When Sakurai was alive, he was a youth living peacefully during the Roaring Twenties, but once the Great Depression set in, he became one of the many young men who lost their dreams and joined the army with hopes to improve their lives. Before joining though, he became acquainted with a girl named Chiharu at a local coffee shop he used to visit and was promised that she would wait for him until he returned. Eventually, he became a second lieutenant in the 801 Squadron of the 309th Naval Air Division of the Japanese Navy during the Second World War. At some point, his plane was shot down and crashed on Peleliu Island. It is believed that he died sometime afterward, with his skeleton being shown with a fatal injury to his head while still in his plane. His spirit became trapped in the Asura Realm of the Great Spirit, where he became obsessed with rebuilding his fallen Zero fighter plane in order to return to the defense of his country.
When Asakura Hana finds Sakurai still gathering parts of his plane and believing the war is still on-going. Sakurai learns that he is deceased and accompanies Hana to Thalim's coffee shop. While there, he reminisces on his old memories while drinking coffee before questioning Hana as to why is he fighting for. After witnesses Hana's fight with Kamogawa Yosuke, Yosuke incites his pilot, Anderson, to kill Sakurai. Having recognized Sakurai as the infamous "Death Zero", Anderson hesitates to shoot down Sakurai out of fear, allowing Sakurai to take the opportunity to kill him. later When Sakurai tries to shoot Yosuke, he is mortally wounded when Yosuke stops time and repositions the bullet on his neck. Despite being fatally wounded, he still manages to empty his pistol into Yosuke. Before fading away, he states that while he won't be returning to his homeland, at least he'll be able to see his comrades again.
After Hana is sent into another version of the Asura Realm, Hana encounters a younger version of Sakurai who doesn't remember him at all. As Hana is interrogated by a suspicious Sakurai, his friends casually tell him to calm down and suggest that they take him to their barracks to listen to his story first before deciding what to do. After Hana fails to explain to them that they are all dead, Sakurai leaves to look at his plane while the others share their stories with Hana. Hana is shocked upon learning that they are part of the Kamikaze Unit with orders to crash themselves into enemy warships.
When Hana questions why they didn't resist, he learns that Sakurai volunteered to prevent his friend from being drafted into the unit. Conversing with Sakurai near his plane, Hana comments on Sakurai's resolve by pointing out that there's a girl waiting for him back in Japan, leaving Sakurai shocked as to how he knew about Chiharu. At that moment, the base is bombed and Sakurai and his unit prepare to take off with Hana stuck in Sakurai's plane.
Sakurai only appears in the manga series.
- Sakurai originally appeared in Hiroyuki Takei's one-shot, Death Zero.
- Shaman King Manga - The Super Star Chapter 6; Page 11