Spring 2011 was bursting with several opportunities to overwhelm the fandom with awesome. But while the likes of Hen Zemi and Maria Holic Alive left little to be desired, the standout hit of the season came from an unexpected source: Hanasaku Iroha – a tale about a young girl named Ohana going to work at Kissuiso, her grandmother’s hot spring inn.
Hanasaku Iroha is an anime of two very distinct halves. The first thirteen episodes play out as a character-driven coming-of-age drama focusing on Ohana and her interactions with other people. This opening part unfolds with subtlety and grace and focuses on Ohana arriving at her new life at Kissuiso and learning the meaning of hard work in a manner not dissimilar to Chihiro’s plight in Spirited Away. On top of this, the show also places great importance on Ohana’s various relationships and how the girl ultimately affects those around her. The anime simultaneously explores the teen connecting with her stony-faced grandmother, deciphering how she feels about childhood friend, Ko, confronting her flighty and unreliable mother, and melting her roommate, Minko’s, icy shell. With all the strands of Ohana’s life weaving together and building up to a climactic thirteenth episode, it feels as if the series could have ended right there and then.
Unfortunately, some of the show’s latter episodes toss aside the exceptional storytelling of what preceded them and descend into little more than typical slice-of-life. Ohana’s development grinds to a halt as she becomes little more than Kissuiso’s enthusiastic cheerleader and resident ray of sunshine. Taking less of a back seat but more a completely different car and honking on the horn every so often, Ohana hands over the spotlight to her peers – though she continues to make her presence known by helping guide everyone down the correct path. Instead of subtly developing the secondary players alongside the protagonist as previously, we get far more blatant character-centric arcs mixed in with school life standards such as festivals and class trips to the beach. While still entertaining and sensitive to its cast, after seeing what the impressive opening has to offer, watching schoolgirls bicker over “omurice” is a let-down and add little to the central relationships.
Luckily as the show comes to a close, it starts to reclaim some of its earlier glory as tensions rise while everyone attempts to save their beloved Kissuiso. Much like the anime’s opening half, the interpersonal relationships between the main cast make the climax such a treat to watch and as the episodes continue, friendships regress, revolt, and renew. Hanasaku Iroha’s finale proves one of the most fulfilling I’ve seen for some time as it wraps up each individual plot thread, seemingly sending the narrative full circle, while simultaneously changing everything along the way.
One of the most striking aspects of Hanasaku Iroha is the animation. This show demonstrates some of the most luscious background imagery from recent years, and P.A. Works has excelled itself by including details right down to the veins on marble pillars or the natural wear and tear of a kitchen floor.
Hanasaku Iroha also displays a surprising attention to detail when it comes to movement, which adds a sense of realism wherever possible. Small details such as Ohana’s cheeks getting buffeted by the wind as she speeds down a hill on a bicycle and sparks floating in the air during a bonfire means that this series is less a feast for the eyes, but more an all-you-can-eat banquet. Likewise, the anime integrates its computer generated animation very well and, instead of appearing awkward and unwieldy, enhances the show by giving smoother movement for train rides or delicate snowflakes falling from the sky.
Much like every other aspect of the show, Hanasaku Iroha’s soundtrack is very gentle. Quiet acoustic guitar tracks reminiscent of the background music from the Aria franchise help depict the feeling of happiness and calm that Ohana derives from her new life at the inn. The musical score may not be one that you must rush to get hold of, but it perfectly matches the series’ overall tone without resorting to sappy, saccharine harmonies.
The series’ voice cast fares just as well as the soundtrack with each actor providing the ideal vocals for their characters. Tamie Kubota’s performance as Sui fits the bill perfectly with her portrayal of the stern Madam Manager who isn’t to be messed with, while also retaining a softer, more maternal side that prevents her from becoming a figure of hate. Meanwhile, Chiaki Omigawa captures Minko’s vulnerability to a T, yet imbues the character with enough aggression and drive to depict the young chef’s more decisive nature.
