With each of the five big carryover shows from the spring season either ending or have ended already, I feel it’s time to take a look back at the three that I could blog and do a nice, somewhat succinct review, since my writing still isn’t back up to par yet. However, with Nichijou being a slice of life comedy and thus impossible for me to sum up with anything other than “It had its moments, but the charm far outweighed the comedy factor” and me being more than a week late for a timely Tiger & Bunny review (Will get to at some point though), I’m stuck reviewing Hanasaku Iroha. Make no mistake though, it’s not as much of a chore as I’m making it out to be.
Hanasaku Iroha is a quintessential coming of age story that follows Ohana Matsumae, a self-centered girl sent to live with her grandmother after her ne’er-do-well mother skips town with a man she hardly knows. Ohana heads off with lofty goals of living life like a storybook, a jaunty tune in her heart, and has the reality of staying at an inn crash down on her as soon as her stern grandmother tells her that she’s there as an employee.
The first two episodes establish the setting, and have every character hurling verbal abuse at Ohana like she murdered a truck full of puppies after robbing the terminal disease ward of her local hospital. However, as time goes on, she adjusts to the rigors of daily waitress life, and has every single character warm up to her and her surprisingly grating attitude.
Hanasaku Iroha is one of those shows that’s good, but has more than enough bad to touch on and bring to light. So it’s not a painful watch, and it’s relatively easy to review from both ends of the spectrum, it’s good fun to write about. Since the negative points are few, but important, I’m going to get the less important good points out of the way to maintain some sense of cohesion.
The first thing anybody will notice about this series is how crisp, smooth, yet natural the animation is. I don’t usually call much attention to animation, but this is seriously one gorgeous show throughout. The settings are vibrant and lively without feeling stilted and artificial, I haven’t seen a single character decay into a deformed blob for the sake of comedy (Except Ohana pouting, but even that had a sort of care about it), and nothing jarred me out of the experience. Of particular mention is the occasional shot of the Kissuiso at dawn or dusk that’s really some of the best use of a color pallet that I’ve seen. Even if the story was complete shit, the characters unlikable and all voiced by Chewbacca, I would still say this was worth a mention on animation/design alone.
Alas, an anime series can’t be propped up by animation alone. There has to be meat underneath the shiny veneer, substance that can really sucker the audience in. While HanaIro isn’t godly in terms of story or character development, it’s more than competent enough to make for an entertaining watch… at least in the second half.
While the first two episodes were marvelous at establishing all the various conflicts at the Kissuiso, it stopped to a grinding halt at Episode 3 onward for the sake of half-baked character subplots. Up until around Episode 11, when Ohana takes a trip back to Tokyo to kidnap her mother and bring her to the inn, the episodes just seemed like an excuse to introduce characters while not showing exactly where they fit into the plot. But then at around the halfway point, a miracle happened, which coincided with Ohana’s mother’s return from Plot Absence Hell—Hanasaku Iroha was good again. For the last half, it went strong until a surprisingly satisfying ending that did its best to wrap things up while not ending things on a definite note.
The characters are, for the most part, fairly well rounded. There are a few who don’t add much of anything, but most contribute to the plot in a significant fashion, and often end up likable despite their hang-ups. Satsuki the mother and Sui, the grandmother, are still the best of the bunch, interacting with calm vitriol that’s difficult to not enjoy watching. Satsuki in particular develops with oddly noticeable subtlety, going from a free spirit who often neglected her daughter for the sake of her dreams, to a slightly less free spirit trying to live peacefully with her resentful daughter. While not many other characters get that level of development, kind of sad considering that Satsuki only had a few episodes of screen time, they’re nothing to decry.
However, one character has been constantly screwed out of anything meaningful, to the point that her existence has become that of an unnecessary counterbalance to the almost whimsical, yet callous Ohana. Minko is a shrill, unlikable, easily irritable bint with a noticeable hard-on for one of the main male characters… that for some reason causes her to shout at Ohana at every given opportunity. While it’s easy to pick up on the jealousy, it’s still a shame to have Minko go from a decent cook with no people skills to a slightly better cook with somehow even worse people skills. There wasn’t an episode where I didn’t want her to be taken out of the show altogether for being a living, breathing irritation.
One last complaint that I have is levied at Ohana’s half-assed relationship with her unknowing main squeeze back home, Ko. The two can just never seem to resolve their feelings for each other, and nothing comes of it at all. It’s a not so small complaint that could’ve been easily solved with a little more emphasis on meaningful interaction instead of having Ohana faffing about in Ko’s presence.
What Hanasaku Iroha succeeds best at is developing a sense of a familial, small inn, always bustling with life. You get a sense that the world could continue on without Ohana in it, but it feels that much richer for having her around. The Kissuiso is a quaint, warm location that sees its fair share of strife along the course of the series. This is what keeps it interesting, as long as it doesn’t descend into the repetitious routine of Minko yelling at Ohana for existing. Which, again, results in Ohana making a face like…
As can be gleaned from this, HanaIro isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s riddled with flaws that would keep it from being fantastic, even compared to the throngs of less able anime airing at this time. It’s a gorgeously animated, gorgeously fleshed out feel-good story that has competence enough to engage the audience in small doses. While it isn’t the best show of the year by any means (Though I’m tempted to nominate Satsuki as one of the best characters), I recommend it for anybody searching for something somewhat different and surprisingly entertaining.