My Easter weekend this year was in its entirety spent stripping waterproof wallpaper from the spare room. For those of you uninitiated with this particular pleasure, it is akin to removing the world's largest and most awkward price sticker from an abjectly disappointing present - in this case, masonry. Needles to say, my mental and physical exhaustion left me demanding nothing less than the most mindless entertainment available. This was one of the reasons I ended up watching Hanamaru Youchien. The other being the fact that anime-planet's own KiraRin continues to take much vindictive pleasure in abusing my generous participation in the forum's TACO club and forcing me to watch shows which she deems to be sufficiently loli-oriented.
Hanamaru Youchien's story revolves around a precocious young girl who makes inappropriate advances on her teacher. Sound familiar? Chances are it will if you've seen Kodomo no Jikan but, where the latter was bold and provocative, Hanamaru is lighthearted and short on substance. Of course, I expected nothing else. From the character designs alone, it's clear that Hanamaru has no higher ambition than to be a cute and comedic moefest. However, it is one which labours under the fantasy that there is nothing more to moe than having a handful of cute characters and expecting the rest to take care of itself. As you may have already inferred from the way I am writing, the rest does not take care of itself and the progeny of overly simple characters and an utter disregard for narrative is stillborn, noteworthy only for the adorable twinkle to its dead eyes. It is hard to judge the story of Hanamaru Youchien, because there is nothing worthy of being called such. The unorthodox love triangle between Anzu, Tsuchida and Yamamoto - which ostensibly comprises the core of the plot - never develops in any meaningful way, and the manner in which it concludes is disappointing and predictable in equal measures. All that remains after this is a series of clichéd misadventures, which rarely threaten to amuse, much less engage. In short, Hanamaru's story comes across as so simplistic and derivative, it could easily have been written in green crayon by one of its protagonists.
With all that said, the show IS thoroughly cute and even the most cold-hearted and embittered balls of hate amongst my readership would have difficulty in stifling a desire to hug any and all nearby objects upon the site of Hiiragi dressed as Panda-cat or Koume shedding a few tears. Such elements - through a necessity to compensate for the threadbareness of plot and humour more than anything else - make up the backbone of the anime. As such, Hanamaru will likely have plenty of appeal for the mindless moe crowd but, even then, there are many shows - such as Gakuen Alice or Card Captor Sakura - which are capable of providing you with your RDA of cuteness and more besides.
Visually, Hanamaru is clean, smooth, and anything else that is to be expected of a 2010 anime. It's never eye-catching in any way, though it does not need to be. The general art style suits the kindergarten setting very well, with bright colours and simple backgrounds being the order of the day. The character designs, however, leave much to be desired. For the most part, the protagonists' appearances are entirely forgettable and almost insultingly generic. Tsuchida, for example, seems to have gathered the most ordinary, unremarkable visual traits of every weak male lead in the history of anime, and rolled them into one 5 foot 9, glasses-wearing, black-haired lump of dullness. Yamamoto fares no better, with her long brown hair and sizable bosom making her the very paragon of visual vanilla.
The toddlers, thankfully, exhibit a little more imagination in their appearance. While they are entirely freakish in terms of proportions, I'd be lying if I said they weren't cute. In fact, they're damned cute, even if it is a cuteness tempered by a constant awareness that neither their necks nor their knees would survive in a standard-gravity environment. Suspension is this disbelief is nevertheless a small price to pay for such expertly chiselled huggability as is exuded by Anzu and co.
A cursory perusal of my previous reviews would be enough to make it clear that I am generally tolerant of bad music, and even enjoy it on occasion. Thus, the fact that I didn't much care for Hanamru's OP should be enough to condemn it in the eyes of all but the most ardent fans of tuneless moe pop. The decision to provide a different ED for each episode of Hanamaru fares no better. None of them are sufficiently well written to be enjoyable on a first listen, and they all roll into one confusing cacophony. Skippable. Slightly better is the musical score, which has a light-hearted ring to it, in-keeping with the anime's general theme. Rarely dramatic, and never over the top, the background music does its job with the minimum of fuss.
The anime's voicing is a mixed bag. Hinagiku's perfectly pitched eloquence is enough to create joygasms in my ears, whereas Anzu's overenthusiasm is simply and inescapably irritating. Nevertheless, when they find their lines reduced to clipped utterances and childlike noises, the seiyuu generally succeed in accentuating the cuteness of whatever is happening on screen.
Hanamaru's characters range from annoying to pleasant, but not one of them has enough depth to drown a gnat. Tsuchida's status as generic dorky male grants him an utter lack of charisma which conspires with Yamamoto's impossible obliviousness to destroy any interest in the main romance. The other teachers in the kindergarten are more lacking in personality still, and every scene featuring them feels like an utter waste of time.
Fortunately, there exists a small saving grace in the fact that the infants are far more interesting with better defined traits, allowing for mildly comedic interactions and the occasional spot of character humour. At times, some of them will come up with thoughts or engage in shenanigans which jarringly belie their age, but this sort of conceit is often necessary to keep a story moving or to set up a joke, so can be forgiven.
Hanamaru Youchien is cute. This is most likely evident from the screenshots, and I've no doubt that the previous sentence and various permutations thereof have populated my review. However, there's no escaping it, nor is there any better way to sum up precisely what Hanamaru does well and what it offers the viewer. Saddled with a lack of imagination and ambition, the series has no epic or even interesting story. No intrigue, no character development, no inspired stylistic flourishes, no great writing, no twists, no turns, no lessons learned, no thrills, no spills and certainly no kills. But if you can watch all 12 episodes without feeling any urge to reach through your monitor, pick up one of the kindergarten students and then swing them around in the air shouting "wheeeeeee!", then you're a far colder human being than I.
Tsuchida has just started working at the Hanamaru Kindergaten, and, as the first and only male teacher at the school, he’s particularly nervous. Unfortunately his first day doesn’t go quite as smoothly as planned as not only does Tsuchida turn up late, but then a small girl named Anzu claims that he hit on her in front of all the parents! Though he manages to initially clear up the misunderstanding, at the beginning of his second day, Anzu proclaims that she will be his bride and that her mother, Tsuchida’s senior in high school, is supporting them all the way! Now as Tsuchida attempts to become the best teacher he can be, he must also try and quell the rumors that he is dating Anzu, and maybe win the heart of the beautiful and kind, yet ultimately clueless, Yamamoto-sensei…
When it comes to anime, I tend to be a fan of comedy, shoujo, romance or anything else that will put a smile on my face. However, I'll review pretty much anything. Whether you like or dislike my reviews, I'm always glad to receive feedback, and I'm always happy to get into intelligent discussions.