Secret Santa Review
Where Hanasaku Iroha is not wholly predictable and formulaic, it is because it is abandoning common sense and its own internal logic. Where characters might have personalities, Hanasaku Iroha has largely substituted singular traits. Where other shows have characters, Hanasaku Iroha has props. Where other shows establish worlds, Hanasaku Iroha merely has disconnected scenes. But the animation’s not bad, so score one for P.A. Works, right?
Attempting to follow developments in Hanasaku Iroha is a fool’s errand. Not simply because those developments are not interesting, but because they are too often nonsensical. When a character well established as calm, collected, experienced and savvy makes an obvious blunder without explanation a bit over halfway into the series, it does not come across as natural, but merely as something the plot necessitated. Characters do not act as would come natural to them, but merely as they must.
Consider the following: The show has established that our lead, Ohana, is considered attractive. She is also the exciting new transfer student from glamorous Tokyo. It would seem likely she would be flirted with, as other girls in her class are. But this never happens in the series. That is because Ohana has already been romantically linked to a character, so they virtually cease any other consideration of romance for her. Two other characters are constantly flirted with because that is their role. Characters are only what they need to be, and anything extra that might make them feel human is discarded.
Among those discards is an actual personality. Ohana is stuffed to the brim with nauseating levels of genki. She has one approach to every situation, and it always works. Simply applying boundless optimism and determination does not work in reality, but that is not a lesson to be learned in this cliched bildungsroman. There is Ohana’s mother, whose personality seems to take on multiple conflicting forms as necessary. Flighty, undependable mother? Sure. Suddenly reliable mother? Why not! Back to narcissistic jerk? All in a day’s work. It is almost impossible to determine how she will react in a given situation because she is so inconsistent. When plot drives characters and not the other way around, there is a serious problem. Throw in a token tsundere, a shy girl with a small, genki core, the role model and a few other forgettables, and you’ve got Hanasaku Iroha’s basic cast.
Speaking of forgettable, there’s the case of Yuina and the Fukuya Inn. Positioned early on as a large competitor to the Kissuisou, the inn the majority of the show takes place in, it is quickly cast aside except for when it needs to be used momentarily for a plot point. Its only real purpose is to introduce Yuina, who contributes somewhere between diddly and squat to the show. She is simply there to be there. Additionally, Ohana’s romantic subplot introduced in the first episode suffers from such laconic development and such a milquetoast male interest, that the resolution to it lacks all impact because the viewer is sure to lack interest. Being so sporadic and inconsequential, any of these minor attempts at development simply feel like a distraction from the actual show.
Disappointing is the complete lack of true adversity. Characters do not need to face countless setbacks, but when everything is sure to turn out fine, it cheapens any potential hardship. For a show about personal growth, characters should face mistakes to learn from. Instead they merely face trials they are already equipped to handle. Perhaps this is why the characters change so little throughout the series.
Rushed and incongruous developments lead to a world that feels forced and unnatural and is populated by barely formed shells, all taking place on stages barely connected to each other thematically or logically. It is best to simply give up on it rather than chase after what just is not there. Drops of awkward sexual fanservice only weaken the show even further.
Seiyuu range from decent on the end of the inn’s manager, to slightly irritating on the end of Minko. There is sometimes a paucity of actual acting from the voice actors, with lines that should have more impact delivered in a bored monotone. The background music offers nothing that would be listened to independent of the show, but works to compliment scenes appropriately.
Animation in Hanasaku Iroha is good, not great, when they put the effort in. A noticeable number of shortcuts are taken to reduce actual animation. Characters are shot from the back of the head during some conversations, or engage in little movement, or backgrounds are left a bit simplistic. These often occur in tandem, making them all the more noticeable. Yet when the studio is not cutting corners, as is more often, pleasant background art accompanies competent animation. For a television anime, this is somewhat above the average. Little touches help a great deal. For example, a character has a bit of tissue stuffed up her nose fall out as a visual exclamation of shock. These are not strictly necessary, but are appreciated because they add more vibrancy to the show. The character designs are a little common, but are also sensible, appreciably distinct from each other and represent an overall solid job.
Hanasaku Iroha is a show you can only make if you have no conception of how to develop plots, characters or worlds. Characters should have consistent personalities and worlds should be built by bringing in elements outside of just those which advance the plot. Characters that only serve to push the plot forward at points should not receive excessive focus. All characters should ideally be too complex to boil down to an adjective or two, but at the very least the main characters must be in a show like this. Numerous divorced plot strata should not be clumsily brought in to disrupt an already weak main plotline. A plot element introduced must receive only cursory focus, or must otherwise receive sufficient development. Ohana’s romantic subplot and her high school life are both made too relevant to receive so little focus.
For all its faults, Hanasaku Iroha barely earns a 3/10 on the strength of its animation and sound alone. Notably below average, Hanasaku Iroha is not recommended even for fans of the genre. A botched tale, Hanasaku Iroha is two cour of frustrations. The only honest advice is to pass over this one.
(Overall score is not meant to represent an arithmetic mean.)