Ohana Matsumae is an energetic and wild teenager residing in Tokyo with her carefree single mother. Abruptly, her mother decides to run away with her new boyfriend from debt collectors, forcing the young girl to fend for herself—as per her mother's "rely only on yourself" philosophy—in rural Japan, where her cold grandmother runs a small inn. Driven to adapt to the tranquil lifestyle of the countryside, Ohana experiences and deals with the challenges of working as a maid, as well as meeting and making friends with enthralling people at her new school and the inn.
"Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter"
There's an age old belief that certain traits are passed down from parents to children, and like most ancient convictions, there's an element of truth to this one. It's a well known fact that much of a person's future behaviour is learned during their formative years, and while it's true that children will instinctively copy the mannerisms and behaviours of the role models closest to them (which in most cases means their parents), even trained professionals and researchers can't fully explain the "inheritance" of less tangible traits like stubbornness, temper, perspicacity, etc.
But what does all that have to
do with a show about a girl who goes off to work at a hotsprings inn? Well, not enough to be honest, and that's biggest problem.
Hanasaku Iroha (The ABC's of Blooming), is an original anime from P.A. Works that tells the story of Matsumae Ohana, a 16 highschool student who, due to a variety of circumstances regarding her mother, is forced to move away from Tokyo to live with her estranged maternal grandmother, Shijima Sui, at the hotsprings inn that she owns. Knowing that she has no choice in the matter Ohana tries to make the best of her situation, and at the request of her grandmother she begins working at Kissui Inn.
It all sounds like a fairly straightforward set up for some teenaged melodrama, and for the most part that's what viewers will get. The plot is functional, but the anime can often have difficulty getting to the point or sticking to the storyline, and there's little in the way of originality where the narrative is concerned. In addition to this there appears to be no real direction or cohesiveness with the progression of the series, and these factors may cause viewers to wonder when the story will offer up some actual development.
That said, there's a surprisingly interesting subtextual thread that runs through the plot (which we'll cover in a bit), but because of the numerous issues with the main storyline it's often overlooked. The sad part is that Hanasaku Iroha would have had a much, much better storyline if Okada Mari had simply removed certain events from the screenplay and tightened up the narrative.
Thankfully, some thought seems to have gone into the visuals.
P.A. Works deserve some applause for the effort they've made in producing Hanasaku Iroha as it's easily one of the better looking anime of 2011. The artwork tends towards realism rather than the cartoonish offerings of several titles I could mention, and while this allows for some rather picturesque backgrounds and settings, there are numerous occasions where the usage of various lighting effects create some truly stunning imagery. The animation is fluid, and unlike many other shows of this type, there's a surprising range of movement for both people and animals.
The characters are an interesting mix of styles and shapes that can sometimes appear a little plain, but in actuality there's a method to their design that may not be obvious at first glance. The thing to bear in mind is that the story takes place at a working hotsprings inn, and because of that Sekiguchi Kanami has tried to create a contrast with the picturesque surroundings.
One of the notable aspects of Hanasaku Iroha is the background music, or rather, the lack of it. There's a nice variety of styles on offer ranging from pastoral pieces (which in some cases sound a bit like elevator music), to upbeat little ditties, but it's the lack of musical accompaniment in many scenes that fits very well with the often quiet tone of the series.
Which is why the number of tracks used for the opening and ending themes seem ... a little too much.
Like many 26 episode anime, Hanasaku Iroha features two main opening and ending songs that change over at the midway point of the series. The show begins with a surprisingly well put together sequence that introduces the more prominent characters, but the track used for this, "Hana no Iro" by Nano Ripe, is a fairly bland piece that only works because of some good audio/visual choreography. In contrast to this closing sequence is a simple montage of Ohana and her three friends that has been set to "Hazy" by Sphere. From episode fourteen the opening track changes to "Omokage Warp" by Nano Ripe (again), which is a far more upbeat song than the previous one, and while the animated sequence is different to that of the first OP, the quality and content are pretty similar. The closing song, "Hanasaku Iroha" by Clammbon, is a feelgood ballad set to an animated image of Ohana and her friends, but unlike the other sequences it doesn't seem like much effort has been put into this one.
There are also two more ending themes, "Tsukikage to Buranko" (episode 6), and "Yumeji" (episode 8), once again performed by Nano Ripe, but there doesn't actually seem to be any real reason for their inclusion so one has to wonder why they were used in the first place.
