Studying at the Yamabuki Arts High School has been a dream-come-true for Yuno, and she's learned so much already! And not just from her instructors, but from her friends and neighbors who've become her second family and made the Hidamari Apartments such a safe and nurturing home. But as the day of her "big sisters" Sae and Hiro's graduation draws slowly closer, it's time for Yuno to start seriously taking on the same role for Nazuna, Nori and the other budding young artists who've entered Hidamari's protective cocoon. And it's also time to tackle some really challenging artistic assignments. That doesn't mean there won't still be time for fun with Miyako and all the others, but it's definitely time to pencil in her plans for the future. And sometimes that means you have to put the art before the course!
With a long-running manga series, three anime adaptations, and internet memes derived from its distinctive art style, it's hard not to recognize Hidamari Sketch as one of the more prominent slice of life titles. After so many episodes, though, one can't help but worry that the formula might start to turn stale. Thankfully, Honeycomb is not a victim of this pattern. This is Hidamari Sketch in its most complete and perfected form, and considering the high standard already set by the series, that is commendable indeed.
Taking place during Yuno and Miyako's second year of high school, Honeycomb is a loose continuation of the previous
season. Rather than jumping between past and present in a purely episodic format, this is the first time where there is a clear and consistent progression in the story. Each episode directly follows the previous one; at first glance this may seem like a trivial detail, but with elements such as Sae and Hiro's approaching graduation, this becomes increasingly relevant as there is now the time needed to effectively develop the characters.
Character development is something Hidamari Sketch Honeycomb has no shortage of. The story is now more than a mere snippet of the characters' daily lives and gracefully handles the underlying themes of friendship and graduation. One episode, for instance, focuses on Hiro determining what she wants to do with her life after high school and if an art teacher is really the proper career choice for her. Another episode goes into detail with Sae's familial situation and her relationship with her younger sister, Chika. There's also a large focus on Yuno maturing and finally assuming her role of senior for her two underclassmen Nori and Nazuna, who in the process mature as well. None of this is forced in and undermined by dramatization; it is skillfully and naturally conveyed through their regular interaction with each other. As a result of this development, the approaching graduation carries a lot more emotional weight than it otherwise would.
That's not to say that the same lighthearted appeal is missing from this season, though. Cuteness and comedy are served aplenty and in better shape than ever. Each character plays off of the others in clever ways and has their equal share of comedic scenes— even Yuno competes this time with Miyako on equal ground. The comedy is not communicated by archetypes and contrivances but through natural reactions. Most characters come out of their established role in this season as a result of their growth, providing a much more compelling dynamic than before. One of the best scenes is a highlight of this; the girls playing a game of Life with their own custom-made squares, representing each character's goals as well as reactions to other possible life choices. Each of their unique quirks and personalities blend together for highly amusing results, and this is certainly not the only example within the anime.
Nori and Nazuna are no exception to the improved characterization and dialogue. As both of them are now used to their life at the Hidamari Apartments, they grow out of their newcomer role and blend in the melting pot. While in the previous season it was difficult not to see them as being slightly superfluous, this is no longer the case in Honeycomb. It would not be the same without them.
One of the greatest improvements from previous seasons is the increased screentime of the side characters. Yoshinoya-sensei, the principal, Natsume and others were always present, but what about the rest? Arisawa was only a minor character in the previous season, but in Honeycomb there is an entire episode with her conversing with Yuno and helping her mature. Even background characters such as Mami, who previously had very few lines of dialogue over the course of the series, are now given personality as friends to Yuno and the others. I always thought that the first two seasons felt a bit empty, but not in Honeycomb. Yamabuki Arts High School for the first time becomes the background for a diverse and lively cast of unique characters.
Of course, it wouldn't be Hidamari Sketch without the stylized artwork Shaft is known for. Vivid colors, polka dots, showy scenery, live-action and pop-up imagery all distinguish the visual style of Honeycomb. The trademark widefaces are also as prominent as ever, adding to the comedic value of many scenes. Animation quality is exceedingly consistent as well, as there was not a single off-model face anywhere during my experience with the anime. Honeycomb is on an even higher level than the previous seasons which were already excellent. This is about as good a visual experience as you could possibly find within the slice of life genre, and even after three full seasons it still manages to impress.
Seeing how much the series has improved since the first season, it's a little unfortunate that so few people decided to stick with it until Honeycomb. Hidamari Sketch is an anime that is overlooked for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the slow pace or the eccentric style didn't appeal to everybody, but as one of the best anime of the slice of life genre, it's in anybody's best interest to stick with it until the end. You will most certainly be rewarded.
And let's be honest, if life at the Hidamari Apartments doesn't bring a smile to your face, then there might just be something wrong with you.
I ask this because you might need to get some if you're heading into the 4th season of Hidamari Sketch.
