticeably makes its mark throughout Sakura Trick; by taking hold of this anomaly in human behaviour and untangling its implications, it explores the darkest depths of our consciousness which borders between flesh and mind.
In his essay The Sexual Abberations, Freud discusses human disposition to perversions, namely paedophilia, as an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct which is not limited to the psychologically ill. Sakura Trick takes this theory beyond mere discourse and puts it into practice. The characters in Sakura Trick are impeccably crafted, not only in their characterization and likability but primarily in their support of the psychological study that the series is. Rather than all being equipped with sexually inviting traits, several characters are simply “cute”, for lack of a less vulgar word. A certain je ne sais quoi of the girls are successful in generating not just physical, but more importantly emotional cravings from the audience.
The brilliant technique of Sakura Trick’s probing into the atavistic lust is most aptly demonstrated through the analysis of the two main characters: Haruka and Yuu. On the one hand, Haruka is characterized by her lascivious and manipulative personality, emphasized curves, seductive voice, and red hair indicative of her prurience. On the other hand, Yuu has an innocent demeanor, an underdeveloped body, a sweet voice characterized by childlike roughness, and bright amber hair adorned with flowers – all of which are suggestive of a girl in the early stages of puberty. By contrasting these characters, Sakura Trick follows in the wake of Vladimir Nobakov and his analysis of the abominable erotic attraction to the so called “nymphets”. A range of recent research by neurologists suggest paedophilia’s origin as a deep-rooted predisposition that does not change, rather than the previous theory of causation from psychological influences. Perhaps influenced by this paradigm shift, Sakura Trick attempts what has never been done before – bringing out, in men, pseudo-paedophilic reactions to girls older than the previously stipulated maximum age of thirteen. This is achieved through the stark contrast between Haruka’s maturity and Yuu’s infantility which tampers with the viewers’ preset dispositions. The additional fact that it succeeds in bringing out such abnormal responses not only in the susceptible older population, but chiefly among the young, truly underscores the groundbreaking impact of Sakura Trick.
La peinture parle d'elle-même, il n'y a rien à dire; to describe the artistic qualia of Sakura Trick would be to describe colour to the blind, wisdom to the young, or life to the unliving. The artistic exaltation of this series is unmatched. The visuals are primarily based on a minimalistic design reminiscent of Frank Stella’s later paintings, yet some of the most visceral moments of the series display an unlikely resemblance to abstract expressionism. This visual style is augmented by subtly and tactfully altering its background or occasionally foreground objects into abstract patterns or drawings depending on the situation and atmosphere. Certain patterns such as polka dots reoccur frequently throughout the series, showing inspirations from early pop-art but crafting a style most avant la lettre. In a masterful display of expertise in art-direction, these aesthetic shifts are extremely frequent yet uncontrived and never interfere with the viewers’ immersion. This mysterious and radical style vividly complements the metaphysical nature of the series, reinforcing its character as an original pastiche of the modernist movement. It is an embodiment of the ideals that SHAFT had in mind for but failed to accomplish in their shows such as the Monogatari Series and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.
Another of Sakura Trick’s aesthetic perks is its use of letterboxing: further cinematic flare is added to the already immersive series through the occasional framing of the video in bars. As subversive as Sakura Trick is, however, it boldly makes use of white bars rather than the traditional black. In addition exuding an ephemerally fey charm, the white letterboxing holds several implications that one may only speculate on. Does it symbolize the series’ immense depth as it creates a dual-layered letterboxing on monitors that do not match its aspect ratio? Is there a subconscious impact on the viewers that we know not of? Does it reflect the series’ nature as an antithesis to conventional psychology? Incidentally, Sakura Trick shows an abnormal and seemingly perverse focus on the characters thighs. In any other context, this would be plain pandering to the lowest common denominator. Nevertheless, in the context of sexual analysis one will realize the use of thighs as a study of fetishistic reactions to sexually inert objects. Sakura trick is sublime not only in the depth of its investigation, but also in its breadth.