Given the fact that this is a highschool drama, one might expect a degree of overemphasis when it comes to the acting, but there's surprisingly little of this in the dialogue. The script is well balanced between each of the roles, and while there are occasions where the seiyuu "fest it up", in general the voice actors deliver some very good performances. In addition to this there's a surprising, yet clear demarcation between the adult and teenage roles that is apparent not just in the manner of speech, but also in the language used.
One of the problems with the lack of direction and cohesiveness in the storyline is that it has a direct impact on the prominent characters, and this is the main reason why some viewers consider Ohana to be a very lacklustre lead role. Unfortunately, there's little in the dialogue that can actually raise her above average, and while there are clear efforts made to develop her character, these can often seem contrived or unnecessary.
That said, it's the supporting characters who really steal the show.
From Ohana's mother, Matsumae Satsuki, to Kawajiri Takako, the business consultant for Kissui Inn, the adult roles are defined from the start of the series, and this makes a nice contrast to the somewhat vague characterisation of Minko, Nako and Yuina (Ohana's friends). The series also makes the effort to further develop several of the supporting roles, and because of this the subtextual thread in the plot comes to light.
On the surface Hanasaku Iroha is nothing more than another teenaged melodrama, but underneath it's also a story about family and role models, and that aspect of the series is far more intriguing than much of the exisitng plot. The relationship between Sui, Satsuki and Enishi forms the cornerstone of everything that happens at Kissui Inn, and unlike many other anime out there the series handles the dynamics of this in a very realistic manner. Thanks to the efforts made to highlight how each person affects the other two, several minor but key clarifications of the storyline become apparent, the most notable being the reasons for the estrangement between Satsuki and her mother, Enishi's desperate attempts to win his mother's approval and finally step out of the shadow of his sister, and Ohana's festival wish at the end of the series.
Hanasaku Iroha isn't as good as it could have been, but that doesn't make it bad. If one is able to tolerate the tangents in the storyline then it really is a pretty decent show at its core, and it's a fairly good depiction of working life in a hotel. That said, at 26 episodes this series really is far too long, and it can often feel like certain events or situations were added only to fill the required number of episodes. Unfortunately the detrimental effect this has on the character interactions may lead to some viewers giving up on the show entirely,
The sad part is that if the series had been trimmed down and the subtextual plot given more prominence, this could easily have been a contender for the best anime of 2011, but as it is right now it's nothing more than another show that joins the ranks of "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda".
I enjoy slice of life. I really do. The problem I have with them is that it’s incredibly difficult to find one that isn’t terrible. The two biggest pitfalls I find with the genre are the lack of compelling plots and the lack of depth as the episodes get drowned in clichés. They often end up simply being boring as the episodes drag on to the formulaic beach/school festival/holiday routine in an attempt to entertain. Needless to say, I’m usually turned off by the introduction to a slice of life anime before I can even get into the series.
I watched Hanasku Iroha with massive heaps
of cautious optimism. The entire premise sounded a little worrying. It tells of a teenage girl, Ohana, who experiences a set of circumstances that would send her to live and work with her grandmother, who owns and manages a hot spring inn of a small town. A hot spring inn staffed by mostly teenage girls? With that setup, fanservice seemed to be primary driving force.
Watching the first few episodes, I was pleasantly surprised. The characters had depth and were likable. The stereotype of the doting grandmother never got played out, settling for the minor stereotype of the “tough love” grandmother instead. There were actual obstacles presented to the characters. The events of one episode held consequences over the next episode. And for some bizarre reason, the anime that least needed fantastic animation had some of the best animation of the season.
The central message of Hanasaku Iroha is one about purpose. Ohana is pulled out of her comfort zone and sent into an unknown town. Here, the insecurities of her life are magnified. Here, she suddenly is faced with the uncertainty of where she wants to go in life. Here, she is forced to grow up, just a little bit. However, she embraces her new life and tries to find her place as one of the waitresses of the inn. She begins to learn more about herself, her place in life, and her family. Her resolve to face these challenges serve bring about change in the staff of the inn. Each member of the staff are faced with a crossroads on where they see themselves heading. As the story progresses, there is legitimate growth in each character. In the end, even the status quo of the inn is changed as a result of this growth with Ohana’s grandmother closing the inn to allow the staff to pursue their own dreams.
One of the best points of the series is how well they understand their audience. Each point that needs to be made is clearly made without underestimating the audience’s ability to understand. They show character development and conflicts rather than telling us about it. Some of the best scenes have no words at all, something that can easily be afforded with the animation quality. As a result, the plot doesn’t get too caught up in its own complications. They focus in on a situation just enough to get us tied to the characters before attempting to tug at our heartstrings.