To my extent of knowledge, Hidamari is one of those "under the radar" Slice of Life shows, which is a shame because it really is a great show. The show continues on with the girls' everyday lives at Hidamari Apartments and Yamabuki High School. Chatting, spending time with each other, going to school. This is pretty much what happens throughout the series. You might think, "Wow, that's boring," but it's the characters personalities that make each episode fun
to watch. But with a 4th season of a SoL show, you would think there's at least some kind of plot to Hidamari Sketch, right? Nope. But as far as plot goes, if you've been fervently watching the series, the two oldest dormmates, Sae and Hiro, are in their last year at Yamabuki High, and the show kicks off with them preparing for their senior class trip, leaving Yuno and the others to take care of themselves. It's actually the first episode alone that inadvertently propels the girls to become more mature, as you'll eventually see later in the show.
Seeing how it's a SHAFT anime, and it's Hidamari, you'll see some quick cuts, polka dots, the signature head tilt, and the notorious WIIIDE FACE. Some people are thrown off by that when they first watch the series, and thus, they tend to stay away from it, but personally, that's the essence of the show and it's what makes it enjoyable. Not only that, but the show is much more vivid and vibrant with its colors, thus making it a very pleasurable viewing experience. Must be because of all that Madoka money...
The openings of Hidamari Sketch have always been a treat to listen to and this one fits the bill. When I first saw the PV of Honeycomb, I immediately got into it and watched it maybe 10 times a week before it aired because the opening was really catchy and upbeat. It really preps you for the episode leaving you with a good feeling inside. The ending, much like the previous ones, is real mellow (minus Hoshimittsu's, which I personally didn't like) and leaves you feeling relaxed after finishing the show with a smile. Lastly, the seiyuus. One reason I watch anime is for the seiyuus because I really enjoy their voices, and Hidamari Sketch's are a flatout eargasm to me. Just hearing Yuno (Asumi Kana), especially, leaves me feeling fuzzy inside and lately, Nazuna (Omigawa Chiaki) is growing on me as well. All of them do a great job.
The characters are a blast to watch and make the SoL genre entertaining than how it usually is. Yuno being the cute hard worker, Miyako being the boisterous glutton, the mature, but easily-flustered Sae, the motherly "always-watching-her-weight" Hiro, the timid Nazuna, and the level-headed Nori make up the Hidamari Apartments and are real fun when you see them interact with each other. We also have the infamous Yoshinoya and the badass Principal as the well-known side characters continuing their antics. Chika, the Landlady, Arisawa, and the poor, lonely Natsume are back as well. As I said earlier, you really do see the group mature, which is a good thing, but you can't help but feel kind of sad also because eventually, Sae and Hiro are going to graduate and will have to leave Hidamari Apartments, leaving just Yuno, Miyako, Nazuna, and Nori.
Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb has met and exceeded my expectations. From Season 1 all the way to Honeycomb, the series has delivered smiles and laughs each episode, and to be honest, I can't choose which season is better because all of them are just as good as the other. As much as it pains me knowing that the series will probably end soon when Sae and Hiro graduate, seeing the cast grow together throughout four seasons has been (sk)etched into my mind and heart, as sappy as that sounds. But really, the series is just pure fun and relaxation, and if you're looking for a SoL anime that fits that bill, consider watching Hidamari Sketch, starting with the first season. I absolutely loved it and I hope you'll enjoy the wide too.
Has my nutbladder exploded? Yes. Did I have insruance? No. Don't be like me and get some nutbladder insurance before watching Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb because your nutbladder WILL explode.
EDIT: Changed the score to 8.80 because as much as I enjoyed it, I don't think it's worthy enough to get past that 9 barrier.
This show's done it. It's finally done it.
It has taken everything good about the previous seasons and improves on everything it failed at, finally getting its own appeal. From the greater focus on character dynamics the first season gave, to the intensely crazy directing x365 gave (although I find that they didn't really use this to its greatest extent), to the melancholy vibes the very first episode gave, to finally giving Nori and Nazuna screen time. This show finally got what
was so great about itself. This season gave me everything I wanted from this show and more. It gave me more time to spend with all the other characters besides Yuno. It permitted me to enjoy the intense yuri shipping I had been doing ever since the first season. It allowed me to actually care about those two new first-years who were basically just glorified side characters in season three. It finally started exploring its themes which had really only just been touched on during the third season.
However, it did something I did not actually expect from this show or really any show of a similar type.
Throughout that entire season, I felt this sort of sense of urgency. It felt like the end was coming or, at least, some sort of large change was soon to happen. As the number of remaining episodes grew smaller and smaller, I started to find myself hesitating to go to the next episode. I honestly could not stand the thought of this story ending. It was scary really. I knew that I was gonna incredibly miss this show when I eventually reach its end.
