The Pet Girl of Sakurasou: A well-rounded coming-of-age series

Obligatory slice-of-life fireworks scene.

Obligatory slice-of-life fireworks scene.

Slice of life comedies are a dime a dozen in the anime world. If you ask me, it feels like the genre can mask bad storytelling while simultaneously providing studios the creative freedom to basically do anything in the name of comedy, and ecchi fanservice is typically one of the first attributes thrown around for no reason. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou definitely doesn’t shy away from these provisions, but it manages to steer away from being labelled as overly shallow with its very normal coming-of-age plot. That, and an interesting set of main characters to really grab viewers from the get-go.

About 5 seconds from a comedy-romance misunderstanding.

About 5 seconds from a comedy-romance misunderstanding.

Kanda Sorata is a resident of the Sakurasou Dormitory, a dorm attached to the Suiko Academy for students specializing in fine arts. The dorm is far from ordinary, housing the most eccentric students of the school that have problems mingling with other students for their own various reasons. Even the supervising teacher, Chihiro, showcases her own lazy, drunken bizarreness. Sorata is the dorm’s exception; after refusing to give up a stray cat, the school kicked him from the normal dorms. Now, he is just starting to acclimate to the peculiar atmosphere and oddball personalities of his roommates. The dorm explodes into a frenzy when Chihiro’s cousin, Shiina Mashiro, moves into Sakurasou. A world-famous artist, Shiina quickly captivates Sorata with her talent and beauty, but not all things are as they seem. Shiina is so closeted from the outside world that she cannot fend for herself; she is incapable of choosing her own clothes, taking baths or doing laundry. Sorata soon finds himself on “Mashiro” duty, where he must tend to Mashiro’s every innocent need.

From the start, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou presents its characters as the most important element of the narrative. It focuses almost exclusively on the core characters, with side figures rarely making anything more than celebrated cameos. This attitude lends itself to the very isolated nature of the Sakurasou dormitory; as a housing facility intended to house delinquents and oddballs, it forces viewers to endure the many quirks of the dorm residents. From the endless prankster antics of genki girl Kamiigusa Misaki or the perverse, adulterous demeanor of Mikata Jin, there’s always something crazy going on to let their distinct personalities shine through. It makes the cast very endearing, especially when you start throwing in romance and love polygons into the mix.

Technically, this art would also make Mashiro a mangaka.

In anime, are life portraits still manga?

It’s not to say that the series is a typical school romance deal; there is no harem, and most of the narrative explores the characters’ individual abilities and how they intend to live their lives even beyond high school, which is definitely more refreshing than having a cast fret over bad teachers and school exams. Instead, the characters’ each have their own fine-arts specialty and seek largely to cultivate these skills as the series progresses. Sorata wants to design video games, Misaki is an accomplished animator, Jin is a skilled writer, and so forth. The big change occurs after Shiina Mashiro moves into the dorm; as a genius painter and artist, she is something of a beacon of hope for the Sakurasou dorm; she gives her all to her craft and has no uncertainties in that regard.

On the other hand, Mashiro is a total goof with very little common sense, and much of the series’ comedy stems from her total lack of understanding in many social situations. This is played on heavily for the first half, and it dies down as the series begins focus more on the conflicts and struggles of the dorm residents. This subtle transition is definitely one of the high points of the series. The characters’ struggles as they find their place in life are both expected and believable. Given that the series is planted in reality more than anything else, it’s a lot easier to empathize with their pains when compared to other series. I know that I can relate a lot more to struggling artists, writers and developers than a mecha pilot or magical girl, but that might just be me.

Nanami's got a killer ponytail.

Killer ponytail.

I’m familiar with the work of Mashiro’s seiyuu, Kayano Ai, who has made a gigantic splash in the scene as of late. Her performance as Mashiro, however, is among her best. Though I’m certainly accustomed to her playing quiet roles (AnoHana’s Menma, Guilty Crown’s Inori), it’s the first time I’ve heard her play a quiet character that seemed socially detached. Unsurprisingly, she manages the quiet voice very well, but what’s curious is the emotion that she is able to conceal in such quiet tones that makes the performance stand out. I always got the feeling that I was listening to a character that had so much to say, but had no idea how to say it. Definitely some of Kayano Ai’s best to date. I was also very pleased with the (debut?) performance of Nakatsu Mariko as Nanami Aoyama, though admittedly because of the vocal similarity to Hirano Aya. But I’m not the only one that’s picked up on this!

Though the title is a bit misleading and largely irrelevant past the first half, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou has a lot to bring to the table. It’s a comedy series with a lot of heart and lots to mull over if you really pay attention, but it also carries along plenty of moe, humor and some fanservice if you’re fine with just blazing through the title all glassy-eyed. Either way, there’s plenty to enjoy, and I look forward to another season to round out the rest of the light novel series!

Character Ranking – The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

  1. Aoyama Nanami
  2. Shiina Mashiro
  3. Kamiigusa Misaki
  4. Rita Ainsworth
  5. Kanda Sorata
  6. Akasaka Ryuunosuke
  7. Kanda Yuuko
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