The characterisation in Hanasaku Iroha is subtle, but top notch. At the beginning Ohana hovers somewhere between a poor abandoned daughter and a selfish brat, but through her various interactions with those at Kissuiso, she goes on her own journey and transforms. In particular it’s her developing relationships with two of the inn’s residents – her stern and indifferent grandmother, Sui, and her classmate the serious Minko – that mostly contribute to the young girl’s evolution. These two relationships are the most charming of the series, although Ohana’s interactions with both her mother and childhood friend Ko are also both engaging and integral to her development. That Ohana’s grandmother treats the teen as nothing more than an employee when she first arrives, watching the two gradually connect as Sui’s icy exterior slowly thaws in the face of Ohana’s determination and enthusiasm makes for unadulterated viewing pleasure. Certainly, the teenager’s desire to earn Sui’s approval goes a long way to how she matures throughout the course of the series.
Undoubtedly, the lynchpin of Hanasaku Iroha’s plotline is the effect that Ohana has on her peers. In some cases her enthusiasm simply becomes infectious, and re-ignites a flame within the staff. However, in the case of Minko, it’s more of a two-way street. Minko’s initial disdain of Ohana serves as one of the central reasons behind the new girl’s drive to improve, but at the same time as the inn’s newest hire becomes more competent, Minko’s competitive aspect ignites enabling the young chef to herself evolve.
Even in a relatively slow-paced show filled with deep interpersonal relationships, there’s still a lot of room for a sprinkling of eccentricity amongst the cast. Additions such as the over the top, perverted and flamboyant author, Jiro, and high-flying business consultant Takako with her random English phrases, there’s not only the option for more comedy to make an appearance, but they cause plenty of friction and open up opportunities for Ohana to further evolve and prove her worth.
It’s all too common for anime-series to start off on a promising note only to end in a
disappointing manner. Sometimes creators are forced to rush an ending due to
external factors, other times they run out ideas or budget but most of the time
writers simply bite off more than they can chew resulting in cheesy melodrama
through all sorts of contrived situations.
Hanasaku Iroha is the complete opposite. Its first 6 or so episodes try out drama,
comedy, romance or slice-of –life in such a way that the shifts between
episodes feel jarring.
The good news? It’s after the clumsy start that it really manages to find its feet and
blossom into a touching, funny series that superbly celebrates themes such as
working hard and thinking before you leap. Best yet: it does so in a tender,
The story’s premise is that our protagonist, 16-year old city girl Ohana Matsumae, is
forced to work at her grandmother’s countryside inn after her mother got
herself in a jam thanks to her current boyfriend. Ohana is, of course, taken
aback by this sudden change. Especially since she was confessed to by a
childhood friend just a little earlier. She nonetheless packs her bags and
moves to her grandmother, and it’s here that she enters a world of joy and
Or so she thought.
Upon her arrival at Kisuisso (the name of the inn) she’s all but immediately put to work
by her grandmother, Sui Shijma - a stern old woman who makes it very clear
who’s in charge. The rest of Kisuisso’s staff is a colorful bunch that includes
the clumsy Enishi (Ohana’s uncle), the gossipy Tomoe and, most importantly, 2
girls of around the same age as Ohana: the grumpy, single-minded Minko and the
bashful yet kind Nako.
A large part of the series revolves around seeing these characters interact while taking care of the inn’s day-to-day business. It’s in this regard that the series does a great job letting you know
about every character’s quirks. They do this by showing how they react to
certain situations and people. An offhand comment made by a character can turn
out more meaningful once you know what it is that makes said character tick.
This subtle approach to characterization is one of the show’s biggest
Better yet, the characters actually feel pretty realistic. A character can be hypocritical,
petty or overly prideful one moment but balance it out by being a hard worker
or having a cheerful disposition that allows them to face a new day head on.
Nobody is put on a pedestal.
