Hashire kousouku no Teikokukagekidan!
—from Geki! Teikokukagekidan, the original theme song
Known as Sakura Wars in North America, this is a franchise starting with video games by Sega (starting on the Sega Saturn) and RED Company (now Red Entertainment), branching out into OVAs, several TV series and a movie. The games, now[when?] at their sixth release in the series, are a combination of Dating Sim and tactical combat, and have a near-fanatical following. Though most have seen no release outside Japan, the first two games were officially released in Russia in 2006 and 2008 respectively, and the fifth game was released in North America on March 30, 2010. A hilariously fun play-through of the first Sakura Taisen game can be found at the SomethingAwful.com forums, for those curious about just how this blend works (warning: may not be suitable for Iris and Sakura fans).
Set in an alternate world, it is the 1920s. Instead of World War I, in 1918 an occult conflict called the Demon Wars pitted hellish creatures from another plane of existence against a plucky Four Man Band. Although the humans won, half the Band was lost. With international approval, Japan continues advancing its groundbreaking steam-powered technology, preparing for the demons' inevitable return.
In Japan, these preparations take the form of the Teikokukagekidan, the Imperial Floral Defense Force. The Hanagumi ("Flower Division") is their elite squad of warriors, equipped with the steam-powered battle armor called kohbu, and the weapons and skills needed to fight the demons when they return. Because of a quirk in the part-magical technology of the kohbu, all the members of the Hanagumi (save for their commanding officer) are women.
Taking advantage of a pun in Japanese ("Teikokukagekidan" can mean "Imperial Floral Defense Troop" or "Imperial Theatrical Troupe", depending on the kanji used), the Hanagumi make their headquarters underneath the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo. When they are not fighting the forces of Hell, they maintain their cover identities as the cast and crew of the theatre, allowing for a lot of music in between the battle scenes, and no small amount of incidental comedy.
Despite the Hanagumi's purpose as as combat unit, Sakura Taisen spends surprisingly little time in battle. Instead it focuses on first the background and establishment of the Imperial Defense Forces, the recruitment of its members, and follows that with close studies of the various characters. The OVAs' weak point is that they are intended to supplement the video games on which they are based, rather than expand on them for the non-gamer. As a result, entire plotlines are left hanging because they are resolved in the games. This can make the first six-episode series very unfulfilling unless the viewer is more concerned about the characters than about their situation.
The second series barely even mentions the demon conflict, instead focusing entirely on specific incidents within the lives of the Hanagumi and jumping among the time periods covered in the various video games. These stories are more self-contained and satisfying, and showcase the sense of "family" among the Hanagumi. In both series the animation is outstanding, and the English dubs (produced by ADV Films) are quite good, featuring a cast that manages to deliver the multinational/multicultural feel of the team quite well.
As of early 2005, there are also a third and fourth set of OVAs, focusing on the new Hanagumi team established in Paris, France. The third series has been licensed by FUNimation, and was released under the name Sakura Taisen: Ecole de Paris in North America in late 2005. The fourth series is named Sakura Taisen: Le Nouveau Paris, and continues following the Paris Hanagumi. The fifth series of OVAs (based appropriately enough on the fifth game) is titled New York, New York, with a new adventure for the New York-based Hoshigumi.
In addition to the OVAs, there is a movie, released in 2004. Like the episodes of the second series, the film is also a self-contained story in the same continuity (no Alternate Continuity here, thankfully) and leaves no hanging plot threads behind; the new character introduced here even goes on to appear in the later Sakura Taisen V game. The movie does assume you have familiarity with the characters and game timeline (providing no explanation as to why Ohgami isn't even present for almost the entire movie). The movie also substantially expands the world of Sakura Taisen beyond Japan, exploring in greater depth the dynamics of the prototype team fielded in wartime Europe. The movie takes place just after the end of the third game (Paris) and before the beginning of the fourth (which ended the "Tokyo arc"). A recent production, it makes extensive use of CGI effects, particularly for the kohbu.
Note, however, that Geneon (then known as Pioneer) licensed and dubbed the movie instead of ADV Films, and the voice actors they cast were (with a few exceptions) markedly inferior to their predecessors. This was a surprising failure on the part of Pioneer, which had made its reputation with outstanding casts. In particular, there were none of the wide variety of accents and dialects heard in the ADV Films version. This can be quite jarring to a viewer used to the multinational sound of the OVAs.
