Sakura Kara no Tegami is a 17-episode miniseries; Each episode 10 minutes in length, with the exception of a regular-length first episode and an hour-long finale. At the time of its announcement it was welcome news; fans were craving another AKB drama since the outlandish action-comedy series Majisuka Gakuen. Unfortunately, after watching the first few episodes, it dawned on me that this series was doing nothing to appease my anticipation for Majisuka Gakuen 2—instead, it was making me yearn for Majisuka 2 more than ever.
In ‘Sakura Kara no Tegami’, a classroom of highschool seniors are eagerly awaiting graduation and are preoccupied with their own lives. Their homeroom teacher, Maeda, has a reputation for being irresponsible and neglecting his teaching responsibilities—he’s been constantly criticized for tending to a supposedly-dead Sakura tree in front of the school, seemingly paying more attention to it than his own students, and the class has grown resentful as a result.
It’s abundantly apparent when Maeda announces that he will be leaving them halfway through the school year, due to a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and the students respond selfishly—even cruelly. He distributes a letter to each student, each one with cryptic advice that no one seems to understand, adding to their frustration. But after Maeda leaves for the hospital and the students go about their lives, they find that the letters are coming into play in ways they never expected, revealing that Maeda was indeed paying attention to his students and cared about them after all.
It’s an interesting premise, but when I watched the first episode there were a number of things that I didn’t anticipate which threw me off balance. First off was the completely humorless, almost cynical atmosphere that permeated throughout the episode. None of the characters were appealing, making the first episode a task to watch. There were some instances where it just felt surreal, watching AKB members speak unflinchingly about certain topics; it was really interesting, but they were portrayed in a way that was unrelatable.
Next was the unapologetic use of AKB songs in the background music. This wouldn’t bother me normally, but the range of songs they used were so different and sporadically placed, it nearly destroyed the pacing and overall consistency of the episode. It could just be a minor issue, but as someone who knows nearly all of the songs, it was jarring to hear certain songs blaring in situations that I didn’t feel was fitting. The short length of the episodes felt problematic as well, as it seemed to handicap the story and character development, leaving much to be desired.
It was a rocky start to put it lightly, but after a few episodes the story and characters settle in, and the series becomes a lot more enjoyable. The overwhelmingly negative atmosphere clears away and opens up to a much brighter and sympathetic tone, and I quickly got used to the episodic pace. The characters and situations are textbook stereotypes, but the way each story reaches its conclusion aren’t as predictable as you’d think. The stories are varied, in both subject matter and depth, revealing themselves to be much more interesting than they initially appeared to be in the first three episodes. I couldn’t shake off the “after school special/daytime television” feeling I got during the beginning, but where the series is at currently, that feeling has dissipated almost completely.
The acting is definitely spotty throughout the series, but it gets the job done. The majority of the girls have little or no acting experience, so some leeway is required for best viewing. Just like how fans can be swayed to think anything AKB makes is great, there are fans who are also AKB’s toughest critics. Having heard both opinions on this series, it would be interesting to see what someone who doesn’t know much about AKB would think about this drama.
Despite the slow burn through the first 4 episodes, it’s become much more interesting and I’m enjoying myself. As they build on the characters, they become much more palatable and satisfying to follow. Now that I’m on episode ten, I’m glad I didn’t drop this series. The stories are developing, there’s more revelations being made, and everything is just moving at a brisker pace. As this is a series practically made for tear-jerking, I found myself getting sucked into a few of the storylines myself. I’m looking forward to see how the remaining stories will ultimately resolve and reveal the finale in the hour-long episode.
‘Sakura no Kara no Tegami’ (episodes 1-10)
Originally aired February 26th-March 1st