Series Recommendation: Shikizakura

I will become the hero I wanted to be!
HENSHIN!

Superhero animes aren’t non-existent, but we got very few of them in these recent years. Direct adaptations from existing Tokusatsu franchises is super rare – with Gridman, Fuuto Tantei and Kikaider being one of the more prevalent ones. But as both a Toku fan and an anime fan, we always wish for a great combination of the two – with henshin heroes in anime format that will get us excited to see dudes in tight spandex armor duke it out. And in 2021, we got exactly that, with a series called Shikizakura.

At first, Shikizakura teased a very Kamen Rider-esque motif and aesthetic. And that got us pretty excited. After that, it’s revealed the series is also a sort-of tourism advert for the city of Nagoya – as the singers and seiyuus are also from the Toukai region – where the anime took place. It is a pretty interesting idea. And the more we see of the anime – the more we are reminded of local heroes – such as Dogengers – animated. And given the quality of some popular local heroes in Japan, we have high hopes for the anime. The anime has 12-episodes and was broadcasted in October 2021 – the season with NINE other mecha shows. Having a toku-inspired anime among the giant robot shows is a really good way to spice up the flavor and set itself apart.

+ Plot: Shikizakura’s premise is quite simple and straightforward. Pretty much the basic stuff you got at the start of a Kamen Rider show. Evil onis from the past are awakening at an alarming rate, and human warriors that don mechanical armor called “Yoroi” stand up to face them. Our main character – Kakeru Miwa – was a survivor of an oni attack in his early childhood, and he grew up wanting to become a hero that save others just like the people that saved him that day. However, “becoming what you hate” is often the case in these hero story, and Kakeru’s only way to become a hero is to equip a Yoroi haunted by a powerful Obi – Ibara. Can Kakeru resist Ibara’s power and become the hero that he wished for?

Overall, the simplicity of the plot is a good move, considering what the series’ main intent is. As usual, we have a diverse cast of side characters that fight alongside Kakeru – the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Riders so to speak, and each of them has their own issues to worry about. And Kakeru – being the busybody and idealistic hero-wannabe that he is, stick his nose into everyone’s business and help them through their struggle. It is Kakeru’s naivete yet burning sense of justice that became the integral core for the series to develop the side cast, and in turn Kakeru as well. His relationship with Ouka is both wholesome, tumultuous and heart-warming. You can say it’s a “white knight and a princess” clich√©, but they did a very good job with Ouka’s internal struggle with her “destiny”. Furthermore, there are some plot twists included as well, but due to the simple and straightforward plotline, some of them are quite obvious and predictable, but there are some twists that even veterans wouldn’t see coming.

+ Animation: Well, this is where we’re split with the series. The anime is done with full CGI from top to bottom. And that usually means two things for mecha: great mechs, bad human. For Shikizakura, there’s no giant robots but just people in mechanical suits, essentially human in a way. But Shikizakura for some reason has overcome the shortcoming of human fight scenes, but still succumb to the normal scenes. The action scenes include very exaggerated movements and very “flowery” attacks, which is quite familiar to us henshin hero fans. Overall, Shikizakura really captured the essence of Tokusastsu combat and made it cool in the anime.

For normal human character interaction, their movement are quite stiff, jerky and of course, their facial expressions feel fell forced, but thankfully not by a large margin. Studio Sublimation has worked on many other series’ CG, but I think this is just the inherent limitation of the technology as well as time/resource constraints. One day, when we perfect efficient human CG animation, anime will definitely undergo a massive change.

+ Suits Design: Shikizakura costume designs are pretty cool. It is actually very reminiscent of Dogengers and some Zero-One as well with the arms and legs design. The heads having digital display on the outside with some minimal differences give us a mix between Sentai and KR vibe. The use of minimal neon details give us a simple yet futuristic feel to the suit. Of course, the main character suit has some element of an “oni” to it, to signify that it’s “haunted”. The effect and inner workings of the suits aren’t really explained – which is quite normal in a KR series – they just magically Henshin and everything’s good to go.

The Oni design are also pretty good. The grunts are quite gruesome looking and the bosses are pretty much diabolical. However, some shots of the grunt oni looks pretty chinky and…dumb, but those are just minor nitpicks. They are onis so they can look like whatever they want.

+ Music: We got some pretty good songs for the series. The opening is upbeat, refreshing and suitable for a “dreamy” hero by Asaka. The ending is titled “Shikizakura” just like the show and performed by May’n – who we all know as the singing voice of Sheryl Nome in Macross Frontier. The ED is a slow and emotional song about sakura blossoms and hope (just like the show itself). One can say this song is more “main” than the OP. All in all, this department is covered.

+ Conclusion: Overall, Shikizakura is an entertaining tokusatsu-inspired anime. Its only shortcomings are the sometimes awkward character animation and the length of the series. Usually Toku series has a lot of episodes to flesh out the story and characters, for Shikizakura, the episode count limit what they can do with the plot and characters, so it’s pretty straightforward and predictable. However, in return we have some very badass action scenes and some really good suit design. Unfortunately there are no merch for the Yorois just yet, would be awesome if we get some Bandai SHF with Kamen Rider engineering. It would be perfect for the series.

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