There is also a TV series version which is an Alternate Continuity from the OVAs. Aired in Japan in 2000, it follows the plotline of the first game but with multiple (and major) alterations, particularly in the personalities of the villains and some of the principals themselves. The TV series bears an overall darker tone than even the original games. Despite being self-contained and largely separate from the OVAs and even somewhat from the franchise's personality, the TV series fails to solidly establish the Hanagumi's characters, almost unconsciously expecting the viewer to already know (to an extent) who's who. In the end it largely ends up an exercise in angering fans, but is a fair introduction for series neophytes. The animation betrays the lower quality typical of OVA-to-TV transitions but introduces a consistent, slightly altered, character design style and maintains the franchise's reputation for stellar voice acting and original music (in Japanese).
Most recently is the manga, which was released in Japan from 2003 to 2008 and adapts the first game again, without the drastic alterations of the TV series. Most of it has been released in English by Tokyo Pop.
An enjoyable, fun, and well-heeled franchise, Sakura Taisen is a legendary license and is one of the few franchises to make a truly successful expansion into nearly every form of media. The series' voice actors regularly performed (up to 2008) in sold-out Broadway-style "live shows" and radio dramas (all set in the Sakura Taisen universe), and a Sakura Taisen cafe/store stood in the SEGA amusement center in Tokyo until its closing in March 2008.
Sakura Taisen remains a hallmark of anime culture, something of a paragon of what "old-school" shows were like, with upbeat, almost sickeningly positive characters and plots, ridiculous amounts of merchandise, and very little irony.
Today the series appears to be in an indefinite hiatus as a result of weak sales of the fifth title and its tie-in merchandise and anime, but every now and then rumors will come out of Sega of a sixth entry in the series or a revival.
A character page has been started.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
- Alternate Continuity: The TV series is in a different continuity than the games and OVAs.
- Alternate History It's uncertain exactly when the world of Sakura Taisen diverged from ours, though it may have been several centuries ago; at one point in the manga, Yoneda finds references in an old history text to a war fought between Japan's samurai and supernatural enemies resembling the demonic entities. Possibly a case of Parallel History, as many nations and events seem to be identical or similar to our world; for example, Yoneda is cited as being a great hero of the Russo-Japanese War, and Maria comes to the team as a veteran of the Russian Civil War.
- Americans Are Cowboys: The primary love interest (and thus the most promoted character) in So Long, My Love is Gemini Sunrise - Texan samurai cowgirl. Though she is far from the only American character in the game as it is based on the New York branch.
- Ancestral Weapon: Sakura's sword, Ayame/Kaede's sword, Yoneda's sword, Yamasaki's sword.
- Anime Accent Absence: Averted in the dubs of the various OVAs and TV series, but strikingly obvious by comparison in the Pioneer/Geneon dub of the movie.
- The Anime of the Game
- Anime Theme Song: One of the catchiest anime songs of the nineties—a bizarre but effective mix of rock, pre-war J-pop, and idol charm, with an oddly compelling martial aspect.
- An Axe to Grind: Glycine's weapon, a poleaxe to be precise.
- Badass Creed: From the theme song.
Sakura: "We will fight for justice!"
- Battle Aura
- Battle Royale With Cheese: In the first game, each member of your crew (except your Love Interest) dies while killing a member of the Knights of the twilight. The traitor, Ayame severely wounds your LI (she gets better), then Aoi Satan came and either tempts you to kill Ayame or kills her himself. Yonada rams the ship towards the weapon and after defeating Satan the first time, Ayame comes in her true form and resurrect all your friends for one final battle against Satan.
- Bicep-Polishing Gesture: Kanna does this frequently.
- Kohran in the page image.
- Big Damn Heroes: Things are looking bleak for the PariGumi in Chapter 7, when out of nowhere comes Sakura, Sumire and Iris in their kohbus, and starts to wipe the floor with the baddies, despite being underpowered (compared to the Kohbu F models)! Also doubles as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- The PariGumi gets to pull this one off after Soletta and Leni are captured by the enemy; only Kayama ends up being the one to actually save the both of them.
