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Uriel1988

  • Oldenzaal, The Netherlands
  • Joined Apr 9, 2008
  • 26 / M

Hana-Saku Iroha

Sep 25, 2011

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,
non-patronizing manner.

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
magic.

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
strengths.

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
low point.

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
recommended.



 

8/10 story
9/10 animation
7/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall

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StrayCat says...

Hana Iro excels at slow development. It takes such an enjoyably mellow approach to the coming-of-age story and plays a surprisingly small number of cliches straight.

I don't see how anyone can think of Yuina's voice as anything other than form-fitting but neat review. I agree with most of your sentiments, although I reckon that most characters were realised pretty well. Other than Jiroumaru and maybe Kou, whom I took as more of a medium through which Ohana could sort out her feelings towards Tokyo and 'blandness' itself, they developed quite a bit. For example, Minko's slowly but traceably becomes more likable and also more in-touch with her own feelings. Her relationship with Tohru wasn't given full resolution but that was kind of beside the point, because romantic success or achieving your dream isn't necessarily symptomatic of maturation.

Sep 26, 2011