As captivating and dramatic as it is, Hanasaku Iroha has its drawbacks. Remember that fanservice I suspected a few paragraphs back? It’s certainly here. It never completely dominates the series, but it doesn’t add anything either. My stance of fanservice is a disapproving one. I’ve never felt that it’s truly necessary for the female characters to disrobe for whatever reason or to include all these bath scenes. At best, it’s an odd scene to inject into an otherwise good episode; at worst, it is the entire series. Thankfully, the episodes that do include fanservice use them with a decent amount of restraint. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t harm the series as a whole. It’s just a bit unnecessary.
The romantic dramas within the series are a whole mixed bag for me. I enjoyed the drama they added and how it complicated the situation at the inn at times. Yet, the infuriating pacing and lack of closure on some of the stories really got to me. I know that the focus is supposed to be on the characters themselves while the romance is used to contrast their growth throughout the show. Then again, with the possible announcement of a second season, there should be plenty of time to flesh out those side stories in addition to showing us what the staff is up to now.
Hanasaku Iroha has reaffirmed my belief in slice of life series. It’s raised the bar for what will pass as entertaining and engaging and hopefully, it’ll continue to do so in its possible second season. I’m still going to approach these shows with cautious optimism, though. There’s just too much crap out there sometimes.
Everybody knows that "void" feeling you get when you finish a really great show. The feeling of emptiness that you feel when you finish a show that really connected with you or entertained you on a higher level. Only a few shows give you a feeling like this, and for each person the type of shows that can produce this feeling differ. For me, Clannad is the golden case of a show that gave me a void, because for months on end after finishing it, all I wanted to do was rewatch it.
Hanasaku Iroha is an anime that gave me my first "void"
in quite some time.
Story - 7.2/10:
Hanasaku Iroha is a slice of life anime that follows the life of city-girl, Ohana, while she lives and works at her grandmother's inn. Like most slice of life anime, the story does not necessarily follow a focused plot, and instead finds its niche in story arcs complimented by underlying themes and a very loose main character arc. The story by no means breaks any grounds or really stands out from the crowd in terms of its concept, but its execution are what elevate Hanasaku Iroha's story from the crowd of slice of life anime. The story has many great character arcs that really get you attached to the characters. The themes in the story are also very easy to relate too. Whether its the idea of hard work pays off, the struggles of adapting to a new setting, failing to live up to your parent's expectations, or simply struggling to gain the love of the one you want, Hanasaku Iroha tackles a slew of themes that many will connect with. Because of these themes, the show can get quite emotional at times, but the characters and writing does also open the door for some entertaining comedy. I also have to point out that the homestretch of the show does provide some edge of your seat entertainment as you desperately hope to find out what happens next. Slice of Life anime tend to limit themselves on how good their story can be due to a focus on a character driven plot, and Hanasaku Iroha is no exception. However, the execution and maturity of the story are without a doubt worth recognition.
Art - 8.6:
P.A. Works has yet to fail to impress me with their animation quality. They always manage to bring a really cinematic feel to all their projects and Hanasaku Iroha is no exception. The character designs are all great, as well as the varied settings. There were quite a few still frames, but seeing as the show wasn't action packed, and with the lighting and colors being as beautiful as they were, this wasn't much of an issue. Really, the art is just beautiful and really helps immerse you into the show.
Sound - 7.8:
The soundtrack to this show was great. The background tracks weren't really that memorable or noticeable but that was fine given the kind of laid back tone this show had. However, when the show needed to get serious or emotional, the soundtrack did shine. Additionally, I must say that the first OP is absolutely fantastic. I didn't skip it once while watching the show, and that is damn impressive for me. The voice acting was a bit up and down, but overall strong. Most of the characters were well portrayed by their VA's but there was one character that was so frustratingly annoying with her nonstop Engrish that the voice acting portion of this grade has to take a dip down. But with the overall strong voice acting, and great, but not fantastic soundtrack, I still have to give this segment a high score.