Of course, I exaggerate slightly. I'm sure I'll probably forget this show in maybe a week or so, and the event horizon being talked and foreshadowed about is, of course, Sae and Hiro's graduation. Nonetheless, it was certainly a prominent feeling. For the entire season, there was underlying feeling of impending doom underneath all the short jokes and wide faces that grew as each episode passed by. It wasn't an incredible feeling. It never felt tense, nor did it really make you think about it all the time. Oftentimes, I'd be watching the episode and having fun with all the cute chibi faces, then someone, most usually Yuno, would either mention or think 'loudly' about leaving and growing up and Sae and Hiro, and I'd just kind of sit there silently. Again, it's not an intense feeling. It just kind of dampens your mood for a bit. Just enough for this type of show. I would say Hidamari Sketch balanced this mood fairly well. There were lots of adorable moments and fun times to be had with only occasional reminders about the graduation. It never felt like it had too much of either emotion.
Of course, this ties very well into the show's themes. As I said before, this season is now truly attempting to fully explore the themes it put on the table ever since season one (although it doesn't start becoming obvious until season three). We'll discuss these themes in further detail in both the story and the character section. I just wanted to point out that it was only now that they started exploring them and also that this show is not the only one to make use of this type of writing or mood to express the same themes. The second season of Love Live! has done this before. K-On!! has done this before. (I think. I never actually finished the second season). Assassination Classroom has done this before. However, I have never seen it done together with this kind of show. (K-On!, although also a slice-of-life, is on a completely different and distant part of the iyashikei spectrum Hidamari Sketch is in). It's strange. In these other three shows, this eminent deadline becomes practically the entire center of all the drama that happens. There is much crying, much reminiscing, intense speeches, and sad sadness. In contrast, the graduation only comes up every once in a while, and, while it is mildly depressing when it does get brought up, it never becomes the focus for long. It quickly becomes forgotten, and the topic hastily switches, never letting such a thing become prominent enough to affect the overall mood of the episode. The drama never overpowers the comedy.
(Of course, I am completely ignoring the second half of episode six and the graduation arc, but don't mind me.)
And I praise this. I enjoy indulging in the gang's normal but somehow ridiculous antics. I adore the cute happy fluff that could only transpire in an iyashikei show like this one. I relish that heartwarming feeling inside of me whenever I watch this show. And yet, there are times when I recall what is soon to come. Then, I just begin to lose that jolly mood I was feeling and begin to try to actually savor everything this show to offer. I start to become more appreciative of everything this show throws at me, laughing harder at the jokes, smiling more at the chibi faces. And I commend this. The dark underlying mood this show has never endeavors to lead Hidamari Sketch away from what it truly is, an iyashikei, yet, whenever it commences to interact with the slice-of-life nature of this show, it not only adds variety to the so often monotonous tone most slice-of-life shows have but also puts everything this show has into a completely different and unexpected perspective. Typically in this kind of show, I would just relax and let my train of thought chug away into faraway places. This time, I found myself slightly more invested into the show, appreciating every single detail. Sure, I exaggerate a bit. I still ride the train of thought to heaven, hell, and back again and only just entering "appreciate" mode once someone pulls out the graduation card, but when it does pull it out, it does it well. It tries to be subtle and sparse with its reminders. Some could say it tries to hard, maybe it does it one too many times, but I would say it does it perfectly or, at the very least, realistically.
The genuine reason I love so much it doing this is because of how close the feeling is to in reality, how lifelike this entire thing feels. I've felt this before. Many times have I caught myself mindlessly enjoying life in senseless merriment only to remember that that enjoyment was not going to last. At some moment in time, I'd be laughing the night away, and at the next, I'd still be laughing but now hoping to God the night doesn't go away. There'd be times when I'd just silently lie down and stare at the ceiling trying everything not to think about the future only for it to fill up my thoughts even more. It's certainly a compelling feeling. It's a feeling that really makes you think about life and all its little details. All so slowly. All so very very slowly. So excruciating slowly. The passage of time chisels into your mind, slowly forming and changing it. It's an addicting feeling. And it's a feeling this show knows how to emulate.
Honeycomb, unlike its predecessors, embraces this. It uses this emotion to carefully carve out each character's personality and the relationships they share, slowly strengthening them and maturing them and fulfilling its genre role as the coming-of-age tale it secretly is. Empowered with this formidable tool, it takes care of its characters right down to the details, allowing characterization and character growth that this show before this point has never done to this extent. Before this season, I never actually frankly cared about Chika until we found her arguing about the future with Sae. Never at any singular point have I ever considered Yoshinoya-sensei as more than a gag character until I saw her discussing with Hiro about her future. I had never seen Sae and Hiro's relationship this focused on and fleshed out until this season. Arisawa and her relationship with Yuno has been made incredibly solid through the way she makes Yuno think about what's to come. Hell, I enjoy Miyako MUCH MUCH more now just because of that sole subtle moment she had when the mood started getting depressing because of this. We'll discuss this in more detail in further depth in the Characters section. I just wanted to show that this mood or feeling is not only very authentic and true to real life, but also that it deepens and strengthens the characters in ways that could not have been done without this strong of an emotional backbone.
