Zakuro takes place in turn of the century Japan. The old ways of doing things are quickly going out of style as the nation undergoes Westernization. Everyone except Japan’s spiritual inhabitants welcome the switchover, leading to the creation of the Ministry of Spirit Affairs. This group, composed of three male military commanders and four half-spirit/ half-human girls, must keep track of wayward and generally unhappy spirits and quell any problems that might arise.
The spirit girls are led by Zakuro, who acts as a sort of amplifier for each girl’s special powers. She is paired with Agemaki, a model soldier with a near crippling fear of spirits. The two make an interesting pairing since Zakuro isn't too keen on how quickly the country is turning over to Western ideas. Meanwhile, Agemaki spends most of his time trying to hide his fear of spirits, choosing to pair with Zakuro because of her more human appearance. As the series continues, the pair’s relationship becomes a central theme, adding a sweet but somewhat muddy love story.
Each episode focuses on a spirit mystery the Ministry must deal with, though plotlines are usually an excuse to push through the series' larger plotlines. The first involves the human officers and spirit-girls getting to know one another. There’s a lot of mistrust early on, though nearly all lead to some sort of romantic interest. Not every pairing is successful, but that’s part of the fun. Another major arc involves Zakuro’s mother, though explaining that would only spoil the series. It’s also hard to ignore the underlying social commentary involving Westernization and racism, which is an interesting addition I wasn’t expecting.
Although Zakuro is a fun watch, it has real problems holding interest over the long haul. The show’s intensity slowly fades as the series moves along. I was able to watch the first few episodes in quick succession, but had a hard time with the second DVD. I’ll stop short at saying I had to force myself to watch it, but I definitely wasn’t as excited.
Zakuro is an absolutely stunning anime. I love the show’s turn of the century look and how it influences character designs. The military regalia are just outright cool and the girls have a fun, traditional look. Despite the show’s fantastical trappings, it is all grounded in reality. The same goes for the spirits; they’re out there just enough to be unique, but not so much they seem out of place. I understand its likely cost-prohibitive, but an HD Blu-ray release would have been welcomed.
Zakuro’s pack-in book, “Spirit Affairs Archives,” continues NIS’s tradition of providing top shelf content as an extra. The book offers a quick synopsis of the series, as well as an introduction to the main cast, including useful facts about each character. The rest of the book includes episode guides, offering a short recap of the episode and a smaller inset featuring that episode’s new characters. Some also include a little bio, though most just give a name, which is useful for people like me who have a hard time keeping track of names. Each summary includes screen captures from the episode. If I you didn’t get the picture earlier, this is a beautiful anime, so don’t be surprised if you linger on the screen grabs.
Finally, there’s a collection of interviews with the voice cast and a gallery of full color artwork featuring the cast. I always loved this sort of thing when I was younger. I loved to draw, so having big images to study and copy was always a treat.
On-disc extras include a clean opening and three clean endings, and a pair of two Original Picture Dramas.
Zakuro is likely to leave lots of viewers torn, or at least that’s what I’ve gathered after reading message boards. It’s an enjoyable series, and a quick watch that doesn’t expect viewers to keep track of numerous sub-plots. At the same time, don’t expect anything new to come out of the series. It sticks to the enjoyable, comfortable familiar.