Another upside is that the series develops its adult characters in interesting way. Stories
like this usually relegate the adults to bit parts if they even bother to have
them around to begin with. But characters like Enishi, Sui and Ohana’s mother
Satsuki actually turn out to be interesting characters who interact with the
younger characters in meaningful ways.
The best part about the characterization, however, is the way characters develop. Rather
than making them go through instantaneous changes after a big, life-changing
event – characters change gradually and only if they work their ass off to keep
at it. This is what Hanasaku Iroha is all about, and it shows best through the
character arc of Ohana herself. She starts off as a well-meaning but indecisive
girl who leaps in 10 different directions but gradually grows into a more
assertive, mature person who learns to channel her energy in more constructive
manner rather than diving headfirst into things without a solid plan. The whole
arc is written so smoothly that the development may not be immediately
noticeable to some viewers. This, however, is the beauty of this show’s
writing. It shows, rather than tells.
Sadly, the storytelling and characterization also contain some flaws. The previously
mentioned bad start is one of its most significant ones. While the first 2
episodes consistently feature a light dramatic tone the 3rd episode
makes an extremely jarring shift in tone to comedy. It features, of all things,
a rape attempt and a suicide attempt being played for laughs. Thankfully the
series never quite does such disastrous things ever again but it’s definitely a
Another problem is that some of the characters aren’t fleshed out as well as they could
have been. Minko in particular never manages to have more to her than being a
hardworking if grumpy girl with a crush on an older guy. Yuina is another
character whose potential feels unfulfilled seeing as she goes from interesting
foil to the hardworking Ohana to (mostly) comic relief. Though she’s one of the
series’ better characters when it comes to delivering humor, the absolute low
point being the perverted writer Taro Jiromaru whose antics in the 3rd
episode are too repulsive to be funny. The fact that his screentime is very
limited suggests that the creators may have been aware of this.
Visually, the series is stellar. It features some gorgeous artwork and animation. The
amount of detail with which all the locations are rendered is truly impressive,
so much that every location really has its own feel to it which is all the more
impressive considering the realism of the setting. If you look real hard you
can find a few off-model drawings and budget-saving still frames but the fact
that one has to look for them speaks volumes for how fantastic the visuals are.
The audio is competent. I can’t personally judge the acting seeing as I don’t understand
Japanese but some bloggers have praised the performances of some of the seiyu
in particular lead actress Kanae Itou as Ohana and Tamie Kubota’s performance
as Sui Shijima. Other supporting characters are voiced by reliable veterans
like Junichi Suwabe and Mamiko Noto who are always pleasant on the ears. Haruka
Tomatsu’s Yuina wasn’t received so enthusiastically, seeing as more than a few
people found her voice to be very annoying.
Ultimately,however, Hanasaku Iroha’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. When the
series finds its groove it manages to explore its themes through wonderful
characters who are endearing in all their imperfections. It’s not a fluffy
comedy about cute girls doing cute things nor does it bombard the viewer with
melodrama. Instead, it’s a wondefully tender story about giving it your all yet
rolling with the punches when you’ve got no other choice. Very highly
This review contains NO spoilers!
Picked this show up about 16 episodes through the season. Marathoned those, then watched the rest as it came out.
Hanasaku Iroha looks very pretty. Scenery looks terrific and is very detailed. The female characters are drawn very strangely, which is my main issue with this anime's animation.
The OP and ED are decent. Barely any music plays during the show, which isn't all too bad to be honest. I don't remember much really standing out. Some ambient noises would've been nice.
Kanae Itou does a great job of playing Ohana and still remains one of my very favorite voice actors. The rest of the cast is also pretty good. Everyone plays a belivable role except for whoever voiced Yuina; although, that may be a character issue more than anything else.