Now that was just one thousand four hundred forty-nine words worth of introduction. What am I doing with my life?
If all you value in a show is a stellar plot line, you're probably not going to be duly impressed by this one.
Each episode's narrative/s is one that is very simple, almost always very self-contained, and, practically-speaking, pointless.
It would be very hard to comprehensively analyse just the narratives (and I emphasize 'just') for all its clever and subtle details.
Reason being it doesn't actually have any clever and subtle details. What you see is what you get. Everything happens perfectly in the way you expect them to (except for some times when the show wants to make some sort of cunning punchline) and there is nothing in the plot that will make you think twice about it. It's a frickin' slice-of-life. Despite me saying how this show is fairly different from other slice-of-life shows, it still has the simplistic plot lines all slice-of-lifes share. They're supposed to represent those calm nostalgic memories which you just happen to remember.
They're also very self-contained. None of the episodes lead directly into one another. Everything that happens in an episode stays in an episode. Anything that happens in a certain plotline has very little effect on any following plotlines. Despite there being some sort of linearity with the episodes all arranged in the chronological order (note that his episode arrangement was absent in the first two seasons), there is still a distinct lack of continuity. It seems to follow the old rule of cartoons wherein a show must have a status quo that never changes so that any new viewer just tuning up won't be confused or miss out on anything.
Lastly, there's little to no point to any of the narratives that this show presents. None of the episodes have any clear aesops or themes. No episode so far serves to drive home any sort of message. And no plot line has yet to actually have any explicit morals. (Again, excluding that latter half of episode six). One could conclude that the overall series has its own themes that it yearns to present and discuss about (which we will get into in a bit), but you would be hard-pressed to find one singular episode that actually has a point (except, again, episode six).
In this sense, one could say that the plot only really plays as an extended part of the setting, a mere backdrop, just like the time and place, which only serves to enhance what this show really is about: its mood and its characters.
These simplistic and pointless storylines are the way they are because they serve a specific purpose that is shared with all slice-of-life shows everywhere, to replicate everyday life. More specifically, it seeks to replicate the least stressful moments of everyday life, when everything follows the slow mellow rhythm of routine. These moments, if you examine them closely, all share two very prominent characteristics that I believe are what iyashikei shows attempt to emulate.
The first is that all of these moments carry with them a very specific mood, a mood that can only be best described with the word 'routine'. Everyday, I do the same things. I follow the same path around my house I set for myself long ago. Whenever I wake up, I always pee, then wash my hands, then wash my face, then eat, then shower, then clothe, then leave on the bus. It's always the same thing over and over again everyday. It's a very slow mood. It feels like some sort of eternity. A very calming eternity. It's during this time where I end up thinking the most. It was in mornings like these when I stumbled onto certain revelations about life and solidified my current values and perspectives. Sometimes, things happen during these times which aren't expected and without any previous warning, however they are always of little consequence and have little to no effect on the future.
The second is the seemingly distinct lack of change that happens. Everything seems to stay the same. Everything that happens today will probably seem to be the same tomorrow. Everything seems to stay in some form of permanence. Everything seems to be frozen. Everything seems to be trapped in eternity. Seems. However, everything IS changing. Time is moving forward. We just don't notice because it moves so slowly, and we realize this only once we look back. Everything seems to stay, but everything is actually changing. I may not notice it, but I am actually changing every single day, and all the people around me are changing alongside me too. And because time is moving, even if it does so so slowly, we do eventually reach the end. This end is probably some sort of big change or a new beginning, however once we go past this, there is no turning back.
It is my personal belief that these two characteristics of everyday life are the two main approaches slice-of-life shows take in imitating it. There are shows like Flying Witch which like to focus on the mood. Everything in these shows must contribute to the mood. All these shows really want to do is to get you to relax and breathe. In these shows, everything DOES actually stay the same. Barely anything changes at all. Sure, some of these have some sort of character development, but they treat character as less important than the mood. Touching back on my point, these shows require a story that is incredibly simplistic and unremarkable. Anything too complicated and it'll break the mood.
