This show is cute.
I don't know why it took me three entire seasons to get this, but it's true. The reason why I enjoy this show so much is because it is cute. There is no other way to say this. The main appeal of this show and the reason why it is so dearly loved by the few who watch it is its cuteness. Cuteness is its heart, body, and soul; its very essence. Cuteness is the bone of its sword. Adorable is its body and kawaii is its blood. Every single aspect of this show contributes, has contributed, and shall continue to contribute to its cuteness. Everything that doesn't radiate with cuteness shall be considered a flaw. Everything from SHAFT's art to the endearing characters and relationships to the simplistically dear storylines to the much unnoticed jazzy accordion/violin/piano soundtrack secretes cute to a degree only shows like GochiUsa can achieve (GochiUsa is much better though). Everything this show has creates a certain tone or mood that can only be described as cute. Albeit, it is a more fun and goofy kind of cute with only a slight dash of quiet making it rather different from other more tranquil and peaceful slice-of-life shows which can also be described as cute that would prefer to emphasize the calm slow monotony of life rather than its levity and occasional ridiculousness. However it does share many aspects of these series, like its incredible amount of focus on many seemingly unrelated topics or its tendency to use trains-of-thought and inner monologues without any central ideas to convey character, making this show fairly well-rounded instead of a show with only one trick up its sleeve. Hidamari Sketch doesn't really use cuteness in its simplest sense really. Instead, it uses a certain mix of all the feelings one experiences throughout a normal average day, and this mix can only really be described as cute. It's not a cute in a Hello Kitty kind of way. Instead, it's a cute in a baby's first birthday party kind of way where people enjoy their time together and only want to make the baby smile as much as possible. Needless to say, this show wants to be cute. It is its only purpose in life. All this show really wants to do is make you take a step back and remove some of that pressure life tends to put on you. To allow someone to just relax and permit him to smile after a long day of work, maybe get a few chuckles out of him, perhaps add just a bit of nostalgia in the mix, probably even give you a few suggestions to any problems he might be having. This is pretty much the point of every slice-of-life show out there and Hidamari Sketch fulfills this pretty well. Not necessarily in the most unique way though(If you judge this show based on uniqueness, you're probably gonna find it pretty lacking). It does this through the incredible power of goofy fun, great protagonists, and cuteness.
Let me elaborate.
~~~ STORY ~~~
It is my belief that slice-of-life storylines are the only real way to truly express the feeling of cuteness.
There are many characteristics that all slice-of-life narratives share. They always tend to be very simplistic. They're never anything too complicated. You're not gonna get lost in between numerous interweaving plotlines or unorthodox narrative structures. They never intentionally invoke any intense or powerful emotions. Instead, they seek to replicate the tone and mood of day-to-day life. There is almost little to no plot development. Things never intensify or stack up. They're always slow-paced, and conflicts that could happen are either non-existent or not taken seriously.
These are why cuteness works so well with these shows.
Let me use an example. Let's say a baby's smile. Sometimes, either on your way to work or in a walk in the park, you may encounter a mother or a couple pushing around a baby carriage. As you continue walking past them, you take a fleeting glance at the inside of the stroller. In it, you see the baby, maybe either playing around aggressively with some toys or sleeping peacefully. You see it smile. Time slows down. Not too much. Just for a bit. Then, you turn around and continue walking.
It is that fleeting nature of cuteness and the feeling it gives you that makes it perfect for slice-of-lifes. These series are all about those short-lived emotions that you feel on a day-to-day basis that never really stick into your mind because of their briefness. It's all about making those short meaningless moments meaningful. Cuteness is just a prime example of these emotions. The feeling that you get whenever you something notice something cute and adorable is incredibly momentary. You're most likely not gonna think about that baby ever again. Life is made of these moments. Life is built upon all these temporary sentiments. And what better way to portray these significantly insignificant feelings than through significantly insignificant events?
The story is never really remarkable in these shows. That's okay. The focus is never actually on the story anyway. It's always on mood and tone or characterization. The atmosphere and characters aren't written to fit the plot in these shows. Instead, the narratives are specifically designed to complement the atmosphere and characters.
In the end, there's not much to comment on the story (which is somewhat ironic considering that I've actually written quite a bit). Hidamari Sketch is really a character-driven show instead of a plot-driven one. The plotlines are incredibly simple, and you're probably not gonna remember what actually happened in a specific episode. What you're gonna end up remembering are the characters which we will discuss in a later segment.
~~~ ART ~~~
It's SHAFT art. You either love it or hate it.
