Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Show Information
Title: The Pet Girl of Sakurasou (Japanese title: さくら荘のペットな彼女, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo)
Length: 24 episodes x 24 min./ep.
Aired: Fall 2012 -> Winter 2013
Studio: J.C. Staff
Available for online streaming: CrunchyrollHuluThe Anime Network
Home Video License: Sentai Filmworks (will probably be released late 2013/early 2014)

Okay, I cannot blame anyone for immediately thinking that a show with that kind of name (and the Japanese name, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo, is no better, since it means the exact same thing in Japanese) has to be no good. And yet, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is a show far deeper—and much more respectful—than its seemingly misogynistic title might suggest, and has defied expectations to be one of Fall 2012’s best shows, and the best show to have aired in Winter 2013.

Not that you’ll get that from the first few episodes. The show opens like many rom-coms of its ilk do. A seemingly bland male protagonist, Sorata, gets thrown into a place filled with weirdos, including hyperactive girl Misaki, playboy Jin, and shut-in Ryuunosuke (whom you don’t see in the opening episodes at all except through his “maid” AI program). At the end of the first episode, he is introduced to the titular “pet girl”, Mashiro, an artistic genius who transferred over from overseas—and who, because of her highly pampered and sheltered lifestyle (as well as an implied autistic-spectrum disorder, not that the show outright says this), has absolutely no idea how to take care of herself or interact with others. This means that someone has to take care of her like a “pet”, including having to dress her—and naturally, Sorata gets stuck with the job.

Congratulations on your guaranteed-to-get-you-in-jail new job!
I can hear the alarms going off already. Forget starting off on the right foot, this show is starting off by running the wrong way! But if you can stick with the show for a bit, it realizes that it needs to turn around and actually run the race for being one of the better light novel-based anime in a long time, and the show starts actually treating its characters with respect. It starts as we learn about Misaki and find that there’s more to her than just her boundless energy: she’s also desperately in love with Jin, whom she knew since forever, but he does not seem to notice her advances. Then you hear Jin’s side, and find that he feels he is undeserving of Misaki’s love, because Misaki is also a highly skilled anime creator, and Jin doesn't feel like his skills as a scriptwriter are just not up to par with her skill.
Worth mentioning: this show's main scriptwriter is Mari Okada, famous for writing Black Butler, Hanasaku Iroha, and AnoHana
Mind you, this is just the start of the developments that start to unfold. The “pet girl” aspect of Mashiro slowly starts to disappear (though her social awkwardness does remain) as the show explores her decision to switch from painting to drawing manga, as well as various other artistic endeavors, and how it affects various people around her. Another character normally doomed to one-dimensionalness in these types of shows, Nanami, the “pre-established friend who likes the male lead but has no chance with him”, has a lot more depth to her as the show follows her dream to become a voice actor, and Sorata is revealed to want to go into video game design, giving him a good base on which he escapes from being a bland male lead.
If you noticed a theme here, perhaps you can see where the true nature of this show lies. Ultimately, this is not a romantic comedy so much as it is a show about being a creator, and all that comes with following that path. There’s still romance in there, but it is ultimately secondary to the greater story of following creative pursuits and how the characters’ relationships with each other affects that. The show is also not afraid to go in more melancholic and even depressing directions, as failure is every bit a part of these characters’ lives as success is.
I think that anyone that is invested in a creative pursuit of his/her own can really relate to this show. Feelings like the fear of failure, knowing that there are people much better than you around you, or those times when you’ve done everything you could do and still can’t find success—the show explores all of that, as well as those times of success and banding together to get something done. In this aspect, the show really shines.

It helps that the art itself is also really nice.
Even outside of this aspect, though, the more high-school-related aspects of the show, including the romance, are done quite well. Though I should mention, the best emotional payoffs from this show come not from the romance, but from the friendships that are formed among the cast. Somehow, I find that these types of shows always shine when they focus more on the friendships than the romances, and this show isn’t disproving that notion, to be sure. Not that the romantic aspects are bad, but they’re clearly the garnishments to the meat of the show, which is incredibly fulfilling already.
The show isn’t weak on the comedy aspect of a rom-com, either, and the show is full of funny moments that are good for plenty of laughs. Artistic merits are actually quite strong for a series
All in all, this is a show that really surprised me when it started as one of the weaker entries in a strong Fall 2012 lineup and ended up surpassing almost all of them, and being the best part of the Winter 2013 season as well. This is a show that I’d gladly recommend to anyone who can look past the title and sit through a couple of weaker opening episodes to find one of the most well-written and meaningful shows of its type.

In many ways, it's a show about belonging. Exemplified well by this scene from the first half's ED.

Final Recommendation
Recommended to anyone wanting to get involved or currently involved in a creative pursuit, or who wants to see a high-school rom-com-ish anime done right.

Rating and Possible Objectionable Content
"The Anime Network" gives a rating of TV-14 for this show. There is some fanservice (read: nudity with “important bits” covered up), and some sexual themes (nothing explicitly shown), and I can’t remember for sure, but there might be some swearing in the official subtitles. Also, Mashiro in her more “pet girl” phase can be uncomfortable to watch, though thankfully she starts growing out of this as the show goes on.


  1. Great review of Sakurasou! I really love this show, though not so much for the romance as for the frustrations of being a creator. I think you really addressed the essence of the anime in your review.

  2. There's a good reason why this is on the first page of google search. I couldn't have described the show better myself. I have high respect for a show that uses stereotypes that norammly dominate this kind of genre as a front to instead deliver a much more powerful message and good characters. Pet girl ranks as one of my top anime of all time.