The other approach is a bit more nuanced. Unlike the former approach wherein everything must serve to improve the overall tone, here, the detail and effort is more evenly allocated. There is a larger focus on the characters and the entire thing is more theme-oriented. Somewhat contradictory to what I just stated, it does not necessarily have to have any character development. Although character development is very prominent in much of the examples which take this approach, what is really most necessary is that something is actively (or passively if you think about it) changing slowly that is slightly hard to notice. Subtle character growth is a great example of this, however features such as quietly adjusting routines, gradually changing settings, or, in this case, slowly approaching endings work as well. It just has to have a certain underlying mood that things are gradually changing. Again, to allow such a mood to work, shows like these also require stories that are simple. Anything too complicated would get in the way of all the fine nuances. Complex plot lines would just distract from all the subtle and gradual changing that happens in the background.
Hidamari Sketch, if you couldn't tell already, takes the second approach. The show, with its underlying sense of urgency, has a story that requires the second approach of storytelling. It's themes demand it. I have read somewhere that the themes involve the passing of time and how it affects each of the characters. So of course it takes the second approach. That's what the second approach is.
An interesting thought. The reason I emphasized the lack of necessity for character development for these shows is that this show doesn't really have any character development. Sure, maybe if you count episode six, you could say Hiro received some character growth (that episode six was different episode from normal), however broadly-speaking, there is seldom to rarely any character development to speak of. Where there is character development would be the character development that happens across seasons. The Yuno from seasons one and two is a different girl from season three Yuno and season four Yuno is different from both of them. Nonetheless, if I said that what Hidamari Sketch excels in is character development, I'd be lying. I'll discuss this more in the character section. I just wanted to point out how strange this aspect is when given episode narratives like this. I already stated that the narratives are incredibly built for subtle character development. Maybe the character development is just too subtle for me to notice. Who knows?
Lastly, I just want to tackle this season's ending. At the time of writing, I still have not watched Sae and Hiro's Graduation Arc. I plan to watch it after writing this review to simulate the same mindset those who watched this season back when it aired and had to wait a year before the Graduation Arc came. This season, like all the other previous seasons, ends during the holiday season (except xHoshimittsu which ends in July). What's funny about this season's ending is how I would gladly accept it as this show's finale. Once I finished this season, I found myself completely satisfied. If that really was the ending, I would've just accepted it.
Of course, this didn't make any sense to me. The show had been slowly and secretly building up towards this grand finale of some sort yet the season ends months before that that finale even comes. However, even if I felt that I sense of urgency where I didn't want anything to ever end, I don't think this is why I felt so simply satisfied with the ending. Sure, I've been gradually dreading the school year end as episode by episode passed by, but it's not as if I didn't actually want to see that graduation play out.
I think it was because it was presented so well. The entire thing felt as if it brought closure to the entire series even if, technically speaking, it didn't actually tie up any loose ends. The way Natsume finally at least got close to Sae felt very fulfilling, but Natsume never really confessed her feelings. I love the way every character grouped up to watch the year's first sunset, but it's not as if that moment had anything to do with anything. I loved the way the show ended with Yuno thinking about her thoughts and feelings about everything even if every other episode ends that way. Everything just felt different. I don't know. I think it's because the episode is presented in such a way that it gives off some sort of closure-bringing aura or something. It's dressed to give this incredible sense of 'endingness' even if the episode isn't really that different from any other episode. I guess presentation can go a long way.
One thousand seven hundred thirty-one words this time. Oh boy.
It's SHAFT. If wide faces, minimalistic backgrounds, pastels, intense chibi, character signifiers, white dots, and wide faces aren't your thing, this show'd probably turn you off.
I find it adorably cute, but, based on what I've seen, not everyone shares this view. There is however a noticeable downplay with this style when compared to earlier seasons. While seasons one and two relished in weird negative colors and oceans of white dots, seasons three and four took a less stylistic and generic approach. It's much less chibi than the first season and much HDer colors too. (The first season had that kind of 2000s anime filter over it or something. Everything was less saturated.)
Still doesn't have that crazy-ass directing I absolutely adored from x365. There are now only faint remnants of that incredibly insane directing style this season. Oh well.
I have practically the entire soundtrack downloaded in my laptop.
It's a VERY calming and relaxing soundtrack. Lots of jazz. Simple and fun to try and play on your own. Sometimes, there's this lady who sings 'da da da' into your ear like some ASMR video. I'm pretty sure the soundtrack itself is a fine alternative to ASMR. There's also some fun circus marching band type songs in there along with some other miscellaneous specialty tracks which are meant for other moods the show requires if need be.
Other than that, there's not really much to say. The OP is still INCREDIBLY catchy ("PASUTERU, VIVIDDO, METORO!!!"). Can't really say the same with the ED which sounds pretty generic. Voice acting, I didn't really notice.
Eh. Okay sound.
Now for the good stuff.
This is where the show shines.
This season has decided to go full on with characterization. While last season just focused on Yuno and the first two seasons focused more on the relationships more on the characters themselves, this season makes sure not to overfocus on just one character or aspect, giving screentime and strong character moments to everyone.