The artstyle is highly simplistic. The show seems to be rather addicted to flat-color backgrounds and pastels, and the abundance of white dots in this show is astronomical. There have been many a shot wherein the only things happening are a single-colored background, a character speaking, and that character's respective signifier. Each main character is assigned a certain symbol which is taken from their respective character designs. These shots come when a character says something that really represents her character (e.g. whenever Hiro says something maternal; Miyako says something stupid; etc.). I think these shots are very clever because of how effective they are at characterization and also because of how it save both money and time for the creators while still being very beneficial to the quality of the show.
You're either gonna absolutely love the impossibly wide chibi faces or get really fckin annoyed by them. I personally loved the chibi because I think it really multiplies the cuteness this show gives (which is why I prefer the first season where they really went all-out with chibi), however there have been many a caps-locked complaint angrily criticizing the weird faces so you really just have to try the show out a bit and see whether the art is really for you or not.
The directing is still fairly crazy, however it's a far cry from x365's WTF shots that moved around everywhere that I really enjoyed a lot. I'll discuss this more in the comparison section with the previous seasons.
Overall, the art's weird. It's very simplistic and pastel. You're either gonna love it or hate it.
~~~ SOUND ~~~
The soundtrack of this show is a very unnoticed gem.
I have almost the entire soundtrack downloaded in my computer (still downloading it) and it is surprisingly very good. I don't really know how to criticize music, but I can say that it is a very fitting soundtrack to this show. It is the most laidback relaxing thing I've heard that still manages to be upbeat and with a bit of jazz too. There's this woman just singing "da da da da da" in some of the REALLY relaxing songs and I'd say it really boosts the relaxingness exponentially. It's fairly nice to listen to while you're working. It doesn't distract and reduces stress well.
There are also tracks in this soundtrack meant for the more touching and heartwarming scenes in Hidamari Sketch, and, let me just say, they are the sweetest things I have ever heard since GochiUsa's diabetes ED. They give off a feeling of childlikeness and youthful wonder that really touches the heart overlayed against smooth calm relaxation. If this isn't cute, I don't know what is.
I'm not really a big fan of the OP this season. I loved the first two season's OPs and listen to them all the time, and I think that "SHUWA SHUWA" is the best way to start a show. The rest of this season's OP just didn't really stick with me as much as the previous seasons'. The ED is still rather generic and skippable.
Voice actors are also still doing their job well. Not really much to say.
~~~ CHARACTER ~~~
Now, we're getting to the meat of this entire thing because this new season introduces two new Hidamari Apartments residents: Nazuna and Nori!
With everyone a year older and Yuno now in her second year of high school, it only does seem natural to give her some kohais to play around with. Cue Nazuna and Nori. These are the two new additions to the apartments, both first-years of Yamabuki High School. It has been remarked that these two are pretty much carbon copies of the previous first-year duo, Yuno and Miyako, and I can't really deny that claim. There is much basis for that argument. Nazuna is pretty much a shier Yuno who pretty much has all the insecurites that Yuno has times two. Nazuna is depicted as someone with little self-esteem or self-advocacy just as Yuno was in the previous seasons except to a much greater extent. (She's also just as intensely cute as Yuno is). Nori is pretty much a down-to-earth Miyako. She's not as goofy or hungry as Miya-chan, sure. However, she definitely plays the same role and acts the same way to Nazuna as Miyako does to Yuno. She represents the confidence and optimism her batchmate lacks allowing her to be a strong supporting figure to her batchmate who she motivates and reassures whenever her insecurities get to her again. Can you guess correctly who I'm talking about? It applies to both Miyako and Nori. Not only were Yuno and Miyako's characters were copied, but also their character dynamic. Many times this season has Nori helping Nazuna out in the same way Miyako does to Yuno. Many times this season has highlighted the surprisingly soon closeness between Nori and Nazuna in the same way the previous seasons did with Miyako and Yuno.
It has also been remarked that these characters, as much as every other character in the show, can each fit into their own archetypes. I can't really deny this either. Yuno and Nazuna both fit into the 'shy girl' archetype really well. Miyako and Nori also fit very well into the 'supportive best friend' archetype. Hiro fits smackdab into the 'mother-like friend' archetype, and Sae fits perfectly into the 'smart senpai' archetype.
Now, my question is, are necessarily bad things?
