So hey, let’s talk Hanasaku Iroha.
Hanasaku Iroha is a 26 episode s’life drama about a bunch of teenage girls with incredibly poor listening abilities working in an inn as waitresses while trying to overcome their crippling urge to yell at everything that they don’t immediately understand. Well, OK. This is a touch unfair. It’s only Ohana and Minko who do this, Minko doing the yelling of the angry variety while Ohana covers the obscenely unaware side of the yelling spectrum, but most of the show is focused on these two. The thing with Hanasaku Iroha is that, asides from the drama side of things, it’s hard to find any faults. The humour is surprisingly clever and never doubts your intelligence by pointing out the jokes for you. The animation is incredibly pretty. The characters are well rounded individuals who almost never fall into stereotype. It’s just it’s most interested in being a drama and that is precisely the area it fails at.
For now though, I feel like talking about the positive, specifically the one area I will throw myself to the floor in gratitude for: The humour. HanaIro isn’t primarily a comedy, so don’t go expecting to be struggling for breath through fits of giggles, but what jokes it does have, it never feels the need to have someone point them out for you. It recognises that you, the viewer, are an intelligent person (a rather dangerous assumption to make on behalf of the general population, it has to be said, but treat someone like they’re a doofus and they’ll start acting like one, self-fulfilling prophecies and all that) and recognise the humour behind Ohana constantly running away from the Heron when it blocks her path. We do not require a second character asking her why she ran away. We can see the Heron with it’s freaky little beady eyes and shockingly large wingspan and fully understand why Ohana has decided to take the alternate path to prevent confronting the beast.
Hanasaku Iroha assume you’re intelligent enough to notice this sort of stuff in other areas too, such as symbolism. Using our friend the Heron again, there is a scene in the final episode where Ohana is confronted by the Beast again but, instead of running away like she normally does, she marches on by it. It’s a symbol that she has finally gained up the courage to focus on her problems and not run around them like she usually does. Simple, but it does this without feeling the need to monologue why this scene is important. Also fanservice. It’s nice to have a series where I can ogle attractive female anime characters without insulting my intelligence by hovering the camera over their underwear in case we were too busy scratching our arses to notice (apart from this one lingering shot of a wet t-shirt in episode 3, but that episode was generally retarded so we can forget about that).
I also liked how there were little stories revolving around the minor characters in the show. Any personal conflicts that I enjoyed watching with characters tended to be any of the characters that weren’t teenage girls because they were the conflicts that were treated with a sense of humour about them (and didn’t yell all the fucking time). Some of them are incredibly simple, such as the head chef’s Ren and his desire to become more confident. Once they had established that he gets nervous very easily, it was a reoccurring joke that he would try to man up, such as buying Yakuza jackets with a proud look on his face. Or the Beanman, the old codger who appeared in the background every now and then, who seemingly was the only person who knew how the inn worked. Personally, I’m convinced that he could make the inn sprout legs and move to a more tourist friendly area, like Howls Moving Castle, piloting the building from inside the boiler room.
I can’t go talking about the characters without mentioning Ohana’s mum. MILF to end all MILF’s. Absolute star of the show, particularly impressive when she only appeared for episodes 1, 12-14 and 24-26. It was only when she was around that the drama started to actually click because she had a sense of bloody humour about her own insecurities and flaws. Best scenes of the anime were Ohana’s mum drinks alcohol with Ohana’s granny and Ohana. Or how about Ohana’s mum pretends she’s going to watch porn with Ko, Ohana’s bland boyfriend. Underneath the story about Ohana’s growth and the growth of the other teenage girls, there’s a story about her making up with her family and becoming a (slightly) more responsible parent. There’s never anyone going “LOOK GUIZ, SHE’S A BETTER PARENT NAOW” because we can spot that for ourselves.
I should also give some lipservice to the animation. For all their other faults, P.A. Works always have incredibly good animation and artwork. It’s more of the shiny variety than the free-flowing movement of the works from Bones or KyoAni, but don’t mistake this for an inability to animate movement. I found myself wondering this after a few episodes, whether I was simply being suckered in to thinking the animation was good simply because of scenery porn and attractive shiny female character designs. But no, the actual animated movement is gorgeous too. Hair moves when the characters shake their heads about. Clothes crease and fold when they move their hands. It sounds like a weird thing to focus on, but often having shiny pretty character designs hides the fact the characters are completely static, so bravo to HanaIro for that.
But the drama. Christ above, the bloody drama. I know teenage girls are stupid and refuse to listen to each other and get into the most irritating fights, so I guess I should congratulate them on accurately depicting typical teenage girls, but it does not make fascinating viewing. Minko deserves a mention here. She also deserves a kick in the stomach and a boot to the face and various other forms of pain. Every single damn time there’s something to talk about, she gets angry and yells at everyone. I thought maybe her anger with Ohana and crush on Tohru would be a short lived thing, but it ran throughout the entire show, getting more screentime than any other plot point. Ohana isn’t much better, being so braindead that she barges into every situation thinking talking really loudly and being energetic will get her through. You might be forgiven for thinking Nako is better because she’s so quiet, but don’t let that fool you. She solves any problems she encounters by quiet yelling, spouting off single phrases without listening to what other characters are saying. None of them bloody listen to each other or what anyone else is saying, making any dramatic confrontation lead nowhere because there’s no logical process in the dialogue.
Plus there’s the fact that what they’re arguing about isn’t in the slightest bit interesting. Now this may be a personal thing, since I struggle to get into melodramatic anime involving minor human problems, but did you really ever care about the future of the Kissiuso Inn? Like, really? I didn’t, yet they spent hours arguing over the future of the bloody place. This really dragged down in the final bunch of episodes, because that became the main talking point. I liked the characters internal conflicts with their own faults, but there seemed to be a disconnect between their own internal faults and what the issues on the outside were. This drama is pretty much my only fault with the show, but it unfortunately happens to be the central focus, so it really dragged down my enjoyment as a whole. Again though, this could be just me. If you’re the kind of easily emotionally manipulated loser who thinks Ano Hana is one of the best shows of the year, then maybe you too will like the drama in HanaIro.
I didn’t like the core of Hanasaku Iroha. The drama that was like a giant gaudy painting of a fat poodle in the showroom that was meant to be the living room’s centrepiece. But I liked all the décor surrounding it. I liked the picturesque potted plants of the attractive animation and character designs. I liked the stylish coffee table of the clever humour. I liked the comfy leather sofa of Ohana’s mum…err, don’t think too hard about that final metaphor. Anyway, I liked enough of the various aspects of Hanasaku Iroha to get me passed the dull drama and enjoy the show as a whole.