“I applied to thirty-two companies — not one job offer.”

SAKURA QUEST protagonist Yoshino Koharu is bemoaning her bad luck with job hunting to a friend here. Honestly, though, it could’ve been something I said on any given day. Granted, as a college freshman, my own circumstances are a little different from hers. Still, I expect this line to resonate at an uncomfortable level with millennials everywhere.

The anime follows Koharu, a young woman who left her rural hometown to attend school in Tokyo. After graduating, she applies to job after job; though as of the show’s start, she has yet to hear good news. Desperate for anything, she accepts what she believes to be a one-day photo shoot in a countryside town. However, after a series of misunderstandings, she becomes the town’s “queen,” charged with boosting its tourism for a year.

Plot-based stroke of luck aside, Koharu’s hard time job hunting isn’t the only scene today’s viewers might find relatable. In fact, it’s the first of many the show provides that depicts the modern-day job climate and the struggles of young college graduates.

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Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Screenshot, SAKURA QUEST, Episode 1 - http://www.crunchyroll.com/sakura-quest/episode-1-off-to-magical-manoyama-733649
Koharu eats a subpar dinner.

In one scene, Koharu sits on the floor of her college dorm. She takes a bite out of her dinner — a slice of white bread garnished with a few raspberries — and wonders if it’d taste better with mayonnaise.

In another, Koharu argues with her mom over the phone. She insists that the last thing she wants is to give up on city life and grow old at home.

Finally, Koharu takes a look at her bank account to find roughly nine dollars left to her name. She promptly panics over spending a buck for a temporary pleasure.

Moments like these might hit a little too close to home for some viewers. Surely, we’ve all come home to an embarrassingly empty fridge at least once. But there’s more to SAKURA QUEST’s real-life connections than just poor-student life. In the show, and the real world, the enduring dream of landing a big-city job leads many youths away from smaller towns to metropolitan hubs. Unfortunately, when too many people look for work in one area while leaving behind aging populations, each side can suffer. Often, there aren’t enough jobs in the cities to go around, and there aren’t enough people or interest in the towns for them to survive.

Luckily, SAKURA QUEST provides a solution that doubles as a treat for viewers looking for more progressiveness in their anime: skilled, intelligent women who work to bring tourism back to one of Japan’s rural areas.

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Real Problems, Real Work

Screenshot, SAKURA QUEST, Episode 2 - http://www.crunchyroll.com/sakura-quest/episode-2-the-gathering-of-the-five-champions-733651
The team shoots a local PV.

Produced by P.A. Works, the studio behind similarly-themed hits like HANASAKU IROHA and SHIROBAKO, SAKURA QUEST is not your average “cute girls doing cute things in a vague working environment” anime. It’s a story of empowerment, of giving your all to succeed in an environment working against you. Such a message is exactly what younger generations need to hear, especially with its heartwarming delivery.

For starters, Koharu was selected to be part of the tourism project by accident. Even then, the original person was only chosen because she happened to be the board director’s favorite idol. In other words, Koharu’s employers only intended to use good-looking women as nothing more than faces for the town. Of course, these kinds of motivations aren’t uncommon in the real world. But for Koharu, who desires a job where she can give one-hundred-and-ten percent, such reasoning could feel like a blow.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see her do more than just smile, wave, and call it a day. Instead, she develops various marketing plans with her team and continuously thinks on a broader scale of how she can spread Manoyama Village’s name. Her attempts range from running a locally-made manjuu stand, designing a new website, to even filming a promotional video.

Success doesn’t come easily — to date, only one of Koharu’s plans has attracted any visitors — but that’s also part of the show’s charm. Wins in the series feel earned, be they a single source of funding or just convincing a store owner to lend her shop space for a bit. It’s the little victories that inspire the audience alongside the characters more than anything else.

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When You Lose Your Way

Screenshot, SAKURA QUEST, Episode 5 - http://www.crunchyroll.com/sakura-quest/episode-5-the-budding-yggdrasil-733657
Sanae explains crowdfunding to the team.

Meanwhile, the other members of Koharu’s team have their own obstacles to overcome. Their grapples with indecisiveness and regret may also ring familiarly with viewers out there who dream of a different life. One character struggles to find purpose. “It doesn’t have to be me [doing my job],” she reflects. “The world will keep turning without me.” Another falls into a rut of defeat and listlessness, unsure of her own dream and reluctant to chase after it.

These are very real problems that no doubt many others have encountered as well, especially students and graduates at the turning points of their lives. Should I major in something more practical? What am I doing with my life? Even if I wanted to try doing something else, isn’t it already too late? One small setback can trigger a mountain-load of self-doubt and insecurity. SAKURA QUEST acknowledges this issue, portrays it accurately, and then gently encourages the viewers through it all.

Oftentimes the truth can be harsh. Even Koharu agrees, “There isn’t a job out there that someone else can’t do.” However, gems of wisdom and genuine reassurance shine through as well, a promise that perhaps this world isn’t as cold and unforgiving as we may think. “The things I’m doing [with my job] are completely different from the things [someone else] would have done,” Koharu continues. “Even if every job can be done by someone else, some results can only be achieved by certain people.”

Just the message millennials need to hear, indeed.

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Simple and Strong

Screenshot, SAKURA QUEST, Episode 5 - http://www.crunchyroll.com/sakura-quest/episode-5-the-budding-yggdrasil-733657
Koharu prepares to put her latest plan into action.

It’s in these small, identifiable moments that SAKURA QUEST’s strengths lie. The show doesn’t boast standout visuals, nor may its premise sound all that compelling for viewers used to more intrigue or action. Even so, the series addresses issues so relatable it’s almost impossible not to root for the ragtag team of women working to prove not just Manoyama Village’s worth, but their own as well. For anyone looking for a more thoughtful and realistic slice-of-life anime this season, definitely give SAKURA QUEST a shot. But fair warning: you just might end up seeing yourself and your own struggles reflected.

All images screenshotted from Crunchyroll.

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