- Again with the PariGumi, only this time, they come to the Hanagumi's rescue in Sakura Taisen 4. Of course, this was only after Ohgami's Paris heroine convinced him to order the PariGumi to launch and come to their aid.
- Blade on a Stick
- Bling Bling Bang: Rikkarita\Rosita's pistols in Sakura Taisen V.
- Bokukko: Kanna.
- Boobs of Steel: Even at 198 cm tall and very muscular, Kanna still easily qualifies, as is made apparent any time she wears a tank top.
- Bridge Bunny: The Wind Division.
- The Brigadier: Although he's been fighting monsters for years.
- Broken Pedestal: Kohran undergoes a crisis of faith when she discovers that the inventor of the kohbu armor, whom she has revered for years, has become the Big Bad.
- Brown Note: The trailer for the English release of Sakura Taisen V has many viewers claiming that "that voice is going to kill them". Thankfully for them, it's downplayed in the final product.
- But Not Too Foreign: In Sakura Taisen V, which is set in New York, not only is the main character Japanese, but so are Subaru and the merchant you can get special bromides from. Mission Control member Anri is also half-Japanese, and Sunnyside and Gemini are Americans who are fans of Japanese culture.
- Calling Your Attacks
- The Captain: He's talented, but just fresh out of OCS and has no practical experience yet.
- Cherry Blossoms: Of course.
- Chilly Reception: Ogami in the games. Sakura in the TV series/OVA. Shinjiro in So Long, My Love. Ogami is belittled and used as errand boy as part of a Secret Test of Character, Sakura is mocked and looked down upon as a newbie Country Mouse, and Shinjiro isn't who the Star Division wanted... perhaps ironically, he's put through much the same as his uncle endured (except more hostile, given that Hot-Blooded Cheiron and Emotionless Girl(?) Subaru are the ones putting him through his paces) because they expected to be sent Ogami himself.
- Circling Birdies: Erica in Sakura Taisen: Ecole de Paris.
- City of Canals
- Color Character: "Red Lad", hero of one of the Stories Within the Story (and namesake of Sakura Taisen's production company).
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Very much so. Not only their uniforms, but also their outfits, and sometimes even their special attacks, to an extent.
- Combination Attack
- Conspicuous CG: OVA 3 and later, using the same style as the game Sakura Taisen 3, dubbed Neo-CG.
- Continuity Nod: The manga has many of these, sometimes bordering on Discontinuity Nods—like a light-hearted Take That at the redesigned kohbu from the PS2 version of the first game.
- In Sakura Taisen V, Gemini mentions that she once saved America with the help of some friends back home some time before that game started. Assuming she's referring to the events of Episode V-0, Western players are unlikely to get the reference.
- Sumire's first scene in Sakura Taisen 1 has her asking Ohgami to get a replacement fork for the one she dropped. Guess what Sumire's first event with Ohgami involves... in Sakura Taisen 3.
- The angel who shows up during Erica's special skill in Sakura Taisen 3 looks rather familiar. That's because it happens to be Ayame.
- Ohgami asks why the Baragumi are still staying with the Hanagumi, and their response to his question is pretty much familiar if you've ever heard Geki!Tei in full.
- One of the training Blanches seen in the Sakura Taisen 3 OVA has markings that Douglas-Stewart was the main manufacturer. Guess who gets involved as a major bad guy in the animated movie?
- Cool Ship: Syougeimaru and Mikasa.
- Cool Train: Apparently mandatory for the series.
- Cross-Popping Veins
- Darker and Edgier: TV series, especially in the first few episodes.
- Dating Sim
- Demonic Invaders
- Determinator: Everyone to an extent, but mostly Ohgami. In Sakura Taisen 4, there is a part where the boss disables everyone's kohbus, so everyone else is down except for him, and he has a few seconds left before he himself gets taken out of the fight. So what does he do? Fly right into the enemy's face, stab at it with his kohbu's swords, then get out of the pilot's seat moments after his kohbu has been totally wrecked, only to stab his sword at the monster's face. Followed by an Unflinching Walk out of the explosion that occurs.