Character archetype usage and character distinctiveness are somewhat overemphasized concepts. People have very pronounced rules and structures on what makes a good story, and oftentimes, these concepts are cited in these highly-defined laws saying, "If characters always act the same as other characters or fit these character archetypes, then this show fckin sucks". Well, I would respectfully like to disagree. I do not think there is any reason to automatically declare that a story is of poor quality just because some characters fit into honestly fairly arbitrarily set archetypes or because some characters act too similar to one another. I have met a myriad of people who one can say can perfectly fit into a certain character archetype. Many of my closer friends fit perfectly into either the 'nerd' archetype or the 'optimistic best friend' archetype. Many of my greatest enemies can easily be placed inside the 'jock' or 'egocentric cool kid' archetypes. I myself could probably fit into the 'prodigy with no friends' archetype, although I would say that's a bit of a stretch. I have also witnessed a ton of people who act exactly like one another. Many people who fit inside the same archetypes often end up forming their own cliques. I have also frequently seen best friends or pretty close friends who act exactly the same to each other, and I am willing to bet that it was because of their similarities that they ended up that close in the first place. None of these facts makes any of them anything less than people. They are all still people with their own personal flaws, strengths, goals, passions, and philosophies, and the fact that they fit ideally into archetypes doesn't diminish their being people. I believe this also applies to any written character wherein characters can act exactly like an archetype or one another can still end up as round characters as long as they are given enough depth.
Now, the next question is, are these characters given enough depth?
Probably, but not to the extent some of you may like.
First off, Miyako has been given practically little to no character depth and is mostly just a gag character. However, she does serve a good role of deepening Yuno's character with her closeness to her, causing Yuno to think and feel things she otherwise wouldn't without good ol' Miya-chan. Hiro, I would say, wasn't really given as much of the limelight as in x365. She got a fair bit of screen time together with Sae and I loved watching their relationship, but I don't think it was really enough. In the end, I wanted to see a bit more of HIro. Sae herself was given a lot of character this season just as every other season. She really reacts when things happen, has strong opinions on various things, and, again, her relationship with Hiro is very interesting to me. The show tends to highlight Sae a bit more than the others for some reason. Nori and Nazuna, despite being the newcomers, have a quite disappointing amount of screen time. The show, although it does focus on them, doesn't focus on them at the same level other shows have when they introduce new characters. Hidamari Sketch devotes about half an episode for their introduction then waits a couple of episodes before actually having a plot thread where the two are given significant roles. Again, just like Hiro, I wish the show would've focused a bit more on the two and I think their characters should've been more explored. Sure, they may both fit right into some character archetypes, but that doesn't mean their characters can't be built upon or can't have any depth. I honestly found Nazuna a very interesting and enjoyable character to watch, and their were many moments where I kind of related to her. Sure, I laughed like a madman when she talked about her struggles, but that was just because I related to her so much, I liked the timing of the jokes, and I thought her chibi form was astronomically cute. I also really wanna know where Nori gets her confidence from. At this point in time, we know next to nothing about Nori's character except that she's confident and that she knows a bunch of stuff about life and computers. This doesn't mean she's not an interesting character. I find Nori and Nazuna's relationship to be incredibly captivating and a gold mine for characterization, stories, and yuri. I just wish those two had more time in the spotlight. They were barely in it.
Now, let's talk about the person who has been hogging all the limelight.
Yunocchi here has been taking all the screentime. I mean, it makes sense. She's the fckin protagonist. She's supposed to get all the screentime. This show is written from her perspective. She's the only character in the show who's trains of thought and inner monologues we get to here. We see everything the way she sees it. Whenever anything happens, we only get to see her thoughts about it. Whenever she starts feeling her insecurities, we learn about it in full detail. Whenever the show quiets down and starts to slow pace, it's because we're listening to Yuno trying to make sense of herself. Hell, she even has her own segment at the end of every episode where she takes her bath and reflects on what happened that day. There's no doubt about it. This is her show. Of course everything's about her. Now, was her character given depth? Can we say that Yunocchi was a well-written character? OF COURSE SHE WAS! We know in intense detail about her desires and insecurities. We know how troubled she is about her own inability to visualize herself in the future. We know how much she tries to be a great senpai and role model to the new first-years. We know how much she gets insecure when she's dissatisfied with her own works. Everything in this show serves to deepen her character just as everything in this show serves to add cuteness. She IS the cuteness. She is what makes this show cute. Everything from her character design to the way she talks to her own personal thoughts and feelings can be described as cute. She is cute. This show would be devoid of anything worthwhile if she wasn't made as cute as possible. She is what makes this show good. And that is why every element in Hidamari Sketch must serve to build upon her character. And it does. The real reason the other characters have so little focus is because they merely serve as character deepeners (what is this word) to Yuno. Sae and Hiro serve as senpais and role models for Yuno to look up too which gives her much motivation and allows for character growth. Nori and Nazuna serve as kohais to Yuno so that she can learn to be a good senpai to them which allows some great characterization and development. Miyako serves as her best friend who supports her when she's down in the dumps allowing her to overcome some of her insecurities which, again, makes for some great character growth. She's also the only character who's parents actually have a considerable amount of screen time (They didn't show up THIS season, but it's still something worth considering when comparing this show to other anime set in high school). Each episode's plotlines seem to be designed around her character. As I said before, the narratives were built around the characters, and not the other way around. In actuality, it seems that the narratives were built around Yuno's character specifically. Every episode in this series are of dates when Yuno either learns something more about herself, realizes something about life, or becomes closer to another character. These dates and stories are all the times Yuno's character changed inside the quiet melancholic actionless vacuum of everyday life. This show isn't story-driven OR character driven. It's Yuno-driven. When I said that the characters are who you'd actually remember instead of the story, I specifically meant her. With everything in this goddamn show centered on Yunocchi, it's not surprising that her character has been given quite a bit of characterization.
