Selling Blossoming Flowers

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.

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10 responses to “Selling Blossoming Flowers

  • Jo

    I think you mean episodes 2-26 may or may not tank..^^

    I don’t have much to add other than, yup from what we’ve seen it looks like it’s shaping up to be a really good show. and I want Ohana’s headphones, but not in white..[she makes going out in public with headphones on look good…]

    =)

  • omo

    Oh, really, 26? That’s great to know the show is longer than originally expected, thanks for the catch.

    The headphone girl thing was…yep, just like you said :)

  • otou-san

    Pretty much right there with you here…

    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.

    This was, to me, one of True Tears’ strengths as well. I called it “subtlety” but I like the way you put it.

  • omo

    Mm, yeah, I guess it’s a sort of subtlety. I personally love that crap so uh, I guess my alarm will go off when we hit a real subtle thing. Hopefully in this show.

  • Chau

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the episodes too! I agree that the show is very refreshing with its graphic, story and characters! And the best point I want to emphasize most is the beauty of the designed characteristics of our heroine—Iroha-chan. I’m going to love this show.

  • Chau

    Oh, I made a mistake. So our heroine in this show is Ohana Matsumae. I was confused by names. So what is hanasaku iroha stands for?

  • Guesty

    But True Tears did not suffer in plot nor characterization! (Though Canaan and Angel Beats did.) I have very high hopes for Hanasaku Iroha though. The highlight for me is that the show manages to create atmosphere in a realistic presentation while still maintaining a sense of style without resorting to an overall look. (Like True Tears needed a storybook effect with everything slightly washed out, or Wondering Son’s look.) And the lighting is just way too fabulous. The feeling I got when I watched it was that this was a labour of love. Its been a long long time when a first episode made me so excited. I’m not even sure I make sense anymore.

    tl,dr I’m a sucker for this show.

  • vendredi

    P.A. Works really just keeps upping the ante with every new series they produce, at least on a technical level. It might be a little premature to say so, considering they’ve only released a handful of shows so far, but my initial impression with Hanasaku is that they’re returning to their roots; the same sort of understated drama combined with luscious visuals that characterized True Tears.

    Their last two works, CANAAN and Angel Beats!, were also both made with relatively “big-name” scenario writers as well, so the lack of that here, as far as I can tell, in Hanasaku seems to underscore their return to the same themes they started with in True Tears.

  • omo

    @Guesty
    >> But True Tears did not suffer in plot nor characterization!

    I love T_T. But there were areas in the plot that could be improved. So hopefully HanaIro improves on those. And yar suckers for HanaIro Unite amirite.

    @vendredi
    You read my blog so you know I have a figurative hard-on for original works. Now T_T is not exactly original, nor is Canaan, but now including HanaIro they are all relatively original in terms of content, as in, they are not adaptations. I think PA Works is at least trying to do this ‘right’ so I’m all for it.

  • Guesty

    @omo Although the plot for T_T could be improved, it didn’t suffer for it. And considering the temporal budget for the show (only 13 episodes) and its overall pacing (superb), I think squishing in more plot could be detrimental to other aspects of the show. Thankfully HanaIro does have a larger time frame, so I’m all for a more fleshed out plot.
    HanaIro seems to me to be PA Works trying to make something they are proud of, and an attempt to make anime credible, instead of pandering to niches. Could be over-reading this though.

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