Character - 8.2/10:
The thing that makes or breaks slice of life shows is its characters, and I must say that Hanasaku Iroha had a splendid group of characters. The first of the notable characters I will mention is Ohana. Ohana is the main character and a very outgoing teenage girl from Tokyo. She is forced to leave Tokyo and her best friend Ko (who admitted his feelings for her before she left), due to circumstances with her mom, and is now living/working at her grandmother's inn. Ohana is a caring, hard working, and energetic girl that is extremely likeable. Next is Minko who is a chef in training at the inn. Minko is very sharp-tongued and mean, but she is also very dedicated to her craft and actually a nice person underneath her harsh words. And finally we have Nako, the timid girl who is a waitress with Ohana. All three of these girls, and really all the characters in general seem to initially fit a set, one dimensional archetype. However, the beautiful thing about this show is that every single character develops. The characters all learn new things about themselves and by the end of the show all become better, more likable people. What I think makes these characters so likable, even more-so than the outstanding development they have, is just how easy it is to relate to them, and how human they seem. They all have desires, struggles, and emotions that we all feel. The interactions between the characters can also be golden at times. The only thing holding the character section back here is the lack of a unique, stand-out type of character that you could find in some other shows like Code Geass (Lelouch), Steins;Gate (Okabe), or Haruhi Suzumiya (I wonder who). But really, with this kind of show, a more realistic main lead probably fits the role better than a wildly unique one. Oh... and Takako is pretty bad at first...
Enjoyment - 8.1/10:
Like I said in the into: This show gave me a void. I connected with the characters so much, that by the time the show was nearing its approach, I was feeling sad that it was going to end. Although I enjoy almost every anime I watch, Hanasaku Iroha for some reason just stuck with me better than the vast majority of others. It isn't an edge of your seat thriller like Death Note, nor is it a laugh out loud comedy like , or a non stop tear jerker like Clannad. The atmosphere of this show is actually quite laid back, with some drama and humor here and there. But because I became so attached to the characters, I couldn't help but feel a little empty when it was all over. This has become one of my favorite slice of life animes and I am so glad I decided to watch it.
Hanasaku Iroha is a beautiful anime that is truly in the top tier of the slice of life genre. It is not only visually and audibly stunning, but the themes and characters in this simple show really help make it one to remember. It may not have one primary theme, story, or ability that it really owns, but it impresses in every category that a slice of life should, making for a very enjoyable experience. By the time you finish this show, you will be wishing you could rewatch it all over again like you'd never seen it before.
A wonderful slice of life that feels how it's supposed to: Real.
+Realistic themes and struggles
- No big emotional or intense scenes
- Ohana x Ko "relationship" is poorly paced
If you liked Hanasaku Iroha, watch...
Nagi No Asukara:
Also by PA Works with a very similar art style and similar themes of friendship and the idea that people and things all eventually change.
Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo:
Another fantastic slice of life anime with emphasis on hard work and dedication as well as strong characters.
It's been a long time since I've seen a Slice of Life done well. I'm not sure what it is about Hanasaku Iroha, but it is one of the calmest anime I have seen in a long while. There's something about the series that is just very relaxing.
The story essentially revolves around Ohana, a young teenage girl, and her experiences as she works as a waitress in an inn. As the show progresses, you are able to see the blooming relationships that develop as she begins to understand herself and the people around her. The show focuses on the challenges of being a teenage girl
and Ohana's inner resolve to 'fest' it up no matter the situation. While there is romance, it is extremely slow paced. It will pop in from time to time to apply a dose of necessary drama to keep the audience interested in what will happen next and how it will affect each character. For a 26 episode series, I was skeptical at first of how they could achieve a balance between the amount of entertaining material and filling such a large amount of time. Much to my delight PA works really did manage to balance these two quite well.
The Art/Animation was good. The first opening had some choppy parts in the animation, but the animation throughout the series flowed smoothly and there's nothing to complain about here. I also found the openings and endings to be quite nice; fitting, if you will, for the show. One aspect that I felt was unnecessary here was the fan service. While it's not over the top ecchi, there are scenes that just felt out of place considering this is a slice of life drama. I'm kind of split between whether or not to criticize or praise this because on one hand the risque factor was toned down quite a lot, but on the other hand it didn't help further the show's enjoyment and wasn't necessary.
Now going back to the bit about Hanasaku Iroha being 26 episodes. The 26 episodes really did justice to each of the characters. Each character's strengths, weaknesses, and quirks felt really defined. The pacing of the show, besides the romance, was solid and had a laid back flow. Ohana is very strong-willed and has a natural helping, outgoing personality. Minko is a tsundere that gets overly jealous and is quick to jump to conclusions. Nako is the quiet girl who's pretty much perfect yet is somehow very timid and lacks charisma. As the series progresses, each character becomes more and more likeable; you really get to see that they are all good people with good intentions.
Overall, a solid, relaxing watch. If you have the time, and enjoy the Slice of Life genre, perhaps you might consider booking a reservation at Kissuiso to see what it has to offer.
Who's that girl, the quiet one avoiding everyone and looking straight ahead? That girl who loves music? That weird girl who loves tech? What was her name again? Until you remember lets just say she is one fabulous anime girl with headphones.