So, now that we're done with that debacle, let's me ask another question.
Does this show actually have character development?
I wrote earlier that slice-of-life shows don't really need character development. Just like character archetypes and character distinctiveness, I believe character development is a very overemphasized element in narrative criticism. It's practically impossible anyway when a show is written in anachronistic order which is what a majority of slice-of-life shows use. All a slice-of-life really needs to be good is characterization. Character development is merely optional.
However, even if character development's importance isn't really as great as many think it is, it is still a really helpful boost when it comes to characterization. Watching a person's character grow and change is also a way to reveal more about that character. Character development is a really effective form of characterization, and the reason why it's so overplayed by many is because it is so incredibly interesting. And right now, this third season, the show now actually has the capability to employ character development on its characters because guess what? It's not in anachronistic order anymore! The episodes have an actual linearity to them. They actually happen after each other. They actually follow time! Sure, some episodes that half of themselves to other dates, but those are practically just extended flashbacks Yuno has to solidify her character even further. Sure, the episodes are still very much unrelated to one another and there are week-long timeskips in between them, however that still doesn't completely erase the possibility of character development.
So, let me ask again. Does this show have character development?
I would say so. Maybe not a lot of character development, but it's still present.
For example, Yunocchi, in the first and second seasons, can be seen being extremely bothered when she doesn't deem her works good enough. She'd often just lay there in bed for eternities just thinking about it. This season, she still gets rather bothered, but not as much as before. She now knows when to stop thinking about such things and let go and start on her next work. (In a particular comical incident in this season, she breaks out of one of these inner monologues once she realizes that she ended up repeating herself.) This is possible due to the fact that the entirety of season three, minus the flashbacks, is set completely after both seasons one and two. This allows some character development to form between the first-year Yuno and the second-year Yuno. One can also see Yuno develop as a person as she starts gaining the desire to become a great senpai to the two new first-years. Yuno often tries to help out Nazuna who, because she's very similar to Yuno, shares many of the same insecurities Yuno once had. There are moments in the series where Yuno kind of gets Nazuna at a certain level because, you know, she's been there before. Of course, she often fails at helping out Nazuna (Nori always beating her to it) for comical effect, but this does still reflect some of the growth Yuno had undergone at the Hidamari Apartments. Nori and Nazuna too can be seen too have some character development when it comes to their relationship. The two start out rather distant too each other, but, being batchmates on a multi-batch clique, quickly get close too one another. Nori is always a big help towards Nazuna, giving her self-esteem and confidence and correcting her whenever she starts speaking self-denying thoughts. Nazuna, in response, becomes incredibly devoted to Nori. A bit too quick for my tastes, but at least not immediate.
And that's about all the character development. Yuno, again, hogged all the limelight, stealing all the screentime and, in turn, the character development, leaving nothing for the other characters. Sae and Hiro's relationship is still pretty interesting, but you can't really say it had changed any more than since the start of the series (and even before the series according to a flashback). Miyako is still a gag character, and there's not really much to say about all the other characters. Again, they all just end up serving as tools to allow Yuno to develop instead of character's themselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Yuno is an incredibly interesting and relatable character with tons of development, however I do again wish that the others got some more character too.