Ohana is cute. Cute enough to be singled out. She gives a great blend of humor and emotional issues. The rest of the cast is also quite decent. Each character has plenty of time to shine. Nako is one of the better characters. I don't think she was given a role as large as she should have; instead, Minchi got the #2 spotlight and was pretty damn annoying. If I may say so, "All tsun and no dere." Yuina was also an irritating character. The other characters will keep you mildly entertained, mainly Jiromaru; who, yet again didn't get as much screen-time as I would've liked. Ko is a horrible love interest and has almost no character at all. Ohana's mother and grandmother are stark contrasts of each other and this adds a good combination to Hanasaku Iroha.
The romance in this show is horrible; it began as a sub-plot, but developed into the main component of the story. It seemed to have trouble fitting in with the overall feel of the show. Ohana just randomly realized she loved Ko out of thin air, pretty ridiculously. This show really doesn't have a noteable story. It isn't going to be redefining any genres. I personally don't think I could've survived marathoning the show to the very end. There were no emotional moments between the grandmother and Ohana, which I was expecting until the very end. The last episode left me with dissapointment.
Hanasaku Iroha is greater than the sum of its parts. It has a worthless plot, but episode to episode it's still alright. Ohana is cute enough that you'll manage through it. It's by no means a bad anime, but it isn't anything special either. I recommend it for casual viewers.
The Fall 2011 season shall begin soon! Fate/Zero, Persona 4, Bakuman 2, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (someone needs to give this show a nickname), etc! Who else is excited?
The story of Hanasaku Iroha is almost ridiculously simple. A young girl named Ohana, thanks to the irresponsible behavior of her mother, is sent to an inn out in the country to spend her days. This inn is run by Ohana’s grandmother. But she isn’t a cozy grandma who’s going to spoil Ohana. She’s all business, all work, almost cold; and her coworkers are all rather ambivalent about Ohana, too. And although it does feel rather depressing at first, the beauty of this show (and of Ohana) is that, rather than get overwhelmed and feel miserable about her situation, she tries her best to make this place her own. She tries to take a situation that seems bad, and not so much find the positive, but rather tries to find a way to grow from it. The series is then about her growth as a person, the way in which she learns to find meaning in the work she does, the way in which she learns that she’s not the center of everything happens; it’s one of the finest portraits of a young woman I’ve ever seen in any visual media.
There’s a great line near the end of the series that handily summarizes a lot of what I thought was going on in this series: “what you gain from hard work can never betray you.” Time and time again the characters in the series strive to become better at their jobs. Whether it’s Ohana’s struggles to find her own routine and her own place, or Minchi’s struggles to learn the trade of being a chef or, hell, Ohana’s uncle struggle to become good enough to one day become the true successor to the inn – the characters in this series define themselves by how they do their job. Their job performance seems interconnected with their personal growth, but it’s also connected with their character – if I’m not working my hardest, what kind of person am I?
There’s a telling episode about halfway in the show’s run where the main trio of girls visit another inn for a school trip. The inn apparently has a new automated system for taking plates up and down the floors; this saves time and it does away with having full-time waitresses so the inn has some part-timers to do the work. Ohana is at first impressed with the work that everyone’s doing, but then she sees some of the waitresses talking on their phone while still at work, and of course they’re typical “high school” girls who have an attitude. Later on, these girls walk off the job because they say it’s too hard and you have to remember too many things. These girls, because of their unserious attitude toward their job, are painted as bratty monsters (later on we see them all wearing makeup and making fun of the inn of where they worked at). In Hanasaku Iroha, if you’re not trying to do your best, then that reflects badly on your character. In one of the funniest scenes in the show, Ohana more or less attacks them. Ohana only has patience for people who are trying their best, every character in Hanasaku Iroha is giving it their all.
This series reminded me of one of the most overlooked movies of the past few years, Margaret. One of the most important lines of dialogue in that film is: “We are not supporting characters in the fascinating story of your life!” During the first few episodes, Ohana is only concerned about what is happening to her. She sees the situation she’s in as hers alone, and she kinda steps on a few toes around the inn as she struggles to acclimate herself to this new place. She even gets called out as “inconsiderate,” at one point. One of key themes in the show is realizing that everyone around has their reasons (as in Renoir), their own beliefs, their own dreams. The great realization later on in the show where she learns to actually place herself in someone else’s shoes (first with her mom and then later on with her grandma) is so fantastic. She’s such a strong-willed girl that for her to give in and rescind her original feelings is marvelous.
