A new academic year at Yamabuki High has arrived with changes: Yuno and Miyako are now Juniors, Sae and Hiro have become seniors, and two new freshmen are moving into the Hidamari Apartments! Excited at the prospect of fresh faces in the residences, Yuno and the gang decide to give the two girls, Nori and Nazuna, the warmest welcome that they can. Now as Miyako and Yuno try to decide what electives they wish to take and everyone trying to get to know the new neighbors, the Hidamari Apartments have never been so busy.
Story4-koma adapatations are probably among my favorite anime. Their predictable pacing relaxes me, and the humor can range from raunchy (Doujin Work) to deliberately strange (Azumanga Daioh). Of these, ones set in high school seem to pop up again and again, threatening to make the genre grow stale. And then, there's Hidamari Sketch. SHAFT's work stands from the crowd out by marrying simple characters, spectacular sound direction, and off-the-wall visuals to offer a unique spin on the life of an art student. Unlike many 4-koma adaptations, which strive to create a coherent narrative out of the one-off gag strips, all Hidamari Sketch series (and by extension, x Hoshimittsu) focus more on creating an atmosphere and de-emphasizing story in order to let the jokes shine. Here, the vignettes double back on themselves, using visual cues like growing tomato plants and seasonal changes to orient the viewer. The third season season, known as Hidamari Sketch x Hoshitmittsu, follows Yuno and Miyako into their second year at Yamabuki Art School. As sophomores, the girls spend the year bouncing between enjoying their familiarity with life at the school and worrying about their futures. Yunocchi’s loss of innocence and looming end of adolescence provides a central theme, and the show adds a pair of incoming freshmen to both underline this point and spice up the cast interactions a touch. These new girls help prevent the more adult concerns from swallowing the lightheared tone and content of the series, which gets a boost from the show's refusal to progress in a straightfoward fashion towards the year’s closing ceremonies.AnimationIn a fast-paced 4-koma environment riddled with opportunities to call up strange images and try insane styles, the jump cuts and odd angles of Akiyuki Shinbo's trademark style fit perfectly. This is where he belongs, and it shows. Hidamari Sketch x Hoshimittsu benefits also from excellent movement to augment its more melodramatic gags (see: any time Yoshinoya is on screen), which show the kind of chops that made Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei such a treat to watch. Here, however, the zany visuals remain limited by the choice to keep the overall detail close to the source work. Ume Aoki’s (yes, she did something before Madoka) adorable character designs make the girls pleasant to look at, but their penchant for reduction to their most elementary shapes makes even Kiyohiko Azuma's designs look elaborate on occasion.SoundIn contrast to the show's off-the-wall animation, Hidamari Sketch x Hoshimittsu has some of the best, most present, and most solid sound direction in any TV series. Every event large or small comes with its own, carefully-chosen effect or pleasant strain of music, making it possible to follow the action without even opening your eyes. Hidamari’s door-opening sound, for example, might be the single best byte in all of anime history, and its distinctiveness creates an inventive pause in scenes in which it features. Other repeated activities have similar aural cues ranging from the delightful squeak of Yoshinoya-sensei’s footsteps to the curl of music that accompanies the countdown that starts most episodes. By focusing on the familiar and the mundane, the show highlights the outlandish moments that form its punchlines. More on Miyako as a character in a moment, but Kaori Mizuhashi’s performance hits all the right notes, which goes a long way towards setting the mood for the show. Given the rest of the cast’s reserved natures, it falls to her to inject energy into most scenes and she deserves serious admiration for accomplishing it without becoming grating or annoying. Aside from her, the two gems of the cast come from outside of the main circle. The shaking headmaster's mumble perfectly matches his inherent awkwardness while also rising into a forceful register when he scolds or admonishes. Meanwhile, Miyu Matsuki brings a level of insane zest to Yoshinoya that communicates the teacher's flighty personality perfectly even when her character appears in still frames. With her emotions turned up to eleven by this gutsy turn, she comes across as some kind of platonic representation of that crazy art teacher at your high school.CharactersViewers should wonder whether Miyako is just a good boke or simply the BEST boke. Like Yui, she never backs down from food or adventure. Like Osaka, her mind takes her strange places. Like Run she displays pathological innocence. But unlike these girls Miyako has the skill and well-hidden sophistication to make her into a whole person. The art-school setting gives us a chance to see her creativity come to life in a way that demonstrates both her uniqueness and the depth of her perception (Miyako is probably the strongest artist in the main cast) and it lends a sense of intent to each of her daily actions. She walks into punchlines and sets up jokes because she wants to be a fun person, not because she’s clueless or silly and, as a result, she lights up all the ensemble interactions. The rest of the cast, however, is merely completely adorable verging on uninteresting by themselves. Yuno’s reticence and optimism put her at odds with the more cynical and mature Sae and Hiro, but her frequent self-examination and pleasant mix of artistic ability and klutz resemble more of what high school felt like. In the previous seasons, Yunocchi’s doubting nature made her a refreshing complement to the rest of the cast, but x Hoshimitsu’s addition of Nazuna spoils this a little. A straight comparison would have worked had the show spent more time using the freshman as a way to showcase Yuno’s growth, but the blonde wallflower doesn’t help her senpai show any new parts of her personality and the result is that it all comes off as more of the same.OverallHidamari Sketch offers a kind of counter-narrative to the genre’s flagships like K-On! and Azumanga Daioh and in many ways serves as a kind of spiritual parent to works like Nichijou, which unbind themselves from more generically linear stories. On some level, this series and its prequels are worth watching if only for their stunning sound direction, but when combined with Miyako’s lovely boke and the unique visuals, this series represents the last in a line of treats for the slice-of-life fan.
I seriously never really considered the fact that this latest season of the Hidamari Sketch franchise could be any better that the second season, Hidamari Sketch X 365. Nevertheless, that's exactly what happened. Overall it's still the same good ole slice-of-life show with cute characters dealing with issues of their daily lifes, buying a new set of curtains, a trip to the hairdresser, losing your house key because you flushed it down the toilet (yeah really), X Hoshimittsu deals with various simple topics such as those with both style and substance. It could certainly sound terribly boring to anyone who isn't used to the genre, but if you enjoyed the prequels, you'll notice that they improved every single aspect of the show to make this third season much better than the first two. Two new main characters make their appearance, and they fit quite nicely with the usual bunch. Nazuna, the quiet/insecure one, and Nazuna, the IT addict, are definitely unique and make for perfect juniors for Yuno and Miyako. Fans of the scandily-clad Yoshinoya-sensei will be glad to hear that she seems to have more screen time this time around. As a bonus, we even get a 2-years-in-the-past flashback for half an episode where we get to meet Hiro and Sae's sempais, Riri and Misato.Both the animation and the music are here better than they ever were, but the very best things about this series are the OP and ED:IMO, they're simply amazing and fit the show perfectly. At first, I wasn't too sure about the ED, I thought the song might have been a little too pop-rock'ish for the show, but when I saw the final animation for it I was sold instantly (at 1m30s of the video above). I can assure you that you will see those two songs on my lists for Best OP and Best ED for the 2010 A-P Awards. ;)So basically, if you enjoyed the first season even just a little, give this new series a shot and you will be surprised by its quality.
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