While we're on that topic, let's just briefly touch on all the side characters. Yoshinoya is still pretty annoying, her jokes VERY hit-or-miss. The Principal, the nurse, and that new male teacher only really serve to try to make Yoshinoya's jokes funnier. Natsume didn't really get much screentime in this season, however I heard one of the OVAs is devoted to her, so I'm kinda excited. (Haven't watched the OVAs yet for seasons three and two and I'd honestly like to see more of Natsume even if she's just your typical lesbian tsundere.) That new Arisawa girl seemed interesting and honestly, I'd like to see more of her. She adds a lot of character depth to Yuno, making her think about her future and the path she wants to take. Pretty impressive for someone who was only meant to be a one-shot. Everyone else is too irrelevant to be commented upon, not appearing enough on screen for me to care about or remember.
In the end, all the focus and characterization is all on Yuno and every other character merely serves to deepen Yuno's character. The show takes much care to carve out Yuno's character, making her a very compelling character, but it often neglects to bring alive the other characters too. It's not necessarily a bad thing. This is Yuno's story, so she deserves to have all the character depth she wants. I just wish the other Hidamari residents had more time to shine because I am, at the very least, interested in who they are and what they could be.
Oh wow. I wrote quite a bit.
~~~ COMPARISON TO PREVIOUS SEASONS ~~~
Finally, after four thousand two hundred fifty three words, let's get to the end of this thing.
How good is this season compared to the other previous seasons?
Well, to be honest, I liked x365 more.
Reason being that I really intensely loved the crazy-ass directing that that season had had which was toned down to almost be non-existent this season. All the moving cameras, weird shots of unrelatedly related things, and all those weird sinister colors that came alongside the show's usual pastels are now almost gone. I enjoyed the shot where Yuno and her mother were running to school in the first episode which had an incredible amount of lines. I absolutely loved that shot where Hiro got all right up into your face as she was stress-eating because of her fight with Sae; the way Hiro zooms into your face was incredibly captivating to me. I even liked that completely random shot which zoomed in on Yuno as she entered the cafeteria for no reason at all. This incredible insanity that that kind of directing brought is barely present in this season. I cannot remember a single moment in this season that gave me the same vibes as the time everything turned black and red in Yuno's fever dream (which happened in the first season but still). I was just kind of disappointed with this season directing-wise.
Art design-wise, I preferred the first season more. I preferred the dirtier 4:3 look the first season had compared to the HD widescreen look the other seasons had. I don't know. I guess a more dirtier, less bright, muddier look older anime and TV shows just kinda resonate with me more. Or maybe it's just because the character's chibi faces look MUCH wider in 4:3. Who knows?
Story and character-wise, I still liked x365 more. Even if xSTAR STAR STAR gave us two new characters and an actual linear order to the episodes, I still prefer x365. I feel like the relationships in that season were explored a lot more, with Yuno's parents and all and episodes almost entirely devoted to Sae and Hiro's almost-romantic relationship. The time Yuno met one of Yoshinoya's old students and the time everyone sang the original Hidamari Sketch theme at the finale and the time they all had that bamboo-wishing festival thing together just touched my heart more than anything this season had to offer. Honestly, at this point in time, I don't actually remember much of what happened in this season. All I remember is that Yuno dropped her keys in the toilet once causing her to sleep in her friend's bedrooms (which I thought was a great method of characterization) and the first episode (which I watched twice to try to remember what actually happened this season). I even find things in the first season more memorable. I loved the first episode because of its melancholic vibe and the finale where Chika got introduced. All I remember this season is the overall feeling it gave me. It did give me a really warm and nice feeling which, as I said at the beginning, can only be described as cute. This is the main reason I'm still giving this season an eight over ten even if I don't remember anything. The other reasons being that I appreciated Yuno's character a lot and that I enjoyed Nori and Nazuna's and Sae and Hiro's developing relationship.
~~~ CONCLUSION ~~~
However, overall, if MyAnimeList's rating system allowed decimal numbers, this would be a mere 7.95 (I like to round up when there's less than a 0.5 difference from the next whole number) whilst seasons one and two get an 8.83 and 8.90 respectively. This is my least favorite season so far, and I was somewhat disappointed. The narratives weren't as meaningful to me as the other seasons', and the side characters still weren't given enough time in the spotlight. Nonetheless, it still was Hidamari Sketch and it still shared Hidamari Sketch's overall strengths, such as Yuno's character, soundtrack, artstyle, and altogether cute relaxing vibes, and I look forward to whatever xHoneycomb has in store for me in the future.
"I wonder what tomorrow will bring." Me too, Yuno. Me too.
Edit: After some thought, I've changed my overall score for this season from an 8 to a 7 to reflect my opinion on this season better in comparison to the other seasons.