Slice of life is one of my favorite anime genres, and in my opinion, requires a great deal of finesse to accomplish successfully. A good Slice of Life has to address both fairly mundane issues that occur in everyday life and make them interesting as well as really difficult issues that also occur like love and loss without weighing down the show. In my perfect world, a slice of life anime usually has me feeling pretty good to go at the beginning, as I get to know the characters and learn about what their dreams are, slightly depressed in the middle as they churn through one day at a time and start to encounter some problems, but leave me feeling uplifted by the end, having watched my characters go through difficult situations and resolve them, and become better people as a result. It can’t be too heavy and leave one reeling in shock (I’m looking at you, Clannad: After Story—I needed an entire box of tissues for that finale!) nor should it be so flimsy and boring that the viewer lacks empathy for the characters.
That said, I’d like to introduce you to a gem that I found over the weekend while perusing Crunchyroll. Actually, it was a fairly random selection, since I’m waiting for new episodes of other shows to come out and I only selected it because synopsis looked pretty okay to me, but I am REALLY glad that I watched this one and I finished every one of its 24 episodes over the weekend!
The show is called The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, and it revolves around a group of students at a high school specializing in art called the Suimei University of the Arts. This particular bunch, composed of troublemakers or kids who just couldn’t adjust to life in the regular dorms, all live in a “special” dorm building called Sakura Hall. Sakura Hall is a small building for just a few students, where, unlike the regular dorms, they prepare their own food and are under closer supervision of a faculty advisor (although an apathetic one, in this case.)
Sorata Kanda is a second-year student at Suimei, and was kicked out of the dorms for taking in a stray cat that he just couldn’t part with. He generally enjoys living in Sakura Hall (and since has adopted several more cats) even though the residents have strange personalities which keep him from leading the quiet life of a typical student. One day, a quiet girl with big amber eyes and long blonde hair named Mashiro Shiina arrives from England. Mashiro is an exceptionally gifted painter who has come to the school to learn to draw manga. However, she completely lacks common sense and does not understand how to take care of herself, causing the other residents of Sakura Hall to take up “Mashiro Duty” to help her dress herself, cook, take her to school, and aid her in everyday life (hence the name of the anime; Mashiro is the “Pet Girl” of Sakura Hall.)
This is a coming-of-age story as Sorata slowly finds himself attracted to Mashiro and her incredible talent, yet agitated with her inability to understand him and take care of herself. The other residents of Sakura Hall also have their own problems: the feisty Misaki crushes on her childhood friend and womanizer Jin, who ignores her efforts; shut-in Ryonosuke struggles with human contact and chronically skips class while having an AI “Maid” program answer his messages; and Nanami, a voice actress, fights her own battle with jealousy as Sorata spends much of his time looking at Mashiro instead of her.
One of the reasons I love Pet Girl is because while the drama addresses some pretty hefty adolescent issues, it does so gracefully and it never feels too heavy. The serious moments are dispersed between many fun moments of characters bouncing off each other, like crazy Misaki learning to drive (terribly) or barging into a room yelling nonsensical sound effects, or Mashiro putting people into unintentionally funny and awkward situations so she can do scene studies to draw her manga, or because she just doesn’t understand what is going on.
The character development throughout the series is another thing to really look forward to: in the first few episodes Mashiro is completely incapable of taking care of herself, but as the series progresses we see her picking up on social cues and starting to do things that others would normally do for her, and characters like Ryonosuke slowly face their fears. I had also wondered if this anime would fall into the “harem trap” of one guy living with a bunch of girls who inexplicably can’t keep their clothes on and love him despite crappy personality traits, but that definitely didn’t happen here. Sure, there’s a bit of humor here or there with Mashiro’s inability to select clothes for herself or not wanting to sleep alone, but Pet Girl is playful without overdoing it and doesn’t fall into any harem or ecchi traps.
The look and feel of Pet Girl is great as well. I’d expect nothing less from J.C. Staff, who also created 2013’s beautiful Golden Time as well as one of my all-time favorites, Honey and Clover. While perhaps not the prettiest anime I’ve ever seen, Pet Girl has good character designs and nice colors but really shines when presenting the imaginative art that the students produce. This anime is from 2012, so it may not be as flashy or glorious as some of the new stuff out there (take a peek at Your Lie In April or the new Fate/Stay Night to see what I mean) but will probably age decently.
While watching this show, the first several episodes did not “wow” me. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t hard to sit through or bad, but I just was not that captivated by it and didn’t think it was going to be spectacular. However, by halfway through the anime I was completely hooked. Pet Girl became really exciting for me when the characters come together to do a project, the results of which are entertaining, unique, and overall just thrilling! The second half of the show is a little more serious than the first half, as this is where some major growing pains are revealed, but I was pleased with the way the storylines tied up at the end and overall had an enjoyable viewing experience that I am happy to recommend!
The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is available in English subtitles on Blu-Ray, or for streaming via Crunchyroll or Hulu.