- Dialogue Tree: Complete with timer to complicate the system; sometimes letting the timer run out [saying nothing] is the right thing to do!
- Dual-Wielding: Ohgami and Taiga.
- Dub Name Change: Some names were changed in the English translation for Sakura Taisen V, but in the English dub only. The original names are preserved in the script of the Japanese dub edition, though a typo still lists Sagiita's English name on some of her bromides, as do Plum's and Rikaritta's. Her original name is also on her office door in the English disc. While the name changes were never explained, in at least the case of Sagitta and Rikaritta, it may have had to do with both characters having names wildly inaccurate for their cultural backgrounds.
- Eagle Land: The fifth game; type-1 to a ludicrous degree.
- Evil Is Hammy: Every single villain in the fifth game.
- Explosive Overclocking: Almost everything made by Kohran.
- Extraordinarily Empowered Girl: All of them.
- Face Heel Turn: Ayame.
- Festival Episode
- Fighter Launching Sequence
- Filler: The PlayStation 2 Version of the first game has an exclusive chapter that was added on for the sole purpose of 1) providing a Kohran-centered chapter which the original version of the game lacked, and 2) to provide the Three Star Division pilots who appear in later sequels with an early cameo to keep their fans happy.
- Five-Token Band: The five ladies in your squadron in the fifth game consist of a white Country Mouse, a Sassy Black Woman, a young Hispanic bounty hunter, an Asian supergenius, and an Ill Girl in a wheelchair.
- Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Some of the stage outfits.
- Framed for Heroism
- Gatling Good: Erica's upgraded Kohbu F2 sports a gatling gun. Still comes with a cross.
- Gay Paree: The third game.
- Gender Flip: In 2010, Red Entertainment created a game called Scared Rider Xechs. It's a reverse-harem equivalent of the Sakura Wars franchise. The game includes similar graphics, and mechs are involved in the storyline.
- Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Iris and her bear Jean-Pierre.
- Good-Looking Privates: The Kagekidan girls look pretty damn good in their uniforms. So do Ayame and Kaede, for that matter.
- And for the ladies Ohgami looks pretty damn good in his uniforms.
- Gratuitous English: Constantly. Particularly annoying in the English release of Sakura Taisen V because if you're playing the Japanese disc, you can actually tell when the characters are using English but the translation doesn't match.
- Growing Up Sucks
- Hard Work Montage: Several.
- Harem Hero: This series probably originated this trope with Ichiro Ohgami.
- Hermetic Magic
- Honest Axe: Rikkarita in Sakura Taisen V is fond of asking criminals, "The gold gun or the silver gun... which do you want to get shot with?"
- Hot-Blooded: Ohgami, Sakura, Glycine. Ohgami even gets this as a rank 3.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Oda Nobunaga certainly thinks so in Sakura Taisen V.
- Humongous Mecha
- Impossibly Cool Clothes
- Impossibly Low Neckline: The way Sumire usually wears her kimono.
- It's Raining Men: Prevalent in Sakura Taisen 4. This is also how the PariGumi arrive in Tokyo in their kohbus.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Quite a few characters, most notably Sakura.
- Ki Attacks
- Late Arrival Spoiler: Players of the English release of the fifth game may feel like this is in effect as staple concepts are barely explained in the beginning. Being the fifth in a popular series, it assumes familiarity with them and the other divisions. Even some of the promotional material assured those who have somehow played earlier games that all of the systems they're familiar with and more are in this game but gave no such assurance for those new to the series.
- Left Hanging
- Leitmotif: Inverted as whilst the characters each have themes they usually change for each game—that is if the characters appear in more than one game.
- Let's Play: Spirit Armor's LP of Sakura Wars I has been ongoing for four years[when?] and is nearing completion. The man has pledged to do Sakura Wars I-V, so at this rate, he very well might have a Sakura Wars VI or even Sakura Wars VII to deal with by the time he finishes Sakura Wars V (Although that last one might be unnecessary). The LP can be found here. He literally went through and translated the entire game for your enjoyment, so you'd better be appreciative.
- The Abridged Series: Inverted: in addition to the literal translation of actual game dialogue, Spirit Armor includes additional dialogue in most scenes that carries on in the finest traditions of Abridged Series.
