It’s not always a sensible thing to track TV anime by the studio responsible for its production, but over the past few years there has been some outstanding animation houses that have made a big splash. We are all familiar with Kyoto Animation, but another up-and-comer from outside of Tokyo is the studio P.A. Works. This season they bring us an original, 10th Anniversary title: Hanasaku Iroha.
Shows like Canaan, True Tears or Angel Beats are not super-awesome shows, but they are hardly poor. More importantly, all of them offers some gorgeous scenes and a degree of visual richness that few others offer. Will Hanasaku Iroha be the same? More importantly, will it not suffer in the plot and characterization department like its predecessors? Maybe we can make some sense of it from the so-called book cover.
The main character Ohana is, at first glance, a responsible high school student with a good head on her shoulders. In some ways we’re going to be reminded of Ryuuji from Toradora when we first meet the bright but down-to-earth Ohana, exchanging jabs with her wild and crazy mother. The show itself sets a fairly realistic tone in terms of character interaction and behavior, so the Toradora vibe hits even stronger when we realizes she is seemingly without a father, and the two of them make things meet via her mother Satsuki’s authoring work.
On the other hand, Ohana’s best friend, a nice guy and classmate named Kouichi, is a little less down to earth. He is smart and sensitive, but Ohana is too busy living her life to the fullest to realize his feeling for her. Things quickly comes to a head (and this is all before the first CM break!) when Satsuki suddenly decided to run away with her boyfriend to dodge some kind of shady business, abandoning Ohana to fend for herself at her Grandmother’s hot spring inn thing. The city girl got together with her confidant late at night with an awkward farewell as Kouichi confessed his feeling to a shellshocked Ohana, dealing with probably one too many things going on at a time in her life.
The drama doesn’t let up in the second half of the first episode either. Ohana has never met her Grandmother, who has disowned Satsuki and treats Ohana like some version of a cruel, fairy tale stepmom. Ohana tries to take all this change with proud strides, except she’s now the employee of a classic onsen, where the customer comes first, second and third, and Ohana’s selfish pride probably doesn’t even make it to the top 100. I guess that’s where the drama will be for the time being.
At the onsen, named Kisuisou, we are introduced to a bunch of the supporting cast. It looks like Hanasaku Iroha will focus on the girls around Ohana’s age. Two of them we’ve met this week: the straight-faced and grouchy Minko and the shy Nako. Other notable characters thus far includes the fun and light-hearted head mistress Tomoe, and Ohana’s grandmother / inn manager. I think during the brief tour Nako and Tomoe gave to Ohana we went through approximately the entire cast of Working!! (or Wagnaria!!) and then some.
At this point, the story is still just getting started and I’ve only described about two-thirds of the first episode. For this First Impression piece, though, let me just tell you what excites me about Hanasaku Iroha:
- Dramatic misdirection. Several times in the first episode, we see Ohana think to herself (ie., inner dialog-style voice over) one way to set us up for something, and then the opposite happens. This isn’t a big deal, but I think we’re going to see the same kind of misdirection apply to not just the little things in the episode, but all over the place as the story continues to reveal itself.
- Realistic presentation. While this is still an anime with many of the usual trappings, the character drama is presented without grand or funny overtures. Nothing special about this either, but it’s refreshing.
- Flowing animation. I’ve mentioned it before, but this anime looks gorgeous. Mel Kishida’s design comes across here largely intact, unlike some other anime I saw recently.
To making it less sounding like an ad and more like an honest endorsement, I still have the usual reservations about Hanairo. It’s just one episode, and episodes 2-13 (or as pointed out below, 26) can tank completely, who knows. But with a pilot like this, it’s going to sell to me easily.
I think in a way I wrote this just so I can get some opportunity to write everybody’s names down. They’ve thrown over a dozen of those at us in those 23 or so minutes, and I’m not good with names.