Let's start with Nori and Nazuna, the first-year duo from season three. These two have barely received any screen time at all in season three. They were just kind of there. Their only purpose was to give Yuno some kohais to play around with. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These kohais gave Yuno lots of characterization and character growth, making her act and become a proper senpai and causing her to become a more dependable person overall instead of someone who merely depends. It gave Yuno lots of motivation for self-improvement so as to be the best senpai ever. This is great. It's not a bad thing. The thing is the third season, I'd say, focused too much on Yuno. We never really got to see what what was going on inside the first years' heads. Just Yuno's.
This season, it's a different story. Now that there are episodes actually devoted to them, we get to have more in-depth looks into their characters. We now see that Nazuna really tries to impress her parents when we watched her try to learn cooking. We learn that Nori is as much a stubborn person as Sae when we saw her stay over at Sae's room for the night. (She showed a lot of signs of the 'I-am-always-right' syndrome in that particular episode which I relate with a lot because I am also a particularly prideful person. The interactions between her and Sae that episode reminded me a lot of the bickerings my dad and I often have during dinner.). There were even some small subtle moments of characterization that I thought were cute. During the school play, Nori is seen to actually be rather flustered and nervous in direct contrast to her usual confident self. They still serve as characterization-suppliers for Yuno, but I think they can now finally be said to be fully round characters in their own right.
Miyako also got her fair share of showtime too because this season, SHE FINALLY GOT SOME CHARACTER DEPTH. I have been waiting for this since the first episode. As soon as she debuted, I immediately thought that she would be an incredibly interesting characters. I have always found best friend characters to be rather compelling to say the least. However, for the entirety of the show before Honeycomb, not once have we ever taken a good hard look at her character. Sure, she's incredibly hilarious with her Patrick Star-style gags and, similarly to Nori and Nazuna, gives Yuno and also Sae and Hiro many many opportunities for characterization and development. Nonetheless, I couldn't really say that Miyako was a fully-fleshed out character on her own. She has always been more of a plot device who puts the other character in various situations due to her own antics and filter-less dialogue (which often causes many a character to react violently). She was mostly a gag character who also specialized in creating situations for the writers to play around with.
Not anymore. This time, we have character-deepened Miyako. ("Character-deepened". What am I doing with my life?). Yes, there were only a few moments of characterization, but I've been waiting for so goddamn long that this amount is just fine. At least we know that she actually has feelings other than stupid. The obvious particular character moment would be that incredibly yuri moment in episode six. No spoilers. That moment was incredibly goddamn amazing when it happened. It completely frames Miyako in a completely different way. It showed a side of her that actually enjoys getting complimented a bit.
The other main character moment Miyako had was much subtler. During episode ten, while things get awkward due to talk of the graduation. This is when Miyako frowns. Yes. She frowns. I know. She frowns for about a split second. The shot focuses on her frown, then quickly changes to Miyako doing something stupid to break the ice. SHE FROWNED. She actually has emotions other than idiot. This small short singular moment shows that Miyako is actually fairly perceptive and knows the effect her own actions can have on others. She is aware of the role she plays in the clique. She actually understands at least slightly the dynamics that go on amongst the Hidamarians and actively participates in these dynamics for the betterment of the group. This solitary moment establishes both that she grasps the basic characters and dynamics of the group and that she actually feels things! SHE'S NOT JUST A GAG CHARACTER ANYMORE!!!
You won't believe how satisfied I was when this happened.
Now let's go on to some weightier stuff: Sae and Hiro and their relationship. I'm sure you've gotten the trend by now, but the two have gotten a whole lot of focus this season, especially since that slowly approaching graduation is their graduation. Honestly, I always thought they were both given a substantial amount of characterization throughout the show.
Sae has always been a large secondary focus for the show throughout seasons one through three. She was stock-full of motivation and insecurity since episode one. Her relationship with Chika was always a very compelling one to watch, and following Sae getting stressed and getting out of stress was always particularly fascinating.
Meanwhile, Hiro was also a very prominent character in the series. Not as notable as Sae, but still a significant character nonetheless. She takes the role of the mother-like senpai. Fits into that archetype real well but throughout the series, I'd say she was given enough depth. She's been portrayed as a very supporting character who also has her own insecurities. Sure, she may not share the spotlight as much as Yuno or Sae, but the writer/s did a decent job with her.
