If there’s one thing I love about anime, it’s the rich casts of characters it so often fields. If there’s a two and a three, it’s the late-90s late night boom era and the compelling narratives out there just waiting to be pieced together. Recently, the latter two aspects led me to Sentimental Journey, a 1998 adaptation of the Sentimental Graffiti dating sim franchise and the directorial debut of Big O helmsman Kazuyoshi Katayama. Said Katayama narrative would make the show part of a fun narrative either way, either as a “Kiddy Grade/Shingo Suzuki-esque nurturing talent” type or a “before they were known, they were still great” type. It still makes it more fun that the series ends up being the latter sneaky-great type, as solid an argument for the dating sim adaptations of that era as anything not named To Heart.
Perhaps a product of the transitional time it came about in, Sentimental Journey is built a bit more like an OVA than a TV series. Each of the series’ twelve episodes centers around a different character at a different point in her life, dealing with the aftermath of a different relationship (sometimes a breakup, sometimes something less dramatic). Beyond that common thread, Sentimental Journey showcases tremendous diversity of tone. Each episode is individually memorable for having some degree of unique hook, whether it’s about music, succeeding the family business, basing your life around shojo manga cliches, or being attacked by yokai. The colorful range of stories it tells doesn’t tell a grand narrative, but focuses instead on making each story work as best it can. Of particular note is an episode that doubles up on developed characters, featuring a slow-moving night train conversation between a fresh-off-being-dumped office worker and a stargazing high school student on a cross-country trip. It’s an episode steeped in superrealism and down-to-earth atmosphere that’s 100% focused on showing off who the characters are and how they think in a setting removed from both their routines.
Even with all the diversity in setting yanking it around, Sentimental Journey nonetheless feels like a consistent product, tied together by some of the straightest late-90s technique I’ve seen, courtesy of the aforementioned Katayama. You will never hear the words “suffers from a lack of budget” from my mouth; I’m a firm believer in the power of limited motion and pinpoint camera placement to carry a scene. It’s why I love the late 90s, because shows like Sentimental Journey with little production-side wiggle room show so much finesse in getting their money’s worth out of every yen. In this particular case, the visuals generally primarily play bass guitar to the story’s lead vocals, building around then dialogue and trying to deepen its impact by rotating between first-person perspective, facial closeups, and scenery shots as needed. Nowhere is this backup harder at work than in an installment consisting primarily of a high school girl and a buddhist priest who almost married her mom years ago waxing philosophical about the transient nature of worldly possessions and the true nature of love. Essentially, while the train sequence applies targeted amounts of Yasujiro Ozu-styled fixed camera, this installment makes use of more abstract imagery and scenery like an old-school Hideaki Anno piece. It’s good stuff.
Not every episode has as high of a concept behind it as the two mentioned above (probably a side effect of the job of creating 12 plots more or less from scratch), but there isn’t really a bad one in the bunch, and most do employ a more than respectable degree of mixing-up to keep the audience interested. It might not be your show if you’re looking for an epic-scale plot, but if you’d rather have your romantic anime with a heavy dose of realism, dialogue-based characterization, and visual panache, this show is definitely one worth earmarking.
Character Designs [Madoka Hirayama]: 1/1
Soundtrack [Tomoyuki Hamada, SD – Aya Mizoguchi]: 2/2
Writing [Naruhisa Arakawa]: 2/3
Direction [Kazuyoshi Katayama]: 4/4