I can’t write about this show without also mentioning how much it understands how impernance of life. The show spans roughly 6 or 7 months. In this period of time, all the characters grow and are shaded with depth and are fully realized. But the reason why the time we’ve spent with these characters is special is because it’s something that’s untenable. People are destined to move away from you, your group of friends won’t always be there in the same exact configuration that you’re used to; things will always end. What Hanasaku Iroha understands most of all is that things are meant to change; it can be a positive change, it can be a negative change, whichever. Late in the show’s run, Ohana’s grandmother makes a decision that disrupts the natural order of what we’ve been watching for the last 20 or so episodes. She forces a change in these characters’ lives. Now, we may want these characters to remain the same way, like in Ranma ½, and never deviate, always acting out the same patterns of behavior, but that betrays a misunderstanding of how life actually works. We’re all working toward our own goals, and sooner or later, we might have to go our separate ways. The places that meant so much to us might become a memory, an important one, sure, but something that was not meant to last. Hanasaku Iroha feels like that. It’s a series that reminds me how much pain and how much laughter are required before you can truly grow.
copied/pasted from my tumblr: cruyffbedroom.tumblr.com
"Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter"
There's an age old belief that certain traits are passed down from parents to children, and like most ancient convictions, there's an element of truth to this one. It's a well known fact that much of a person's future behaviour is learned during their formative years, and while it's true that children will instinctively copy the mannerisms and behaviours of the role models closest to them (which in most cases means their parents), even trained professionals and researchers can't fully explain the "inheritance" of less tangible traits like stubbornness, temper, perspicacity, etc.
But what does all that have to do with a show about a girl who goes off to work at a hotsprings inn? Well, not enough to be honest, and that's biggest problem.
Hanasaku Iroha (The ABC's of Blooming), is an original anime from P.A. Works that tells the story of Matsumae Ohana, a 16 highschool student who, due to a variety of circumstances regarding her mother, is forced to move away from Tokyo to live with her estranged maternal grandmother, Shijima Sui, at the hotsprings inn that she owns. Knowing that she has no choice in the matter Ohana tries to make the best of her situation, and at the request of her grandmother she begins working at Kissui Inn.
It all sounds like a fairly straightforward set up for some teenaged melodrama, and for the most part that's what viewers will get. The plot is functional, but the anime can often have difficulty getting to the point or sticking to the storyline, and there's little in the way of originality where the narrative is concerned. In addition to this there appears to be no real direction or cohesiveness with the progression of the series, and these factors may cause viewers to wonder when the story will offer up some actual development.
That said, there's a surprisingly interesting subtextual thread that runs through the plot (which we'll cover in a bit), but because of the numerous issues with the main storyline it's often overlooked. The sad part is that Hanasaku Iroha would have had a much, much better storyline if Okada Mari had simply removed certain events from the screenplay and tightened up the narrative.
Thankfully, some thought seems to have gone into the visuals.
P.A. Works deserve some applause for the effort they've made in producing Hanasaku Iroha as it's easily one of the better looking anime of 2011. The artwork tends towards realism rather than the cartoonish offerings of several titles I could mention, and while this allows for some rather picturesque backgrounds and settings, there are numerous occasions where the usage of various lighting effects create some truly stunning imagery. The animation is fluid, and unlike many other shows of this type, there's a surprising range of movement for both people and animals.
The characters are an interesting mix of styles and shapes that can sometimes appear a little plain, but in actuality there's a method to their design that may not be obvious at first glance. The thing to bear in mind is that the story takes place at a working hotsprings inn, and because of that Sekiguchi Kanami has tried to create a contrast with the picturesque surroundings.
