Sakura Wars The Movie (Blu-ray)
FUNimation / 2001 / 86 mins / PG-13
SAKURA WARS THE MOVIE was my introduction to the massive Sakura Wars franchise. Consisting of RPGs, a dating SIM (!!), OVAs, mangas, light novels and an anime series (among other things), SAKURA WARS THE MOVIE is the only feature film entry to date. It takes place a few months after SAKURA WARS 3 if you follow the series but thankfully is totally understandable and follow-able if you aren't.
Our series takes place in the alternate steampunk world of 1920's Japan, which means that all sorts of modern day technology are available albeit run by steam. Our heroes are an all-girl theatrical troupe that is also secretly part of the Imperial Assault Force (they are the Flower Division.) When not performing in Vegas-style stage shows, they suit up in giant PACIFIC RIM style mecha-armor and battle demons trying to invade Asia (there are also Assault Forces all over the world taking care of their territories). THE MOVIE deals with double-dealing bad guys infiltrating the commanding levels of the Imperial Assault Force. Flower Division, led by our lead heroine Sakura Shinguji (voiced by Wendee Lee/Chisa Yokoyama), try to figure out what is going on and who are really behind everything.
SAKURA WARS THE MOVIE is really a straight-forward giant robots battling giant monsters story, which is good for a newcomer like me. While there are things that are clearly going over my head, mostly character relationships and background, for the most part anyone can jump in and not have that "I'm so lost" feeling that comes with jumping into the middle of other gigantic franchises.
On the plus side, the visuals are striking and quite nice examine, our heroes are pretty standard (they could easily fit into the worlds of STRIKE WITCHES or FREEZING for example) yet enjoyable and the fights are epic in that way only anime can be. On the negative side, this is such a straight forward narrative that is extremely predictable even to a SAKURA WARS newcomer. Any twists are telegraphed way in advance and what revelations that are made come with some serious "it's about time you figured that out" baggage. Still, there is no denying that SAKURA WARS THE MOVIE is an enjoyable way to kill 86 minutes.
The anamorphic 1.78 transfer is not bad at all for a twelve year old film; however it is on the softer side. While line definition, even in the CG elements, are not razor sharp, I found this slightly softer look working well with the steampunk mise-en-scene. Colors pop extremely well (and this is one colorful anime) with nothing else of import to report.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack (used for both the original Japanese track and the English dub) is a rarity for this reviewer. With extremely few exceptions I have always recommended the English dub tracks on FUNimation titles, but SAKURA WARS THE MOVIE actually has a better Japanese mix with a more immersive environment.
The supplements leave a lot to be desired. The main goodie is the featurette "Interviews with the Creators," a recent chat with SAKURA WARS creator Oji Hiroi.
The original trailer, a healthy batch of Japanese commercials and promotional videos and the US trailer round out the supplement package.
While SAKURA WARS THE MOVIE won't show you anything new, it is a fun and enjoyable mecha anime fix. Recommended.