Sakura Wars is a Japanese steampunk media franchise created by Oji Hiroi and currently owned by Sega. It is focused around a series of cross-genre video games. The first game in the series was released in 1996, with five sequels and numerous spin-off titles being released since then. The series—set during a fictionalized version of the Taishō period—depicts groups of women with magical abilities using steam-powered mecha to combat demonic threats.
The original Sakura Wars was an ambitious title for the then-in-production Sega Saturn. The first game’s overlap of the tactical role-playing, dating sim and visual novel genres prompted Sega to classify it as a “dramatic adventure”, a moniker which has endured during the series’ lifetime. Both Red Entertainment and Sega co-developed most of the games until 2008, when the series went on hiatus. Sega rebooted the series as sole developer because of fan demand. Recurring elements include anime cutscenes created by notable studios including Production I.G, and music by composer Kohei Tanaka.
The series has sold over 4.5 million copies as of 2010, and garnered both critical and popular acclaim. The original Sega console games have been voted among the most popular for the Saturn and Dreamcast. The Sakura Wars franchise includes numerous anime productions, manga, and other media projects such as stage shows. With the exception of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and the 2019 soft reboot, the video game series has not been released in English. Several of the anime series have been localized for English territories.
Red Company and Sega have expanded the Sakura Wars series into various media. These include anime, manga, stage shows, several light novels, concerts and CD album releases of soundtracks. The latter have met with substantial commercial success. Despite a shared identity, Hiroi took care to keep each of these elements distinct and separate from each other. A dedicated themed cafe and merchandise store based in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, Sakura Wars Taisho Romando, opened in 1998. Taisho Romando remained open for ten years until it closed in March 2008.
A prominent feature was an annual stage show dubbed Sakura Wars Kayou Show supervised by Hiroi, for which new musical numbers were created by Tanaka The show featured the cast reprising their roles and performing stage shows drawn from the series. Each character had songs themed after their characters. The cast, which grew to include those of later games, remained for the entire run with the exception of actress Michie Tomizawa who retired from the series and her role as character Sumire Kanzaki in 2002. Tomizawa appeared as a guest in later revival concerts. The original stage shows ran regularly from 1997 to 2006. Since then, it has seen irregular revivals with both the first cast and later additions. The stage shows were originally meant to end in 2008 along with the franchise, but fan support allowed future revivals. A stage adaptation of the 2019 game was planned to run from March 5–8, 2020 at Sogetsu Hall. However, on February 26, 2020, Sega announced that the event would not take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The play will now be postponed to winter 2020 with precautions to protect the spread of the virus.
Hiroi wrote a manga adaptation of the first Sakura Wars, which began serialization in 2002. The original run finished in December 2008, but its popularity led to a second series continuing the narrative. Since 2003, the manga has been published as tankōbon by Kodansha. A comedy manga titled Sakura Wars: Show Theater, which featured comedy skits of characters from each main Sakura Wars location, was serialised between 2005 and 2009, and published by Kodansha in four volumes between 2006 and 2009. A manga adaptation of the 2019 game, Shin Sakura Taisen: The Comic, began serialization in 2019 by Shueisha. It was written by Ishii, and illustrated by Koyuri Noguchi.
A spin-off manga Sakura Wars: Kanadegumi was created by Chie Shimada, based on concepts from the Sakura Wars team, and published in the shojo magazine Hana to Yume published by Hakusensha. In contrast to the main series, it was aimed at a female audience and shifted the narrative to a male harem set-up; main protagonist Neko Miyabi is assigned to the titular Kanadagumi, and develops relationships with its five male members. Originally a two-chapter special published between November and December 2011, it was expanded into a full series in February 2012. The manga ran from 2012 to 2013. Between its debut and final issue, the manga inspired both an anime short and a dedicated stage show. It was published in four tankōbon by Hakusensha between September 2012 and July 2013.
Film and television
Multiple anime films, television series and original video animations (OVAs) have been produced that are based either on individual Sakura Wars games or on the series as a whole. The first was an OVA, titled Sakura Wars: The Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms. The OVA was released as four 30-minute episodes from 1997 to 1998, following the cast of the first game. A second OVA series, The Radiant Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms, was released as six 30-minute episodes from 1999 to 2000, relating side stories from between Sakura Wars and the end of Thou Shalt Not Die. Further OVA series based around the characters of Is Paris Burning? and So Long, My Love (École de Paris; Le Nouveau Paris; Sumire; New York, New York) were released from 2003 to 2007. The OVAs were produced by Radix Ace Entertainment until New York, New York in 2007, when production shifted by Anime International Company.
An anime television series based on the first game was co-produced by Red Company, Madhouse and Studio Matrix. The 25-episode series was broadcast on the Tokyo Broadcasting System from April 8 to September 23, 2000. While based on the first game’s narrative and preserving Hiroi’s vision, the series changed and added in several events. A major problem was remaining faithful to the source material within a TV format. In 2001, an animated theatrical film, Sakura Wars: The Movie, was released. The film takes place between Is Paris Burning? and Fall in Love, Maidens and features new character Ratchet Altair who would later appear in So Long, My Love. The film was animated by Production I.G; production took three years and was inspired by the wish to expand the series animation beyond what the short cutscenes and OVA projects had achieved. A second anime television series, titled Sakura Wars the Animation and serving as a sequel to the 2019 Sakura Wars, premiered on April 3, 2020. It is animated by Sanzigen, which helped create the animated sequences for the game.
In North America, the first two OVA series and the television series were localised by ADV Films. École de Paris and Sumire were dubbed and released by Funimation, The film was released in North America by Pioneer Entertainment in 2003, and later by Funimation in 2013. Funimation is streaming the 2020 anime for a simulcast release in North America and the United Kingdom.
Setting and characters
The Sakura Wars series is set during a fictionalised version of the Taishō period, with the chronology currently running from 1923 (Taisho 12) to 1940 (Taisho 29). The games are set in the cities of Tokyo, Paris and New York. The setting combines real locations with fantastical events and steampunk-based technology. The central conflict of the series is between demonic forces created by the ingrained darkness in human hearts. To combat this in Tokyo, the Japanese government created a unit of steam-based mecha called Koubu powered by spirit energy. While a few men are capable of using them, women form the main combat units because of their stronger spiritual power. This group is known as the Imperial Assault Force, based in a theater and working undercover as the Imperial Theater Revue. The group to which the protagonists belong is the Flower Division (Hanagumi), the main combat troop. Other groups make cameo appearances in the story if present.
The first four games follow the military and romantic exploits of Imperial Army officer Ichiro Ogami. Originally assigned to the Imperial Assault Force in Tokyo, he later traveled to Paris and trained the newly-formed Paris Assault Force before returning to Tokyo and commanding the two united Flower Divisions during the events of Sakura Wars 4. For So Long, My Love, the lead protagonist was changed to Ogami’s nephew Shinjiro Taiga, who is sent in place of Ogami to train the New York Combat Revue. The 2019 soft reboot of Sakura Wars takes place in 1940, twelve years after an event called the “Great Demon War” saw the destruction of all three original Flower Divisions. New divisions were created across the world and began competing with each other, with the newly-reformed Tokyo Flower Division being the main protagonists.