- Magical Girl
- Magic From Technology
- Mask Power
- A Mech by Any Other Name: The Kohbu.
- Multinational Team
- The Musical: This starts to get confusing as it becomes a case of "A Show Within A Show Within A Show" at times. Aside from the in-game musicals performed by the various teams, there have actually been several musicals performed in Takarazuka style (although it should be noted that these musicals do feature the majority of the male seiyuu playing their respective characters too). What makes it even more special is that, unlike a lot of musicals based on anime/games, all the seiyuu respectively play their characters leading to some very funny scenes such as the seiyuu who plays Ohgami being extremely short and Iris' seiyuu makes a joke on it since she is taller than him (and Boisterous Bruiser Kanna's seiyuu is tiny). Usually, a musical takes the form of two parts. The first part is a story that focuses on the characters themselves, and the second part actually has the characters perform a play/musical such as Blue Bird. The latter got significantly longer as the musicals progressed. The Hanagumi team naturally had the most musicals. The Paris and New York troupes did not get that many. In fact, the Paris troupe only had one mini-musical made.
- Also noteworthy is the special stage show (and OVA) to say good bye to Sumire and her voice actress Michie Tomizawa, when Tomizawa decided to leave the franchise.
- Technically speaking though that didn't happen so much musical-wise as she continued (and still does) to make guest appearances and even attends the live events. Seiyuu-wise, it's actually Orihime's seiyuu who doesn't attend them since she now lives in the USA.
- Also noteworthy is the special stage show (and OVA) to say good bye to Sumire and her voice actress Michie Tomizawa, when Tomizawa decided to leave the franchise.
- My Kung Fu Is Stronger Than Yours
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Musical theatre + Humongous Mecha + Turn-Based Strategy + Dating Sim.
- Noblewoman's Laugh: Sumire, as well as Glycine from Sakura Taisen 3.
- Old Save Bonus: Use the Same Memory Card on your PlayStation 2 that you saved Sakura Wars 1 with to play Sakura Wars 3 and Episode 5-0, and oh boy, you'll be in for a world of fun!!
- The One Guy: Ohgami for Sakura Taisen 1-4 and Taiga for Sakura Taisen V.
- Out of the Inferno: Ohgami did this once after his kohbu was totaled in Sakura Taisen 4. An awesome moment but not a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Peacock Girl: At least one set of the stage outfits.
- Pillar of Light
- Pimped-Out Dress: Many of the stage outfits, and some of the girls' evening dresses.
- Plucky Girl
- Powered Armor: Ohbu, Kohbu, Eisenkleid, Jinbu, STAR, etc.
- The Power of Acting: Sumire.
- Power Walk: After the PariGumi's last mission.
- Pre-Explosion Glow
- Pretty in Mink: Soletta, Lachette, Glycine.
- Psychic Powers: Most everyone, with Iris and Erica being the most overt. Diana also is supposed to have such strong powers that they're physically harmful to her, but she rarely has overt displays of them.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The OVA Sakura Taisen: Sumire told the story of Sumire's retirement. This performance of Sumire was Michie Tomizawa's last role before she retired.
- Redheaded Hero: A numbers of the girls are readheads. And depending on the endings, this turns into Heroes Want Redheads.
- Refuge in Cool: Everything from punching acid out of the way from launching robots and airships from underneath city streets.
- Refuge in Audacity: Yes, there is a half-mile-long airship hangar underneath the centre of Tokyo, and all the houses are built on top of the hangar doors. Also, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a giant revolver cannon that launches Kohbus. Then there's the New York branch, whose flagship is launched via a giant crossbow hidden underneath Times Square. And the Statue of Liberty is a missile launcher.
- Relationship Values
- The Roaring Twenties
- Rollerblade Good: Strangely enough, while kohbus have wheels built in their feet, only Glycine is shown using this feature in both combat and cutscenes.
- Rousseau Was Right: The games fairly unambiguously take the position that humans are innately good and just need proper guidance and support to avoid going astray. Genuine evil comes from external forces like demons or The Undead.
- Running Gag: Erica is repeatedly arrested by the police for running around in town with her machinegun. Also Erica's tendency to smash her head against poles, doors, or whatever nearby.
