Episode 102: “Sakura’s Childhood”
Original airdate: February 29, 1984
Corresponding manga chapter: “Sakura’s Lonely Childhood”, volume 19, chapter 8 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 198
Minor characters introduced: Young Sakura, childhood playmates
Summary: Sakura hates Sunday mornings. She finds herself overcome with languor, and wishes she could sleep until midday, and have black coffee…
Cherry interrupts her reverie by giving her a mug of green tea and reminding her that it’s actually Monday. Over breakfast (him: a small bowl of rice and an egg, her: a bowl of miso soup the size of a wading pool), he tries to get her to take him to an amusement park. She refuses, so he pulls out a large pill and tosses it into her bowl while she’s guzzling it. Once she’s done, she realizes what he’s done, but it’s too late.
After being smacked around a bit, Cherry explains that it’s a “Tablet of Childish Mind”, which will bring back her childish innocence.
At school, it’s a gloomy Monday, and Sakura is too languid to work. A large group of male students burst into the infirmary requesting examinations. She manages to shove everyone out, except Ataru, who’s clinging to her leg. Sakura tosses him into the wall and retreats, only to find the principal and Kotatsu Neko in one of the cots. They get a trip out the window and a brief lecture on acting in a manner befitting. The effort leaves her dizzy, and she lies down on the cot.
She’s taken back to her childhood, where she’s being told that she has to stay in bed because she’s so frail. She defies the order, and rides on the back of a boy’s bicycle while he tells her that he’ll always take her to and from high school. They ride through the sakura blossoms, under the summer sun, and through the autumn leaves, but when the rains turn to snow he tells her that he can’t carry her any more. She stands in the snow and coughs as the bicycle passes her, a girlish giggle coming from the back.
A young Sakura lies in bed, while the voice of her uncle reads her a story and tells her to keep warm. Outside, some children invite her out to play, but Cherry chases them away, giving her a ball to play with. Time passes as the boys ask her to play and are chased away, while she plays with the ball, alone. She lies in bed and stares at the ceiling as the voices of children singing come from outside. The shadows of an array of wonderful creatures pass by her walls, but when she opens the door to join them, all she sees is a desolate lot with bare trees and a half-melted snowman.
Sakura wakes up to see her younger self beside her on the bed, asking her to play. Ataru, Lum, Mendou and Shinobu are there as well, asking when she had a daughter (she vehemently denies it by punching Ataru).
From her denials, the kids conclude that young Sakura is a secret, unplanned child, no matter how many times she punches Ataru. She gets fed up and charges home to demand that Cherry fix the problem. Back in the infirmary, the Stormtroopers have turned up and are appalled at the very idea of Sakura having an illegitimate child. Megane loses it and has to be restrained, while Ataru is catatonic with shock.
The girls don’t see why it’s such a big deal, but Onsen-Mark, spying through a crack in the door, completely loses it, running out to the fence and crying out like Heathcliff shouting across the moors. Wandering the neon-lit streets, he stops to bury his sorrows in Beefbowl, thinking that this must be why she’s always rejected him, but that he’s willing to accept her and her child. His musings turn into a vision of their life together, the young girl calling him Papa and Sakura being grateful to have him. They walk across the beach into the sunset.
Back at the school (it’s still daytime, while Onsen-Mark’s scene lasted into the night), young Sakura calls the principal “Papa” and “octopus”, and asks to go out to play. Onsen-Mark returns to the school, skipping gaily, only to be trampled by students running the other way. Confused, he’s then hit by the thing they’re running from, young Sakura and Lum riding atop a couple of strange monsters.
Onsen-Mark chases after them, proclaiming his paternal love, but is repeatedly knocked back by the orange monster. Young Sakura begins firing tentacle-eye-things at Ataru, while at the gate Sakura hauls Cherry in by his ear, chewing him out for causing the situation. The group of students runs past, followed by the monsters. When young Sakura sees Cherry, she turns to chase him instead. He bolts, but Sakura stands her ground and launches into an exorcism.
The monsters vanish, and young Sakura falls to the ground. She refuses to back down, and summons an armful of giant eyeballs to throw at her adult self. She summons a snake-creature, and adult Sakura counters by dropping a cow on it. Grabbing her younger self, she administers a good spanking, admitting when asked that the child’s behavior is her responsibility. She asks her young self why she’s acting like this, and young Sakura tearfully explains that since she couldn’t play when she was young due to her frailty, she wanted to grab the chance to play as much as she could. Adult Sakura says that she’ll take charge, and her young self can play as much as she wants.
High school Sakura smashes a bicycle with a baseball bat. In her room, young Sakura hears the children singing and looks up from her ball.
Young Sakura’s play takes the form of hovering in the air while spirits cavort around her, to the detriment of the school building. Adult Sakura says she’ll take responsibility, but the principal says it doesn’t matter, since the school will have to close for a while anyway. As they watch the school building crumble, they agree that, illegitimate or not, she’s definitely Sakura’s child. Adult Sakura smiles, and as we pull back we fade to high school Sakura and then child Sakura in her bed.
Changes from the manga version: Everything in italics, all the moody musings and the flashbacks, is original to the anime, as is the digression with Onsen-Mark and the lamentations of the Stormtroopers. The manga has a bit of interaction between Lum and the principal during the chase, and adult Sakura summons a snake to eat her younger self’s frog, rather than a cow to crush her younger self’s snake-alligator thing.
Thoughts: I should admit right now that this episode has always been a particular bugbear of mine. I don’t think that it’s an outright bad episode, but it’s one of the most blatant examples of the animators taking a humorous manga story and shoehorning in material with a very different tone. (When I commented in earlier writeups about Oshii bringing in his themes where they weren’t always appropriate, I had this episode in mind.) They’ve shown in the past that they can bring some more serious moments and character development to a story while still keeping in humor, but this one swings wildly between the dreamily reflective to wild slapstick, sometimes within the same sequence. This is part of Onsen-Mark’s freakout before he has his Lost Weekend tribute and reverie about life with Sakura and daughter (none of which is in the manga):
I won’t argue against the point that the original manga story is rather slight, and I don’t object in principle to a closer examination of Sakura’s character, but it could have been done more elegantly, or with less of an obvious contrast between the Oshii sections and the Takahashi sections. As it stands, this could be turned into a half-length segment that’s pretty close to the manga just by cutting out all the serious parts, and the serious parts would have worked better if they weren’t undercut by really over-the-top broad physical comedy (the school collapsing is further than it usually goes at this point in the series). Some of the episode’s flaws (slightly off-model animation, though not the worst we’ve seen) can be excused by the work done on the movie, but the direction taken was a deliberate choice that could have been executed with a lighter hand.
As I said, I don’t hate this episode; it just bugs me that it could have been better than it is. However, if you want a primer in the differences between Oshii and Takahashi’s approaches, the contrasts don’t get much starker than this one.
Next: Ran is getting video messages recapping her appearances on the show so far!