Girls! Girls! Girls!
Rich stories of romance run through this older, yet still modern anime.
Sentimental Journey has the odd distinction of surpassing its game origins, which is especially hard to do when Sentimental Graffiti is your source material. Sentimental Graffiti, released in 1997, was probably the most hyped dating simulation game at the time, to the point where promoters were afraid of being mobbed at their booths. The plot was fairly simple: you, the boy, receive an anonymous love letter. However, it's not so simple in determining who it's from; you have attended twelve different high schools and have had twelve different girlfriends. You spend the game figuring out who it was and then trying to hook up with one of your former flames, to the exclusion of all of the other eleven girls.
Happily, Sentimental Journey's tie to the game is very loose. There is a distinct feeling that they were using the name recognition more than anything else, because Sentimental Journey is a surprisingly good and refreshing anime.
Sentimental Journey takes place time-wise before Sentimental Graffiti, in that the mysterious letter has not been sent. Also, it seems to be more of a parallel world, as the girls definitely have more substance here than in the game, but they all still suffer from having too much innocence and purity to be actual girls. (Sorry ladies, but you know it's true.) However, they are all intriguing and not too stereotyped for seasoned viewers like us at Animefringe.
Each of the twelve episodes is a stand-alone romance story, centered around one of the girls and her experience with a special boy in her life. Sometimes the boy was back when they were both children, and sometimes their encounter was nothing but a chance one-time meeting, but for all of the girls, it changes their outlook on life.
The stories fluctuate in quality and in their focus on the girl herself or her influence on the others around her, inspired by that special boy in her past. The story of Yuu Nanase is that of her riding a train with a woman who has given up on love, that true love does not exist. Yuu proves that love exists by returning to the place where she and the boy watched a meteor shower a year ago, and where they promised to meet up again. However, a typhoon is moving across the area, so they have no chance of seeing the shower, or do they? As the two women arrive, the clouds part and they see the meteor shower while holding hands. With the woman's faith in love restored, Yuu disappears.
Honoka Sawatori is afraid of boys; they're dirty, not at all like the boy back in her childhood or her father, who is such a perfect man... Father and daughter go out on 'dates', and Honoka seems to have a hard time making friends outside of her father. She writes him love letters everyday. One day, one of Honoka's school friends finds one of these letters and angrily tells her that it's unnatural, and does she want to be Daddy's little girl forever? The postman sees Honoka everyday at the postbox, debating on whether to sent the letter or not. When Honoka hears that her father is having an affair with his assistant, she is forced to realize that even he is not perfect. The letters stop. The postman chides her, telling Honoka that if she needs an imaginary boyfriend, she can write to him. Embarrassed, she runs away, confronts the assistant and learns that her father is just concerned about Honoka and wanted advice from a woman on dealing with a teenage daughter. She realizes that all this time, she's been afraid of relationships, and that she needs to believe in love and learn to enjoy being in love. The postman is revealed at the end as her father in a younger, idealized version. He leaves, saying that Honoka no longer needs him anymore. We are left believing that Honoka is ready to have a normal relationship with someone her own age and who is a real person with merits and flaws.
Wakana Ayasaki is training to become a priestess, yet she finds herself troubled by earthly desires, namely the memory of a boy who saved her years ago. She goes to see a Buddhist monk, a friend of her grandparents. Her episode plays out like a zen koan, where the monk is constantly asking Wakana questions, leading her to the discovery that earthly desires can be good and bad; it all depends on your perspective. Comforted that she can find strength in these memories, but also aware that they can cloud your judgment, Wakana is a much happier girl.
As you can see from these examples, Sentimental Journey contains some truly interesting stories and characters that diverge from the usual assortment of unrequited love. Oh, there are plenty of lost loves in this series, but each story and character has a unique twist of their own. Newcomers to anime may feel lost at times, as Sentimental Journey is definitely intended for people well versed in Japanese culture, but the stories themselves require no familiarity. The human heart knows no cultural boundaries.
In terms of animation quality, Sentimental Journey shows its age. Back in 1998, this pastel and sketchy style would have been average, whereas now it is quite old school, but it does suit the romantic theme of this anime. Regardless, the plot is so engaging that the graphics would have taken second place anyway. The music really doesn't stand out, but it does add to the atmosphere of romantic real life stories.
It's good to see that companies are willing to release not-so-new, high quality anime that may have been otherwise missed or skipped over. So lay some time aside on your calendar to take a little trip on a Sentimental Journey!