- Samurai: Ohgami, Sakura, Taiga; in a looser sense, Sumire and Gemini as well.
- Samurai Cowboy: Gemini.
- Schizo-Tech: 1920s psychotronic steam-tech battlesuits.
- At one point in the manga, an announcement is made at the beginning of a play: "Also, please turn off your steam mobile phones..."
- Secret Test of Character:
- When Ohgami is first transferred to Tokyo, he's only told about the theatrical side of the Hanagumi, as a test to see whether he's compatible with the group outside of battle, and the kind of person they'd be willing to follow in battle.
- Also, near the end of Sakura Taisen V, Mr. Sunnyside informs Taiga that he will have to sacrifice one of the members of the Hoshigumi (Star Division) if he is to defeat Nobunaga. In the end, it turns out that the correct choice (and the one Taiga makes) is to ignore Sunnyside and vow to keep everyone alive.
- Shiny Midnight Black: Soletta.
- Show Within a Show: As part of their cover, the Hanagumi put on plays in the Theatre (e.g. "Crimson Lizard" or "Les Miserables"); Sumire's family owns a movie studio which occasionally employs the troupe in films; they also take part in radio dramas and model for characters in manga.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: You'd be hard pressed to find any work produced from the 90's onwards that is this far up the scale of Idealism.
- That said, Sakura Taisen 3 shifts matters a bit further towards cynicism in the introduction of previously mentioned Boxed Crook Lobelia, brought onto the team in exchange for a reduction of her thousand-year prison sentence and explicitly threatened with death if she messes up. To quote a line from her first episode.
Coquelicot: Lobelia... You're making us look like the bad guys...
- Split Personality: Let's just say that Gemini's name does more than just fit the Theme Naming. Her "sister" Geminine would be of the Super-Powered Alter Ego variety.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Kaede Fujieda from Sakura Taisen 2, for her sister Ayame.
- Symbolic Blood: Steam seems to be the Kohbu equivalent for blood. In the TV series, the Kohbu are often seen blowing off steam right after being knocked out or immobilized, regardless of whether there is any visible damage or not.
- Takarazuka: The Hanagumi perform as an all-female troupe; the "Teikoku Kagekidan" and its subdivisions are a Shout-Out to the famous Takarazuka Revue, or "Takarazuka Kagekidan".
- They are also partly based on the Schochiku Kagekidan, which was one of Takarazuka's first competitors. The TKD's theatre is on the same spot and has the same design of the (now demolished) Shochiku Theatre; Ouji Hiroi's aunt was a founding member of Shochiku. The flower for Takarazuka is the sumire (the established Top Star in the games), where the Shochiku theatre's flower was the sakura; so the rivalry between their namesake characters is representative of the rivalry of the two theatres.
- Team Shot
- Theme Naming: Flowers for the Hanagumi; stars, constellations and the like for the Hoshigumi.
- The Thing That Goes Doink
- Time Compression Montage
- Title Drop: Yoneda's soliloquy at the end of Sakura Taisen 4. Also doubles as a Tear Jerker.
- Turn-Based Strategy
- The Unwanted Harem: Ohgami's relationship with the girls—a leftover from the "dating sim" part of the original games.
- Virgin Power: Hinted at, though never explicitly stated. The main theme does state that the girls are maidens, and even a member of the PariGumi who gives off an "experienced" vibe — Lobelia — is, in her OAV focus story, explicitly stated to have not done the sorts of things that men and women normally do together when she took men up to her room, and is compared to the Virgin Mary.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Sumire and Kanna could be the poster children for this trope.
- Weapon of Choice: Most everyone.
- Weddings in Japan: Sakura's participation in a traditional ceremony at the end of OVA 2.
- You Fail History Forever: There was no World War I, yet the Russian revolution of 1917 still somehow happened despite Russia's constant failures in WWI were the chief reason that the revolution happened in the first place. If not for the war, Russia would probably have turned into a constitutional monarchy, since that was where it headed after the revolution of 1905.
- There's also alcohol being served openly in the US during Prohibition, although it could be argued that in this timeline Prohibition probably never happened.
- In the fifth game, it's stated that Jazz originated in Harlem. While it's true that Jazz was especially popular in Harlem, it was really invented in New Orleans.