One of the notable aspects of Hanasaku Iroha is the background music, or rather, the lack of it. There's a nice variety of styles on offer ranging from pastoral pieces (which in some cases sound a bit like elevator music), to upbeat little ditties, but it's the lack of musical accompaniment in many scenes that fits very well with the often quiet tone of the series.
Which is why the number of tracks used for the opening and ending themes seem ... a little too much.
Like many 26 episode anime, Hanasaku Iroha features two main opening and ending songs that change over at the midway point of the series. The show begins with a surprisingly well put together sequence that introduces the more prominent characters, but the track used for this, "Hana no Iro" by Nano Ripe, is a fairly bland piece that only works because of some good audio/visual choreography. In contrast to this closing sequence is a simple montage of Ohana and her three friends that has been set to "Hazy" by Sphere. From episode fourteen the opening track changes to "Omokage Warp" by Nano Ripe (again), which is a far more upbeat song than the previous one, and while the animated sequence is different to that of the first OP, the quality and content are pretty similar. The closing song, "Hanasaku Iroha" by Clammbon, is a feelgood ballad set to an animated image of Ohana and her friends, but unlike the other sequences it doesn't seem like much effort has been put into this one.
There are also two more ending themes, "Tsukikage to Buranko" (episode 6), and "Yumeji" (episode 8), once again performed by Nano Ripe, but there doesn't actually seem to be any real reason for their inclusion so one has to wonder why they were used in the first place.
Given the fact that this is a highschool drama, one might expect a degree of overemphasis when it comes to the acting, but there's surprisingly little of this in the dialogue. The script is well balanced between each of the roles, and while there are occasions where the seiyuu "fest it up", in general the voice actors deliver some very good performances. In addition to this there's a surprising, yet clear demarcation between the adult and teenage roles that is apparent not just in the manner of speech, but also in the language used.
One of the problems with the lack of direction and cohesiveness in the storyline is that it has a direct impact on the prominent characters, and this is the main reason why some viewers consider Ohana to be a very lacklustre lead role. Unfortunately, there's little in the dialogue that can actually raise her above average, and while there are clear efforts made to develop her character, these can often seem contrived or unnecessary.
That said, it's the supporting characters who really steal the show.
From Ohana's mother, Matsumae Satsuki, to Kawajiri Takako, the business consultant for Kissui Inn, the adult roles are defined from the start of the series, and this makes a nice contrast to the somewhat vague characterisation of Minko, Nako and Yuina (Ohana's friends). The series also makes the effort to further develop several of the supporting roles, and because of this the subtextual thread in the plot comes to light.
On the surface Hanasaku Iroha is nothing more than another teenaged melodrama, but underneath it's also a story about family and role models, and that aspect of the series is far more intriguing than much of the exisitng plot. The relationship between Sui, Satsuki and Enishi forms the cornerstone of everything that happens at Kissui Inn, and unlike many other anime out there the series handles the dynamics of this in a very realistic manner. Thanks to the efforts made to highlight how each person affects the other two, several minor but key clarifications of the storyline become apparent, the most notable being the reasons for the estrangement between Satsuki and her mother, Enishi's desperate attempts to win his mother's approval and finally step out of the shadow of his sister, and Ohana's festival wish at the end of the series.
Hanasaku Iroha isn't as good as it could have been, but that doesn't make it bad. If one is able to tolerate the tangents in the storyline then it really is a pretty decent show at its core, and it's a fairly good depiction of working life in a hotel. That said, at 26 episodes this series really is far too long, and it can often feel like certain events or situations were added only to fill the required number of episodes. Unfortunately the detrimental effect this has on the character interactions may lead to some viewers giving up on the show entirely,
The sad part is that if the series had been trimmed down and the subtextual plot given more prominence, this could easily have been a contender for the best anime of 2011, but as it is right now it's nothing more than another show that joins the ranks of "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda".