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Sakura Taisen OVA

Watched the Sakura Wars OVA today. It isn't, as I previously suspected, the first 4 episodes of the TV series at all, but an OVA. The art is reminiscent of the Rurouni Kenshin Movie, although perhaps with less 'arty' moments. Technically, it's just an introduction to the SW characters and how they joined the Imperial Floral Assault Unit. So, it's useful if you haven't watched the TV series (or in my case, overslept too often to watch most of the series). But first, an obligatory 'what is' sequence.

Sakura Wars revolves around Shinguji Sakura, a girl with metaphysical powers (called 'spiritual energy') and her teammates at the Imperial Floral Assault Unit. Their enemy is an onslaught of demon-controlled mechs, and of course, demons proper. The IFAU girls are chosen to control steam powered Oobu, spirit armor, which can only be controlled by young (pretty) girls. Character-wise, the IFAU team is varied, although they do fall into some regular cliches. Sakura is your tentative, insecure, powerful samurai chick living up to her father's name. The others, in no particular order, are: Kanzaki Sumire (rich brat, halberd wielder, dresses like a courtesan), Kirishima Kanna (busty, karate expert, brawler-type), Tachibana Maria (sharp-shooter, serious ice chick, a bit of Quistis Trepe), Iris Chateaubriand (little squeaky girl, healer/telekinetic, cute) and Ri Kohran (obligatory Einstein). Then there's the token male of the group, Ohgami Ichiro, who provides the sexual tension (for Sakura), all round nice guy, and the only double-weaponed character (twin swords). The cast is therefore huge (it's huger than just the above anyway), and provides a lot of interesting possibilities.

Unfortunately, this is the biggest flaw in the SW OVA. Unlike the TV series, almost the entire IFAU team gets shortchanged on development. Time constraints means a lot of sideplots (like the Sumire-Kanna tension, Kanna revenge problem) gets hinted at but never played out. The entire premise of the OVA, it seems, is merely to introduce and condense the IFAU team. It could have been done better (and the TV series does).

But that doesn't make SW OVA unwatchable, although it does make it a little tedious. Those familiar with Rurouni Kenshin Movie/TV Series art would recognize those brief moments of beauty that renders anime as an art form. Falling sakura blossoms, a circling of different colored stars for different Oobu, the sword hanging in midair, the change of seasons, all these things, like that unsurpassable bloody rain in Rurouni Kenshin OVA: Trust, those things make SW OVA worth the watch. All that imagery, coupled with the score, goodness, that score. There is a final battle scene where the entire IFAU team face off an army of mechs, to the sound of a full orchestra playing the Sakura Wars Theme that's just haunting and riveting all at once. In fact, there is a lot of lovely music in this OVA, because part of the IFAU's training involves staging musical shows that bring out the girls' powers. But that final battle and the closing scene makes clear the reason why Sakura Wars is considered one of the best anime of all time.