(Otaku log): The latest addition to the ship's ever-growing library of anime is Sakura Wars OVA collection. My only previous experience with the series was Sakura Wars, the Movie which I wrote about here, pretty negatively.
What I've discovered is that the movie was not at all the same as the OVAs. I really enjoyed the OVAs a lot.
"OVA" means "Original Video Animation" and refers to animation produced for direct release on videotape or DVD. In a lot of cases that means the material will contain more sex or graphic violence than would be permitted in a show intended for broadcast, but that wasn't the case here. In fact, about the only reason there would a problem broadcasting these is that they're somewhat longer, leaving less time for advertising.
There were actually two OVA series. The first was four episodes made in 1997 which amounted to a prequel for the TV series, showing how the members of the Imperial Flower Combat Troupe were collected together and how they ultimately bonded as a team. They're on the first DVD of this collection.
The second was six episodes from 1999 which were a sequel to the TV series, which are split three-each on the other two DVDs of this series. So there's a total of ten episodes on 3 DVDs in this collection, and every one of them was very enjoyable.
Before we begin, it has to be stipulated: there are a lot of aspects of the basic story concept which are ridiculous. When I watched the movie, the cumulative weight of them all was enough to pretty much ruin it for me. However, the OVAs concentrate much more on character development and interaction, and somewhat toned down the "Oh, you can't be serious!" moments for me, and overall that tipped the balance the other way. I found myself really getting into it.
Nonetheless, it was impossible to ignore all the weird aspects of it all. I'm willing to suspend disbelief in the service of good storytelling, but when the strangenesses aren't all of a single piece, it's a lot harder. In this series, I have identified at least four major sources of things I didn't believe.
The first is sanitizing nostalgia. That was one of the things I really came down hard on when I wrote about the movie. Japan in the 1920's wasn't remotely the kind of pleasant, open, tolerant, cosmopolitan society that this series portrays. It was culturally closed, intolerant, racist, and it was a police state and a military dictatorship in all but name.
It was also extremely sexist. Women did not serve in the military at all, and no man would have ever taken orders from a woman, in the military or in any other situation.
The OVAs also misportray the social character of Japan of that era. But I didn't find myself objecting to this sanitization as much because the OVAs have far more of a fairy tale feeling than the movie did. It may be because the movie used so much CG animation for things like equipment and vehicles that made me evaluate it in more realistic terms; the OVAs don't have anything like as much of that, and thus feel less realistic overall. Therefore being less realistic culturally felt more natural this time.
Another problem was anachronisms. Whoever was behind this series really wanted it to be set in about 1938 rather than in the early 1920's, but couldn't really do so. That's because Imperial Japan began its last war in 1931, when it invaded Manchuria. In one form or another, Japan was at war pretty continuously thereafter until 1945, when the Imperial era ended.
The reason that effects the series is that the Imperial Flower Combat Troupe is made up of girls from all over the world, who were brought to Tokyo to defend it against the demon invasion. After 1931, it's pretty much impossible to believe that the French, Germans, Italians, Americans or Chinese would be very enthusiastic about participation in such a program, which pretty much cuts the heart out of the troupe by eliminating five of the eight main characters. So they set the story in the first half of the 1920's, while borrowing all kinds of things from the 1930's. For instance, their movies are all talkies, even though the first major successful commercial film to include sound was The Jazz Singer in 1927, and it didn't have sound for its entire length. It wasn't really until 1929 that the talkies became common, and even as late as 1931 Charlie Chaplin made one of the last and very best silents, City Lights. Despite that, in Sakura Wars even the newsreels were talkies in 1924.
A lot of the music is equally anachronistic. The music which plays over the closing credits sounds "old fashioned" to those not really familiar with the specific styles of that era, so they might not notice the fact that it is "swing" music, a style that didn't become popular until the latter half of the 1930's. There's also a marvelous throw-away sequence on the second DVD of three small-time hoods walking through "their territory", snapping their fingers and dancing to some really damned cool jazz music. To me, the music sounded like it was inspired by Basie or Ellington, and it was sweet. However: no one was writing music like that in 1925.
A different source of disbelief was the general omnipresence of steam power. However, this was a deliberate stylistic choice. There were cases where steam really was used, most notably in railroad engines and large ships, and that was fine. Sometimes it was simply "it could have