Good to be back home in New York. Our tap water really is the best. I got back on Monday actually. I didn’t realise Penguin Drum wasn’t airing today. Next episode airs on 08/18. Why they air anime so late at night is still a mystery to me. I shouldn’t complain, since it’s early afternoon here when it’s late night anime time there.
Moving right along though, Hanasaku Iroha is great. I take back everything I may have said about not caring for the premise. After seeing the first episode or two there were a couple of things that put me off, constituting big hurdles to enjoyment of the show, but once the show overcame them, its brilliance became clear to me. I couldn’t get past what I saw to be a half-hearted setup where Ohana ends up at Kissui Inn because of her irresponsible mother running away from her debts. That seemed unrealistic to me. The first episode confession event and Ohana’s subsequent minimal reluctance to leave Ko behind were also a hard pill to swallow. I also hated her grandmother so much that I didn’t think I could stomach watching more of the show. All of these roadblocks to enjoyment of the show were intentionally set up, almost as straw men, although I don’t like to use a term with such a negative connotation, just so that the show could proceed to obliterate them in its characteristc growing pains style and claim the mushy remnants of the viewer’s heart as its well-earned battle trophy.
Nonetheless, I did continue watching it. It’s rare that characters are developed so subtly and skillfully that I can hate someone at first as much as I hated Okami-san and, by now, grow to love her just as much as I loved Yuina from the start.
Say what you will about Ano Hana — it was fantastic and made me weep some high value tears — but I may have to revise my previous assertion that it was the best of last season. Hanasaku Iroha has more episodes to work with and not only can afford to take a more subtle pace, but it benefits from it by allowing the intricate, analytical explorations of each character that are its great strength. All of the characters are so likeable and earnest, even Takako. Ohana though is, of course, impossible to hate, even more so as a little girl.
Her isshokenmei work ethic and spunkiness are, perhaps at times, overwhelming, but that’s all right, since not overdoing things is, itself, just one of the many lessons she is learning on her journey. That said, Ohana isn’t even my favourite character. She’s nice in a slightly typified take-on-all-comers genki na shoujo type of a way and there’s nothing wrong with that. To me though, she’s a lot less interesting than Minko and Yuina. Despite not getting most of her accents, it’s that quirk of hers and her ambivalence about her future that make Yuina the most likeable character for me, I think. I loved the episode in which the class had a filed trip to the ryokan in which her would-be-boyfriend Yosuke works and, in the end, she helps him clean the bath, proving herself to be capable of working only to later reveal to him that, though she doesn’t know precisely what she wants to do in the future, it should be something she enjoys, rather than working in the ryokan. Ah~ they’re growing up!
Minko, meanwhile, is probably the most interesting. If Tooru were the protagonist we’d call her a tsundere and character development would stop there. But that’s not the focus of the story, so her personality is allowed to be unraveled in a way that’s not constrained by the typical character archetypes of harem shows with male protagonists. She has a number of really nice facial expressions. Of course, the fact that she’s played by Chiaki Omigawa doens’t hurt either.
Finally, Nako might be my least favourite character. This isn’t because there’s anything particularly disagreeable about her; it’s merely that I find her the least interesting. I still enjoyed the episode about her wanting to change her outward personality to more closely resemble her inner self that she displays at home, but I still think she’s somewhat more limited in the depth of development we’ve seen with her. She’s a pretty standard character type: the shy, nurturing (she cares for her siblings), large chested, introverted, poor with men, self-conscious, soft-spoken beauty. There’s nothing really wrong with hers being a conventional character type; it’s a staple precisely because it makes for a likable character with good potential for popularity. Saying that she’s the last on my list of characters isn’t really a bad thing since I love all four of them; it’s just that I think I’m least enthralled by her story. I think that, if not Ohana, either Yuina or Minko are captivating enough to be the protagonist, whereas with Nako, I don’t think she would be enough to keep me watching if she were the protagonist. She’s extremely likable as the supportive friend though.
Other than the simply excellent storytelling and character development in this show, something in particular that I think stands out are the dreamy sequences. For example, in episode 10, the scenes in which Ohana was sick in bed with fever and kept having all sorts of crazy delusions were far out. It reminded me a bit of El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer, my favourite episode of The Simpsons, except her visions actually made some sense, pertaining to work, Ko, and Jiromaru’s story.
The metaphor used in episode 18 of the sea and land was cute but very effective and unmistakably Nakoppoi, with the sea representing Nako’s home life and inner face, while the land represeents her outer face that she displays in society and at work. The sequences where she was a mermaid and all the other characters were friendly little sea creatures (even Mame-jii!) except for Okami-san who was somehow still smoking, despite the serious impediment of being underwater were quite fun, yet still meaningful.
Ohana’s imaginings are really interesting and dreamlike too, such as in episode 19 when, in preparation for the cultural festival, she pictures Ko in waitress garb.
There’s just the right amount of comedy in this show to prevent me from falling into despair, as I’m prone to do at the slightest provocation. Tomoe is a source of much of the lightheartedness that this show props itself up on, as are Jiromaru and his literary creations, but I think the funniest moments come from Takako.
Her silliness is enough to lighten the mood when it’s necessary, but never crosses into the territory of slapstick or anything that will completely distract the viewer from the heavier themes of a given episode.
I think you could call this show “heartful” and not sound like an idiot.
I really regret being quick to judge this show when it started airing. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself back then and drop the show. I would have missed out on, though it sounds ridiculously clichéd to say this, a moving story of the adolescence of four young girls and their, uhm, trials and tribulations as they learn to live and love. Ah, well, I suppose that’s why I always dodge the question when people ask me why I like things; I spout nonsense like that which makes it sound like the work in question is trash. Be that as it may, it’s a show overflowing with love and warmth and valuable lessons about growing up and the valuable moments in life.
Bwahhh~ I feel myself growing alongside them!
It’s one of those shows that I really feel like I should buy on Blu Ray to appease that guy in my head shouting about my abysmal internal morality imbalance I’ve racked up over the years from watching fansubs. I doubt he’ll win though. I’d spring for R1 BDs at R1 prices, not R2 though unless I could get ’em at R1 prices, which is unlikely. Or should I even use DVD region shorthand when talking about BDs? the price discrepancy still exists so I guess they’re still useful designations, despite USA and Japan both being region A.