This season however, the show went full on with them. When before, the spotlight only occasionally shown on them, this time the stoplight was placed right up their goddamn faces. The first two episodes pretty much unresolved sexual tension all the way up to eleven. All the conflicts that ever occur which do not center around Yuno typically center around one or both of these two. Remember that episode six I was mysteriously talking about earlier in the introduction and story segments? It centers on Hiro. It was of a much darker tone than the others and it involves the graduation and their future. For minimum spoilers, Hiro makes a decision about her future however the motives behind this decision is brutally questioned (by goddamn Yoshinoya-sensei herself). Sae, however, helps her out by changing her outlook on the decision and restrengthening her motives. That episode was incredible, and it really solidified Hiro's character and the relationship she has with Sae. There were also numerous other moments in the season which also further established and deepened their characters and character bond. It was bound to happen anyway when the themes of the show pretty much revolve around them.
Now onto the side characters. I always had a problem in the previous seasons with the show not focusing on the side characters enough. This season, however, fulfills this need and puts a considerable amount of spotlight toward those who are not-so-important but still kinda are.
I think, this season, we can consider Yoshinoya-sensei as more than just a gag character. Maybe. Not really because of any particular moment. Actually, scratch that. It was because of this particular moment. As I said earlier, in episode six (seriously, it was a very out-of-place episode), Yoshinoya-sensei brutally questioned Hiro's motives. That was the one moment she acted like a mature, dependable, and reliable teacher who actually allows her students a chance to grow and develop by challenging their existing beliefs and forcing them to question their own motives. And after that, she is shown to be visibly worried (as in crying loudly in the school infirmary) about whether she was too harsh on Hiro or not, and even if this moment was just played-for-laughs, it still added a bunch more detail to her character. In this moment alone, she is presented as a teacher who, even if she acts like a goddamn egotistical idiot most of the time, genuinely cares about her students and can rise up to the occasion as a levelheaded adult for their sake. It was just one moment though. The rest of the season, she was just the usual cosplaying loudmouthed ignoramus. Although there was half an episode devoted to her, nothing in that plotline really added to her character in my personal opinion.
Next, we have Chika, Sae's younger sister. Slightly rowdy and fairly immature in direct contrast with Sae's levelheaded and mature persona, Chika had always had a fun-to-watch relationship with her onee-chan. Sure, it's not the most original piece of work, but I still find it rather enjoyable to experience and I find Chika a very likable person. She may be used by the show as a mere foil for Sae's mature character, but I'd say she's an interesting character in and of herself. She kinda reminds me of me back when I was slightly more rebellious. This season, it's not really much different. Her relationship with Sae is still depicted as genuine but slightly estranged. There's really not much to say. There was a bit more of the old sibling drama which is always fascinating to watch. I'd say Sae's character really benefits from having a sister like Chika. Other than that, nothing's really changed about her and her character arc from the previous seasons.
Equally of interest, we have Arisawa-senpai, the university girl. It seems in every show that involves graduation, there is always this character who has already graduated. I believe these types of characters are supposed to represent the future, having already experienced what the main characters will go through and sharing their experiences with them. These characters typically give the main protagonists either a sense of hope or a feeling of doubt or maybe a bit of both about the future. They represent the effects that such a large change can have on people. This brand of character seems to only serve one singular purpose: to get another character to think about his/her future. This character role could be filled in by fully-grown adults who give the character wise advice about life or by teenagers/young adults who just graduated who share with the character their own worries and insecurities about graduation. Arisawa is a fits very well in the latter, sharing with Yuno about how she barely talks with her old friends anymore and how out-of-place she sometimes feels in university. The latter type allows the character who fills this role an appreciable amount of characterization and likability instead of just a boring flat wise saying dispenser. The show did a good job with her. I always enjoy all the times she appears. Even if she fills such an archetypal role, she doesn't feel like a bland character. I'd say a job well done for a character who was originally only supposed to appear once.
Finally, we have Natsume, the lesbian tsundere. Every anime must have one. Maybe not always lesbian, but there must definitely be a tsundere. No questions asked. Natsume has always been one of the more well-written side characters similar to Chika. Whenever she appears, it's always during a moment which further establishes her character. Sure, there's not much to her other than her hopeless crush on Sae, but she was always a fun character to watch. One of the best moments in the show was about her. In episode eleven, the Christmas episode, Sae walks Natsume home while snow is falling and christmas lights bring atmosphere. This moment had one of the best established atmospheres I've seen since The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and 5 Centimeters per Second and I did not really expect it from a show like this. Of course, it would comes off as rather cliche if it was just some male (or tomboy) character being completely oblivious to the feelings of the girl beside her, however it still somewhat struck me. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Christmas romance, but you can't deny that Natsume got loads of character from just that episode alone. I've heard that one of the OVAs is devoted to her and it gets all melancholic or something and apparently its pretty good. Haven't watched all the OVAs though (after I finish the graduation arc, I'll go back to those OVAs). Overall though, I'd say Natsume was a well-established character throughout the whole show and especially this season.
Now that everyone else is now out of the way, let's talk about our good ol' protagonist.
Due to all the increased focus on all the other characters this season, Yuno had to step aside the limelight for a bit. This season, there are entire half-episodes where Yuno is absent or barely important. She hasn't become irrelevant yet, but compared to previous seasons, she got considerably less screentime than usual. It makes sense though that Yuno receives less focus this season because the previous season was ALL about her. Judging from that, it doesn't really matter too much if Yuno wasn't really focused on enough this season. She got all the characterization she needed from the previous three seasons. Her character is already very well-established. We've already seen her grow and develop in the past, so if she wasn't very notable this season, I'd be fine with that. Frankly, I'd appreciate if they didn't give her too much screen time. The last season, my biggest complaint was that Yuno was hogging all the characterization to herself and all the other characters were barely important (especially Nori and Nazuna who barely got any screentime once they were established).
However, she did indeed get a considerable amount of characterization this season. We saw her talk with Arisawa and contemplate her future soon afterwards. We see her actively trying to be a great senpai to the first-years. We even get to see an incredible yuri moment with Miyako which showed how much she's grown close to her. We see her become incredibly proud with both the pictures she took during the swimming intramurals and the pamphlet cover she made that was picked by the school. Yuno experienced a lot this season, and we got to experience it with her. At this point, you can't call Yuno a flat character. Yuno still had to give way to the other characters this season, but she still got an incredible amount of characterization this time and has become both a very relatable and memorable character who will forever be an incredible example of moe done right for years to come.
In the end, the show spent a great amount of time carving out the characters it neglected in previous season in favor of Yunocchi. Honeycomb shone light on sides of characters we never saw in the previous seasons. It still displayed a significant amount of attention towards Yuno, but it made sure not to forget about the others this time. I was very especially overjoyed by the focus on characters who I thought were barely given any character before. I mean, with its brand-spanking new plaything that is the impending threat of graduation, of course the other characters would be affected.
To conclude, I believe the show had finally overcome the weaknesses it had in the previous three seasons.
Honeycomb, now spectacularly improved with the underlying dark sense that big change was coming, made sure to check on the characters it neglected before, giving them the character they seemed to lack, further establishes and solidifies the relationships between said characters, and finally working on developing and centering itself on its own themes.
For this, I'd give Honeycomb a 8.80/10.
Good job, and I look forward to the what the graduation arc has in store for me.
Studio Shaft is an eccentric animation studio that likes being weird for the sake of being weird. Take a look in the HidaSketch franchise: if you read the original yonkoma, you will know how much original material Shaft included. They have also added their own eccentricities like adding pictures of actual food onto clips of animation.
And it’s freaking cute.
Now, it’s the time for Shaft to mature. Shaft has always played on the seesaw of seriousness and absurdity, especially in Bakemonogatari. HidaSketch was created for people who indulge in the heinous genre known as slice-of-life. When the protagonist, Yuno, appears, I have succumbed to the evils
of the Ume Aoki wideface. The series is diabetic-inducing antics.
But Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb is not just the fourth season to the HidaSketch series; it is a step into a new direction for Shaft. The palette is more subdued and a new director, besides Shinbo Akiyuki, is directing it. Honeycomb is more aware of its yuri aspects. That’s its greatest strength.
This is not to say there isn’t any shipping involved: the previous seasons are like budding flowers waiting to bloom. Sae and Hiro are obviously in love with each other, but the Yuno/Miyako and Nori/Nazuna couples are not like couples. They’re like friends. Deluded fans love to see them together though.
But now, Honeycomb has made it official. The small romances are adorable. Every character interaction makes anyone blush in the inside. While the series is comedic for the most part, it’s romantic. Everyone has feelings for each other. I cannot state how adorable this show has become. For the first time, nutbladders who have stayed dormant for the past three seasons will finally explode.
So what do these observations say about Shaft? That they now pander to fans? Maybe. But when has fanservice, in its purest, untarnished form, become bad? It is a derogatory term that is not specific. A show can have fanservice and still be just plain fun to watch. That is in fact the essence of fanservice. And making four seasons of the same series is service for the fans who followed Shaft for so long.
Honeycomb can discomfort people though. Its sudden direction into complete yuri shipping is confusing sometimes. Shaft is trying too hard to please some fans; it’s disorienting for people who expected only cutesy things, which is what Hidamari Sketch stood for. It’s not iyashikei anymore too -- just a show about cute girls loving each other in their own special way.
Should anyone hate this work for going off in such a radical direction, it’s understandable. Shaft is growing up from all the childish shows it made in the past. Shinbo’s getting old and HidaSketch won’t be here forever. The studio is now along the likes of KyoAni. It’s time to let the young directors be the vanguards for the studio and take Shinbo’s helm.
And Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb shows that Shaft is still a healthy studio and will continue producing great works. I look forward to their new shows after the eventual retirement of Shinbo.